Traffic policemen, overspeed monitoring, and how to recruit PhD students in political science

Our International Political Economy research group is currently looking for a new PhD student. One of the challenges when trying to recruit the smartest and most motivated students in the discipline is to write a good job ad, one that will attract the right people. When trying to write the perfect job ad, inspiration comes in mysterious ways. I recently came across an interesting job ad with which the police of the canton Zürich tried to recruit new policemen for doing overspeed monitoring. The picture (see below) was telling and the headline obviously tried to appeal to adventurous and power-seeking young people: “Wir machen Sie zum Raserschreck” (We make you a speeder hunter). The ad showed a young policemen behind a speed camera, watching out to catch yet another speeder.

Speeder Hunter Job Ad, Canton Zurich Police

Overspeed monitoring obviously has something to do with enforcing collective decisions and as a political scientist I’m of course interested in such issues. That did not lead me to question my career choices. But I started to wonder what motivates a young person to become a police officer doing overspeed monitoring? In the hope of finding some ideas for answers, I started reading the job ad. Apparently, a job at the canton Zurich police is “one of the most exciting and interesting things that you can do with yourself and your future. The training (at full salary!) is demanding, daily work offers a lot of variety and the career possibilities are manifold.”

I instantly thought that this description also applies to my job, at least to some degree. My job is demanding: In the process of developing and addressing a research question, I constantly have to meet new challenges. Being a political scientist also offers a lot of variety, as daily work involves very different tasks: supervising students, teaching, reading articles, writing referee reports, solving theoretical puzzles, evaluating predictions, writing papers, giving talks at conferences,… . Moreover, all of this requires continuously improving my research and teaching skills. Another similarity is that the speeder hunter observes behavior under legal restrictions and that is part of political science as well, for example, when we study the effects of environmental legislation on emission behavior or how electoral rules affect vote choice.

Undoubtedly, there also are notable differences between a speeder hunter and a political scientist. However, I think that when we try to recruit the smartest and most motivated students to pursue an academic career, we might learn at least two things from the speeder hunter job ad. First, we should more strongly highlight that being a political scientist is a demanding and exciting job that has a lot variety. That is easy to do. Second, the hourly wage of a Swiss police cadet is 30 CHF. As a first-year PhD student in political science you get at most 20 CHF per hour. That is another thing we should change. It won’t be easy to do.

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