International Relations Lab #1: Decision-Making, Hypotheses, and Careers in IR
International Relations Lab #1: Using Decision-Making
Models to Analyze Careers in International Relations
PS 3210: International Relations
Prof. Vanessa A. Lefler
Middle Tennessee State University
This series of International Relations Labs was created to introduce new international relations
students to the scientific study of international politics.
The Scientific Study of International Politics
Whereas journalists tend to study international relations with the intent to
(i.e., who, what,
when, where) and policymakers tend to
(e.g., does policy
have the benefits it claims?
what are its consequences? how can we improve it?), political scientists seek to
have a relationship with
?). We do this by systematically studying events or
objects of interest through the scientific study of international politics.
The SSIP approach was adapted from the natural sciences model:
1. Identify some behavior that needs to be explained.
2. Offer some tentative hypotheses, perhaps derived from some theory purporting to explain
3. Evaluate the hypotheses in light of available evidence.
4. If the evidence supports the hypotheses, consider their implications — the additional state-
ments (or predictions) that can be deduced from these confirmed hypotheses (Kinsella, Rus-
sett, and Starr 2012).
The focus of this lab is on constructing hypotheses based on theories of foreign policy decision-
making. Specifically, this lab acts as a guide through the process of linking theory and observations
of real-world events to construct a particular type of hypothesis, the
generalized specific explana-
(Van Evera 1998). In class, we will develop this skill in the context of different international
crises. On your own, you will apply the skill of hypothesis construction in an evaluation of careers
and programs in the field of International Relations.
Theory and Hypotheses
Our textbook defines a
as a “statement that relates a theory to possible observations
about the world” (Kinsella, Russett, and Starr 2012: 439). More generally, a hypothesis answers a
well-conceived research question and acts as a sort of “punchline” to a theory. It tells us how it is
possible that a set of abstract or broad statements are relevant to the day-to-day realities of political
behavior (Lepgold 1998; Merton 1957; Van Evera 1998).
Where do hypotheses come from?
Social science hypotheses are more than mere “educated guesses.” Rather, hypotheses come from
theory. You’ll recall that our textbook defines a
as “an intellectual tool that provides a
way of organizing the complexity of the world and helps to show how phenomena are interrelated”
(Kinsella, et al 2012: 442). More specifically, we look to theories to explain the causal link between
different types of observations and events (Van Evera 1998). A realist theory of war, for example,
not only tells us that power is related to the incidence of war, it tells us that disagreements about
the distribution of power between a pair of countries causes war
disagreements lead to
uncertainty about who would win in conflict, which prevents states from identifying who should
concede in the event of a crisis, which prevents the peaceful settlement of international crises,
which leads to war (Blainey 1988).
In sum, a theory is based on explanations that “connect the cause to the phenomenon being caused,
showing how causation occurs” (Van Evera 1998: 9). A
is a conjecture about the re-
lationship between the causing phenomenon (or the independent variable) and the causal outcome
(the observation or event; the dependent variable).
How do hypotheses link theory to observations about the world?
Stephen Van Evera (1998: 40) distinguishes theories from hypotheses about specific events, stat-
ing, “Theories are case in general terms and could apply to more than one case.” For example,
the theory, “Disagreement about the distribution of power causes war,” is necessarily broad. Such
a theoretical statement might be less useful to the practitioner who is asked to determine the risk
of war in an emergent crisis. Instead, Van Evera offers
as a way to integrate
theories into statements about particular events.
, “like a theory …describes and explains the cause and effect [of a distinctive
event], but these causes and effects are framed in singular terms” (Van Evera 1998: 15).
For example, where the statement, “Disagreements about the distribution of power prevent peaceful
crisis settlement, causing war,” is a theory, “Disagreement about the distribution of power between
Athens and Sparta prevented a mutually satisfying settlement at the Peloponnesian League and
led to the Pelopponesian War,” is a specific explanation. The hypothesis would be of the form,
“Disagreements about the distribution of power (between Athens and Sparta) caused (the Pelop-
In sum, when using theory to explain particular events, you should aim to incorporate the causal
path of the theory into the observed pattern in the event of interest.
How is a hypothesis constructed?
A hypothesis that links theory to specific, observed events 1) generalizes to the theory being ap-
plied, 2) makes a cause-and-effect statement on the event of interest, and 3) clearly frames a satis-
fying and politically interesting research agenda.
1. Generalizing to the theory being applied.
Van Evera (1998) goes on to explain that
can follow one of two types:
nongeneralized and generalized.
nongeneralized specific explanation
is an “explanation that does not identify the
theory that the operating cause is an example of.”
For example, a statement, “Sparta caused the Pelopponesian War,” is a nongeneralized
explanation. The disadvantage of this approach is that it does not offer an explanation
that tells us how Sparta cause the war. In other words, we do not know what theory is
generalized specific explanation
“identifies the theories that govern its explanation.”
The example in the previous section, “Disagreement about the distribution of power
between Athens and Sparta led to the Pelopponesian War,” clarifies the theory that is
Besides identifying the theory, the advantage of a generalized explanation over a nongeneral-
ized explanation is that it provides us something to evaluate and explain. Recall that the goal
of social scientific research is
. A test of the first, nongeneralized statement would
merely be descriptive – without additional context provided by theory, the answer would
simply be “Yes” or “No.”
2. Makes a cause-and-effect statement on the event of interest.
Some applications of theory do not make causal statements about events or outcomes of
interest. Rather, they seek to understand whether two or more factors are correlated. Corre-
lations are immensely useful in studying social scientific phenomena, but our ultimate goal
should be uncover whether wars, trade, institutions, or treaties are the consequence of some-
Therefore, hypotheses are usually stated in any of the following forms:
increases/decreases the likelihood that
effects the size/duration of
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a beginning template for some hypotheses that you
will construct on your own.
3. Clearly frames a satisfying and politically interesting research agenda.
As the answer to the research question and the specific application of theory, the hypothesis
does a great deal of work to establish what a research project will accomplish. Therefore,
Van Evera (1998) lists some criteria for a good theory and, subsequently, good hypotheses:
“A good theory is ‘
,’ that is, it satisfies our curiosity.”
Try not to leave important steps of the process out of your explanation. Van Evera gives
a useful example:
A politician once explained her election loss: “I didn’t get enough votes!”
This is true but unsatisfying. We still want to know why she didn’t get enough
Relatedly, “a good theory is
” by outlining each of the elements of the
theory’s explanation. It should be evident
Last, “a good theory has
In other words, it is better to focus on cause-and-effect relationships that are manipula-
ble by policy-makers.
International Relations Careers and Foreign Policy
As our discussion of Foreign Policy Decision-Making highlights, there are a great many more
individuals and institutions involved in international relations and statecraft than the heads of gov-
ernments and international organizations. Indeed, the theory of political survival explains that
even the most absolute dictator requires a small group of people to support his or her leadership!
In a globalizing world, it is increasingly difficult for any nation or leader to retain power through
Therefore, it should come as little surprise that there are a great number of career opportunities
that are relevant to the student of International Relations. Many of these careers provide a path-
way for individuals to substantially affect foreign policy and international relations, both within
governments and IGOs and through private and non-profit enterprises.
As attractive as these opportunities are, Licklider and Rhodes (2009) caution, “Unless one is ex-
traordinarily lucky, …such careers do not just happen. They are the result of serious thinking,
serious planning, and serious preparation.”
The purpose of this lab is to introduce you to careers in international relations with the hope
that you will become more knowledgeable and prepared to professionally pursue this field.
The Job Search as a Platform for Conducting Basic Research
The first step to any endeavor, whether completing a class project or looking for a job after gradua-
tion, is research. Familiarity with some of the basic elements of
, therefore, is useful beyond the classroom.
is a method for studying the effectiveness and efficiency of projects,
policies and programs. It asks questions about how the structure or operations of an organi-
zation help or hinder its progress.
Systematic research design
emphasizes careful analysis and data collection with the purpose
of being able to make inferences from those data about a phenomenon of interest.
It is freely given advice that job applicants should research the company that they are interested
in, and, for careers in international relations, this advice is especially important. Particularly in
careers attached to state governments or international organizations, but also for employment in
international business, finance, or non-governmental work, knowing where any position fits within
the organization’s hierarchy, program(s), and goals demonstrates committed preparation.
Gathering this information takes careful, systematic research in order to comprehend how that
position fits within the organization at-large. In other words, researching potential job opportunities
is not unlike doing research more generally. It requires a methodological approach, lest you share
the Alexandra Lord’s (2012) experience:
“When I began reading ads for nonacademic positions, I read the job titles with a great deal of
bewilderment. Associate director? Director? Program analyst? What was the difference? And
which was I qualified for?”
Ms. Lord’s principle recommendation to navigate this sea of confusion?
Read job ads early and
“You can never, in other words, start too early. One of my former bosses used to advise that
you be perpetually on the job market, even when you love your current position. Starting a job
search when you need a job, he would argue, is too late; you should be thinking and learning
about a variety of career options at all times.
“Not everyone is so career-focused, but the further ahead you plan, the more successful your
job search will be. …[Y]ou can begin that process simply by reading job ads a year or so
before you go on the nonacademic market. The more you read the ads, the more you will
understand what employers want.”
To make the best use of all this reading, begin a portfolio that keeps track of the terminology,
prerequisites, and skills required for each job. A database of this information can then tell you
what are the best post-graduate and/or internship opportunities to pursue. Roselle and Spray’s
(2012) chapter on data collection provides a useful guide to organizing these data. Once you target
the opportunities you feel best qualified for, an appreciation of the position within the context of
the organization – through your evaluation of its program – will direct you on how to highlight
your best qualities for the employer’s needs.
International Relations Lab #1: Using Decision-Making Models
to Analyze Careers in International Relations
Select one career track from the handout, “Careers in International Relations,” com-
piled by Licklider and Rhodes (2009). Research jobs in that career and, in 700-2000 words, answer
the following questions, using complete sentences and paragraphs. You may not need to answer
all of the subquestions to adequately complete the assignment, only those that are most relevant to
your career research.
The format of your paper should conform with the following rules:
1-inch margins, all around. Standard, serif (e.g., Times) or non-serif (e.g., Calibiri, Arial)
font, 12 point size.
The heading, which includes the “top matter” and title, should be single spaced, with double-
spacing between the title and the body of the paper. In the header, each page should give
your last name followed by the page number. For example:
PS 3210:001 International Relations
Unit Lab #2
06 October, 2014
“Policy Analyst with US Helsinki Commission”
If you use any sources outside the textbook or the article, cite them at the end of the paper in
a Works Cited page.
Note that the Works Cited does
count toward your total word count.
Save the document as a
and deposit it in the Dropbox on D2L.
Papers not submitted in .pdf format will be penalized 10%
1. What is the career area you selected? What relationship does this organization or career area
have with international politics?
2. What is the organization’s mission or goals that are relevant to international relations?
3. What is the organizations’ institutional environment like?
(a) Is it complex and hierarchical? Or, is it made up of a loose network of people with a
more diffuse chain of command?
(b) Does it have a specific or general scope of responsibilities?
(c) Do employees in this organization have general intellectual freedom? Or, do employees
appear to follow explicitly specified protocol (i.e., SOPs)?
(d) Does it exist as a stand-alone unit (as an NGO or business might)? Or, does it exist in
a larger network of organizations (as in an IGO or national department of state)?
4. What effect do you think this organization’s institutional environment has on its ability to
pursue its mission or goals?
(a) Rely on our foreign policy decision-making approaches to construct a theory that an-
swers this question.
For example: If you were investigating careers in the United States Mission to the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), you would learn,
“The United States Mission to the OSCE consists of a multi-agency team with more
than thirty staff members from the Department of State and the Office of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, as well as the joint Congressional/Executive Branch Commission on
Security and Cooperation in Europe (‘Helsinki Commission’) (“The U.S. Mission to
the OSCE” n.d.).
One answer to this question may then be:
The cross-departmental (State Department, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Helsinki Commis-
sion) nature of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE may reduce the Mission’s ability to
effectively address diplomatic issues between the United States and other OSCE
members because it suffers from two different principal-agent problems. The first,
is that the Mission has multiple principals, each of which may have different prefer-
ences over policy and implementation. Bureaucratic competition between the State
Department, the Joint Chiefs, and the Helsinki Commission reduces the clarity and
transmission of information. The second is that, with such a complex structure, the
Mission staff may be slack on duties without easy detection.
This answer relies on two foreign policy approaches to explain the Mission’s respon-
5. What is a typical career track for individuals in this area?
(a) What are some general prerequisites for entry-level positions?
i. If there is a specific job advertisement, describe it.
ii. If there are no specific job ads, describe a typical career track in this field based on
your research of the organization.
iii. Are there internships available?
(b) Does it appear that individuals enter this field and become life-long employees? Or, do
people seem to rotate in and out regularly?
(c) For government and IGO careers: Are there special requirements, such as partisan
affiliation or nationality?
(d) Does the organization provide incentives, such as tuition assistance or skilled training,
to its employees, suggesting that they tend to promote from within? Conversely, do
they instead appear to hire outside the agency to fill higher-level positions?
6. What effect do you think this career track has on the organization’s responsiveness to inter-
(a) Again, rely on our foreign policy decision-making approaches to answer this question.
For example: One career track within the OSCE employs elections observers – people
who work on the ground during elections to monitor them for corruption. Observers
mobilize for brief, intermittent periods of time, so there standard operating procedures
in place to guide the ever-changing group of workers.
Based on this information, it is possible to say:
The use of standard operating procedures among OSCE elections observers increases
monitoring efficiency and establishes a reliable set of criteria by which to evaluate
the quality of democratic elections. However, rigid adherence to SOPs may make
it easier for corruption to be overlooked if it is designed to circumvent the process.
Therefore, OSCE election monitoring SOPs have both a positive and negative effect
on electoral freedoms, depending on the level of corruption in a monitored country.
This answer uses
to explain election monitoring efficacy.
International Relations Lab #1: Using Decision-Making Models
to Analyze Careers in International Relations
Career Track & Organization Description
Identifies and International Relations Career
Identifies the Organization’s mission
Organizational Environment & Decision-Making
Describes the Organization’s institutional environ-
Analyzes effect of institutional environment on DM
Career Track and Decision-Making
Describes typical career track
Analyzes effect of career track on DM
Source documentation, spell-checking, gram-
mar, format, page #s, etc.
up to 30 points
Too short – Does not meet 700-word mini-
-5 points per 200 words
Not submitted in .pdf format
Did not attend lab date
Lepgold, Joseph. 1998. “Is Anyone Listening? International Relations Theory and the Problem of
Political Science Quarterly
, 113(1): 43-62.
Licklider, Roy and Edward Rhodes. 2009. “Careers in International Relations.” New Brunswick,
NJ: Rutgers University.
Lord, Alexandra M. 2012/01/02. “The Sweet Spot of a Nonacademic Job Search.”
Merton, Robert K. 1957. “The Role-Set: Problems of Sociological Theory.”
British Journal of
, 8(2): 106-120.
“The U.S. Mission to the OSCE.” n.d.
United States Mission to the Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe