I can think of many successful people who do not hold a bachelor's
degree, much less a graduate degree. A year or so ago, Foreign
Policy magazine conducted a survey both foreign policy professionals
and academics. Some of the findings ...
1. The most useful graduate area of study for foreign policy work was
'area studies', i.e. knowledge of the culture, society, politics,
history, economics and language(s) of a given country or region.
2. The only functional graduate training that ranked at or near the top
3. Professionals rarely ever used theories derived from any of the
social sciences (excepting perhaps economics).3 Only two
theories had wide use among professionals: (1) nuclear deterrence,
specifically that of mutually assured destruction (MAD)4 and
(2) ~~ Human Terrain Analysis5
4. When asked to list the most influential people in foreign policy, the
professionals and academics produce radically different list. I believe
the person at the top of the academics list has never been heard of by
most professionals. Academics rated Henry Kissinger relatively low,
professionals had him at or near the top of their lists.
Moving past the survey, I'll note one person who is very influential in
foreign policy - and to my knowledge he only holds a bachelor's in
English: Robert Kaplan. After getting his degree he moved overseas where
he wrote articles and a book or two on the politics and societies of the
countries or regions where he visited or lived. I believe his book,
Balkan Ghosts, was mentioned of by President Clinton (this while
the Yugoslava civil wars was ongoing). That got folks' attention. He's
gone to write numerous other works and has consulted, lectured, etc
across the academic and foreign policy sphere.
1 OTOH, twenty odd years ago, I recall business people saying
they didn't need people with graduate degrees in what's now called area
studies. ~We'll hire a translator.
2 Off that, around thirty years ago there was book, ~
International Jobs~, designed to help readers find a job or career
overseas. One or more of the chapters dealt with graduate study. The
author said, if you want a job overseas in accounting or finance or
marketing, etc. then get a degree in accounting, finance, marketing,
3 When I was in college, the traditional approach to studying
international relations was being challenged by the social science
approach. The social science approach developed hypotheses and models
which were then tested against evidence in attempts to discover
empirical laws of social behavior. The traditional approach believed
people and societies were too complicated to derive such laws; instead,
one had to spend years studying a country, region, or functional area
from which useful experience emerged.
4 I suspect most professionals carry these conceptual tools
in mind, because they were all exposed to it through school or foreign
policy work. I also suspect that academics who study and professionals
who work in the field of nuclear deterrence, war, disarmament, etc have
a more nuanced perception of the conceptual models.
5 This may not be the exact name of the theory and it maybe
less a theory that an approach to how one goes about understanding a
culture or society. This specific one either evolved or saw its first
large scale application in Iraq and Afghanistan.