Department of Political Science

College of Letters & Science

Program Structure

Our Ph.D. Program has two major objectives. The first is to help you become a scholar capable of contributing new research findings to the discipline. The second is to give you a high level of general training in those parts of the discipline you will teach if you become an academic.

The general training in political science occurs during the first two years of the Ph.D. program. Prior to the start of the first year, you are encouraged to participate in a one-week "math camp" that provides you with tools that you will use in much of your coursework.  Beginning with the first semester, you then take courses-generally open only to graduate students-that prepare you for the exams that certify your competence to teach in your area of political science. All graduate students take two "prelim" exams, generally after the second year here. The exams cover broad areas of the discipline, although you can specialize to some degree within each of the five areas in which we set exams. You choose two Prelim fields from among the five we offer: International Relations, Political Theory, American Politics, Comparative Politics, and Political Methodology.

Students have considerable discretion in planning their academic program. There are three course requirements. All entering students take Political Science as a Discipline and Profession, a one-credit course that surveys the major approaches used in the discipline and introduces students to basic issues in the professional life of a scholar. Students also must take Empirical Methods of Political Inquiry, a course in research design. Finally, all students must take at least one course in statistical methods; it is almost impossible to operate in many areas of political science today without some familiarity with statistical techniques, and many students take substantially more than than the introductory course. Students who plan to concentrate on non-English speaking countries usually need to take appropriate language courses. The Department allows extra time in preparing for prelims for students who require intensive statistical or language training to prepare them for their research. As part of your program, you also will complete a Minor; this is often used to deepen your knowledge in the area in which you plan to write your dissertation; for example, someone planning to write a dissertation on Russian politics might take a sequence of courses on Russian history, society or culture.

When you have passed the two general Prelims and satisfied other Department requirements, you begin the final phase of graduate study, the dissertation. You will work closely with an advisory committee of faculty in choosing your thesis topic, developing and defending a dissertation proposal, conducting the research, and writing the dissertation. The intellectual diversity of our faculty can be of great value to graduate students as they define their topic and research strategy. For most people, writing the dissertation is the most exciting part of a graduate student career. This is when you attempt to develop and support your original ideas with your own research rather than relying on the books or articles written by others.

Although these formal hurdles on the road to getting your Ph.D. are important, throughout your program you will be strongly encouraged to prepare yourself for the job market by participating in professional conferences and submitting papers for presentation and publication. Many students collaborate with faculty or other graduate students on research, either as coauthors or as project assistants. The Department is also committed to training students to become excellent classroom teachers. We have a departmental training session every fall for new teaching assistants and a series of teaching workshops throughout the year. In short, students are expected to be actively involved in research, writing, and teaching long before they obtain their degrees. These activities, more than any others, put students in the best possible position when they enter the job market.

Master's Degrees

We do not admit students who wish to pursue only the M.A. degree. For Ph.D. students, the M.A. is earned by course work typically completed in the first two years of the program.