PhD in Political Science

Our doctoral program trains students to be outstanding researchers and scholars. Students do 4-6 semesters of coursework, mastering scholarly debates in two chosen fields, and learning a variety of research techniques. After passing comprehensive examinations, they devise and defend a plan for dissertation research in conjunction with three faculty members.

Doctoral students choose a major field of study and a minor field. We offer training in three major fields of political science: American Politics, International Relations, and Comparative Politics. In addition to these three, students may choose as a minor field Political Theory, Public Policy, or Quantitative Methods.

Hours Required

At least 72 hours of formal study are required beyond the B.A. At least 48 of these must be in preparation for the general exams (see below); 12 to 24 hours are required for dissertation research.

As many as 24 hours of graduate work may be transferred from another institution toward the Ph.D. degree with departmental and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) approval.

Required Research Courses

Students must take at least two of the following three courses:

  1. PSC 8101 Introduction to Political Analysis (unless waived)
  2. PSC 8102 Empirical Political Analysis (Prerequisite PSc 8101, unless waived)
  3. PSC 8109 Systematic Inquiry and Research Design (Prerequisite PSc 8101, unless waived)

Research Tool Requirement

Students must demonstrate competence in two research tools or proficiency in one. Competence in a research tool can be established by:

  1. Demonstrating reading knowledge in a modern foreign language (determined by an exam given by the relevant language department);
  2. Demonstrating a specified level of knowledge in quantitative methods (students who complete PSc 8102 with grade B or better meet this standard); or
  3. Successfully completing two approved graduate-level courses in a cognate field (such as economics, sociology, anthropology, law, or other appropriate fields)

Proficiency can be established by:

  1. Demonstrating an ability to read and speak a foreign language with high-level understanding;
  2. Successfully completing the course of study recommended for the minor field in research methodology; or
  3. Completing a graduate degree in a discipline directly related to the student's research program

Course Work and Comprehensive Exams

All students are required to pass a comprehensive examination in two fields, one of which is considered to be their major field and one of which serves as a minor field. The three major fields are American Politics; International Relations; and Comparative Politics. These three fields and Public Policy, Political Theory, and Research Methodology are available as minor fields. The Department will entertain petitions jointly submitted by students and full-time faculty members in the department for minors that are composed primarily of classes that are not offered by the established fields.

Soon after their arrival in the department, students should speak with the professors who are the conveners for the fields in which they plan to take exams. Professors will advise students about coursework that is most appropriate, combining the parameters of the field with the student's interests. Consult the graduate director for information about conveners for the current year.

During their second semester students should fill out a plan of study in consultation with the director of graduate studies and the conveners of the major and minor fields. This allows students and their advisors to plan for the entire program, and determine which classes are necessary to prepare for comprehensive exams and dissertation research. Students should use research papers in courses to explore potential dissertation topics such that they are well-positioned to write their prospectus when they finish exams.

The examinations are intended to test students' familiarity with, and critical understanding of, the broad range of ideas and literature that the fields comprise. Consequently, students prepare for exams by engaging in substantial reading beyond that required for their specific courses in consultation with faculty, although considerable material for the exams will be drawn from core courses in each field. Copies of exams from previous years are posted at the department’s website.

Opportunities to take the exams are offered three times per year, in September, January, and May. Students normally take one exam during or immediately following their final semester of coursework, and their other field examination during the next semester. Full-time students must have sat for both their major and minor comps no later than the first exam offering of their fourth year. Written examinations in a student's major field will be complemented by an oral examination in which faculty further assess their knowledge about the discipline and of their major field.

Comprehensive exams are evaluated as fail, bare pass, satisfactory pass, or pass with distinction. Students must receive a grade of satisfactory pass or better on their major field exam, and a grade of bare pass or better on their minor field exam in order to continue in the program. Students may retake each exam once, if necessary; under no circumstances may a student take a comprehensive examination a third time. Exams must be retaken at the next exam sitting unless the Director of Graduate Studies finds grounds for a different schedule. Failure to demonstrate the required level of performance on comprehensive examinations after two efforts will result in termination from the program. Students who have achieved at least a bare pass in major field will be eligible to be considered for the M. Phil. degree. For some subfields, students may be required to prepare a two page precis of the planned dissertation prospectus prior to the oral exam. While not graded as part of the exam, many fields conclude the oral with discussion of the student's planned prospectus

Dissertation Prospectus

Once students finish their coursework and pass both comprehensive exams, the next step is approval of the dissertation prospectus. The dissertation prospectus is written in consultation with a faculty committee consisting of a director and two readers. The committee must be selected in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. The prospectus must outline the central research question(s), relate the proposed research to the existing literature, detail a research methodology, and explain the nature of the original contribution that the completed project will provide. Formats for the prospectus vary and are decided jointly by students and their committees. Examples of past prospectuses are available from the Director of Graduate Studies and the instructor for PSc 6109.

The prospectus must be presented and defended in an open forum, to which all faculty and doctoral students will be invited. The defense must be announced at least two weeks in advance. Except in unusual circumstances, the proposal should be submitted and defended by the end of the first semester after the student has passed exams.

Degree Candidacy

To be promoted to candidacy, students must have done the following:

  1. Passed their major field comprehensive examination with satisfactory pass or higher, and must pass their minor field comprehensive examination with a bare pass or higher
  2. Taken at least 48 hours of graduate credit in the program
  3. Secured approval of a dissertation prospectus by a committee of at least three faculty, and successfully defended that prospectus
  4. Fulfilled all other degree requirements (such as research tools and methods)

In addition, student's performance in coursework must indicate probable success at the dissertation stage. Passing examinations at the minimum level does not necessarily provide this indication.

CCAS Rules and Requirements

A student must adhere to the rules and requirements of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which are explained in detail here. One of the most important of these rules concerns the overall time limit for completion of all degree requirements: eight years from admission into the CCAS, or within five years of entering candidacy, whichever comes first.