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Program Overview

The graduate program in political science prepares professional political scientists to work in both academic and non-academic fields. Therefore, we accept only students who intend to work toward the doctorate; we do not offer a terminal master’s program.


During their first two years of training, students specialize in two program areas, choosing from American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, and methods.

A PhD in Political Science is granted to students who complete:

Typically, the student is admitted to candidacy once they have completed residency requirements, qualifying exams, and a prospectus defense. Note that the Master of Arts in Political Science is an intermediate degree, awarded to those who have completed TGS residency requirements. Students entering with a master’s degree from any U.S. or international institution are subject to the same general requirements, though the department may grant some transfer credit.

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The Department has established the following general goals for each of the five funded years of graduate work.

First Year

Students in their first year are assigned a faculty advisor who assists them in selecting courses, planning their first-year course of study, and reflecting on their year through a First Year Review. Students take three courses per quarter for three quarters. In their first year they establish relationships with faculty, complete the methods requirement, learn about development of research questions and specific subfield and regional areas of specialization, develop writing and critical thinking skills, and pursue language work as needed.

Second Year

Second-year students complete their specific subfield and regional training, the coursework for their second field, further develop research questions/problems based on coursework, fieldwork and other experience, continue to develop familiarity with research methodologies, writing and critical thinking skills, inter-disciplinary course work, and continuation of language work. Second-year students also generally begin working as teaching assistants in the Department.  Students have the option of taking a comprehensive field exam in the spring of their second year.  Read our program areas to learn more about courses and exams.

Third Year

Third year graduate students complete their qualifying exams and prepare their dissertation prospectus. Many also pursue further subfield/regional specialization, inter-disciplinary course work, fieldwork, and continuation of language study. Many third year students decide to work on their teaching skills through the Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching and through a departmental teaching certificate program. Students who enter the program with three quarters of transfer credit may be allowed to meet these goals in two rather than three years.

Fourth Year

Ideally, students will have defended their dissertation prospectus at the end of their third year.  Students are required to have defended their dissertation prospectus by the fall quarter of the fourth year according to departmental guidelines. Those who have completed this requirement proceed to archival and/or fieldwork as needed and proceed to the dissertation-writing stage

Fifth Year

Fifth-year students work on completing their dissertation and prepare to go onto the job market.  The Graduate School designates two years of funding in student's offer letter that does not require teaching or working on faculty research. Students must use non-teaching funding in their first year. They may then choose when to use the additional year of non-teaching funding. Many students save this funding for their fifth year, so that they can focus on completing the degree.

Additional details about the program are available in the Department’s Guide to Graduate Study