Ph.D. Requirements

  1. Graduate Curriculum
  2. The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination and the Dissertation
  3. University and Department Enrollment Responsibilities
  4. Eligibility to Enter Academic Job Market
  5. Financial Aid
  6. Residency Requirement
  7. Conference Travel
  8. Additional PhD Funding/Grants

Program Milestones (PDF)

Graduate Curriculum

Fourteen Regular Courses

Students must complete at least fourteen graded courses in the Ph.D. program, all with a grade of B- or better, usually by the end of their third year.  Incoming students must also complete a math "prefresher" course held in August prior to the beginning of their first year. Students wishing to count any reading courses toward the fourteen-course total must receive the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. Such courses should be taken for a letter grade, with the grade based on a paper or examination, not for an "S" grade. (Reading courses with the "S" grade may, however, be used to achieve the 90 total credit hours required by the University.) Courses outside the department or below the 400-level must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies in order to count toward the fourteen-course total.

Required courses. Each student is expected to complete the following six courses or their equivalents:

  • PSC 404, Probability and Inference
  • PSC 405, Linear Models
  • PSC 407, Mathematical Modeling
  • PSC 408, Positive Political Theory
  • PSC 480, Scope of Political Science
  • One graduate-level Political Philosophy seminar (typically PSC 581)

Students generally take the two courses in statistical methods (404, 405) and formal theory (407, 408) in their first year. They also generally take Scope of Political Science (480) in their first year. Students may take the graduate seminar in political philosophy in either their first or second year. (Acceptability of equivalents for the required courses will be determined by the instructor of the required course.)

Substantive coursework. Students who offer only one substantive field as a field of concentration must take at least two substantive courses beyond those required for that field examination. Those two courses may be in any substantive field, including the examined field. None of the six required courses listed above may be counted toward this requirement. Substantive fields include American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Philosophy.

Required math "prefresher." Unless exempted, all students are required to participate in an ungraded, "prefresher" math course in the two weeks before the start of the first semester. This course reviews topics in calculus and matrix algebra in preparation for the required first-year courses in statistical methods and formal theory.

Language and math preparation. All entering students are expected to have a basic command of spoken and written English as well as the equivalent of one year of college-level calculus. Entering students who wish to take English or calculus courses over the summer in Rochester may petition the department for tuition support, which is generally given. Depending on their level of English proficiency, some entering students may be required to successfully complete one or more courses in English as a Second Language as a condition of their remaining students in good standing. Continuing students may also be required to take such courses, including courses that offer preparation for work as teaching assistants. Students not required to take such courses may elect to take them on their own. In all these cases, the department will generally cover the full cost of tuition. In the department's annual review of graduate students, the faculty will consider a student's command of English as one of the factors indicating the student's suitability for continuing in the PhD program.

Three Fields of Concentration

Students must pass three fields of concentration by February 1 of their third year.

The fields must be selected from the following list:

  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Political Philosophy
  • Methods
  • Formal Theory

At least one of the three fields must be Methods or Formal Theory. At least two of the fields must be passed with exams, at least one of which must be in a substantive field. The format of the exams will be determined by the instructors involved. The current requirements for each field's comprehensive examination can be downloaded here.

One field (technical or substantive) may be passed solely based on coursework. To pass a field based solely on coursework, a student must take at least three courses in that field and have a GPA of at least 3.2 for at least three of those courses. Students may petition to retake a course and substitute the higher grade to satisfy this requirement.

To take a substantive field exam, students must (1) take the field seminar for that field and (2) take two other courses in that field (which can include reading courses) approved by the instructors in that field.

In order to take a technical field exam, students must take additional coursework. Students interested in taking methods or formal theory exams should consult with the relevant faculty shortly after completing the third course in the respective sequence.

A course that is used to satisfy the requirements for one field may not be used to fulfill the requirements for the other two fields. This applies both to a course used as part of the course requirements for taking a comprehensive exam, and a course used to satisfy a field by coursework.

In special cases, course requirements for a field exam may be waived at the discretion of that field’s faculty.

Second-Year Paper

Each student must complete and formally present a second-year paper. The second-year paper should demonstrate the capacity for conducting research. The faculty anticipate that it will originate from one of the seminars that students have taken during their first two years; it may, indeed, be a required seminar paper that receives positive feedback or (more commonly) a revision of a successful seminar paper. In any case, the paper should demonstrate a grasp of the existing literature and an ability to contribute to it by using appropriate research techniques.

The faculty recognize that the impracticality of some feasible-looking research projects becomes apparent only after substantial investment of time and effort. Therefore, a reasonable question pursued with competence and diligence may serve as the basis for an acceptable research paper even if, to some extent, it fails to yield positive results in the end. No matter what topic or approach students choose, they should keep in mind that the purpose of the second-year paper is to provide them with an opportunity to gain experience in the research process--and perhaps get them started on a dissertation project.

A final draft of the second-year paper must be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies by the first day of classes at the beginning of a student's fifth semester. For students on the usual schedule, this means that papers must be submitted on the first day of classes in the fall of their third year. To ensure that students allocate enough time for their research project, students must submit a proposal to a faculty member and discuss it with him or her by June 1 prior to their fifth semester. A rough draft must be submitted to the faculty member and discussed by the following August 1. Failure to turn in on time the proposal, rough draft, or final draft will be treated as failure to fulfill a degree requirement and can be sanctioned by suspension of funding or removal from the program.

Students will make oral, conference-style, presentations of their papers to the department soon after they have submitted their papers, usually on the second or third Friday of the fall semester. This "conference" will consist of 15- to 20-minute presentations (which assume an audience familiar with the work) followed by questions and comments from the audience.

Subsequent to the presentations, the faculty will meet to evaluate students' written and oral performance and offer feedback. In extreme cases, failure to demonstrate an appropriate level of mastery and effort will incur sanctions up to and including removal from the program. (Second-year evaluations from the previous spring are routinely contingent on meeting the paper requirement.)

Teaching Responsibility

As part of the training for the Ph.D., all students are expected to fulfill a further responsibility to the department in the form of teaching (normally as a teaching assistant [TA]) for the equivalent of four semesters in residence. Students will ordinarily fulfill the requirement by teaching in their third and fourth years. Students who plan to conduct field research may have the timing of their teaching duties shifted. In such cases, students should petition the Director of Graduate Studies for an exception.

Faculty Advisor

Students are assigned a special faculty advisor no later than the fall semester of their first year to assist them in planning their program of study. During the first semester of the first year, students are asked to provide the Director of Graduate Studies with the names of a few faculty members whom they would like as advisors. The Director of Graduate Studies then facilitates mutually acceptable matches.

At a minimum , students and their faculty advisors should meet before each semester to discuss course selections and progress toward completing degree requirements, such as the second-year paper and field concentrations. In addition, first-year students will meet with their faculty advisors and the Director of Graduate Studies during the examination period in May to discuss their progress, research interests, and preliminary ideas for the second-year paper in anticipation of the annual review of graduate students conducted by the faculty.

Program of Study

Students are expected to file a program of study with the Director of Graduate Studies no later than the beginning of their second year of study. This information is used to prepare a formal "Program of Study" form for the M.A. degree, which will ordinarily be awarded after passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination, as well as for purposes of discussion and advice.

The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination and the Dissertation

The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination (Dissertation Proposal Defense)

In political science, the University Ph.D. Qualifying Examination consists of the preparation, presentation, and defense of a thesis proposal. After completing all course requirements (including the elimination of all incompletes) and passing field examinations in three fields, students must take the Ph.D. qualifying examination--also known as the dissertation proposal defense. This examination is a University requirement for formal entry into Ph.D. candidacy. The dissertation proposal must be successfully defended by May 31 of the third year. If a student has not passed this exam by May 31, he or she is ineligible for departmental funding until the exam is rescheduled and successfully defended. At least seven months must elapse between the successful defense of the dissertation proposal and the oral defense of the completed dissertation.

To begin this process, students must form a dissertation proposal committee, consisting of three faculty members, at least two of whom are from Political Science, no later than March 1 of the third year. At least two of these faculty members will ordinarily constitute the initial membership of the thesis committee. By March 1, students must also submit to the Director of Graduate Studies a one-page dissertation summary that includes the topic, format of the dissertation, and faculty expectations for a successful dissertation proposal. This one-page summary must be signed by the student as well as all members of the committee. Students are encouraged to begin discussions with faculty about expectations for the proposal well in advance of this deadline. A draft of the full dissertation proposal is due to the committee by April 1. At least one week in advance of the examination, the student should also submit the final version of the proposal to each committee member.

The presentation is made to the dissertation proposal committee. The examination must be formally scheduled two weeks in advance and the Dean's Office notified. Program of Study forms for the M.A. and Ph.D. degrees must be submitted at this time, if not earlier. Details on formally scheduling the examination and completing the Program of Study forms are available from the department administrator.

The presentation itself should ordinarily consist of a twenty-to-thirty-minute statement of the goals of the thesis, its general relationship to the appropriate literature in political science, the methods to be used in the research, and reason to believe that the study will result in a significant contribution to knowledge in political science. The statement will be followed by, or involve as it proceeds, questions and advice from members of the committee. The student will pass the examination if the committee members are satisfied that the student is adequately prepared to undertake the thesis work and that there is good reason to believe that the proposal will result in an adequate thesis if executed appropriately.

The Dissertation

Under University regulations, Ph.D. dissertation committees must consist of at least two full-time Rochester political science faculty members and one outside faculty member. All three faculty members must hold the rank of assistant professor or higher at the University of Rochester. (Some special exceptions to this are described in the Graduate Bulletin.) If an outside faculty member has not been involved in the proposal presentation and defense, the student should approach and gain the consent of such a faculty member to participate on the thesis committee. This should be done as soon as possible after the Ph.D. qualifying examination.

As noted in the Graduate Bulletin, at least seven months must elapse between the Ph.D. qualifying examination and the thesis defense. Students planning a thesis defense should obtain a copy of the University brochure on thesis requirements and also consult the graduate calendar to determine the periods during the year when such defenses cannot be scheduled. The student is responsible for arranging a time at which the three committee members and outside chair (all selected by the student) can be present, and for registering the thesis well in advance of the intended defense date (in order to leave sufficient time for administrative processing, please notify the Department Administrator of your plans to defend at least 5 weeks prior to the desired defense date). The defense consists of a brief public lecture and discussion, followed by a closed examination by the members of the committee.

Upon successfully defending your thesis, a corrected copy of the dissertation, incorporating changes required by the dissertation committee during the thesis defense, must be submitted electronically to the Graduate Dean. This should be done as soon as possible after the defense, and before the deadline set forth on the graduate calendar, as no Ph.D. degree or completion letter can be awarded until these copies are submitted.

Degrees are conferred five times each year (March, May, August, October, and December). Students who must have degrees conferred by a specific date for job-related purposes should work closely with the Department Administrator to ensure that a defense is scheduled in time for the desired degree conferral date.

University and Department Enrollment Responsibilities

Every graduate student should be aware of the M.A. and Ph.D. requirements stated in the University Graduate Bulletin. Department responsibilities and requirements are in addition to, or part of, the general University responsibilities.

In order to achieve the University requirements of 90 credit hours, each student should ordinarily register for at least 32 credit hours each year for the first two years of study and 26 credit hours in the third year of study. Tuition scholarships are ordinarily granted for five successive years, and these allow a maximum of 90 total credit hours. In addition to 400 level courses, students should register for sufficient units of "Ph.D. Research" courses to achieve the appropriate hours-per-year total. Students will be assisted by the department in selecting the appropriate course numbers for non-course-based credits (e.g., Ph.D. research credits.)

No later than at the end of the second year, a Master of Arts Program of Study Form must be completed by the student. Please consult with the department administrator for details. The degree is awarded after successful completion of the three field exams and the Ph.D. qualifying examination.

At the time a student takes the Ph.D. qualifying examination, and no later than the end of the third year, a formal Program of Study form for the Ph.D. must be filed with the Dean's Office. This form lists all the courses in a student's Ph.D. program. Please see the department administrator for details.

Students beyond their fifth year of study are responsible for paying a continuing enrollment fee (approximately 5% of annual tuition) and the mandatory health fee. Students leaving the Rochester area pay the required enrollment fee, but no health fee.

Eligibility to Enter Academic Job Market

The department will not prepare files and letters of recommendation for students seeking regular academic positions until the student has passed the qualifying examination and assembled the dissertation committee.

Students are required to give an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal and preliminary results (a "job talk") before commencing formal interviews for academic positions at other institutions. "Job talks" are announced in advance and open to all faculty and graduate students.

Financial Aid

No student will be eligible for financial aid if he or she has three or more Incomplete grades at the beginning of a semester.

No student will be eligible to receive aid in the fourth year until formally admitted to Ph.D. candidacy--i.e., until successfully passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination (dissertation proposal defense).

A student who plans to apply for outside fellowship support should meet with the Director of Graduate Studies, as outside awards may affect levels of departmental support.

Residency Requirement

Students in their 1st through 5th years must remain in residence at the University of Rochester during the academic year in order to receive departmental funding. Students who require exceptions to this policy (for instance, students planning to conduct fieldwork) must receive prior approval from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Conference Travel

The department encourages students to attend conferences to present their research. The department's current conference travel policy for graduate students can be obtained from the Director of Graduate Studies.

Domestic Field Research Grants


Domestic Field Research grants support University of Rochester Political Science graduate students engaged in short-term field research within the United States.


All Ph.D. students in Political Science are eligible to apply for grants of up to $1,000. Students may apply for these grants once per year, but priority will be given to students who have not previously received a grant from this program.


Applications are considered on a rolling basis and should be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies.

The application includes:

•        A 3-5 page project description summarizing the research question to be addressed and how the proposed field research (interviews, data collection, archival work, etc.) will help answer this question.

•        A proposed budget (airfare, lodging, research materials, etc.). Please be sure to plan accordingly, as budget awards will not be increased once they are made.

International Field Research Grants

For more information on International Field Research Grants, please visit:

Additional Opportunities

The University of Rochester maintains a database of external fellowships and awards that is searchable based on your education level and field of research, among other search criteria. That may be found here: