PhD in Political Science

Changes to this program will take effect in the 2015–2016 academic year.

The Graduate Program in Political Science offers an intellectually stimulating and collegial environment for the training of PhD candidates and enrolls roughly six students a year to the program. A richly diverse community of scholars comprise the Graduate Faculty in Political Science at Boston University and students may also take advantage of the broader resources in the Boston area. Entering students must have a BA or an MA. The program trains students in research and teaching methods, and prepares them for positions in academia, research institutions, and government agencies such as the State Department.

Course Requirements

When selecting courses, students must have advance approval of the major professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science.

Students admitted to the PhD program are required to complete 16 graduate-level courses (64 credits). Students entering the program from Boston University’s BA/MA program will be able to transfer over some of their credits. These students should schedule a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies to resolve this question as soon after arrival as possible.

Selection of these courses must be approved by the student’s major professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Political Science. Courses may be drawn from the offerings of this and related departments subject to the following requirements.

Core Seminars

Students entering the program must develop a minimum level of competence in at least three of the five subfields of Political Science. The five Core Seminars are the following:

  • PO 711 Approaches to the Study of American Politics
  • PO 741 Public Policy Analysis
  • PO 751 Approaches to the Study of Comparative Politics
  • PO 771 Approaches to the Study of International Relations
  • PO 791 Approaches to the Study of Political Theory


All students enrolled in the PhD program must fulfill a methodology requirement. This consists of two courses: PO 840 Political Analysis and PO 841 Quantitative Research Methods.  Students may petition the DGS to replace either of these courses with an equivalent course in the Mathematics or Sociology Departments.

Major Field, Minor Field, and Subfield

Students must develop a high level of competence in one major and one minor field as well as mastery of one subfield within the major area in which dissertation work is planned. This requirement is normally fulfilled through courses, seminars, and directed studies, as well as through independent reading by the student. In addition, students are encouraged to take courses offered in related disciplines such as economics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and history. Such course selections vary according to the student’s overall program and must be planned in consultation with the student’s advisor.

Language Requirement

There is no general foreign language requirement for the PhD. However, those students whose research project requires the understanding of a foreign language may be required to demonstrate proficiency in a second language.

Qualifying Examinations and Second-Year Paper

In their second year, students must submit and have approved an independent research paper of high quality. Typically, this will involve the substantial revision, expansion, and polishing of a graduate seminar paper. The paper must be approved by a committee of three faculty members chosen by the department.

After the second-year paper is approved, and students have completed coursework, qualifying examinations are given in the major field, subfield, and minor field. Examinations take two days, one day for the major field and one day for the minor field. These written examinations are graded by a committee of three examining professors chosen by the department. After passing the qualifying examinations and completing the second-year paper requirement, students proceed to their dissertation work.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director within one year of completing qualifying examinations. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as valuable contributions to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate a mastery of their fields of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Any student who has successfully completed all course requirements and has either passed the qualifying exam or written a formal thesis may request that a terminal master’s degree be granted.