The Ph.D. Program

Candidates for a doctorate in Political Science will be expected to produce and defend an original significant contribution to knowledge in the discipline of Political Science, demonstrate mastery of subject material, participate in professional academic community activities and be able to teach the discipline at the undergrad level.

Degree requirements include (a) course work, (b) a primary (second year) paper, (c) the qualifying examination, (d) the Ph.D prospectus and (e) the Ph.D dissertation. All requirements for the doctorate should be completed within seven years (exceptions require a petition to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences). The sections that follow clarify what is involved in each of these requirements and provide a schedule for the completion of these requirements.

Please be aware that you must be registered as a student during any semester in which you complete any degree requirements. You must also be registered as a student during the semester prior to the one in which you defend your dissertation.

Course Requirements

Students admitted to the Ph.D. Program after Fall 2015 are required to complete sixteen graduate-level courses. Students entering the Program from Boston University’s BA/MA Program or other BU MA programs will be able to transfer some of their 500-level, 700-level or 800-level courses. These students should schedule a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) to resolve this question upon arriving at Boston University.  Students from other universities that hold an MA may be exempt from specific requirements of the BU PhD program (at the discretion of the DGS), but still need to take sixteen classes in total.

Selection of these courses must be approved by 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:

  • A total of 64 units of credit must be completed to advance to candidacy.
  • At least 56 units of credit (14 4-unit courses) must be fulfilled by graduate-level courses (500-,600-,700-, or 800-level) taken for a letter grade.
  • 8 units of credit may be fulfilled by other courses (e.g. Research Workshop, Teaching Fellow assignments, Directed study, Professional Development, other pass/no pass graduate courses, or lower-level courses.
  • Four core seminars must be completed in Year 1: PO 711 (American Politics), PO 771 (International relations), PO 751 (Comparative politics), and PO 791 (Political Theory).
  • The Research Workshop must be taken in Years 2 and 3.  Students are strongly encouraged to continue taking this course in subsequent years so long as they are in the program and living in the Boston area.
  • Three methodology courses must be taken, and are suggested for Year 1:
    • PO 840: Political Analysis
    • PO 841: Quantitative Research Methods
    • PO 843: Techniques in Political Analysis: Maximum Likelihood Estimation
  • The Professional Development course (currently offered every other year), must be completed–preferably in Year 2 or 3.  Students may choose to audit subsequent iterations of this course, as desired.
  • 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 and the DGS.
  • All requirements, except those imposed by GRS, may be waived by permission of the DGS.

Grades & Incompletes

In order to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress students must maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher and complete course work on time. Incompletes (“I” grades) may become permanent unless course work is completed within twelve months. Students receiving Incompletes must schedule a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies to discuss their plans for completing this work. On graduate transcripts permanent Incompletes and grades lower than B- are interpreted as failures. Students receiving more than eight credit hours of failing grades will be liable for a recommendation to the Graduate School for termination by the Department.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

In order to advance to candidacy (for the PhD), a student must write an MA thesis and take two timed exams.  These are the three elements of the Qualifying Examinaition.  Requirements for a terminal MA (without advancing to candidacy) may be met by either the two written exams or the master’s thesis.

  • Students are required to take their qualifying examinations in Year 3 of the PhD program.
  • Exams are scheduled once a year in September.  Exams will be offered at other times only in the case of a failed exam.
  • It is the student’s responsibility to inform the graduate program coordinator and the examining faculty that he or she is planning on taking the exams at least one month in advance.  Students should have contacted the examining faculty members well before this point to discuss how to prepare for the exams.
  • Students may not take the Qualifying Examination if they have any incompletes.
  • As one element of the qualifying examination, students must submit an independent research paper of high quality – known as the MA thesis.  Typically, this will involve a substantial revision, expansion, and polishing of a graduate seminar paper.
  • In addition, timed examinations are given in two fields of the student’s choosing: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, public policy, and methodology.
  • Committees of three drawn from the Graduate Faculty of Political Science (GFPS) will be established by the DGS in each of the five fields.
  • Each committee should include whoever teaches the core course in that field on a regular basis, or has taught it recently.
  • Committees are charged with (a) constructing a single reading list for each exam, (b) revising that list periodically, (c) writing a single exam for each exam period, and (d) grading that set of exams, along with whatever MA theses fall into their field.
  • Reading lists, including material presented in core 700- and 800- level courses, though it need not be limited to that material.
  • An online database including the current reading list along with old exams will be kept on Blackboard, by approval of the committee.
  • If a committee wishes, they may tailor a portion of an exam to the more specific interests and background of a student.  For example, the comparative politics exam might include a section focused on different regions of the world – Africa, Latin America, Europe…Committees who wish to do this will need to provide reading lists for the material covered in these sub-sections of the exam.
  • The standard time-limit for the exam will be 8 hours, i.e., 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.  This time limit will be strictly enforced.  If students do not hand in their exam at 5:00 it will be counted as a fail and they will need to re-take the exam.
  • Committees will determine whether the student (a) fails each exam (including the MA thesis), (b) passes at an MA level (setting in motion an exit from the program with a terminal masters), or (c) passes at a PhD level (allowing for advancement to candidacy).
  • Along with notification of the decision, the committee will give written feedback to the student pertaining to his/her performance on the exams and the MA essay.
  • In the event that a committee is undecided about how to grade a written exam and wishes to clarify certain issues with the student, a face-to-face meeting with the student may be held.
  • Students who fail one or more elements of the qualifying examination are permitted to take that element(s) a second time (but not a third). The revised MA thesis or fresh examination(s) should be scheduled for the Spring semester.

Prospectus Defense

Students are required to defend their prospectus in Spring of Year 3.  Work on the proposal can begin at any time (many students try to get their first draft done before qualifying exams). However, it cannot be submitted to GRS until all requirements for the Ph.D. — other than the dissertation itself — have been met.

Once a student has decided on a probable dissertation topic, he or she must assemble a committee of three faculty members (the first, second, and third readers). The first reader must be a regular faculty member of the GFPS except under unusual circumstances (which must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies). It is the student’s responsibility to approach relevant faculty about the possibility that they might serve in one of these capacities. The student should write the first draft of the dissertation proposal in close consultation with the faculty member who agrees to serve as the first reader.

Students should check with the Director of Graduate Studies regarding questions of length (the proposal cannot exceed 20 double-spaced pages) and format. The main source of guidance in the completion of the proposal will come from the student’s advisor(s) who set the standards on content.

When the proposal is completed, the student should circulate copies to readers, and — working through the Graduate Program Coordinator — schedule a defense of the proposal. The defense committee, a minimum of three members, must include the faculty members who have been designated as first, second, and third readers. At least one of the two professors who approve the Ph.D. proposal must be a tenured or tenure track professor in the Graduate Faculty of Political Science Department and must ultimately serve as first, second, or third reader of the dissertation. (Other graduate students and faculty may attend, but not participate in, these defenses.)

The outcome of the defense, including any recommendations for change, will be forwarded to the Graduate Program Coordinator to be placed in the student’s file. When the proposal is approved in its final form, the student should pick up an Approval Page from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, get the necessary signatures, make a copy of everything (proposal and approval page) for the Graduate Program Coordinator, and submit the originals to the Graduate School for review.

In the event that a proposal is not approved at the defense, candidates are given the opportunity to schedule a second defense. Failure to receive approval for the dissertation proposal at the second defense, however, will lead to recommendation to the Graduate School for termination from the program.

The Dissertation Defense

A completed dissertation must be submitted for defense no more than five years after the completion of the Qualifying Examinations. Students are responsible for keeping faculty members informed of their progress in completing the dissertation and should contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for information about graduation deadlines, the scheduling of the defense, the submission of the dissertation abstract, and the format of the dissertation. The Graduate School guidelines can be found here.

The defense committee is composed of five faculty members, including the three readers who approved the proposal, a fourth reader, and a chair.

At least three members of the committee must be faculty in the Graduate Faculty of Political Science. The first reader of a Ph.D. dissertation must be a professor in the Political Science Department, except under unusual circumstances (which must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies). The chair of the Examination Committee coordinates arrangements for the defense, but is not one of the readers.

In select cases, a student – with the first reader’s approval – may request that a faculty member from another university serve on the dissertation defense committee. If this is the case, the student should notify the Graduate Program Coordinator in advance and submit a copy of the individual’s curriculum vitae. Following departmental approval, the outside reader must also be approved by the Graduate School for Arts and Sciences. The department cannot be expected to cover the travel expenses of outside readers.

Prior to scheduling a defense of the dissertation, the student must submit an abstract of no more than 350 words describing the dissertation’s thesis, methods, and main findings. Since abstracts will be the principal means through which other scholars first make contact with the dissertation, it is important that the abstract provide as much concrete information as possible about the dissertation and present it in a fashion that is understandable to readers who may not be familiar with the approach or the focus of the dissertation. Abstracts must be approved by all readers of the dissertation, the Director of Graduate Studies, the Chairman of the Department, and the Dean of the Graduate School.

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, using information provided by the candidate, will send an announcement of defense to each member of the committee, and will provide the chair of the committee with the necessary forms on which to report the results of the defense. After the defense, the chair will return the papers, with the necessary signatures, to the Political Science administrative offices. At this time the necessary signatures will also be entered onto the signature page of the dissertation itself.

Time Table for Completing Ph.D. Requirements

The maximum time limit set by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is 7 years. Boston University fully funds students for 5 years. A typical breakdown of a student’s work schedule is as follows:

  • Year 1: Complete 8 required courses
  • Year 2: Complete 6 required courses + Research Workshop and/or Professional Development Course + Teaching Fellowship + Second Year Paper
  • Year 3: Take 1 course, Complete the Comprehensive Exams + Research Workshop and/or Professional Development Course + Teaching Fellowship + Dissertation Prospectus
  • Years 4 and 5: Complete and defend dissertation

The above schedule can be used as a rule-of-thumb to measure one’s progress. Students who find themselves more than six months “off schedule” should discuss their status with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Leaves of Absence

Students must register for each (Fall/Spring) semester until all degree requirements are completed. However, upon a written petition, and for appropriate cause, a student will be permitted a leave of absence for up to two semesters. Leaves of absence beyond two semesters are granted only in exceptional cases and require the approval of GRS (see the Graduate School Bulletin for details). Time spent on leave is counted as part of the time allowed for the completion of degree requirements.  Given these time constraints, students should work closely with their dissertation readers to devise an efficient schedule for research, writing and revision. A leave cannot be approved for the semester before the student defends his/her dissertation.