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 field 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 major (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 post Fall 2015 are required to complete sixteen graduate-level courses. 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 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 are required to complete the following four core seminars in their first year:

  • PO 711 Approaches to the Study of American Politics
  • 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

The DGS may grant exceptions on an individual basis for those who wish to postpone one course until their second year.


All students enrolled in the Ph.D. program must fulfill a methodology requirement. This consists of three courses:

  • PO 840 Political Analysis
  • PO 841 Quantitative Research Methods
  • PO 843 Advanced Techniques in Political Analysis

Students may petition the DGS to take other methods courses instead of those listed above to fulfill this requirement.

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.

Course Distribution Requirements

All Ph.D. candidates must take at least 12 of their 16 courses from the Graduate Faculty of Political Science. At least 56 units of credit (14 courses) must be fulfilled by graduate-level courses (500-, 600-, 700-, or 800-level) taken for a letter grade.  The remaining 8 units of credit may be fulfilled by other courses including the required Research Workshop, the required Professional Development Course, directed studies, pass/no pass graduate courses, or lower-level courses subject to approval by 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. YOU MAY NOT TAKE YOUR COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS IF YOU HAVE ANY INCOMPLETES.

Leaves of Absence

Students must register for each regular 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 the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (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.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

To become a candidate for a Ph.D., a student must pass two qualifying exams in a major field and a minor field.  Students are expected to write rigorous, logical answers that show a critical familiarity with both the literature and key problems or issues in the discipline.

Ph.D. qualifying examinations are scheduled once per year in September. 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. YOU MAY NOT TAKE YOUR COMPREHENSIVE EXAMINATIONS IF YOU HAVE ANY INCOMPLETES. Students should also have contacted the examining faculty members well before this point to discuss how to prepare for the exams.

Qualifying examinations will be administered by a committee consisting of three faculty members who are determined by the department.  The committee  is responsible for providing a reading list, creating the questions that compose the examination and grading the examination.

Each examination is designed to require approximately one day of writing and thinking. It will be picked up by students by 9:00 AM in the departmental offices and returned no later than 5:00 PM of the same day. The examination will be written in the department under closed book conditions supervised by the staff.

After a student has taken the two written examinations, the three faculty members administering the exam will jointly decide whether or not a student has passed each exam. Students who fail the qualifying examinations are permitted to take them one more time. The new examination should be scheduled no less than three months and no more than one year after the original examination. Qualifying examinations may only be retaken once.

Second Year Paper Requirement (Master’s Thesis)

The summer prior to taking the qualifying exams, students must also submit and have approved an independent research paper of high quality to reach ABD status.  Typically, this will involve the substantial revision, expansion, and polishing of a graduate seminar paper.  The paper must be approved by one of the established qualifying exam committees of three faculty members drawn from the GFPS based on field.

The Dissertation Proposal

Within one year of completing their qualifying examinations, Ph.D. candidates must submit and defend a dissertation proposal. Work on the proposal can begin at any time (many students try to get their first draft done before qualifying exams), but it cannot be submitted to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences before 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 needs to put together a committee of three faculty members (the first, second, and third readers). The first reader must be a regular faculty member of the Graduate Faculty of Political Science 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 chairman’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: 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.