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. This means that you have to
pay continuing student fees for these semesters even if you are not
registered for classes. 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 with a BA degree are required to complete sixteen graduate-level courses (64 credits). Students entering the Program with an MA degree are required to complete between eight (32 credits) and twelve (48 credits) graduate level courses at Boston University, depending on how closely their prior work parallels the courses required for a Ph.D. in Political Science. Students entering the program with an MA 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 three of the five sub-fields of Political Science. All entering Ph.D. students must take the Core Seminar of their major field. 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

Students entering the Program with a BA must take three of the five core courses. For those students entering the Program with an MA, one or more of these Core Courses may be replaced, subject to the approval of the director of Graduate Studies, by equivalent courses that the student has taken elsewhere. In such cases, however, students are still required to take a total of eight to twelve Post-Master’s courses.

Methodology

All students enrolled in the Ph.D. program must fulfill a methodology requirement. This consists of two courses, PO 840 Political Analysis, and PO 841 Quantitative Methods (or 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.

Course Distribution Requirements

All post-BA Ph.D. candidates must take at least 12 of their 16 courses from the Graduate Faculty of Political Science. All post-MA Ph.D. candidates must take at least 6 of their 8 courses or 9 of their 12 courses from the Graduate Faculty of Political Science. Since post-MA Ph.D. candidates have already been given credit for course work done outside the department, any additional course work outside the Political Science Department must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

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.

Second Year Paper Requirement

In addition to passing qualifying examinations, and prior to exam preparation, 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 two sponsoring faculty members and the DGS.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

To become a candidate for a Ph.D., a student must pass qualifying exams in a major field, a minor field, and in a subfield of the major 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 three times a year­ during the first full week in October, February, and April. 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 one month before these dates. 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. We recommend that you plan ahead and take at least one course with the professors you are planning to have on your examining committee.

Qualifying examinations will be administered by a committee consisting of three faculty members who are responsible for creating the questions that compose the written portion of the examination and conducting the subsequent oral examination. At least one of the two professors in the major field on a Ph.D. examination committee must be a tenured or tenure track professor in the Graduate Faculty of Political Science. It is the responsibility of the student to contact the prospective members of the exam committee, to schedule the exams, and to keep the Graduate Program Coordinator informed of progress toward the completion of this requirement.

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 three written examinations, the three faculty members administering the exam will jointly decide whether or not the oral examination shall be allowed to take place. The oral examination will be approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

The last written examination must be completed a minimum of three days before the oral examination. A maximum of 15 working days may be spent between the first written examination and the oral examination.

To pass the qualifying examinations, a student must have passed all three written examinations and an optional oral examination at the discretion of the examining committee. 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.

Procedure for Comprehensive Examinations

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 5 years for post-masters students, 7 for post-bachelors students. A typical breakdown of a student’s work schedule is as follows:

Post MA Post BA
Completion of Coursework By end of 1st year
By end of 2nd year
Approval of Second Year Paper
By end of 3rd semester
By end of 3rd semester
Completion of Comprehensive Exams
By end of 2nd year
By end of 5th semester
Completion of Dissertation Prospectus
By end of 2nd year
By end of 3rd year
Completion of Dissertation
By end of 5th year
By end of 5 1/2 years

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.