Graduate Student Life

Being a graduate student at Northwestern should be an exciting and fulfilling experience.  The Department of Political Science has a very active student body, and many events, activities, and programs to enhance the student experience. 

The Commune

We are excited to report that the Commune was nominated for two Northwestern University awards this year: a Community Enrichment Award and an Outstanding Graduate Student Organization Award! Although they didn't win, these nominations are a testament to the hard work and involvement of the department's graduate students in our community!

The Commune had a very active 2013-14 academic year, and plans to continue to work on many of these projects moving forward.  Here is a sample of what the Commune planned for the Department this year, provided by 2013-14 Commune co-chairs Anna Terwiel and Erin Lockwood:

We're delighted to report the following progress has been made on the student-initiated proposals we solicited and put to a vote in Fall 2013:

  • Twenty-one lockers for students who don't have offices have been ordered and will be installed in the computer lab in Summer 2014.
  • Per a suggestion by several students at Fall Commune meeting, we also helped organize a workshop for international students on academia in the United States.

We organized the following professional development events, with support from a grant from TGS:

  • Dan Galvin's "How to give a job talk" Talk + six practice job talks by current graduate students
  • Dissertation Writing Workshop
  • Teaching Philosophy and Portfolio Workshop (in conjunction with the Teaching Committee)
  • Applying for and Presenting at Conferences (including the construction of a conferences database:
  • Applying for Outside Fellowships
  • Teaching Sensitive Subjects Panel Discussion (in conjunction with the Teaching Committee and MENA Grad)

Under the heading of gender and the discipline, the Commune organized:

  • Gender Gap in Political Science Mini-Conference
  • Family & Academia Conversation

We also organized a series of organizational and social events:

  • Quarterly Commune meetings, open to all graduate students, with an open agenda circulated in advance
  • Thanks to a very generous volunteer corps, we managed to fill all the needed slots for Prospective Students' Weekend -- including a great party at the end of their visit.
  • Fall Welcome Party
  • Post-qualifying exam drinks for this year's third-years
  • Standing Friday happy hour at the Celtic Knot
  • Red Line bar crawl

The Commune meets quarterly to discuss topics of concern and interest to the students, and welcomes input from all members of the community!

Diversity Initiative

The diversity initiative was very well received and our department made important strides in implementing the package of proposals intended to increase the presence of under-represented minorities, including:

  • A commitment and preliminary steps towards building a Race & Politics program, including the launch of a speaker series under that heading this spring.
  • Admitting and supporting URM graduate students across subfields
  • Subscription to the APSA Minority Student Recruitment Program
  • Encouraging faculty to apply for the SROP summer program
  • A commitment to contacting the newly appointed TGS Director of Diversity and Inclusion about having graduate students participate in URM recruitment activities at TGS level

University-wide student organizations 

Family and Health Care resources


There are many resources to assist new and returning Teaching Assistants (TAs) with developing lesson plans and improving their teaching skills. 

The Graduate School has a number of opportunities for TAs, the most important of which is the New TA Conference, held annually at the start of the academic year. 

The Searle Center for Advanced Teaching and Learning also offers numerous training sessions and workshops, as well as classroom observations and peer-feedback. 

The Department has also created a Teaching Committee, whose members, upon successful completion of the year-long program, receive a Graduate Student Teaching Certificate with a $500 award.  

Graduate students interested in receiving department recognition of their teaching must achieve the following requirements. Participation in the Searle Graduate Teaching Certificate Program, which might optionally be completed for additional recognition, would also fulfill some of the requirements for department recognition.

To pursue the award:

  • Student must have served as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for at least three Quarters

To complete the award, the student must complete the following steps:

  • Write a statement of teaching philosophy
  • Produce a portfolio documenting their teaching
  • Be observed and evaluated by a member of the department teaching committee or department faculty or a Searle Center staff member
  • Be trained in how to conduct observations and observe at least one TA section or graduate student workshop and complete a feedback report
  • Obtain a nomination from a faculty member for whom they have served as a TA
  • Attend quarterly department teaching committee meetings and lead at least one professional development experience or service project, described below

In order to be eligible for recognition, students must commit to serve on a departmental teaching committee, which will operate as follows:

  1. Members of the committee will be all graduate students currently pursuing the department teaching recognition, any previous awardees who would like to continue their involvement, any current Searle Center Graduate Teaching Fellow(s), and the Commune Co-Chairs (ex officio) and the Directors of Graduate and Undergraduate Studies (ex officio).
  2. Graduate student members of the committee will be responsible for coordinating at least one professional development experience or service project for fellow graduate students.

The Commune also provides resources for TAs as they prepare their discussion sections.  The Political Science TA Resource Website is updated quarterly with new materials, and is available through Blackboard by request to the Commune.  You can view a presentation about ‘Teaching Sensitive Subjects’ by current student Erin Lockwood.

Summer Funding Grants

The Department offers small grants for students to use in the summer.  Applications will be available in March from the Graduate Program Assistant. These grants are intended to provide modest funding for students who might not qualify for other University grants.  Applicants may propose a wide variety of professional development activities to be funded by these grants, including methods training, language work, fieldwork, and summer reading groups.  


To learn more about housing options through northwestern, you can visit the housing link provided by The Graduate School. Currently, there is no roommate finding service for graduate students, although our Department and the Graduate Student Association are sometimes able to send emails to their listservs with roommate requests.

Information on university housing can be found at:

Alternatively, the Evanston campus is readily accessible by public transport from Chicago.

Current students created a helpful handout about how to search for housing as a grad student.