Program Requirements

There are several requirements that must be fulfilled in the course of study toward a Ph.D. degree. Summarized, these are:

  • 27 units of residency (three years full-time)
  • 2 years minimum of full-time coursework (18 courses)
  • 2 required courses in statistics (Political Theory majors exempt)
  • Successful completion of a Second Year Paper
  • Successful completion of departmental qualifying examinations in a major and a minor field, typically taken during the third year
  • Acceptance of dissertation proposal
  • Successful defense of dissertation

First and Second Year

All students ordinarily are required to enroll for a full time course load of three courses per quarter. Usually these courses will be selected from among the graduate 400 level offerings of the department. In consultation with their advisor, students may also take courses in Social Sciences and Humanities Departments or programs, the Program of African Studies, Buffett Center for Comparative and International Studies (BCICS) Ph.D. certificate courses, or relevant courses offered by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management and the Law School. Students may benefit from taking a fourth course, particularly in languages or methods. Such a fourth course may often be taken Pass/No Pass. All other courses must be taken for a grade.

Generally, students will take core courses in the fields in which they intend to major and minor.

Required Statistics Courses

All students, except Political Theory majors, must take Introduction to Probability and Statistics (PS 403) and Linear Models (PS 405). These required courses are usually completed in the first year of studies. However, students may elect to take some or all during their second year, and should consult with their advisor about the best options for completion of this requirement given their overall program of studies. Students who wish to be exempted from these classes on the basis of equivalent training prior to coming to Northwestern must have written permission from the instructor of the course.

Second Year Paper

The Second Year Paper is expected to be a substantial scholarly paper demonstrating the student's ability to analyze a significant problem in the format of a journal article. It should be 30 to 60 pages in length. Frequently though not always, such papers will be an elaboration or deepening of a paper that a student has written in the context of a seminar.

Students choose a topic in consultation with two faculty members who will then serve as advisors for the paper. Under normal circumstances, the primary advisor will be a member of the Political Science faculty. In exceptional circumstances, the student may petition the chair to have a primary advisor from outside the department, but in any event one of the two advisors must be from the Political Science department.

Most of the work will be conducted independently (but in consultation with the advisors). However, during Fall or Winter of the second year, students may enroll in Practicum in Political Analysis (PS 404), which provides an opportunity to discuss the paper and its research techniques in a seminar context.

Third Year Requirements

In the third year, students generally begin to reduce their course load and concentrate on research. Students also prepare a proposal for doctoral research. Typically, students form a dissertation committee and defend the thesis proposal by the end of their third year.

During the third year, students take qualifying examinations in their major and minor fields.

The qualifying (preliminary) examinations are offered twice a year—once in the Fall (typically October) and once in the Winter (typically February).

Students must have completed all their coursework (18 courses), cleared all incompletes, and fulfilled the second year paper requirement before taking their qualifying examinations.

Students must take written examinations in their major field and in one minor field. They must qualify in a second minor field by taking a minimum of two courses in that field. The individual subfields, under the direction of the Field Chairs, will be responsible for writing the exams and for establishing the rules governing their administration. All Political Theory majors that pass the written exam will also sit for an oral exam. In the case of other fields, the committee that reads the written exam may require an oral exam as well.

Qualifying exams must be taken in the third year. If students have not passed their exams for the major and minor by the end of the third year they will be considered not making satisfactory academic progress by the department and risk ineligibility for continued financial aid.

Beyond Third Year

In consultation with their dissertation committee, students are working full-time on their thesis. The goal is to prepare a completed thesis chapter that can be used as a sign of scholarly promise when applying for academic research and teaching positions.