To meet these varied student needs, the graduate program in political science offers rigorous training without a rigidly structured curriculum. Courses reflect current faculty research and their sense of what is theoretically significant. With the exception of PLSC 30501, Introduction to Research Design, there are no compulsory courses, although we encourage students to take concentration courses that provide overviews of the respective subfields and methodology courses appropriate to their research interests. In comparative politics, for example, students can take a variety of courses on specific countries or regions, each raising basic issues for comparative study. In international politics, students can choose an initial course, such as Charles Lipson's "Introduction to International Relations," or begin with a more specialized course, such as John Mearsheimer's "War and the Nation State," which has no prerequisites. In quantitative methods, where a carefully structured program is particularly valuable, the department has developed an optional sequence to prepare students for empirical research. Students can best engage the compelling questions by taking courses that reflect on-going faculty interests.
The department offers a variety of courses that effectively introduce students to major research issues, plus others that encourage advanced research. Regular courses last ten weeks, and students usually take two or three each quarter; advanced workshops usually meet throughout the academic year. In the first year, students must complete a total of eight courses for quality grades, with at least five of the grades earned in the autumn and winter quarters.
The department offers courses and exams in five fields. At present, they are theory, American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and methodology. To meet the course distribution requirement, students must complete three courses for quality grades in three fields. Overall, twelve courses for quality grades are required by the end of the sixth quarter.
First year students submit proposals for the Master's papers in the spring (their third quarter at Chicago). To help students write Master's papers, mandatory workshops are organized by department-appointed advanced graduate students. The Master's paper is limited to 8,000 words. The Master's paper should be modeled on a journal article and address an important research question or debate in the concentration area. By the end of the first year, students must also write a research paper of 25-30 pages as part of the normal writing requirement of a class. The department uses the Master's paper, course grades and faculty assessments of future scholarly potential as the basis for deciding whether to pass students on to the PhD phase of the program during their sixth quarter. Most students with strong grades and good research skills pass at this level and continue their studies toward a PhD.
Students are required to pass comprehensive exams in two fields. The exams are offered twice a year and they may be taken at any point but the final deadline by which the exams must be taken is the seventh quarter (normally Autumn Quarter of the third year).
After completing courses and exams, students turn to the PhD dissertation. The first step is a dissertation proposal that briefly outlines the research question, significance, argument, hypotheses, and methodology of the dissertation. A proposal seminar, required in the winter quarter of the third year, is a weekly seminar devoted solely to presentation and collective discussion of several drafts of each student's dissertation proposal. The proposal must be approved by a committee of three faculty who agree to supervise the dissertation research and present the proposal for department approval.
Writing a dissertation is usually an extended process of going back and forth with committee members on drafts and redrafts of chapters. Upon receiving final approval by the dissertation committee, the candidate gives a formal presentation based on the dissertation. Following the presentation, which is open to the public, the candidate is questioned by an examining committee of three faculty members (usually the dissertation committee).