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. There are no compulsory courses, although we encourage students to take 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 Robert Pape's "Strategy," or begin with a more specialized course, such as Paul Poast's "Inference in Diplomatic History and International Relations." In quantitative methods, where a carefully structured program is particularly valuable, the department has developed a 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 three each quarter in the first two years. In the first year, students should plan on completing a total of nine courses for quality grades. In the second year, students should plan on completing at least seven courses for quality grades.

Students are required to pass a comprehensive exam in the main subfield. The Department offers exams during the month of September each year. Re-takes are scheduled for December. Some students—such as those entering the program with prior graduate work in political science or who complete the necessary prerequisites for an exam in their first year of study—may take the comprehensive exam after the first year. Students are required to meet a course distribution requirement for the secondary subfield by the end of the second year. 

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their MA paper in the context of their courses, and to consider seminar papers as bases for an MA paper. The MA paper offers an early opportunity for students to undertake a substantial work of independent research, and which advances a number of worthwhile objectives, some substantive, others more procedural. The MA paper can offer an opportunity to launch dissertation research, to test the viability of an idea or topic that might possibly lead to a dissertation, and to conduct work in an area students know will not be part of the dissertation but that they would like to investigate more deeply than is possible in coursework. The maximum length of the MA paper is 8,000 words (including footnotes). The final draft of the MA paper is due no later than May 15 of the second year, though in consultation with advisors students may choose to submit the MA well in advance of this deadline.

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. By the end of Autumn Quarter of the fourth year, 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).