Note: The program requirements outlined below pertain to students who matriculated prior to Autumn 2017.

The Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago is committed to training students in political science broadly conceived. The faculty believes that the best work in political science often crosses subfields and disciplines. Our aim is to help students develop their intellectual interests while grounding them in the various approaches and methodologies that currently characterize the discipline. The following requirements, mixing research papers with courses and exams, aim to achieve these goals.

Students must demonstrate breadth and depth in the discipline by meeting the following requirements. For purposes of course distribution and comprehensive exams, the Department offers courses and exams in five fields. At present, they are:

A.        Theory
B.        American Politics
C.        Comparative Politics
D.        International Relations
E.        Methodology


Students are required to complete three courses in three fields to meet the course distribution requirement. Faculty will designate under which field their courses will count. Students must complete the course distribution requirement by the end of the third 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. PLSC 30501, Introduction to Research Design is required of all first year students. In the second year, students must complete at least four courses for quality grades, with at least two of those grades earned in the Autumn and/or Winter Quarters. Nine of the quality-graded courses must be courses taught by Department faculty, which includes visiting and associate members. Reading and thesis supervision courses do not count toward the twelve courses required above or for course distribution. PLSC 50000 Dissertation Proposal Seminar (offered in the Winter Quarter) is required of third year students.

The Department strongly recommends that all graduate students acquire the skill set necessary for successful progress as producers of research within the first year of coursework prior to beginning research on their MA thesis. The notion of a skill set will vary by the specific research interests of the students. The Department privileges no particular method. Students will discuss with their advisors the skill set they will need and will agree on a program of study. The DGS will confirm that these conversations have taken place. For those students whose research may involve quantitative approaches, the first year should include Research Design, Causal Inference, and Linear Models. The normal expectation for first-year quantitatively-oriented graduate students will be that they follow this quantitative track; however students may opt out of this sequence by proposing an alternative sequence subject to the approval of the student's advisor. For those students who intend to pursue political theory and qualitative research, the skill set is less established but may entail language training, ethnography training, interpretive methods, archival research, or other methodological or substantive courses.

Grading: Quality grades in the Department of Political Science are on an A, B, C scale with both +'s and -'s allowed. When considering whether students should be "passed on" to the PhD phase of the program (see below), the faculty normally expects a student to have at least half A or A- grades. However, our evaluation is not mechanical and involves a consideration of all aspects of a student's performance, especially research potential as shown in written papers. We are also aware that different grading scales are used elsewhere in the University; we consider those differences in our deliberations.

First Year Seminar Paper

During the first year, students must write a research paper of 25-30 pages as part of the normal writing requirement for a class. The paper should be written in the form of an article and approved no later than two weeks following the end of Spring Quarter.

The MA Paper Workshop

To help students write the MA paper the Department organizes a writing workshop. The workshop begins in the Spring Quarter of the first year and focuses on how to identify a researchable question and develop a satisfactory proposal around it. During the Autumn and Winter Quarters of the second year, students must present their proposals, drafts, and final drafts. Advanced graduate students will organize the workshop. Participation is mandatory.

The MA Paper

The MA paper should be modeled on a journal article and address important debates or bodies of literature in the discipline. The maximum length of the MA paper is 8,000 words (including footnotes).

Students must have an approved topic for the MA paper before the end of Spring Quarter of the first year with two faculty members who agree to serve as advisors. The designated first advisor must be a Department member. A formal proposal hearing with these two advisors is required before the end of the third week of Autumn Quarter of the second year.

The final draft of the MA paper is due before the end of the Winter Quarter of the second year. The two advisors should submit their evaluation and approval of the MA paper by the end of the first week of Spring Quarter.

Credit for Prior Graduate Work

Students who have prior graduate work may not use an MA paper written elsewhere as a substitute for the MA paper here. The only exception is that MA papers written at the University of Chicago, where one of the faculty advisors is in the Department, are acceptable, if so certified by a second advisor from the Department. Students may use a prior MA paper as the basis for the MA paper with the consent of faculty advisors, following the above deadlines. The final MA paper must meet regular Department requirements and standards. (Do not assume that because the MA paper was accepted elsewhere that it will be accepted here. Most students find that substantial work is required to have the prior MA paper meet Department standards; many find it easier to simply pick a new topic on which to write the MA paper.)

The MA Degree

Students will receive the MA degree after at least one year of residence and when the MA paper has been approved. Students need to apply for convocation by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the degree.

Comprehensive Examinations

Students are required to pass comprehensive examinations in two fields. Students must take the first exam by no later than the Spring Quarter of the second year and the second exam by no later than the beginning of the Autumn Quarter of the third year. At the end of the Autumn Quarter of the second year, students will need to declare the field of the first exam (unless already taken) and by the end of the second year, the second field. Each field will offer at least one core, introductory course no less than every other year and/or provide a current reading list that informs students as to the materials they should master to be considered "certified" in that area.

Exams will be offered during the tenth week of Spring Quarter and during the two weeks prior to the beginning of Autumn Quarter. Each field will decide, in advance, the nature and grading of the exam. A student who fails an exam is entitled to one re-test, but failure to pass an exam after two attempts may be grounds for not allowing a student to continue in the program.


First and second year students will meet with a faculty advisor no less than once a quarter. In addition, first year students, in the Spring Quarter, will meet with the Director of Graduate Studies for First Year Review. In the Spring Quarter of the second year, students will meet with a faculty review panel for Second Year Review.

Being Passed On to the PhD Phase of the Program

At the end of the eighth week of Spring Quarter of the second year, the Department will inform students if they have been "passed on" to the PhD phase of the program (i.e., allowed to continue). The Department will consider in making its decision, course grades, quality of the MA paper, and future scholarly potential.

The Dissertation

The student should consult three members of the faculty who will constitute the dissertation committee. They must all be members of the University faculty and two, including the chair, must be members of the Department. By the end of the third year, each student must declare her/his dissertation advisor.

Dissertation Proposal. The student should develop a dissertation proposal of no more than 3500 words that outlines the research question, significance, argument, hypotheses, and methodology of the dissertation. PLSC 50000, The Dissertation 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. Once approved, the three advisors will hold a hearing with the student to decide if the proposal is ready for submission to the Department for its comment and approval. When the committee agrees to put the proposal before the Department, the student furnishes a copy of the proposal and a one or two page abstract to the graduate studies administrator for distribution to the Department's faculty. Students are formally admitted to candidacy once the dissertation proposal has been approved by the Department and all other requirements have been completed. Students must submit their dissertation proposals for approval by the end of the Autumn Quarter of the fourth year.

In order to graduate past year nine, students must demonstrate current knowledge of the discipline. In each case of this kind, the Chair of the Department will determine what constitutes the appropriate demonstration of current knowledge. By the choice of the Chair, such a demonstration will consist of either (1) a re-taken successful PhD comprehensive exam, or (2) a successful oral exam, or (3) the certification of the student's dissertation committee.

Oral Defense. When the dissertation has received final approval from the committee, the student arranges for a formal defense and submits an abstract of the dissertation to the Department. The examination session will be chaired by the first advisor, publicly announced, and open to all who wish to attend. The candidate will lead with a presentation not to exceed 30 minutes in length. The examiners, normally the dissertation committee, but in any case three members of the faculty, examine the candidate in proceedings that should not exceed two hours in length all together. The committee informs the candidate immediately after the examination whether the candidate has passed.

Convocation. Students need to apply for convocation with the Department by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the PhD degree. The final version of the dissertation must be submitted according to the requirements of the University's Dissertation Office and by its published deadline. It is essential that the student contact the Dissertation Office early in the quarter of graduation for instructions on preparing the final version.


The graduate studies administrator will inform students and distribute forms (if necessary) for certifying completion and approval of papers and exams, and other requirements as appropriate. However, it is the responsibility of the student to make certain that approvals are submitted and requirements are met by the deadlines set by the Department.