The Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago is committed to training students in political science. 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 Department’s requirements, which mix research papers with courses and exams, are intended to achieve these goals. This document outlines the requirements for successful completion of an MA and PhD in Political Science for all incoming students beginning in the fall of 2017.


Students must complete sixteen courses for quality grades by the end of the 6th quarter (end of the second year). Twelve of the sixteen courses must be courses taught by Department faculty, which includes visiting and associate members. Up to two reading and thesis supervision courses can count toward the sixteen required courses. 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. PLSC 50000 Dissertation Proposal Seminar (offered in the Winter Quarter) is required of third year students and does not count as one of the sixteen required courses.

The Department strongly recommends that all graduate students acquire the skill set necessary for successful progress as producers of research within the first two years of coursework. The notion of a skill set will vary by the specific research interests of the students. Students are expected to discuss with their advisors the skill set they will need, and together they will agree on a program of study. The DGS will confirm that these conversations have taken place. The normal expectation for first-year quantitatively-oriented graduate students will include courses on matrix algebra, linear models, and causal identification. 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 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 also are aware that different grading scales are used elsewhere in the University; we consider those differences in our deliberations.

Comprehensive Examinations

The Department currently offers comprehensive exams in six fields, including:

A.        Theory
B.        American Politics
C.        Comparative Politics
D.        International Relations
E.         Quantitative Methods
F.        Formal Theory

At the end of the Autumn Quarter of the second year, students need to declare two chosen fields for examination. Course prerequisites for comprehensive exams typically include either a field seminar that is offered no less than once every other year or a sequence or collection of courses that are offered over two years. All fields provide the materials students should master in order to be considered "certified" in that area. Each field decides, 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.

The Department offers exams during the month of June each year. Re-takes are scheduled for September. 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 one comprehensive exam after the first year and the second exam at the end of the second year. All other students will take both exams at the end of the second year. Some students may have extenuating circumstances that make this fixed schedule excessively burdensome; consideration for an exception to this schedule must be submitted in writing to the DGS.

The MA Thesis

The MA thesis 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 thesis 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 MA thesis gives students the experience of independent research at a manageable scale, before developing a full-fledged dissertation topic. The thesis also can help students to gain a sense of how the germ of an idea becomes an article-length piece of writing (through literature review, the IRB process, operationalization of a question, elaboration of a distinctive argument in relation to existing literature, etc.).

Students are encouraged to begin thinking about their MA thesis in the context of their courses, and to consider seminar papers as bases for an MA thesis. Students also may choose to enroll in PLSC 40100 Thesis Preparation with their main thesis advisor. Students may take up to two units of Thesis Preparation to count toward the sixteen required courses. Two faculty members must agree to serve as advisors for the MA thesis. The designated first advisor must be a Department member.

The maximum length of the MA thesis is 8,000 words (including footnotes). The final draft of the MA paper is due no later than November 15 of the third year, though in consultation with advisors students may choose to submit the MA well in advance of this deadline. The two advisors must submit their evaluation and approval of the MA thesis by December 1.

Credit for Prior Graduate Work

Students who have prior graduate work may use as many as five graduate courses completed at other universities to count towards fulfillment of the department’s course requirement. Students seeking this reduction in the number of required courses should petition in writing to the DGS. Graduate courses previously completed within our department will count on a one-to-one basis towards the fulfilment of the department’s course requirement. Students may not use an MA thesis written elsewhere as a substitute for the MA thesis here. The only exception is that MA theses 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 thesis as the basis for the MA thesis with the consent of faculty advisors, following the above deadlines. The final MA thesis must meet regular Department requirements and standards. (Do not assume that because the MA thesis was accepted elsewhere that it will be accepted here. Most students find that substantial work is required to have the prior MA thesis meet Department standards; many find it easier to simply pick a new topic on which to write the MA thesis.)

The MA Degree

Students may receive the MA degree after at least one year of residence, the completion of nine courses for quality grades, and the completion of a satisfactory MA thesis. Students may apply for the degree through the UChicago portal by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the degree.


First year students will meet with the DGS in the Spring Quarter for their First Year Review. In addition, first and second year students will meet with an assigned faculty advisor no less than once a quarter. At the end of the second year, students must submit a ranked list of three faculty whom they would most like to have assigned as their Dissertation Proposal Advisor. The DGS will then make assignments based on these rankings and additional consultation with faculty. The Proposal Advisor will facilitate the transition from coursework and MA thesis to launching dissertation research. In addition, in November of the third year, students will meet with a faculty review panel for Third Year Review.

The faculty will meet annually in December to assess the progress of third, fifth, and eighth year graduate students. For third year students, the assessment will focus on passage to the PhD phase of the program (see below); for fifth year students, the discussion will focus on dissertation progress; and for remaining eighth year students, a strategy for completing the degree and exiting the program must be identified.

Being Passed on to the PhD Phase of the Program

At the end of Autumn Quarter of the third year, the Department will inform students if they have been "passed on" to the PhD phase of the program (i.e., allowed to continue). In making its decision, the Department will consider course grades, the quality of the MA thesis, and future scholarly potential.

The Dissertation

Students should consult at least three members of the faculty who will constitute a dissertation committee. Three of the members must be University faculty, and two, including the chair, must be members of the Department.

Dissertation Proposal. Students should develop a dissertation proposal of no more than 3,500 words that outlines the research question, significance, argument, hypotheses, and methodology of the dissertation. Students should also develop a timeline for dissertation completion to be included with the dissertation proposal.

All students are expected to take PLSC 50000, The Dissertation Proposal Seminar, during the Winter Quarter of the third year. This weekly seminar is devoted solely to the presentation and collective discussion of several drafts of each student's dissertation proposal. During the Spring Quarter of each year, the department then will host a “Proposal Day” when all third-year graduate students present their proposals to the faculty. On this day, every member of the cohort will present their proposal to the department.

A student’s three advisors will decide when a proposal is ready for submission to the Department for its comment and approval. The student, then, will schedule a proposal hearing. In advance of the hearing, the student will furnish a copy of the proposal and a one- or two-page abstract to the Department for distribution to the Department's faculty. When the Department approves the dissertation proposal (and the student has completed all of the other requirements), the student is formally admitted to candidacy (ABD status).

Students must hold the proposal hearing by June 1 of the third year. The department will withhold the Autumn Quarter stipend of any student who does not meet the June 1 deadline and does not have an approved proposal by the start of Autumn Quarter of the fourth year.

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, will interrogate the candidate in proceedings that should not exceed two hours in length. Immediately after the examination, the committee will inform the candidate whether he or she has passed.

Convocation. Students need to apply for convocation by the end of the first week of the quarter in which they wish to receive the PhD degree. Students must submit the final version of the dissertation 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 on for instructions on preparing the final version.

Administrative Withdrawal

The University will administratively withdraw students who have not completed their PhD after nine years. 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 a re-taken successful PhD comprehensive exam, a successful oral exam, or the certification of the student's dissertation committee.

Teaching Requirements

The University requires that all graduate students complete 5 “units” of teaching by the end of fifth year (through a combination of TAships, Core internships, and lectureships in and out of the Core). These teaching opportunities, as well as the Grodzins Prize lectureships, can enable students to prepare to teach their own courses in their core fields of research; expand their competence into new areas in which they did not have the opportunity to take graduate coursework; and develop their own courses based on their dissertation research. The array of seminars and workshops offered through the Chicago Center for Teaching complements the pedagogical training that goes on in the classroom and in Core staff meetings. We recommend that students in years 3-5 restrict themselves to the 5 required units of teaching so as to reserve the maximum possible time for dissertation writing.

Declaration of Intent to go on the Job Market

Students will have the opportunity to declare their “intent to go on the Job Market” at the beginning of an academic year. For this year, the department will subsidize ($200 initially) the fees associated with Interfolio. The department also will provide for one catered practice job talk, though students are encouraged to do more than one. Those students who go on the market for additional years are not eligible for Interfolio support or catered practice job talks. All other forms of department support, though, will remain available. The department encourages students to take full advantage of the services of UChicagoGRAD and the Chicago Center for Teaching as they prepare for both academic and non-academic jobs.

Graduate Program Timeline