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 2020.


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.

Comprehensive Examination in the Main Subfield

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

  • Political Theory
  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Formal Theory

Students are required to take and pass a comprehensive exam in the main field by the beginning of the third year. 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 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 exam after the first year. All other students will take the exam at the beginning of the third year.  

Course Distribution Requirement for the Secondary Subfield

Students are required to meet a course distribution requirement for the secondary subfield by the end of the second year. Courses and criteria for meeting the requirement will be determined by each subfield and shared by the subfield coordinator with the DGS before the start of each academic year. As an example, International Relations could require a student to (1) pass the IR Theory seminar with at least an A-, (2) pass three other IR courses with grades of B+ or better, and (3) no prior non-UChicago courses will count towards the distributional requirement.

The 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 MA paper gives students the experience of independent research at a manageable scale, before developing a full-fledged dissertation topic. The paper 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 paper. 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 May 15 of the second 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 the end of Spring Quarter of the second year.

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 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 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 paper. 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.

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 the end 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.

PhD Degree. 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.


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.

The faculty will meet annually in December to assess the progress of third and fourth year students. For third year students, the assessment will determine if students (1) have met all requirements to that point, (2) should be placed on “probationary status” (i.e. if work is not satisfactorily completed by the end of the third year, students will be directed to UChicagoGRAD to begin program exit over the Spring and Summer terms), or (3) to be directed to UChicagoGRAD to immediately begin program exit over Winter and Spring terms. For fourth year students, the assessment will determine if students (1) have defended the dissertation proposal, (2) should be placed on “probationary status” (see above) due to not yet having an approved proposal, or (3) should be directed to UChicagoGRAD to immediately begin program exit over Winter and Spring Term. The department’s Graduate Affairs Committee (DGS and a faculty member from each subfield) will review fifth year students in June and will approve the requests from dissertation committees for a 7th year of enrollment, if needed.

Students in their 7th year of funding may apply for an 8th year of funding that can be granted under exceptional circumstances. Prior to application, all interested students must meet with the Director of Graduate Studies. Applications must be submitted by December 15 and will be evaluated by that academic year's Graduate Affairs Committee. Applications must include the following materials: (1) a month-by-month timeline with deliverables for the dissertation, signed-off by all of the student’s committee members, (2) a letter of support from the dissertation chair, and (3) a cover letter by the student justifying the additional funding. Students who need a decision before the start of the academic year may petition the DGS to submit an early application, which would then be due by September 15 and evaluated by a committee of the DGS, Department Chair, and department Associate Chair. Only applications completed by the above dates can be considered.

Administrative Withdrawal

The Department will administratively withdraw students who have not completed their PhD after eight years. In order to graduate past year eight, 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 successfully re-taking a comprehensive exam, a successful oral exam, or the certification of the student's dissertation committee.

Mentored Teaching Experience Requirement

Every student will be required to complete four Mentored Teaching Experiences (MTEs) as part of their graduation requirements. An MTE includes all teaching experiences at the University of Chicago, such as acting as a TA or as an instructor of record. Students are not allowed to teach additional classes outside of these Mentored Teaching experiences. Most students will complete their MTE requirements by TAing for four different classes. If a student wishes to TA for a class outside the Department of Political Science (e.g. in the Core), or if a student wants to TA a second time for the same class, they must obtain permission from the DGS before committing to that TA position.

If given the opportunity prior to completing three MTEs, and if the student wishes, co-teaching a course, serving as a BA preceptor, or acting as an instructor of record can be counted as two MTEs. Otherwise, all teaching experiences will be counted as one MTE.

Students who have completed their MTE requirements, and are ABD in good standing in the program, are eligible to apply for teaching a course as instructor of record, such as via a prize lectureship (i.e. Grodzins). This will count as two additional MTEs, for a total of 6 MTEs. This is an option available to students who wish to expand their teaching portfolio, and is not a requirement.

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.