Fall 2014 Cohort and Beyond

Credits Required

72 credit hours are required for the Ph.D.  At least 48 of these credits must be coursework credits. Students must take 12 to 24 credits of dissertation research (PSC 8999)

As many as 30 credits of graduate work may be transferred from another institution toward the Ph.D. degree with departmental and Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (CCAS) approval. Please consult with the Director of Graduate Studies about transferring credits.

Required Research Courses

Students must take the following three courses:

  1. PSC 8101 Introduction to Empirical Political Analysis (Fall of first year)
  2. PSC 8108 Craft of Political Inquiry (Spring of first year)
  3. PSC 8109 Dissertation Prospectus Writing Workshop (Fall of third year)

Course Work and Comprehensive Exams

All students are required to pass a comprehensive examination in two fields, one of which is considered to be their major field and one of which serves as a minor field. The three major fields are American Politics; International Relations; and Comparative Politics. These three fields and Public Policy, Political Theory, and Research Methodology are available as minor fields. The Department will entertain petitions jointly submitted by students and full-time faculty members in the department for minors that are composed primarily of classes that are not offered by the established fields.

Soon after their arrival in the department, students should speak with the professors who are the conveners for the fields in which they plan to take exams. Professors will advise students about coursework that is most appropriate, combining the parameters of the field with the student's interests. Consult the graduate director for information about conveners for the current year.

During the Fall and Spring semesters of the first year, students should fill out a plan of study in consultation with the director of graduate studies and the conveners of the major and minor fields. This allows students and their advisors to plan for the entire program and determine which classes are necessary to prepare for comprehensive exams and dissertation research. Students should use research papers in courses to explore potential dissertation topics such that they are well-positioned to write their prospectus when they finish exams.

The examinations are intended to test students' familiarity with, and critical understanding of, the broad range of ideas and literature that the fields comprise. Consequently, students prepare for exams by engaging in substantial reading beyond that required for their specific courses in consultation with faculty, although considerable material for the exams will be drawn from core courses in each field. Copies of exams from previous years are available online.

Research Paper Requirement

Students are required to write an original research paper, due September 15 at the very beginning of the third year. The paper will be submitted to the DGS.  This can be a paper that meets a requirement for a class, but the student should further develop the paper.  The goal of this requirement is to get students directly engaged in research early on in the process while they are taking courses and mastering the literature and methodological tools.  As this requirement is also designed to induce students to think about their dissertation topics early, students are strongly encouraged to write a paper directly on or directly related to their dissertation research. The DGS will distribute the papers among faculty for evaluation.  The paper should be of the quality that can be presented at a major political science conference, and students will be encouraged to take the paper to a conference, submit to a journal, and/or use it as the basis of their dissertation.  If papers do not meet that quality, the student will not have met this requirement and will need to revise the paper, following a timeline determined by the DGS.  If, after two versions of the paper, the student is unable to meet this requirement, the student will be terminated from the program.

Dissertation Prospectus

Once students finish their coursework and pass both comprehensive exams, the next step is approval of the dissertation prospectus. The dissertation prospectus is written in consultation with a faculty committee consisting of a director and two readers. The committee must be selected in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. The prospectus must outline the central research question(s), relate the proposed research to the existing literature, detail a research methodology, and explain the nature of the original contribution that the completed project will provide. Formats for the prospectus vary and are decided jointly by students and their committees. Examples of past prospectuses are available from the Director of Graduate Studies and the instructor for PSC 8109.

When a final draft of the prospectus is complete, the student should work with his/her committee to set a date for the prospectus defense. The prospectus must be presented and defended in an open forum, to which all faculty and doctoral students will be invited. The defense must be announced at least two weeks in advance. Once a date has been set, the student should e-mail the assistant to the Director of Graduate Studies to reserve a room in the Department for the defense. The student should then put together an e-mail announcement to send to both the Director of Graduate Studies and his/her assistant. They will forward the announcement to the faculty and doctoral students.

A prospectus defense form must be completed by the student and signed by the committee. The student should bring the form to their defense and submit it to the assistant to the Director of Graduate Studies after the defense.

» Prospectus Defense Form

The dissertation prospectus should be submitted and defended by the end of the third year in the program. See the “Expectations” section below for more specific details on procedural rules regarding the prospectus.

Advancing to Candidacy (ABD Status)

To advance to candidacy (ABD status), students must have done the following:
1. Passed their major field comprehensive examination with satisfactory pass or higher, and must pass their minor field comprehensive examination with a bare pass or higher
2. Taken at least 48 credits of coursework
3. Secured approval of a dissertation prospectus by a committee of at least three faculty, and successfully defended that prospectus
4. Fulfilled all other degree requirements

In addition, student's performance in coursework must indicate probable success at the dissertation stage. Passing examinations at the minimum level does not necessarily provide this indication.

» Advancement to Candidacy Form

Dissertation Defense Guidelines

Please see our dedicated page for rules, requirements, and procedures regarding the dissertation defense.


Expectations for Ph.D. Students, Presumptive Timeline for Completion, and Conditions Leading to Termination

We want students to grasp the high expectations we have of them, reflecting the fact that our program demands the highest standards of excellence. Our ultimate goal is to produce the most competitive students for the academic job market -- students who can compete for the top jobs on the academic market. Students who stay on track, work extremely hard, and exceed expectations demanded of them are the most competitive students on the market. Students who do the bare minimum or who fail to meet our expectations will not be competitive and we are doing them a disservice by advancing them through the program. In order to ensure that we're demanding the highest standards of excellence and generating the most highly-competitive students, we must consider the option of terminating students (in conjunction with annual evaluations) who are not meeting our high expectations. 

1. Coursework Years (primarily years 1 and 2)

Two existing triggers for terminating students during the coursework years.

a. CCAS rules state that if a student’s GPA falls below 3.0, he or she is subject to termination from the program. Note: we have discretion to alter the GPA threshold, and we will consider it a red flag if a student’s GPA falls below 3.50.

b.  Students who do not receive a “satisfactory pass” on the second attempt of a major comp exam or a “bare pass” on the minor comp exam on the second attempt are terminated from the program. 

2. Dissertation Prospectus Development Period (primarily year 3)

Policy on Dissertation Prospectus Completion and Defense (effective for Fall 2014 cohort and beyond):

• The presumption is that students will have completed and defended a dissertation prospectus by the end of their 3rd year in the program.
• Students who are not finished with the prospectus by the end of the 3rd year must file an extension in consultation with the DGS and the dissertation adviser explaining and justifying why they are requesting this extension. We will consider compelling exceptions but the burden is on the student to justify in sufficient detail why he or she is not meeting the end-of-third-year target.
• In the extension application, the student must present a specific plan and timeline for defending the prospectus, with the clear understanding that not meeting the terms of this timeline will result in termination. Thus, this plan takes the form of a contract. The DGS and dissertation adviser (in consultation with subfield faculty) either approve or reject the extension application. If rejected, the student will be terminated from the program.
• If the extension is approved, the student must meet the terms of the plan and timeline that he or she created and agreed to. If the student does not meet those terms, he or she will be terminated from the program.

3. Dissertation Stage

Relevant considerations: 

• Funding is guaranteed for five years, conditional on adequate progress.
• Students should consult with their advisers and the DGS and create a clear plan laying out a timeline for completion and when they will go on the job market. We want to instill in our students expectations regarding the timing of the job market, pre-docs, post-docs, etc.
• We need to eliminate instances of students being in their fifth year with no plan for going on the job market and not having guaranteed funding from the department.

General timeline for students not doing field work:  There is a general presumption that students not doing field work in a foreign country (mostly Americanists and many IR students) will complete the Ph.D. in 5 years. For students seeking an academic job, there’s a presumption that they will go on the academic job market in the Fall of their 5th year. We can make exceptions, but the burden is on the student to justify why they need more time.

General timeline for students doing field work (mostly comparativists): There is a general presumption that students doing field work in a foreign country will complete the Ph.D. in 6 years. Because of the application cycle for external funding (e.g., Fulbright), preparation of the dissertation prospectus must begin well before the beginning of the 3rd year.

• Students submit applications for external funding at the very beginning of their 3rd year (and into the Fall semester of the 3rd year) and sometimes in the Summer before the 3rd year. Some application deadlines are due as early as August and September.
• Students hear results about external funding the following Spring (March, April, and May) of their 3rd year. Students should defend their dissertation prospectuses before going in the field.
• If funded, students leave for the field at approximately the end of their 3rd year (there is variation on this) and spend all of the 4th year in the field (and sometimes longer).
• Students complete dissertation in 5th and 6th years.
• Students plan on going on the job market in Fall of the 6th year.

CCAS Rules and Requirements

A student must adhere to the rules and requirements of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, which are explained in detail here. One of the most important of these rules concerns the overall time limit for completion of all degree requirements: eight years from admission into the CCAS, or within five years of entering candidacy, whichever comes first.