The Political Science department at Berkeley admits students only for the Ph.D. degree. The Ph.D. program has two major phases: coursework and examinations, and dissertation research and writing. The two phases typically take approximately six to seven years (three years to candidacy and three to four for dissertation research and writing).
- Coursework and Exams
- Dissertation Research and Writing
- General Curriculum Guidelines
Coursework and Exams
The coursework and examination phase requires 40 units (typically 10 classes) of graduate-level coursework and competence in three of eleven subfields [link to subfield page beneath Research and Teaching category]. Subfield competence is demonstrated through written exams offered each semester. The preliminary field exams are typically taken in the student's second and third years of the program. All students must pass one exam in a major subfield (Comparative, American, International Relations, or History of Political Theory) and a second exam in any subfield. Competency in the third subfield may be demonstrated by a third written exam or by taking a prescribed series of three courses in that field with a combined GPA of 3.5.
The particular sequence of courses that a student takes in preparation for the comprehensive exams is not prescribed. Rather, the faculty assist students with selection of courses that best meet their intellectual and academic interests. There are no formal foreign language or statistics requirements although many students will find that their program of study and dissertation research will require the engagement of particular foreign language or methodology coursework.
When the above coursework and preliminary examination requirements have been met, the student prepares a prospectus for dissertation research. The student convenes a committee known as the qualifying exam committee. The qualifying exam committee advises on the prospectus and examines the student on specific research plans. Berkeley is highly committed to interdisciplinary scholarly engagement and this is codified in the requirement that both the qualifying exam committee and the dissertation committee include a faculty member from another department at Berkeley. Engagement with members of the faculty from other departments should commence during the coursework stage so that the advisement and input of the "outside member" is represented in the prospectus.
When sufficient preparation for the proposed research has been demonstrated to the qualifying exam committee, the student is advanced to doctoral candidacy. It is expected (and for most funding packages, required) that the student advance to doctoral candidacy within three years of beginning graduate study.
Dissertation Research and Writing
Doctoral candidacy initiates the second phase of the program during which the student normally devotes full attention to the research and writing of the dissertation. The student's dissertation committee is typically comprised of the members of the qualifying exam committee although there are sometimes changes in committee membership as the research evolves. The doctorate is awarded when the student submits a satisfactory dissertation to the dissertation committee. A reasonable estimate of the research and writing phase of the program is three years although students whose dissertations require more extensive research may take longer to earn their degree.
General Curriculum Guidelines
Students are required to complete 24 units of coursework in their first year of study. At least 12 of these units must be in political science graduate courses; the remainder may be in graduate or upper-division undergraduate courses in other departments. The first year is designed to allow the student the opportunity to engage in foreign language study, area specialization, and to meet and study with faculty from other departments who may become members of the Qualifying Exam or Dissertation Committees. The other major component of the first year curriculum is the First Year Essay. Students are evaluated at the completion of the first year on their overall academic performance. This overall evaluation will include GPA, successful completion of all 24 units, quality of the first-year essay, and evaluations of instructors. The Graduate Studies Committee weighs these factors to determine whether to invite the student to continue in the Ph.D. program.
The second year is used to further narrow down one's interests and to continue exploring ideas and potential advisors for a dissertation topic. Coursework continues as students begin preparation for both preliminary field exams as well as to write the dissertation prospectus. In addition to the coursework, ongoing foreign-language or area study, and preparation for exams, students in their second year usually serve as a Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) which are 20-hour per week positions.
During the third year, most students continue to GSI and complete their coursework in addition to taking their preliminary field exams. Political Science graduate students must show competency in three subfield specialties to be eligible to sit for the oral prospectus defense (known formally as the Qualifying Exam). Instead of sitting for three field exams, students have the option to "course out" of one field specialty by taking a prescribed set of three courses in the subfield.
Most students opt to take one exam in each of the semesters of their third year, but if desired, students may sit for an exam in their second year and again in the third year. Students may also opt to take two exams in the same semester although leaving both exams for the spring of the third year is not recommended. All students are expected to have completed their two field exams, to have coursed out of a third field, and to have written and defended their dissertation prospectus by the end of the third year. All student funding packages include the Dean's Normative Time Fellowship (DNTF), commonly known as the fourth year of funding in such packages. Successful defense of the research plan and submission of the necessary candidacy paperwork by June 30 of the third year confers the DNTF which, while known as the "fourth year," is redeemable any time (and does not need to be used in consecutive semesters) over the following three years.
In the fourth year, many students choose to stay in Berkeley and serve as a GSI as they prepare for an extended research trip. Since the DNTF is deferrable until the sixth year, students often find that saving that fellowship and teaching in the fourth year helps them conduct library and other research in Berkeley before embarking on extended trips away. The fourth year is also when some students begin to apply for extramural fellowships to support their dissertation research.
Like the fourth year, the fifth is variable according to an individual's research schedule. Often this is a good year to use the DNTF while in the field conducting research. This is also the time, if research is complete and writing has begun, to apply for finishing fellowships and extramural dissertation awards.
Sixth year and beyond:
In the sixth year, students who do not have extramural or remaining campus or departmental fellowship support will return to the classroom to teach while completing the dissertation and entering the job market. Others teach as adjunct faculty at the many colleges and universities in the area, and some find research assistantships to fund the final year(s).