PhD Requirements

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 five or six years (three years to candidacy and two or three for dissertation research and writing).

Coursework and Exams

The coursework and examination phase requires 40 units (typically 10 classes) of graduate-level coursework and competence in three of nine Subfields. Subfield competence is demonstrated through written exams offered each semester. The 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 coursework and examination requirements have been met, the student prepares a prospectus for dissertation research. The student convenes a committee known as the Qualifying Exam (QE) 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 students advance to doctoral candidacy by the end of their third year.

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 approximately two to three years although students whose dissertations require more extensive research may take longer to earn their degree.

General Curriculum Guidelines

First year:

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. All students are reviewed at the end of the first year of study on their overall academic performance. This overall evaluation will include GPA and successful completion of all 24 required units.  In exceptional cases, a student may decide not to continue in the PhD program or may be asked to leave after the first year; in this event, students may either be awarded an M.A. degree (if they complete the requirements for the degree, see next item) or will leave the program without an M.A. degree.

Second year:

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 prepare for the M.A. Paper and Field Exams.

Students who plan to continue in the Ph.D. program are expected to engage in advanced topical research leading to a research paper to be completed by the end of the second year, together with any additional coursework appropriate to their topical focus. Three faculty members (one of whom is selected by the student and serves as principal advisor for the paper) will review this paper. This paper, which continuing students will submit at the end of their second year, also serves as the M.A. project.

Completion of a yearlong graduate seminar (Research & Writing 290A and 290B) during the second year is strongly recommended.  Each student taking this course is advised by a faculty advisor external to the course (who will also serve as one reviewer of the second-year paper) as well as the two co-instructors of the seminar. The goal of the seminar is to assist students in preparing a high-quality research paper, which will serve as the Second-year/M.A. paper as mentioned above.

All students are reviewed at the end of the second year of study on their continued overall academic performance. This overall evaluation will include GPA, successful completion of all required units, and successful completion of the Second-year/M.A. paper. The Graduate Studies Committee will take these factors as well as the rigor of the academic program and the number of incompletes into consideration when determining whether to invite the student to continue in the PhD program.

Students in their second year also usually serve as a Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs), which are 20-hour per week positions.

Third year:

During the third year, most students continue to teach as GSIs and complete their coursework in addition to taking their 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.

Students may sit for the Field Exams as early as the beginning of the second year, but if desired, students may sit for an exam in their second year and again in the third year. Field Exams are offered at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. 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 two Field Exams, to have “coursed out” of a third field, and to have written and defended their dissertation prospectus (passed their Qualifying Exam) by the end of the third year. It is highly recommended (and essential to most funding packages) that students advance to Doctoral Candidacy by the end of the third year. The third year is also when students should begin to apply for extramural fellowships to support their dissertation research.

Fourth year:

Beginning in the third year and continuing into the fourth, students should be collecting much of the information and data necessary for their dissertation. Many students spend one or both semesters of their fourth year abroad conducting research.

Fifth year:

Like the fourth year, the fifth year is variable according to an individual's research schedule. Often this is a good year to use the Dean’s Completion Fellowship while focusing on writing the dissertation. This is also the time, if research is complete and writing has begun, to apply for finishing fellowships and extramural dissertation awards. Ideally, if students plan to enter the job market during the fifth year, they should have most of their dissertation completed by then. 

Sixth year and beyond:

Students are normally expected to finish by their sixth year. In the sixth year, students continue to work on completing and revising the dissertation and enter the job market. This is also a time students apply for Post-Doctoral Fellowships. To fund the final year(s), some students teach as adjunct faculty at the many colleges and universities in the area, and some find research assistantships.