PhD Curriculum

The curriculum is designed to give students the theoretical and empirical tools needed to do research in political science at the highest level. A particular focus is aiding the student in transitioning from coursework (in which those tools are acquired) to research (in which the tools are applied). The program is designed to equip students with an effective skill set, to assist them in finding a topic for dissertation research, and to provide time and resources needed to complete that research. An important goal of the program is also to facilitate the publication of research by students and to prepare them for the job market.

Faculty Advisor

During the first two years, each student will have a faculty advisor to assist in planning their program of study, including selection of classes, explanation of degree requirements, and the development of the student’s research interests.

Initially, a student is assigned a program advisor: before the first semester of the first year, students are asked to provide the director of graduate studies with the names of a few faculty members whom they would like as program advisors, and the director of graduate studies will facilitate mutually acceptable matches. Students may change their program advisors at any time in the first two years, in consultation with the director of graduate studies.

At a minimum, in the first two years of study, students and their program advisors should meet before each semester to discuss course selections and progress toward completing degree requirements. In addition, students in their first two years will meet with their program advisors during the examination period in May to discuss their progress, in anticipation of the annual review of graduate students conducted by the faculty, as well as their plans for summer.

As explained below, at the end of the second year, students select two second-year paper advisors, who oversee their second-year paper. At the beginning of the third year, each student selects a third-year advisor, and once they enter PhD candidacy, each student selects a dissertation advisor. All of these roles may be filled by the same person or by different people. With the agreement of a faculty member to take the role, and in consultation with the director of graduate studies, the student is free to switch their advisors at any time.

Program Preparation


Required Math Camp

Unless exempted, all students are required to participate in an ungraded math course in the two weeks before the start of the first semester in preparation for the required first-year courses in formal modeling and statistical methods.

Language and Math Preparation

All entering students are expected to have a basic command of spoken and written English. One year of college-level calculus is desirable, but not required. Entering students who wish to take English or calculus courses over the summer in Rochester may petition the department for tuition support, which is generally given. Depending on their level of English proficiency, some entering students may be required to successfully complete one or more courses in English as a Second Language as a condition of their remaining students in good standing. Continuing students may also be required to take such courses, including courses that offer preparation for work as teaching assistants. Students not required to take such courses may elect to take them on their own. In all these cases, the department will generally cover the full cost of tuition. In the department’s annual review of graduate students, the faculty will consider a student’s command of English as one of the factors indicating the student’s suitability for continuing in the PhD program.

Main Course Work

Fourteen Regular Courses

Students must complete at least fourteen graded courses in the PhD program, all with a grade of B- or better, by the end of their third year. Incoming students must also complete a math camp held in August prior to the beginning of their first year. Students wishing to count any reading courses toward the fourteen-course total must receive the approval of the director of graduate studies. Such courses should be taken for a letter grade, with the grade based on a paper or examination, not for an "S" grade. (Reading courses with the "S" grade may, however, be used to achieve the 90 total credit hours required by the University.) Courses outside the department or below the 400-level must be approved by the director of graduate studies in order to count toward the fourteen-course total.

Required Courses

Each student is expected to complete the following four courses or their equivalents:

  • PSCI 404: Probability and Regression
  • PSCI 405: Causal Inference
  • PSCI 407: Mathematical Modeling
  • PSCI 408: Positive Political Theory

Students take the two courses in formal modeling (407, 408) and in statistical methods (404, 405) in their first year. Students may petition the director of graduate studies to change the timing at which the courses are taken, but they must be passed in the first two years of the program. Acceptability of equivalents for the required courses will be determined by the director of graduate studies in consultation with the instructor of the required course.

Substantive Coursework

Each student must take at least two substantive courses beyond the minimum requirements for fields of concentration. The courses that may be used to fulfill this requirement are those offered by the substantive fields, which are American politics, comparative politics, international relations, and political philosophy. The two courses may be in any substantive field, including the student’s substantive field of concentration.


Letter grades for graduate students are reported as follows: A (excellent), A-, B+ (good), B, B- (poor) and C (failure). All required courses must be completed with a grade of B- or higher. The numerical values of letter grades are A (4.0), A- (3.7), B+ (3.3), B (3.0), B- (2.7), and C (2.0).

Paper Writing Requirement

Students must complete a paper or substantial research proposal that is graded by a faculty member in each of their first two years in the program. Generally, this requirement is satisfied by work produced as part of a political science course taken during the year. If such courses are not available, then the student may make arrangements with a faculty member to grade a paper or proposal outside their classwork and report that grade to the director of graduate studies. Students in their third, fourth, and fifth years of study are required to be enrolled in PSCI 576: Graduate Research Seminar. The course is designed as a forum for students to present ongoing research, with the goal of facilitating the development of research ideas and papers in progress.

Professionalization Workshops

Throughout the year, the department will offer a series of professionalization workshops by faculty for graduate students. Topics covered include:

  • How to give a presentation
  • How to write a research paper
  • How to review an article
  • How to teach
  • How to prepare for the job market

A schedule will be circulated at the beginning of the academic year. All students are strongly encouraged to attend.

Two Fields of Concentration

Students must complete at least two fields of concentration by the end of fall semester of their third year, at least one of which is a major field. The fields must be selected from the following list:

  • American politics
  • Comparative politics
  • Formal political theory
  • International relations
  • Political methodology
  • Political philosophy

One of the two fields must be formal theory or political methodology, and one must be chosen from American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political philosophy.

To fulfill the requirements of a major field, the student must pass four courses in that field with an average grade point average (GPA) of no less than 3.5 in those four courses. The student may select the four courses used to satisfy the GPA requirement, and they may petition the director of graduate studies to retake a course and substitute the higher grade to satisfy this requirement.

To fulfill the requirements of the second field, the student must pass three courses in that field. Each course used toward a major or minor field must be passed with a grade of B- or better. The courses that may be counted toward a field are determined by faculty in the field. If a course may be counted toward two fields, it can only be used once by a student to fulfill the field requirements. A student may choose to complete two (or more) major fields and/or two (or more) minor fields, if they wish. In addition to these course requirements, the faculty in each field may impose additional requirements in order to pass that field.

Second-Year Paper

Each student must complete a second-year paper by the first day of classes of fall semester in the third year. It is anticipated that the paper will originate from one completed by the student in their first two years, and it may indeed grow out of a paper completed as a course requirement that receives positive feedback. In any case, the paper should demonstrate a grasp of the relevant literature and an ability to contribute to it by using appropriate research techniques: the key is to demonstrate the potential for conducting political science research at a high level.

To ensure that students allocate enough time for their research project, each student must arrange by March 15 for two faculty members to serve as second-year paper supervisors, with one faculty member serving as the main adviser, and must submit a proposal to both supervisors by May 15 of their second year. A rough draft of the paper must be submitted to the second-year paper supervisor by August 1.

The final version of the second-year paper must be submitted to the student’s advisors and the director of graduate studies by the first day of classes in the fall of the student’s third year. The paper will be evaluated on a pass/fail basis by the second-year paper advisors, who will also provide written feedback to the student within two weeks. Failure to turn in the proposal, rough draft, or final draft on time will be treated as failure to fulfill a degree requirement and can be sanctioned by suspension of funding or removal from the program. A student that does not receive a passing grade on their second-year paper may be asked to revise and/or rewrite, at the discretion of the faculty.

The faculty recognize that the impracticality of some feasible-looking research projects becomes apparent only after substantial investment of time and effort. Therefore, a reasonable question pursued with competence and diligence may serve as the basis for an acceptable research paper even if, to some extent, it fails to yield positive results in the end. No matter what topic or approach students choose, they should keep in mind that the purpose of the second-year paper is to provide them with an opportunity to gain experience in the research process–and perhaps get them started on a dissertation project.

Program of Study

Students are expected to file a program of study with the director of graduate studies no later than the beginning of their third year of study. This information is used to prepare a formal "Program of Study" form for the MA degree, which will ordinarily be awarded after passing the PhD qualifying examination, as well as for purposes of discussion and advice.

Comprehensive Literature Survey

During the fall semester of the third year, each student is required to complete a comprehensive literature survey in an area of research. The survey should reflect knowledge of a substantive or technical field, and it should encompass a research area, or set of related topics, of interest to the student. The goal of the survey is to not only establish familiarity with the results of a literature, but it is intended to facilitate the formulation of research questions that may lead to topics for dissertation research. Thus, the survey must not only describe the positive results in an existing research area, but it should delineate the limitations of that research, and it should highlight open problems and work to be done in the area.

The literature survey requirement consists of two parts. The first part is the submission of a substantial reading list that will form the basis of the survey. The reading list may include articles and books from different fields, but it must have a primary identification with one of the technical or substantive fields. By June 1 of the student’s second summer, the student should select two advisors and submit a one-page topic description to their advisors and director of graduate studies. During the summer, the student should construct their reading list. The final reading list must be completed and submitted to the advisors by September 15 of student’s third year.

The second part is the written literature survey itself. By the last day of classes of fall semester of the third year, each student must complete and submit the comprehensive literature survey to the director of graduate studies and their two faculty advisors, who will evaluate it on a pass/fail basis and provide feedback within two weeks. The survey must be broad enough to convey knowledge of a field needed to pursue the PhD, but narrow enough to identify a set of potential problems for dissertation research. The key criterion for the evaluation is whether the comprehensive literature survey provides sufficient evidence of promise to advance to candidacy and successfully complete the doctoral dissertation.

It is expected that the literature survey will belong to one of the student’s fields of concentration and will provide needed background for the third-year paper. We recognize, however, that research can evolve in a unpredictable ways, so to increase flexibility, the literature survey is encouraged but not required to connect to the fields of concentration and third-year paper.

Third-Year Paper

At the beginning of the first semester of the third year (no later than October 1), each student must select three third-year advisors, including designating one main advisor, who will be expected to form the student’s dissertation committee. Under the direction of these faculty members throughout the third year, the student must complete and formally present a third-year paper, which should be at a quality level that is ready to be included in the student’s dissertation. The best third-year papers should be publishable in a refereed journal, or publishable with minor revisions. Students must complete and submit their papers to the director of graduate studies by April 1 of their third year, and they will give oral, conference-style, presentations of their papers to the department soon after they have submitted their papers, at a date to be determined by the department. On this date, each student will give a 20-minute presentation (which assumes an audience familiar with the work) to be followed by questions and comments from the audience.

The third-year paper forms part of the written dissertation prospectus, and the presentation is the public presentation part of the student’s PhD qualifying examination. Within two weeks of the presentation, the student must have a meeting with all of the third-year advisors to provide feedback on the paper and presentation, and determine its suitability for the dissertation prospectus and its oral defense.

Workshop Presentations

While in residence, each student is expected to present their original research in a departmental forum in each of their fourth and fifth years of study. This is viewed as a normal part of the research process, and it is part of the PhD training of the student. Typically, these presentations are made in one of the normal seminar series in the department. If there are no open slots in regular seminar series, then a time and location will be arranged at which the student may present their work.