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Ph.D. Program Requirements

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Summary of Requirements

The Political Science doctoral program requires that a student gain competence in three fields, complete a three-course methodology requirement, sit for the comprehensive written examinations, write and orally defend the dissertation prospectus, and write and orally defend the dissertation.

Prior to completion of all requirements for three fields, the doctoral program requires that a graduate student write and defend a Paper of Distinction. The paper must be an article-length paper as close as possible to publishable standards and will be orally defended before a committee. The paper, completion of the methodology courses, and several student selected courses fulfill the requirements for an M.A. in Political Science. This University of Washington degree is a requirement for advancement in the Ph.D. program.

Department General Fields and Specialized Fields

The department recognizes four "general fields" in political science: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, and Political Theory. The department requires each student to select at least one general field, in which the student must become familiar with the main body of literature, major intellectual issues and develop competence in that field's mode of analysis. To meet this requirement, students must take the core course in the designated field. All students are required to take at least one additional core course in another general field.

A student must also prepare in a second general field or in one of the specialized fields: area study (i.e., China Studies or Environmental Politics), Public Law, Political Economy, Political Methodology, or Race, Ethnicity & Politics. Specialized fields are periodically redefined given faculty/student interests. The third field may be a general or specialized field or the doctoral student may choose to substitute one non-designated field that is constructed from another academic discipline such as anthropology or sociology, or individually defined by the student. International law, public administration, urban politics, political psychology, ethnicity and nationality, philosophy of social science, and language policy are examples of recent non-designated fields.

Field Requirements

Click on each field to see MA and doctoral requirements.

General Fields

American Politics
Comparative Politics
International Relations
Political Theory

Specialized Fields

Chinese Politics
Constructed fields (e.g., Environmental Politics, Political Communication, South Asian Politics)
Race, Ethnicity, and Politics
Political Economy
Political Methodology
Public Law

Methodology Requirement

All graduate students are required to achieve a minimum level of competence in political research methods. Prior to completing the MA requirement all students complete a methodology sequence.
**Please note the requirements are different for those starting August 2023 and later. 

Modified Methods Courses for the 2023-2024 entering cohort: 

  • SOC 504 - Applied Social Statistics, 3 cr.
  • POLS 500 - Political Research Design and Analysis, 5 cr.
  • SOC 505 - Applied Social Statistics, 3 cr. OR one course from a list of Qualitative and Mixed-Methods Courses. (See the Political Methodology field requirements for a list of accepted courses)

Optional but strongly recommended:

  • CS&SS 508 - Introduction to R for Social Scientists, 1 cr., to be taken concurrently with SOC 504

For students who started August 2022 or prior:

  • POLS 500 Political Research Design
  • POLS 501 Advanced Political Research Design and Analysis,
  • POLS 503 Advanced Quantitative Research Methods OR one course from a list of Qualitative and Mixed-Methods Courses. (See the Political Methodology field requirements for a list of accepted courses)

Foreign Language Requirement

Demonstration of competence in a foreign language is not required for the Ph.D. Should the student select a field(s) where the supervisory committee believes that competence in a language would be beneficial, (s)he will be so advised.

Political Science MA Requirement

Students entering the graduate program are expected to complete the MA degree (40 credits minimum) within two years. After completing the methodology courses, two core courses, and generally two to three additional courses in two fields, the graduate student will complete a Paper of Distinction and an oral examination, to demonstrate substantive field knowledge and the ability to synthesize and apply that knowledge to new problems.

The M.A. Paper of Distinction is a highly polished paper of approximately forty pages in length. They often build upon papers begun in seminars.

Ph.C. and Ph.D.

The doctorate usually takes an additional three to four years beyond the M.A. (92 credits minimum, including at least 27 credits for the dissertation). Students must pass comprehensive written and oral exams in each of the three fields, followed by the general exam, and finally the final exam or dissertation defense

After completing course requirements for each of a students’ three fields they sit a comprehensive exam in order to prove their expertise in each area. The student takes each exam in the same quarter, followed by an oral exam. For more information on each exam structure and schedule, visit the field page. The methodology field does not require a comprehensive field exam.

Successful completion of the general exam, the oral defense of the dissertation prospectus, constitutes advancement to candidacy for the doctoral student, or PhC status. A candidate then completes the research and writes the dissertation for faculty review. A final exam, otherwise known as the dissertation defense, and committee approval of the doctoral dissertation complete the departmental degree requirements.