The Program has recently finished streamlining its requirements. These guidelines present degree requirements copied from the USC catalogue and supplementary information to help students and faculty navigate through the program. The catalogue should be consulted first; the supplementary sections do not repeat those provisions.
Application deadline: December 1
USC graduate school requirements
The PhD degree is awarded to students who have demonstrated in-depth knowledge of the disciplines of political science and international relations and the ability to make an original research contribution. The degree requirements are fulfilled by successfully completing a minimum of 60 units beyond the B.A., the PhD screening process, three fields of concentration, a substantive paper, a foreign language requirement (if applicable), qualifying examinations, a dissertation proposal, and a written dissertation and its oral defense.
The faculty of the Department of Political Science and the School of International Relations welcome talented candidates from a variety of academic backgrounds. Although a prior degree in political science or international relations is not necessary, it is strongly recommended that applicants have completed at least some course work in related fields, including political theory, statistics and social science research methods.
Admission decisions are based on consideration of applicants' prior academic performance, as reflected in course grades, the results of the Graduate Record Examination, letters of recommendation, and a statement of intent that demonstrates a seriousness of purpose, a high level of motivation and a desire to benefit from our faculty's areas of expertise or interest. Applicants are also required to submit a sample of their written work in English, preferably a research-oriented paper. Business, government and other practical experiences may also be taken into account. Applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL examination.
Before completion of 24 units, students will be reviewed by a screening committee made up of the Program Director, one teacher of one of the core courses, and one professor nominated by the student. This committee will review the student's progress, including grades and written faculty evaluations of course work.
The committee will be responsible for deciding, at an early stage in the student's career, whether the student is likely to finish the PhD program. After reviewing the student's record, the committee may decide to (1) continue the student, (2) not continue the student and admit the student into a terminal M.A. degree program, or (3) fail the student's performance in the screening process, i.e., not continue the student in either the M.A. or PhD programs.
All doctoral candidates must complete an approved sequence of four courses in core theory and methodology, including a classics-oriented course in political theory, a multivariate statistics course, a philosophies/methodologies of social inquiry course, and a course in advanced research methods.
The selection of additional courses should be guided by the distribution requirements of the PhD program. The student will choose three fields of concentration. Each field of concentration requires completion of at least three graduate level courses with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements. Additional courses necessary to complete the 60 units required by the Graduate School should be taken in consultation with faculty advisors and the Guidelines for Doctoral Study in Political Science and International Relations.
Fields of concentration
The standing fields of concentration include American politics; comparative politics; international political economy; and international security and foreign policy. The candidate must satisfy two of these four standing fields by passing a written field qualifying examination. The student may satisfy the third field by completing three courses in one of these four, or may propose another customized field of study to be approved by the relevant faculty and the PhD Program Director and steering committee. For example, students can design a third field that cuts across disciplinary boundaries or focuses on specific areas of political science and international relations beyond the standing fields. The Guidelines and Program Director can provide illustrations of this type of third field.
The student is required to demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a language other than English if the student’s primary field requires it. Students should consult the Guidelines and the Program Director.
To show evidence of the capacity to conduct original research and before taking the qualifying exam, each student will submit a substantive paper. The student, in consultation with the chair of his or her Guidance Committee, will distribute the substantive paper to all members of the Guidance Committee at least 14 days prior to the oral defense of the qualifying examinations. The substantive paper should be presented and defended in the oral component of the qualifying examination as a viable journal submission to a peer-reviewed professional journal. It is expected that the paper should be submitted to a professional journal approved of by the student’s advisor within one year of the defense.
Ordinarily, students will take the qualifying exams no later than the fifth semester in the PhD program. Students will be examined in two of their three fields of concentration. The third field will be completed by taking at least three courses and passing them with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements. The guidance committee will evaluate the quality of these two written exams as evidence of the capacity to define and complete a PhD dissertation.
The written examinations are closed book and will be administered over two days at least once per academic year. Examination questions will be written by a committee of the tenure track faculty in each field. The Director of POIR Graduate Studies (Program Director), in consultation with the Chair of the Department of Political Science and the Director of the School of International Relations, will appoint one faculty member from each field to coordinate the writing of the relevant field exam. The field exam coordinators will then seek assistance from other faculty in their field, including those with whom the student has studied, to compose the written examination questions.
The oral portion of the student's qualifying examination will be administered by his or her guidance committee. The oral examination will be based on the student's two written field exams and the substantive paper. The guidance committee will be made up of five members. Two members, one from each standing field, will be designated by the director of the PhD program in consultation with the student's principal advisor. In consultation with his or her principal advisor, the student will select the other two field examiners and the outside member of the guidance committee. Final approval of the guidance committee requires the signature of the Program Director.
Students will pass the qualifying examinations if no more than one member of the guidance committee dissents after reviewing the student's record at USC and performance on the written and oral parts of the qualifying exams. At the discretion of the guidance committee, students who do not pass the exams may be allowed to retake the qualifying exams the next time they are offered. Students are admitted to candidacy for the PhD when they have completed the university residency requirement and passed the written and oral portions of the PhD qualifying examinations.
Upon completion of the qualifying examinations, the student, in consultation with the principal advisor, selects a dissertation committee in accordance with the university rules. Within six months of completing the qualifying examinations, students should have a formal defense of the dissertation proposal before their dissertation committee. The PhD is earned upon the submission of the written dissertation and its successful public defense before the dissertation committee.
The student is expected to remain in good standing, which includes making sufficient regular progress toward completing the degree every year toward a PhD. Students must accomplish the following in order to maintain good standing:
Good standing benchmarks
Before completing the 60 unit course requirement, students are expected to take three courses per semester when on fellowship and at least two courses while working as a TA or RA.
Maintain a GPA of 3.0 to meet graduate school requirements and 3.5 to meet expectations of the POIR program.
Submit the first annual report to take part in the screening process by March of the first spring semester.
Take qualifying exams by the 5th semester in the program.
Prepare one’s substantive paper before the qualifying exam, and submit the paper to an academic journal approved by the chair of one’s dissertation committee within one year from the exam.
Defend the dissertation proposal successfully within 6 months (and preferably 3 months) of passing the qualifying exams.
Perform satisfactorily as a TA or an RA.
Master the necessary foreign language sufficiently to conduct the dissertation research which normally starts by the end of one’s third year of the program.
Submit an annual report to the dissertation committee and the Program Director detailing the progress toward completion of the degree.
Participate in seminars, job talks, professional conferences and professionalization workshops.
If a student does not follow the good standing practices, the Program Director and faculty advisors will meet the student to provide guidance. If improvement is not observed, sanctions may be imposed, the maximum of which is dismissal from the program. Students may request the Program Director for waiver from the guided progress.
Failure to meet any of the good standing benchmarks could also lead to (a) lower priority for assistantship assignment and/or departmental funding, or (b) suspension or termination of funding for those who are beyond the 5th year in the program.
Years 1-2: Completing the Core and Methodology Sequence (3 courses) & Course Requirements for Two Examined Fields (6 courses)
- 3 course theory and methodology sequence (12 units)
- 3 courses in 2 examined fields (24 units)
- 1 elective course (4 units)
- Language Requirement (if necessary)
By April of 1st Year
- Screening Committee reviews students’ academic performance
- Students identify the two fields in which they will test
End of First semester of 2nd Year
- Appoint Guidance Committee and submit paperwork to approve committee
- Submit the form to request to take PhD Qualifying Exam during 5th semester
First semester during the 3rd Year
- 14 days before the oral defense, submit either a substantive paper to the Guidance Committee for review and approval
- Take two written exams of the Qualifying Exam
- Take the oral exam within 60 days from the first written exam
- Ensure paperwork certifying your passing of the exams is submitted to the Graduate School
- After passing your qualifying exams, constitute the student’s Dissertation Committee
- Within six months from the oral defense of your qualifying exams, defend the dissertation proposal
- Apply for external funding for either dissertation field research or dissertation write-up
- 3 courses from the third field (12 units)
- 1 advanced method course (4 units)
Years 4 & 5 (ABD years)
- Dissertation field research if needed and write up the dissertation by registering 794 Doctoral Dissertation (one unit course up to 4 units)
- Attend a professional conference annually and present one’s research approved by the dissertation chair
- Try to publish at least one paper (such as a substantive paper or a chapter of the dissertation) in a peer-reviewed journal
- Finally, schedule an oral defense of the dissertation
- Formally upload the dissertation to the USC Libraries
- Placement activities typically start in early fall of one’s 5th year
Consult the Requirements for Graduation section and the Graduate School section of the catalogue regarding time limitations for completion of the degree and other Graduate School requirements.
All graduate students considering an academic career should generally have research, teaching and advisement experiences as part of their program of study.