Qualifying Exams, Dissertation and Other 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 70 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. 







Complete 24 units Including:

  • POIR 600, 610, 611
  • Core courses in examined fields of concentration
  • Seminars in examined field of concentration

Complete 26 units Including:

  • Any field courses needed for qualifying exam
  • POIR 593: Teaching Practicum Course
  • Third field courses and/or advanced method courses
  • Begin taking 794 dissertation courses in spring (2 units)

Complete Qualifying Exams the August before 3rd year begins. 

Complete Qualifying Oral Exam by October.

Complete final 20     units of course requirements needed Including:

  • Advanced Methods course
  • 794 a-z
  • Additional electives as needed



Dissertation Writing


Dissertation Courses:

  • 794 a-z


Dissertation Writing


Dissertation Courses:

  • 794 a-z


Identify three fields of concentration

Identify Guidance Committee Chair and Members

Identify Dissertation Committee Chair and Members


Dissertation Final Defense

Identify Faculty Advisor by Spring Term


Complete Dissertation Proposal Defense in the Spring term


Dissertation Upload

Core Requirements (Theory and Methodology)

All incoming POIR students, regardless of their research interests or fields of concentration are required to take a set of four core courses: one on political theory and three on methods.  We recommend that all students take the political theory course (POIR 600) and two of the methods courses (POIR 610, and POIR 611) in their first year.  The advanced methods course can be taken in the student’s third year.

Foreign Language

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.

Substantive Paper

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 will submit the draft of his or her substantive paper to the chair of the guidance committee one month prior to the qualifying examinations.  After consultation with the chair and necessary revisions, the student is to distribute the paper to all member of the Guidance Committee at least 14 days prior to the oral defense. 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.

Qualifying Examinations

Students will be examined in two of their three fields of concentration. In order to be eligible to take their qualifying exams, students must have completed a minimum of 24 units, and have completed at least three of the four required courses in each of the examined fields, including all of the core courses for each examined field. The fourth required course for each examined field can be completed after the student’s qualifying exam. Ordinarily, students will take the qualifying exams no later than the fifth semester in the PhD program. Students must complete the written and oral portions of the qualifying exams within a maximum of 60 days from the date of the first written exam. Requests for time extensions require the approval of the Vice Dean of Graduate Programs.

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 guidance committee will evaluate the quality of these two written exams as evidence of the capacity to define and complete a PhD dissertation.

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; in consultation with his or her principal advisor, the student will select a chair, two members (one from each standing field he or she will be examined), an outside member and an additional member of the guidance committee. Final approval of the guidance committee requires the signature of the Program Director and the Vice Dean of Graduate Programs.

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, passed the written and oral portions of the PhD qualifying examinations, and defended his or her dissertation proposal.


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.

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.

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