The POIR 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. Students who entered the program before Fall 2013 should consult the catalogue corresponding to their year of entry.
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 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.
*Students who entered the program before Fall 2013 should consult the catalogue corresponding to their year of entry.
Application deadline: December 1
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 or IELTS examinations.
Before completion of 24 units, students will be reviewed by a screening committee made up of
the Program Director, and the faculty who taught the program’s core courses. This committee
will review the student's progress, including grades and written faculty evaluations of course
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
The selection of additional courses should be guided by the distribution requirements of the PhD
program. The student will choose three fields of concentration. The first two fields of
concentration require the completion of a comprehensive written and oral exam and at least four
graduate level courses with an average grade consistent with university and program
requirements. The non-examined third field requires the completion of at least three graduate
level courses with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements.
Additional courses necessary to complete the 70 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 (AP); Comparative Politics (CP);
International Political Economy (IPE); and International Security and Foreign Policy (ISFP).
The candidate must satisfy two of these four standing fields by completing four courses in each
of the two selected fields and passing a written and oral qualifying examination. The student
may satisfy the third field by completing three courses in one of the four fields, 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
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.
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
All graduate students considering an academic career should generally have research, teaching
and advisement experiences as part of their program of study.
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
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 (including each field’s core course requirements) in 2 examined fields (24 units)
- POIR 593 (2 units)
- Language Requirement (if necessary)
- Fourth courses in two examined fields and/or electives (optional)
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 30 days prior to exam date Summer before the 3rd Year
- One month before the qualifying exam (July), submit a draft of the substantive paper to the chair of the guidance committee
- 14 days before the oral defense, distribute the revised substantive paper to the Guidance Committee for review and approval
- Take two written exams of the Qualifying Exam (August)
- Take the oral exam within 60 days from the first written exam (October)
- 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
- Complete fourth course requirements in two examined fields (8 units)
- 3 courses from the third field (12 units)
- Register in POIR 794a (2 units) in spring of the 3rd year (only after successfully passing qualifying exams)
- 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 (two 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
- Register in the POIR 794 (total of 6 units) sequence each semester until degree is completed. Even though POIR 794 is only 0-2 units for each course, registration in the
course will grant you full-time status.
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.