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.
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.
The guidance committee:
Each USC doctoral student is guided prior to the qualifying examination by a five-member faculty guidance committee. Its members include four tenured or tenure-track faculty members of the POIR program -- ideally two each from the two examined fields of concentration chosen by the student -- and one tenured or tenure-track professor from another USC PhD-granting department. The chair of the committee is normally the student’s faculty advisor. The committee will be assigned by the Program Director in consultation with the student and the faculty no later than one semester prior to the planned qualifying examinations, so there will be time to implement their guidance about course selection and exam preparation. All guidance committee members will grade the written exams in two fields, evaluate the student’s substantive paper, and participate in the oral defense of the exams. Changes in a guidance committee may be made according to Graduate School rules published in the USC Catalogue.