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 66 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 its oral defense, and a written dissertation and its oral defense.

For more detailed information, please consult the POIR Graduate Guidelines.

Degree Requirements

Core Requirements (Theory and Methodology)

All POIR doctoral students, regardless of their research interests or fields of concentration must complete an approved sequence of three courses in core methodology, including a multivariate statistics course (POIR 611), a philosophies/methodologies of social inquiry course (POIR 610), and an approved 4-unit course in advanced research methods.

Foreign Language


The student is required to demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a language other than English if their primary field and/or dissertation research requires it. Students should consult with their faculty advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Before their first semester as a Teaching Assistant, international students whose native language is not English must take the International Teaching Assistant (ITA) Oral Interview Exam administered by USC’s American Language Institute and score at least a 5.0. This exam must be taken no later than the first day of classes.

Substantive Paper


To show evidence of the capacity to conduct original research and as part of the qualifying exam process, each student will submit a substantive paper. The student will submit the draft of their substantive paper to the chair of the Qualifying Exam committee one month prior to the written qualifying examinations. After consultation with the chair and necessary revisions, the student is to distribute the paper to all member of the Qualifying Exam Committee at least 14 days prior to the oral qualifying examination. The substantive paper should be presented and defended in the oral component of the qualifying examination as if it were a viable journal submission to a peer-reviewed professional journal.

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 overall units, including the completion of POIR 610, POIR 611 and 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 other required courses for each examined field can be completed after the student’s qualifying exam if there is still outstanding coursework to be taken.
Exams are offered three times each academic year: after the 4th semester of classes (usually the second week in August); after the 5th semester (usually early December); or during spring break of the 6th semester (mid-March).
Ordinarily, students will take their written qualifying exams no later than the fifth semester in the PhD program. Written exams occur on different days and are typically scheduled during the second week of August before the start of the student’s 5th semester year in the program or in early December after the 5th semester. Students must complete the oral portion of the qualifying exams within a maximum of 60 days from their last written exam. Requests for time extensions are reserved for extenuating circumstances and require the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, the Dornsife Vice Dean of Academic Programs, and the Graduate School.
The field representative for each field being tested will prepare the examination questions in consultation with the relevant faculty in the field. The student’s Qualifying Exam committee will evaluate the quality of the 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 Qualifying Exam committee. The oral examination will be based on the student’s written field exams and the substantive paper.
The Qualifying Exam committee will be made up of five members; in consultation with their principal advisor, the student will select a chair, two members (one from each standing field they will be examined), an outside member (a USC tenure/tenure-track faculty outside of the POIR program) and an additional member of the Qualifying Exam committee. Final approval of the Qualifying Exam committee requires the signature of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dornsife Vice Dean of Academic Programs. Changes to the Qualifying Exam Committee may be made according to Graduate School rules published in the USC Catalogue. Students who wish to add a faculty member from outside of the university must request permission in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies. The request must include a brief written statement justifying the reasons why adding an external member is ideal and a recent copy of the faculty member’s CV. Final approval of an external member is given by the Dornsife Vice Dean of Academic Programs and the Graduate School. Under no circumstances can an external member substitute the role of the outside member (a faculty member who is outside of POIR, but within USC).
Students will pass the qualifying examinations if no more than one member of the Qualifying Exam 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 Qualifying Exam committee, students who do not pass the exams may be allowed to retake the qualifying exams the next time they are offered. If a student fails the exams the second time around, they will be terminated from the PhD program and will be given the option to graduate with an MA in POIR once the MA requirements have been met. 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 completed all the required courses except for the dissertation units (794a-d).


As soon as possible after the qualifying exam has been passed but no later than within 120 days after taking the examination, the student should ask at least three professors to join the dissertation committee. The chair and second member of this committee must be a tenured or tenure-track member of the POIR faculty; and the other a faculty member from outside the program. A committee may consist of more than three members. Thereafter, once every 12 months this committee must report to the Director of Graduate Studies based on the student’s self-evaluation whether the candidate had made sufficient progress toward degree completion in the past year, and to report any problems. The PhD is earned upon the submission of the written dissertation and its successful 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.

Requirements by Year:

First Year (Fellowship)

  • Complete 12 units of coursework (including POIR 610 and POIR 611 and core courses in examined fields)
  • Participate in professionalization activities and meetings
  • Identify Faculty Advisor by the end of the 1st year
  • Foreign Language requirement
  • Summer: ITA Oral Exam for international students who are new TAs

Second Year (TA or RA)

  • Complete 12 units of coursework (including POIR 593, 2-3 courses in each examined field, and one Advanced Methods elective)
  • Start writing substantive paper
  • Form Qualifying Exam Committee by early Spring
  • Declare third field by the end of the 2nd year/beginning of the 3rd year
  • Foreign Language requirement

Summer of Second Year:

  • Submit Appointment or Change of Qualifying Exam Committee form at least 60 days prior to the written exams.
  • Submit substantive paper to Qualifying Exam committee chair in July for feedback and undertake revisions
  • Take written qualifying exams in early August

Third Year (TA or RA)

  • Complete 3rd non-examined field and any other outstanding course requirements
  • Schedule and complete oral qualifying exam within 60 days of written exams
  • Submit substantive paper to committee 14 days prior to oral exam
  • Form Dissertation Committee no later than December
  • Begin registration in POIR 794 courses in spring
  • Defend dissertation proposal 6 months after oral exam
  • Conference participation/Publication submissions

Fourth Year (TA or RA)

  • Continue taking POIR 794 courses
  • Dissertation research and writing
  • Conference Participation
  • Publication submissions
  • Participate in Placement Support Group during the summer

Fifth Year (Fellowship)

  • Register in POIR 794 courses
  • Finish writing dissertation
  • Defend dissertation by March 25th if graduating in May, or by June 25th if graduating in August, or August 25th if graduating in December
  • Upload Dissertation by spring, summer, or fall deadlines
  • Submit placement applications
  • Practice Job Talk
  • Conference Participation/Publication