Students undergo several evaluations at different points in the PhD program: the second-year review, qualifying examinations, the defense of the dissertation proposal, and the final defense of the dissertation. They also require advice and counseling on curricular, research, and professional matters throughout their graduate careers. These functions are performed by a set of committees that operate at different points in the program. Committee membership is solely dependent on the consent of the individual faculty members. These committees are automatically dissolved at the completion of their duties advising the student or making recommendations about the student's progress at a particular stage in the program.

The First-Year Committee

A two-person committee composed of members of the Department graduate faculty will be appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) at the beginning of each student's first year of graduate work. The function of this committee is to advise the student on matters concerning coursework and professional development and, when necessary, to approve course selection, including the student's research tool sequence. Responsibility for the development of a course of study in the PhD program lies solely with the student.

The Second Year Review Process

During the fourth semester of the graduate program, each student will undergo a second year review. The second year review process is designed to (1) evaluate the student's progress to that point, and (2) provide feedback and guidance to the student on coursework and research. Students are to provide the following materials for the second year review: transcripts, a worksheet outlining progress toward the degree requirements, one or two research papers, and a 3–5 page statement of purpose outlining research interests.

A Departmental committee evaluates student performance and makes a recommendation whether each student should (1) continue in the program with funding, (2) continue without funding, or (3) be asked to leave the program. The Departmental review committee includes the heads of the area committees (American, Comparative, International Relations, Methods, and Political Theory) and the DGS as an ex officio member. The Departmental committee will meet in February or March to evaluate the progress of second year students. The Departmental committee's recommendation about each student must be approved by the faculty in the appropriate area. The final decision on whether the student should continue with the program rests with the appropriate area committee.

In addition, a separate three-person review committee will be appointed for each student to provide advice and feedback on the student's planned coursework and research strategy. This committee will be selected by the Director of Graduate Studies after consultation with each student. This committee's recommendations are to be in the form of a short written report, a copy of which is to be given to both the Director of Graduate Studies and the student. The report should detail the student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as specify when the student is likely to take qualifying examinations and how various degree requirements (e.g., tools of inquiry) will be met. Failure to have a second year review by the beginning of a student's fifth semester will result in a student's immediate termination from the graduate program.

Qualifying Examinations and the Examination Committees

Prior to admission to candidacy for the PhD, students must demonstrate expertise in one of the following fields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory. This requirement is fulfilled by successful completion of the required coursework in a major field and by passing two qualifying examinations in that field. One is a "general" examination in the relevant field, and the other is a “specialized” examination. The array of specialized examinations available within a field is within the discretion of the corresponding area committee. In unusual circumstances, a student may petition the Advisory Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies for permission to write an exam in an area outside those normally authorized by the Area Committee.

Faculty design qualifying examinations to test each student's ability to utilize the insights and analytic abilities developed during their training. Students should take the examinations at some point after their fourth semester and prior to their seventh semester. Typically, students take the general exam in August preceding their third year and the specialized exam in May following their third year. Students wishing to take examinations on an alternative schedule should consult with their advisers, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the relevant Area Head. The department will incorporate failure to meet these expectations about exam timing without due cause into the annual consideration of “satisfactory progress” on which funding decisions are based.

Qualifying examinations will be offered at three times each year: the week before the fall semester begins, the week before the spring semester begins, and the week following the end of the spring semester. Students are to notify the Director of Graduate Studies of the qualifying examinations that they propose to write no later than two months before the examination is to be scheduled. For specialized examinations, students will submit a one-page memorandum that proposes a specific focus for the examination. This memorandum should describe the relationship between the proposed examination area and the student’s research interests and should indicate past coursework relevant to the examination. The Director of Graduate Studies and the relevant Area Head may request amendments or refinements to this memorandum before constituting the examination committee.

The Director of Graduate Studies will ask the relevant Area Head to establish a three-person committee for each examination. For the general examination, students should circulate syllabi from the relevant courses that they have taken to the members of the committee. When constructing exam questions, committee members will refer to the syllabi to understand the topics covered in students’ coursework. For the specialized examination, the memorandum previously submitted by the student will be circulated to the committee. Students are strongly encouraged, but not required, to consult with committee members in advance of the examination.

Students must notify the graduate office in writing of their wish to cancel an exam. Those who do not notify the graduate office or do so after the deadline (which is approximately two weeks prior to the date of the exams) will be considered to have failed their exams.

The qualifying examination process proceeds as follows: The three-person committee appointed by the head of the appropriate area committee drafts the exam; the same committee grades the written portion of the examination and holds the oral examination. In drafting the exam, committee members should be explicit about the learning objectives that they aim to test with their questions. Students receive three questions drafted by the examination committee. Students respond to two of these questions within a forty-eight hour period. (If students have DRES accommodations that allow for a longer examination period, they should communicate this to the Director of Graduate Studies when initially asking to take the exam.) All examinations must be typed and properly documented. The exams allow the use of notes, articles, and books.  Students, however, should avoid over-reliance on materials prepared in advance and strive to write answers that respond directly to the questions on the examination.

The student must also undergo an oral examination by the examination committee. The oral examination will be held within four weeks of the conclusion of the written examination period.

Examinations are to be graded "Pass with Distinction," "Pass," or "Fail". The chair of the examination committee must report the result of the exam to the student and  to the Director of Graduate Studies immediately after the oral examination. If a student fails a qualifying examination, he/she will be permitted to retake it one time, normally during the next regularly scheduled examination period. Failure to pass the examination at that time will result in the student's dismissal from the program.

For the general examination, students are expected to demonstrate a breadth of understanding of the field sufficient for teaching a graduate-level survey class in the field. For this reason, the corresponding graduate pro-seminar is typically considered essential preparation for the examination.

A passing general examination will do the following:

  • show a thorough awareness of topics and specific foundational literature in the subfield;
  • critically engage with relevant theoretical and empirical literatures, taking clear stances on the set of issues raised in the examination questions; and
  • show awareness and understanding of relevant methodological approaches and controversies.

For the specialized examination, students are expected to demonstrate mastery of the research frontier in an area that is likely to be the area of the student’s dissertation and that is defined in a relatively broad way (e.g., to match with the name of a major subfield journal or conference section). The examination should convey an understanding of the literature that is at the necessary level for the student to contribute to the literature through original research.

A passing specialized examination will do the following:

  • show a thorough awareness of topics and specific literature in the area of the examination, going beyond material covered on course syllabi;
  • critically engage with theoretical and empirical literature, taking clear and well-defended stances on major debates concerning the relevant research program(s); and
  • demonstrate sufficient mastery of research methods in the relevant area.

The best answers provide insightful synthesis and analysis of existing literature in a way that clearly engages the question.  Students have been able to accomplish this in examination answers of various lengths, but answers to questions on both the generalized and the specialized examinations have most typically ranged between 12 and 20 double-spaced pages per question including references.