About the PhD Program

The Department of Political Science at Michigan State University has long been a leader in the discipline. Founded in 1949, the Department was a pioneering center of activity during the behavioral revolution that swept the social sciences in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, it continues to serve as a role model in promoting high-caliber research and teaching. MSU’s political scientists are highly-productive and widely recognized scholars who publish on a regular basis in top-ranked professional journals and prestigious university presses; they are actively engaged in a range of externally-funded research projects; and they hold prominent leadership positions in major professional organizations.

The Department’s reputation and impact within the political science community is clearly reflected in the caliber of its doctoral program. Our Ph.D. program prepares students to become active members of the academic political science community. Given the diversity of the discipline, this necessarily encompasses a wide variety of subsidiary orientations. But, MSU’s Political Science faculty have reached a high level of consensus regarding the skills and traits that we would like our Ph.D. graduates to possess.

First, and foremost, we want our Ph.D.’s to be well-prepared for successful academic careers at major research universities. This is reflected in the strong research focus of the required curriculum and in the high level of professional mentoring we provide through research collaboration, teaching activities, and professionalization seminars. It is also evidenced in our ability to successfully place program graduates in tenure-track positions at doctoral institutions. Tangible evidence of our success is manifested by the placement of our Ph.D.’s in tenure-track positions at excellent institutions, such as the University of Kentucky, the University of Georgia, the University of Pittsburgh, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and many others.

Although the primary focus of the MSU Department of Political Science is on academic research, we do recognize that many students are also interested in employment at teaching institutions, in governmental offices, and in other, more applied settings. Our doctoral program has plenty of flexibility to meet the needs of this important student constituency. Interest in these alternative career paths varies across subfields, but the job placement rates for our Ph.D. graduates in these settings are excellent.


The primary goal of the doctoral program of the Department of Political Science is to produce graduates who become scholars and teachers at leading research institutions. To reach this goal several specific objectives must be achieved.

First, the doctoral student must develop expertise in the subject matter of one of the major and one of the minor fields of political science covered by the Department. The Department offers a major field of study in American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Public Policy and Political Thought, and a minor field of study in American Politics, Comparative Politics, Public Policy, International Relations, Political Thought, and Research Methods.

Second, the doctoral student must develop expertise in research design and quantitative methods, as well as exposure to the major themes of political philosophy and formal models of political science.

Third, the doctoral student must develop expertise in the research enterprise. While the particular nature of the expertise depends on the student’s chosen fields of political science, in general the student is expected to learn how a research program is developed and conducted. The doctoral student must also develop advanced skills in the research tools relevant to the subject of the student’s doctoral dissertation.

Fourth, the doctoral student must develop expertise in written and oral communication. Expertise in written communication will be developed through writing papers for courses, conferences, and scholarly journals, and through writing the doctoral dissertation. Expertise in oral communication will be developed through participation in classroom discussions and debates, through conference presentations, through involvement in professionalization sessions, seminars, and colloquia, through oral presentations of the dissertation proposal and defense, and (where feasible) through experience as a teaching assistant and graduate instructor.

The Department of Political Science at Michigan State University promotes these objectives by providing an environment which supports the conduct of high quality scientific and scholarly research and which is responsive to valid academic needs and desires.