Curriculum & Requirements

A. Coursework Requirements

The Ph.D. program requires that students take a minimum of 42 semester credits in coursework (which usually means at least 14 semester courses).  The program has the following general course requirements:

  • Research Methods–three semester courses (9 credits)
  • Political Philosophy–one semester course (3 credits)
  • Formal Theory–one semester course (3 credits)
  • Major Field–four semester courses (12 credits)
  • Minor Field–three semester courses (9 credits)
  • Electives–two semester courses (6 credits)

Note: A student’s Guidance Committee may require the student to take additional coursework (in search methodology or a foreign language, for example) if it is necessary for completion of the student’s educational program or dissertation research.

1. Required Core Courses in Research Methods, Political Thought, and Formal Theory

Students are required to take the following five courses:

  • PLS 800: Proseminar in Research Methods (Fall Semester)
  • PLS 801: Quantitative Techniques in Political Science I (Fall Semester)
  • PLS 802: Quantitative Techniques in Political Science II (Spring Semester)
  • PLS 803: Proseminar in Political Thought (Spring Semester)
  • PLS 809: Proseminar in Formal Theory (Spring Semester)

These five courses will give students an introduction to the fundamental theories and methods of political science research.  They are requirements of the Ph.D. program unless they are waived in advance by the Director of the Ph.D. Program.  The procedure for obtaining a waiver is as follows:

  • (a) Bring to the Director of the Ph.D. Program all supporting evidence of the course or courses you have taken (e.g., syllabi and other relevant materials) which you think might be equivalent to one or more of the required courses.  The Director of the Ph.D Program will review these materials and may then request that you consult with the current Chair of the appropriate Field Committee.
  • (b) The Director of the Ph.D. Program will then consider this evidence, may consult with the Chair of the Field Committee, and may require a written examination.
  • (c) If the Director of the Ph.D. Program approves a waiver, this should be stated in writing and placed in the student’s file.

This processmust be completed before the course enrollment may be dropped.  No waiver requests will be considered after the first week of each course.

2.  Major and Minor Field Designations and Requirements

The Ph.D. curriculum of the Department is divided into seven fields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, Formal Theory, International Relations, Political Philosophy, Public Policy, and Research Methods.

Students can choose one of the following five areas for a major field specialization:

  • American Politics
  • Political Philosophy
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Public Policy

In order to satisfy the major field requirements, students must successfully complete at least four courses in the area–one of which must be the mandatory proseminar in that field.

Students can choose one of the following seven areas for a minor field specializations:

  • American Politics
  • Political Philosophy
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Public Policy
  • Research Methods
  • Formal Theory

In order to satisfy the minor field requirement, students must successfully complete at least three courses in the area–one of which must be the mandatory proseminar in that field.  Students with a Minor Field in Research Methods must take at least two Methods courses (either from inside or outside the Political Science Department) beyond PLS 800, PLS 801, and PLS 802.  Students may use summer coursework in quantitative methods at the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to fulfill their Methods field requirement.

Minor fields can also be specifically designed by faculty guidance committees to meet the interests and needs of particular students.  Any individualized-designed minor fields must be approved by the Department’s Graduate Studies Committee.

Proseminars are specifically designed to give students an introduction to the literature, theoretical problems, and methodological directions of each field.  The proseminars within each field are:

Research Methods

  • PLS 800     Proseminar: Political Theory and Research Methods
  • PLS 801     Quantitative Techniques in Public Policy and Political Science I
  • PLS 802     Quantitative Techniques in Public Policy and Political Science II

Political Philosophy

  • PLS 870     Political Thought

Formal Theory

  • PLS 884     Proseminar in Formal Theory

Public Policy

  • PLS 811 Proseminar in Policy Analysis

American Politics

  • PLS 820     Proseminar in American Politics

Comparative Politics

  • PLS 850     Proseminar in Comparative Politics

International Relations

  • PLS 860    Proseminar in International Relations

Proseminars are open to all Ph.D. students in the department.  But, you must take the designated proseminars in your major and minor fields of specialization.

3. Elective Courses

The minimum requirements just listed–15 hours of core courses (PLS 800, 801, 802, 803, and 809), 12 hours of major course credits, and 9 hours of minor course credits–sum to 36 credits.  Since the total number of required hours is 42, this leaves a final 6 credits which a student must accumulate (for a minimum program).  These final 6 credits can be earned in many different ways.  For example, the 6 credits could be in additional courses in research methods, additional courses in a major, additional courses in a minor, or some combination of these, including additional courses which are in none of these categories.  Elective course requirements can be also taken in appropriate areas outside the department (subject to the approval of the student’s Guidance Committee).

B. Guidance Committee and Program of Study

Students are required to form a Guidance Committee by the end of their first year in the program.  The Guidance Committee must consist of four (4) faculty members: A Chair who serves as the student’s main academic advisor for program planning, and at least three other faculty members.  At least three of the four Guidance Committee Members must be regular member’s of the political science faculty, and there must be one faculty member representing the student’s major field and one faculty member representing the student’s minor field.

C. Evaluation for Continuation in the Ph.D. Program

Students are admitted to the doctoral program only on a probationary basis.  After the Spring semester of every year, the faculty will conduct an evaluation of every first-year student’s overall academic performance.  Students must gain the faculty’s approval to continue in the doctoral program beyond the first year.

D. Comprehensive Field Examinations

After completing the required courses and before writing a dissertation, students must pass a Comprehensive Field Examination in both their Major and Minor Fields.  Students must successfully pass the Comprehensive Field Examinations by the end of the Fall semester of the third year in which they have been enrolled as a full-time graduate student in the Ph.D. program at MSU, including the first (“probationary”) year before formal admission to the Ph.D. program.

E. Dissertation Topic, Advisor, Committee, and Proposal

After passing the Major and Minor Comprehensive Field Examinations, students must establish a doctoral dissertation committee.  In order to accomplish this, students must identify a suitable dissertation topic, identify a faculty member to supervise the project and serve as the Chair of the Dissertation Committee, establish a full dissertation committee, write a dissertation proposal, and successfully defend the proposal in an oral defense.  The Chair of the Disseration Committee must be selected by the first week of Spring semester of the third year of the program.  The disseration proposal must be defended and approved by the second week of Fall semester of the fourth year of the program.

F. Doctoral Dissertation

Once the dissertation proposal is approved, students must conduct the research for the disseration, write up the findings, present written drafts of the proposal to their committees, and successfully defend the completed project.

G. Job Placement

Letters of recommendation should be on file with the Graduate Program Assistant.  The Graduate Program Assistant will upload, email, or mail confidential letters to universitities you are applying to for job placement.  Students should consult frequently with their Disseration Chair and the Department Placement Director about job opportunities and prospects.

H. Ph.D. Residency Status

A year of residence will be made up of two consecutive semesters, involving the completion of credits at the level of full-time status of graduate work each semester.

I. Dual-Major Doctoral Degrees

All dual major doctoral degrees must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School.  A request for the dual major degree must be submitted within one semester following its development and within the first two years of the student’s enrollment at Michigan State University.  A copy of the Guidance Committee report must be attached.  See Academic Programs for a more specific description of Graduate Education Dual-Major Doctoral Degrees.