Curriculum & Requirements

A. Coursework Requirements

The Ph.D. program requires that students take a minimum of 45 semester credits in coursework (which usually means at least 15 semester courses). The program has the following general course requirements:

  • Research Methods—three semester courses (9 credits)
  • Major Field—four semester courses (12 credits)
  • Minor Field—three semester courses (9 credits)
  • Electives—five semester courses (15 credits)

To make satisfactory progress in the program, a student will take at least 3 of the above courses each semester during their first four semesters, totaling 36 credits completed by the end of the second year.

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

Section III of the PhD Handbook outlines specific guidelines for satisfying coursework requirements.

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 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 members 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. Obtaining an M.A. Degree

By the end of the student’s second year, the student may have met the requirements for an M.A. degree in Political Science.

E. 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 details.

F. Continuing in the Ph.D. Program

During the second and third years in the program, students will continue working toward the completion of the required coursework and degree requirements. During this time, students should maintain close contact with the members of their Guidance Committees in order to obtain informal feedback on an ongoing basis.

 G. Comprehensive Field Examinations

After completing the required courses and before writing a dissertation, students must pass a Comprehensive Field Examination in their Major Field. Students must successfully pass the Comprehensive Field Examination before the beginning of the their fifth semester in the program.  Students minoring in Research Methods must successfully pass the Comprehensive Field Examination before the end of their fifth semester in the program.

H. Third-Year Review

After successfully completing the Comprehensive Field Examination(s), the faculty will conduct a comprehensive review of each third-year student’s academic record. A major part of this evaluation will be a paper written by the student. The third-year paper should be a significant work of scholarship that demonstrates the student’s potential to produce research suitable for presentation at professional conferences and for publication.

I. Dissertation Topic, Advisor, Committee, and Proposal

After passing the Comprehensive Field Examination(s), 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 Dissertation Committee must be selected by the last day of classes of the student’s fifth semester in the program. The dissertation proposal must be defended and approved by the second week of the first semester of the student’s fourth year of the program (i.e., the beginning of the student’s seventh semester in the program).

J. Doctoral Dissertation

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

K. Receiving the Ph.D. Degree

The student must submit a form in the first week of the semester during which the student expects to finish all the degree requirements.

L. 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 universities you are applying to for job placement.  Students should consult frequently with their Dissertation Chair and the Departmental Placement Director about job opportunities and prospects.