Nov 20, 2019  
USC Catalogue 2017-2018 
USC Catalogue 2017-2018 [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

Political Science and International Relations (PhD)

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Programs, Minors and Certificates

Return to: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences  


USC Graduate School Requirements

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 PhD in Political Science and International Relations requirements are fulfilled by successfully completing a minimum of 70 units beyond the BA, the PhD screening process, three fields of concentration, a substantive paper, a foreign language requirement (if applicable), qualifying examinations, a dissertation proposal, and a written dissertation and its oral defense.


The faculty of the Department of Political Science and the School of International Relations welcome talented candidates from a variety of backgrounds. Although a prior degree in political science or international relations is not necessary, it is strongly recommended that applicants have completed at least some course work in related fields, including political theory, statistics and social science research methods.

Admission decisions are based on consideration of applicants' prior academic performance, as reflected in course grades, the results of the Graduate Record Examination, letters of recommendation, and a statement of intent that demonstrates a seriousness of purpose, a high level of motivation and a desire to benefit from our faculty's areas of expertise or interest. Applicants also are required to submit a sample of their written work in English, preferably a research-oriented paper. Business, government and other practical experiences may also be taken into account. Applicants whose native language is not English must take the TOEFL or IELTS examination.

Screening Process

Before completion of 24 units, students will be reviewed by a screening committee made up of the program director, one teacher of one of the core courses and one professor nominated by the student. This committee will review the student's progress, including grades and written faculty evaluations of course work.

The committee will be responsible for deciding, at an early stage in the student's career, if the student is likely to finish the PhD program. After reviewing the student's record, the committee may decide to (1) continue the student, (2) not continue the student and admit the student into a terminal MA degree program, or (3) fail the student's performance in the screening process, i.e., not continue the student in either the MA or PhD programs.

Course Requirements

All doctoral candidates must complete an approved sequence of four courses in core theory and methodology, including a classics-oriented course in political theory, a multivariate statistics course, a philosophies/methodologies of social inquiry course, and a course in advanced research methods.

The selection of additional courses should be guided by the distribution requirements of the PhD program. The student will choose three fields of concentration, of which two will be examined fields. Each examined field of concentration requires completion of four graduate-level courses, including the core course in standard fields, with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements. The third non-examined field of concentration requires completion of three graduate-level courses with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements. Students are also advised to take an independent study course to work toward their substantive paper requirement. Additional courses necessary to complete the 70 units required by the Guidelines for Graduate Study in Political Science and International Relations should be taken in consultation with faculty advisers.

Fields of Concentration

The standing fields of concentration include: American politics; comparative politics; international political economy; and international security and foreign policy. The candidate must satisfy two of these four standing fields by passing a written field qualifying examination. The student may satisfy the third field by completing four courses in one of these four, or may propose another customized field of study to be approved by relevant faculty and the PhD program director and steering committee. For example, students can design a third field that cuts across disciplinary boundaries or focuses on specific areas of political science and international relations beyond the standing fields. The guidelines and program director can provide illustrations of this type of third field.

Foreign Language

The student is required to demonstrate intermediate proficiency in a language other than English if the student's primary field requires it. Students should consult the guidelines and the program director.

Substantive Paper

To show evidence of the capacity to conduct original research and before taking the qualifying exam, each student will submit a substantive paper. The student will submit the draft of his or her substantive paper to the chair of the qualifying exam committee one month prior to the qualifying examinations. After consultation with the chair and necessary revisions, the student is to distribute the paper to all members of the qualifying exam committee at least 14 days prior to the oral defense. The substantive paper should be presented and defended in the oral component of the qualifying examination as a viable journal submission to a peer-reviewed professional journal. It is strongly encouraged that the paper should be submitted to a professional journal approved by the student's adviser within one year of the defense.

Qualifying Examinations

Ordinarily, students will take the qualifying exams no later than the fifth semester in the PhD program. Students will be examined in two of their three fields of concentration. The third field will be completed by taking at least four courses and passing them with an average grade consistent with university and program requirements. The qualifying exam committee will evaluate the quality of these two written exams as evidence of the capacity to define and complete a PhD dissertation.

The written examinations are closed book and will be administered over two days at least once per academic year. Examination questions will be written by a committee of the tenure track faculty in each field. The director of POIR graduate studies (program director), in consultation with the chair of the Department of Political Science and the director of the School of International Relations, will appoint one faculty member from each field to coordinate the writing of the relevant field exam. The field exam coordinators will then seek assistance from other faculty in their field, including those with whom the student has studied, to compose the written examination questions.

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 two written field exams and the substantive paper. The qualifying exam committee will be made up of five members. In consultation with his or her principal adviser, the student will select two members, one from each standing field in which he or she will be examined, and the other two field examiners and the outside member of the qualifying exam committee. Final approval of the qualifying exam committee requires the signature of the program director.

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. 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 defended their dissertation proposal.


Upon completion of the qualifying examinations, the student, in consultation with the principal adviser, selects a dissertation committee in accordance with university rules. Within six months of completing the qualifying examinations, students should have a formal defense of the dissertation proposal before their dissertation committee. 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 this 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.

Return to {$returnto_text} Return to: Programs, Minors and Certificates