College of Arts and Sciences

School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs

Ph.D. in Political Science

Program Development & Committee Process

Primary responsibility for developing a doctoral program rests with the student and the doctoral advising committee. The primary criterion in the selection of the chair of a student's committee will normally be the student's expressed interest in a particular field of political science as the probable area of major concentration; interim committee chairs will be appointed for all incoming graduate students by the director of graduate studies. It will then be the advising committee chair's responsibility, before the end of the student's second semester of residence at Washington State University, to suggest other members of the program committee.

No later than the student's second semester in residence, the student and his/her committee should develop a specific program of study in political science. It is the joint responsibility of the student and the advising committee chair to develop the student's program and file all necessary paperwork with the Graduate School.

Students who by the end of the third semester equivalent of full-time enrollment in residence have failed to form a committee and file a program of study shall normally be denied continuance in any assistantship or other kind of departmental employment, including work with the Division of Governmental Studies and Services, Extended Degree Program courses, grant projects, or related activities.

All changes in an approved Ph.D. program must be made on forms supplied by the Graduate School or from the academic coordinator in the PPPA office. Such changes require the approval of the committee chair and the other members of the program or thesis committee. Final approval also requires the signature of the director of the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs and the dean of the Graduate School.

A common oversight is failure by students and their advisors to file a dissertation title as a "change of program," where the program originally indicated only the intended general area of the dissertation. Such changes should be officially recorded as soon as the title has become specific and has the approval of the thesis committee.

Please provide the academic coordinator with a copy of all documents submitted or for any changes requested. Any later alterations in a formally approved and recorded title must also be treated as a program change and made part of the official record by processing the usual forms.

Credit Hour Requirements
  • 54 hours minimum total credits
  • 34 hours minimum from graded courses
  • 20 hours minimum 800-level research credits
  • 9 hours maximum of non-graduate courses (400-level)
  • Note: courses for audit may not be used for the program of study.

It should be noted that the fairly limited number of hours required by the Graduate School does not take into account the courses that are required as part of the Ph.D. program in political science; thus students typically take more than the minimum hours that the Graduate School imposes as the minimum graded graduate credit.

Students should also recognize that training adequately for exams and a career in the field means they should take as many courses as they can in their areas of interest when these are available. At minimum, graduate students have to take at least 10 credit hours per semester to be considered full-time at WSU (usually this takes the form of 3 seminars/courses and 1–2 credit hours of 700- or 800-level credit). All graduate students are required by the Graduate School to enroll in one or two 700- or 800-level credits per semester.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

There are three different types of course requirements for the Ph.D. program: Research Tools, Core Courses, and Preliminary Examination Fields.

Students should thoroughly familiarize themselves with the overall structure of the program as well as the specific course requirements of each area before discussing their course plans with the graduate advisor their first semester.

Research Tools & Methods Courses

The Research Tools & Methods courses are intended to provide students with a well grounded background in the scope and methods of the social sciences. All Ph.D. candidates are expected take these classes. These courses form the backbone of the Ph.D. matriculation examination, which is taken by all students in the program during the fourth semester of residence in the program. It is highly recommended for students who do have prior graduate experience that they still complete these research tools at Washington State University, as they will need to be familiar with both approaches and methods utilized by faculty in the department to pass the matriculation examination. The Research Tools & Methods courses are only offered every other year in a set sequence, so it is important for graduate students to take these courses when offered if they know they will be taking their matriculation exams before they are available again. It is acceptable to be taking one of these seminars during the semester in which the matriculation exam is taken.

POL S 501: The Scope of Political Science
Basic issues in social science epistemology, elements of social science theory-building, theoretic frameworks, and intellectual history of political science.

POL S 502: Seminar in Political Theory
Students are required to complete POL S 502, a basic training in normative political theory. However, POL S 511 may substitute with the approval of the student's advising committee and the director of graduate studies (please note: these courses may not be offered every year, so you should check future schedules). Alternatively, at least two courses in theory and/or epistemology at the undergraduate level or other equivalents may be used to fulfill this requirement upon approval of both the Ph.D. committee and the graduate director.

POL S 503: Introduction to Political Science Research Methods
Introduction to general topics in the area of social science research design, including: Theories and Concepts, Measurement, Sampling, Data Sources, Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Designs, Field and Historical Designs, and Survey Research.

POL S 504: Quantitative Methods in Political Science
Applied statistical skills and theories of probability, enabling understanding of substantive political and social questions. (Students are expected to have taken a basic statistics course covering descriptive statistics, means comparisons and ANOVA [but not necessarily regression] prior to taking POL S 504. If they have not, they should take a stats course covering such material, like CRM J 504, prior to taking POL S 504.)

POL S 539: Professionalization Practicum 
1 credit Pass/Fail 

Foundational Training Area Seminars

Doctoral students select one Foundational Training Area in which to test in their preliminary exams from among the following three:

  1. Institutions & Processes
  2. Behavior & Psychology
  3. Theory & Philosophy

The courses making up a student's Foundational Training Area can be selected from specific 'baskets' of class offerings falling within broad areas of political science focusing upon:

  1. Institutional/structural/macro-social approaches to studying politics;
  2. Behavioral/psychological approaches to studying politics; or
  3. On normative/philosophical approaches to studying politics.

It is expected that students have at least four 500-level seminars/courses falling within their chosen Foundational Training Area, with the selection of courses being agreed upon between the student and their committee. Any 400-level courses taken in these areas should be viewed as supplementing your knowledge of the area, but the material covered will not be subject to examination during preliminary examinations. The flexibility afforded students in selecting courses falling within these Foundational Training Areas allows them to also build expertise in specialized sub-fields (e.g., political psychology within the Behavior & Psychology area).

Foundational Training Area 'Baskets' of Courses
Institutions & Processes Behavior & Psychology Theory & Philosophy

POL S 510: Intro to American Institutions and Processes

POL S 512: Seminar in American Institutions

POL S 514: Seminar in Public Policy

POL S 516: Seminar in Law and Courts

POL S 534: Seminar in Comparative Politics

POL S 536: Special Topics in Comparative Politics (Comparative Political Parties)

POL S 537: Concepts and Methods in Comparative Politics

POL S 533b: Seminar in Political Leadership and Decision Making

POL S 540: Seminar in Public Administration

POL S 429: Special Topics in Foreign and Defense Policy

POL S 443: Administrative Jurisprudence

POL S 510: Intro to American Institutions and Processes

POL S 513: Seminar in American Political Behavior

POL S 530: Theoretical Approaches to International Relations

POL S 533a: Seminar in Political Psychology

POL S 533b: Seminar in Political Leadership and Decision Making

POL S 536: Special Topics in Comparative Politics (Comparative Political Parties)

POL S 428: Intro to Political Psychology

POL S 429: Special Topics in Foreign and Defense Policy

POL S 502: Seminar in Political Theory

POL S 511: Seminar in American Political Thought

POL S 530: Theoretical Approaches to International Relations

POL S 531: International Security

POL S 534: Seminar in Comparative Politics

PHIL 501: Advanced Logic

PHIL 507: Seminar in Philosophy of Religion

PHIL 510: Seminar in the History of Philosophy

PHIL 520: Seminar in Ethical Theory

PHIL 522: Seminar in Metaphysics

PHIL 524: Seminar in Epistemology

PHIL 530: Bioethics

PHIL 532: Seminar in Business Ethics

PHIL 543: Philosophy of Language

PHIL 535: Advanced Biomedical Ethics

PHIL 540: Ethics and Social Science Research

PHIL 570: Philosophy of Law

PHIL 413: Mind of God and the Book of Nature: Science and Religion

PHIL 420: Contemporary Continental Philosophy

PHIL 442: Philosophy of Mind

PHIL 472: Social and Political Philosophy

Field of Emphasis Courses

Doctoral students will also select one of the following Field of Emphasis Areas in which they will test during preliminary exams:

  1. American Politics
  2. Global Politics
  3. Public Policy/Public Administration

It is expected that students have at least four 500-level seminars/courses falling within their chosen Field of Emphasis Area, with the selection of courses being agreed upon between the student and their committee. Any 400-level courses taken in these areas should be viewed as supplementing your knowledge of the area, but the material covered will not be subject to examination during preliminary examinations. Courses may 'double-count' (i.e., count as meeting a requirement in both Field of Emphasis and Foundational Training Areas simultaneously), though students are still expected to fill out these areas with as many courses as possible in meeting their minimum 34 hours of graded credit in the Ph.D. program and 54 hours minimum of total credits required. Recognize that in either area, your ability to successfully answer preliminary examination questions will be driven by how deep your expertise is in these areas (e.g., the variety of courses you have taken), as well as by your mastery of reading lists provided by these areas.

Field of Emphasis 'Baskets' of Courses
American Politics Global Politics Public Policy/Public Administration

POL S 510: Intro to American Institutions and Processes

POL S 511: Seminar in American Political Thought

POL S 512: Seminar in American Institutions

POL S 513: Seminar in American Political Behavior

POL S 516: Seminar in Law and Courts

POL S 536: Special Topics in Comparative Politics (Comparative Political Parties)

PHIL 570: Philosophy of Law

POL S 402: Civil Liberties

POL S 404: The Judicial Process

POL S 417: Elections and Voting

POL S 420: Political Parties & Pressure Groups

POL S 424: U.S. National Security Policy

POL S 427: American Foreign Policy

POL S 429: Special Topics in Foreign and Defense Policy

POL S 434: American Political Thought

POL S 443: Administrative Jurisprudence

POL S 448: Urban Politics & Policy

POL S 449: Intergovernmental Administration

POL S 450: The Legislative Process

POL S 455: The Presidency

POL S 530: Theoretical Approaches to International Relations

POL S 531: International Security

POL S 533a: Seminar in Political Psychology

POL S 533b: Seminar in Political Leadership and Decision Making

POL S 534: Seminar in Comparative Politics

POL S 536: Special Topics in Comparative Politics (Comparative Political Parties)

POL S 537: Concepts and Methods in Comparative Politics

PHIL 507: Seminar in Philosophy of Religion.

PHIL 520: Seminar in Ethical Theory

POL S 424: U.S. National Security Policy

POL S 427: American Foreign Policy

POL S 428: Intro to Political Psychology

POL S 429: Special Topics in Foreign and Defense Policy

POL S 432: Comparative Public Policy

POL S 472: European Politics

PHIL 420: Contemporary Continental Philosophy

POL S 514: Seminar in Public Policy

POL S 533b: Seminar in Political Leadership and Decision Making

POL S 540: Seminar in Public Administration

POL S 544: The Politics of the Policy Process

POL S 541: Seminar in Research Evaluation

POL S 547: Seminar in Public Administration

PHIL 532: Seminar in Business Ethics

POL S 404: The Judicial Process

POL S 416: Policy Analysis

POL S 417: Elections and Voting

POL S 424: U.S. National Security Policy

POL S 427: American Foreign Policy

POL S 429: Special Topics in Foreign and Defense Policy

POL S 430: Politics of Natural Resources and the Environment

POL S 432: Comparative Public Policy

POL S 450: The Legislative Process

POL S 445: Public Personnel Administration

POL S 446: Public Budgeting

Matriculation Examination

All students must pass the matriculation examination to continue in the Ph.D. program past the second year in residence. For students admitted without a prior M.A. degree, the matriculation examination will be taken in the fourth semester of the program. For students admitted with an M.A., the matriculation examination may be attempted in either the second or fourth semester upon advice and consent of the advising committee and the director of graduate studies. Continuance in the program is dependent upon successful passage of this examination; students who fail the examination may be granted a terminal M.A. in political science.

The examination will cover epistemology (including the foundations of the discipline, the formation of research paradigms, etc.), theory (including normative theory, and general theoretical approaches), and research methods (including both quantitative and qualitative research tools). The matriculation examination committee (three members) shall be appointed each year by the chair on recommendation of the graduate director. The committee will consist of three anonymous members appointed from faculty who have taught, or are scheduled to teach, any course in the generalist core of the program (the Research Tools & Methods courses, POL S 501, 502, 503, and 504). Questions shall be decided upon by the whole committee, and graded by the whole. All students scheduled for the matriculation examination shall sit the examination at the same time and will face the same questions.

Matriculation examinations are held in March each spring semester.

Grading will be conducted anonymously. Students with M.A.'s may get a waiver from taking any core courses (501, 502, 503, 504) that they have equivalent training in already (to be determined and approved by the graduate director and GSC). Students who successfully pass the written examinations will be asked to schedule a formal advising committee meeting, at which time they will present a preliminary research prospectus. Upon satisfactory completion of this requirement, they will be granted an M.A. in political science and granted continuing status in the Ph.D. program.

If a student fails the matriculation examination, they will be cut from the Ph.D. program. However, they will be allowed the possibility of scheduling an M.A. essay defense with their advising committee; upon successful completion of which, they will be awarded a terminal M.A. in political science.

Ph.D. Preliminary Qualifying Examinations

Students will be scheduled to take their preliminary exams ("prelims") one year after they take the matriculation exam (this will normally be in the student's sixth semester). The examinations include both a written and an oral component, both of which must be satisfactorily completed. Students are responsible for working with the members of their advising committee and faculty in the examination fields in preparation for these examinations. It should be noted that these examinations are comprehensive, and, while specific seminars are highly recommended as necessary preparation for them, these seminars alone are not sufficient. Students will want to read additional materials so as to demonstrate a breadth of knowledge that transcends any one seminar.

Preliminary examinations are held in March each spring semester (though students may petition under extraordinary circumstances the Graduate Director and GSC for an exception to allow the taking of prelims during the Fall semester in October).

Students will be expected to master the materials covered in one Foundational Training Area (Institutions & Processes, Behavior & Psychology, or Theory & Philosophy) and one Field of Emphasis Area (American Politics, Global Politics, or Public Policy/Public Administration). It is the responsibility of the advising committee, in conjunction with faculty in preliminary examination field areas, to help students prepare for these examinations. Students are responsible for contacting the members of their prelim fields in preparation for the examinations and to obtain additional reading lists.

Preliminary Examination Procedures

Preliminary examinations are taken over two days and are closed book. Each portion of the questions for the primary examination fields (i.e., the Foundational Training Area and the Field of Emphasis) will be developed by the faculty in these areas and will be common to all students taking preliminary examinations that semester. Students will then be able to select from among this series of questions within each component in writing their prelim essays. The answers will be graded by the student's graduate committee, with input from any faculty member who wrote a question for the exam the student answers during their written prelims (if not already on the graduate student's committee), who will make written recommendations to the committee as to whether it is a passing/failing answer. But ultimate authority for passing prelims rests with the student's committee, who will conduct the oral exam. A student must successfully pass both portions of the examination and the oral exam in order to pass the preliminary examinations.

The Ph.D. aspirant becomes eligible to attempt qualifying ("preliminary") examinations when he or she is completing the final courses included in his or her Ph.D. program. Only after a student has successfully passed "prelims" does he or she become formally a "candidate for the Ph.D." (or ABD, "All But Dissertation"). Preliminary exam schedules are established by director of graduate studies and must be formally filed with the graduate school.

Each student will have up to eight hours to complete each of the two days of examinations. After grading the exam, the student’s committee members each give written feedback to the student at least two days before the oral exam. The oral exam is normally held within three weeks of completion of the written portion. The oral exam lasts two hours. Questions normally focus on the student's written examination but can cover any topic within the student's areas of concentration. The object of the preliminary examination, which is comprehensive and broad in nature, and both written and oral, is to test the student's mastery of and sophistication concerning his/her fields of specialization. It is not designed to reward mere memorization of facts. The student should bear in mind that when a student "sits" for prelims, he or she is seeking to be recognized as a peer of the examiners. Therefore, a student must demonstrate an expert level of competence in a field in order to receive a passing grade.

There is no "set" or "magic" way to prepare for prelims. A solid course background is, of course, an indispensable asset. The successful student will also have read substantially beyond course requirements in his or her preliminary exam fields, will have consulted faculty teaching in these fields regarding appropriate reading lists and preparation strategies, and will be thoroughly informed regarding relevant epistemologies and methodologies. The maximum period of time in which to complete both written and oral examinations is 30 days (Graduate School regulation). Under existing university policy, students cannot take any such examinations (prelim or final) unless they are registered for credit and have paid the fees entailed by such registration for the school term in which the examination is scheduled. At the option of the committee, students who fail their preliminary exams may be allowed to retake the exams once, after a three-month waiting period.

Dissertation Prospectus Defense

The next requirement for the Ph.D. candidate beyond the prelims is preparation, under the guidance of a thesis committee, of a dissertation presenting the results of a thorough and systematic investigation of a significant problem related to one of the exam fields of the candidate. The thesis committee will normally be composed of the chairperson and two other members of the graduate faculty. The Ph.D. dissertation committee is normally, but not always, composed of the same members as the preliminary examination committee. The subject matter of the dissertation will, of course, have an important bearing on the committee's composition. Students must present, and orally defend, a dissertation prospectus, usually in the semester following successful passage of the preliminary exams. This defense does not need to be scheduled with the Graduate School. The objectives of the proposal are to identify the research topic and to demonstrate that a feasible and appropriate research strategy has been developed. Normally, the student works with the chair of her/his committee to produce a final draft. Only after the chair has approved the working draft may the student submit the essay to the other members of the committee, remembering that the other members must have the essay at least 15 work days prior to the defense date. All committee members must sign off on the defense date. If these guidelines are not respected by the student, the other members of the committee are not obliged to attend the defense. A dissertation prospectus should be a clear statement and presentation of the research problem to be examined after prelims. The prospectus presents the student's preliminary work on the problem, not just a statement of that problem, as well as a discussion of the feasibility and significance of the project. The prospectus should include (not necessarily in this precise format or order):

  1. Project Title
  2. Statement of the Topic or Problem: Identify the specific focus in researchable terms and place the topic or problem in the literature.
  3. Extensive Literature Review: Describe and critique major approaches to the problem, the relevant findings, theoretical and methodological debates in the literature, and a discussion of how the dissertation will fit in and add to the literature.
  4. Tentative Theoretical Framework: Describe the theoretical framework with which the problem or topic will be analyzed. This may require an additional literature review if the approach has not been used to examine the problem or topic.
  5. Tentative Hypotheses
  6. Approach, Methods, and Materials: Discuss in depth the analytical school or approach or methodology that will be employed.
  7. Tentative Chapter by Chapter Outline.

The prospectus must be submitted to the student's committee, revised in accordance with committee criticisms, and acceptable to the committee before the final oral exam is scheduled. Further revisions may be required after the successful completion of the oral exam.

Final Oral Examination of Dissertation

The last requirement is the final oral examination, which under existing Graduate School policies cannot be scheduled until the dissertation is ready for presentation to the Graduate School and for deposit in the university library. The final oral usually centers on the dissertation, but, as Graduate School regulations indicate, the student must be prepared to meet questions relating to any of the work he or she has done for the degree. Under existing university policy, students cannot take any such examinations (preliminary or final) unless they are registered for credit and have paid the fees entailed by such registration for the school term in which the examination is scheduled. Normally such examinations can be scheduled only for times when the University is in session. A minimum of four months must elapse between the successful completion of a preliminary examination and the scheduling of a final examination.

Current Graduate School regulations stipulate that: "In all cases, the requirements for the degree should be completed within three years of the date of the satisfactory completion of the preliminary examination."

Upon completion of the dissertation, a final bound copy must be submitted to the Graduate School and the School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs conforming to Graduate School requirements as follows: Following a passed oral examination, the 100% rag bond manuscript and one copy of the thesis or dissertation must be signed in black ink by all committee members and the manuscript returned to the Graduate School within five working days for acceptance. Specific steps for final acceptance are given to graduate students at the time they receive the Thesis Acceptance/Final Examination scheduling form. The Graduate School Policies and Procedures Manual and forms involved can be found on the Graduate School's website.

Students need to be in regular contact with their committee chair with regards to their completion schedule for the dissertation. Students cannot expect committees to suddenly schedule a defense if they produce the entire manuscript unexpectedly. The student should have an agreed completion schedule with the chair and should be submitting chapters regularly. The other committee members must be given ample time (at least 15 working days) to read over the final version, only after the chair has approved the dissertation. Please remember that this process takes time. Be aware that all committee members must sign off on a defense date. Students are ultimately responsible for scheduling their defense.

Teaching and/or Research Requirement

In addition to the course requirements, each student in the Ph.D. program is required to have formal teaching and/or research experience in an institution of higher learning before receiving the Ph.D. degree. Serving as a teaching assistant in the School of Politics, Philosophy, & Public Affairs satisfies this teaching requirement. Collecting original data also fulfills this requirement.

Contact Us

School of Politics, Philosophy, & Public Affairs
Washington State University
801 Johnson Tower
PO Box 644880
Pullman, WA 99164-4880
Phone: 509-335-2544
Fax: 509-335-7990

Graduate & Student Records Coordinator

Bonnie Kemper
bkemper@wsu.edu

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School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs, PO Box 644880, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4880 • 509-335-2544 • Contact Us