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Program Title
Political Science (PhD)
Degree Type
PHD - Doctor of Philosophy
Political Science
Program Overview

Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science

The principal goal of the Stanford Ph.D. program in political science is the training of scholars. Most students who receive doctorates in the program do research and teach at colleges or universities. We offer courses and research opportunities in a wide variety of fields in the discipline, including American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory, and Political Methodology.  The program is built around small seminars that analyze critically the literature of a field or focus on a research problem. These courses prepare students for the Ph.D. comprehensive exam requirement within a two-year period and for work on the doctoral dissertation. 

The University's basic requirements for the Ph.D. degree are discussed in the Graduate Degrees section of this bulletin.

Admission to the Ph.D. Program

Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly competitive. The selection of Ph.D. students admitted to the Department of Political Science is based on an individualized, holistic review of each application, including (but not limited to) the applicant’s academic record, the letters of recommendation, the scores on the General GRE (Graduate Record Examination), the statement of purpose, and the writing sample. About 12-15 students, chosen from a large pool of applicants, enter the program every year. These students are chosen on the basis of a strong academic background as evidenced by previous study, test results, writing sample, and letters of recommendation.

General GRE scores are required of all applicants. Scores from any GRE subject tests are not required. There are no exceptions to the GRE requirement and no other exams (including the LSAT or GMAT) are accepted in lieu of the GRE.

Before starting the application process applicants should read the Admissions section of the department website, especially the Frequently Asked Questions. All questions regarding graduate admissions should be directed to the Political Science Student Services office.

External Credit Policies

Students who completed graduate coursework at another institution are encouraged to begin the process of transferring course units in the Winter quarter of their first year of doctoral study. Transfer of units will be evaluated by the Director of Graduate Studies on a course by course basis. Graduate work accepted for transfer of residency does not automatically exempt a student from having to complete a course requirement for the degree. University policies related to transfer of  credit for graduate work done elsewhere is located in G.AP 3.2.1 Residency Policy for Graduate Students.

Degree Requirements

For additional details about the Ph.D. program structure and requirements, please refer to the Ph.D. Program Guide.

Programs of study leading to the Ph.D. degree are designed by the student, in consultation with advisers and the Director of Graduate Studies, to serve their particular interests as well as to achieve the general department requirements. A student is recommended to the University Committee on Graduate Studies to receive the Ph.D. degree in Political Science when the following program of study has been completed:

  1. Statement of Purpose: By the beginning of the fourth quarter in residence, each Ph.D. student must submit a statement of purpose to the student's pre-candidacy mentors. This statement indicates the student's proposed fields of study, the courses taken and those planned to be taken to cover those fields, the student's plan for meeting language and/or skill requirements, plans for taking the comprehensive examination and writing the field paper, and, where possible, dissertation ideas or plans. This statement is discussed with, and must be approved by, the student's pre-candidacy mentors. In the Autumn Quarter following completion of their first year, students are reviewed at a regular meeting of the department faculty. The main purposes of this review are to advise and assist the student to realize their educational goals; to provide an opportunity for clarifying goals and for identifying ways to achieve them; and to facilitate assessment of progress toward the degree.

  2. First Field: The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must demonstrate proficiency in a primary field. The fields are: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, methodology, and political theory. Students demonstrate proficiency by:

    1. passing four five-unit classes in that field with letter grades of A- or better. Each field offers a series of two or three core courses designed to familiarize students with the literature of that field. In addition, fields require that students take one or two elective courses covering a specific aspect of the field. Specific class requirements can be found on the field statements, available on the Political Science department website. 

    2. passing a written or oral comprehensive examination by the end of spring quarter of the second year, after completion of the core sequence of the first field. Political Theory requires an oral comprehensive exam; all other fields require a written exam. 

  3. Second Field: The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must demonstrate proficiency in a secondary field by completing three five-unit classes in that field with letter grades of A- or better. The fields are: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, methodology, and political theory. Specific class requirements can be found on the field statements, available on the Political Science department website. 

  4. Third Field: The candidate for the Ph.D. degree must also complete a third field. The third field requirement is satisfied by taking two courses for at least three units each with a letter grade of 'B' or better. Students may choose to complete a third field in one of the fields within the Political Science department: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, methodology, or political theory. Specific class requirements for each field can be found on the field statements, available on the Political Science department website. Alternately, students may design their own third field. Classes taken for a self-designed third field do not have to offered by the Political Science department. Self-designed third fields must be approved by two members of the Political Science department faculty. The third field cannot be satisfied by courses taken to fulfill requirements for first or second fields or by classes taken to fulfill other program requirements.

  5. Political Theory Program Requirement: Every Ph.D. student must complete at least one five-unit class of graduate-level instruction in political theory. All courses used to fulfill the political theory requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better. The classes that fulfill this requirement are listed on the Political Theory field statement, available on the Political Science department website.

  6. Quantitative Methods Program Requirement: Every Ph.D. student must take course Political Methodology I: Regression and course Political Methodology II: Causal Inference. Credit for equivalent classes is at the discretion of the political methodology field convener. All courses used to fulfill the quantitative methods requirement must be taken for a letter grade of 'B' or better unless the candidate has a first or second field in Quantitative Methodology in which case the minimum required grade is A-.

  7. Research Design Program Requirement: All students are required to take Poli Sci 400C for five units and a letter grade of B or better (or CR in 2020-21). If Poli Sci 400C is not offered in a given year, students must complete Polisci 440C, 410D, 333M or 462. They should consult with their pre-candidacy mentors to determine the most suitable alternative.

  8. Foundational Concepts Workshop: all first year Ph.D. students must complete POLISCI 480 Foundational Concepts in Political Science with a grade of S (Satisfactory).

  9. All courses taken to fulfill pre-candidacy requirements must normally be taken for a letter grade. Due to the disruption caused by COVID-19, graduate courses taken Spring 2020 through Summer 2021 for a grade of “CR” (credit) may satisfy PhD pre-candidacy requirements.

  10. Competence in a Language and/or Skill: The Ph.D. candidate is required to demonstrate competence in a language and/or skill that is likely to be relevant to the dissertation research. The level of competence needed for completion of the research is determined by the student's adviser. Previous instruction can be counted towards this requirement only if approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.

  11. Second Year Research Paper ('field paper'): All Ph.D. students must submit a research paper approved by two faculty readers by the end of the second year, prior to advancing to candidacy. This paper must demonstrate the capacity to produce research at a level expected of students preparing to write a high-quality Ph.D. dissertation. The second-year research paper is given considerable weight as the faculty consider an application for candidacy. Students are advised to begin work on their second-year research papers in the summer between their first and second years in the program, to select two Political Science faculty readers early in fall quarter of their second year, and to submit a first draft to their readers by early winter quarter of their second year.

  12. Prospectus Committee: Students must form a prospectus committee in the third year. In the fall, this committee will consist of at least two faculty members. By the spring quarter, the committee will have three faculty members, who will be expected to approve the final prospectus by the end of the year. While this prospectus committee may form the basis for a dissertation reading committee, students will be free to assemble a dissertation reading committee whose members differ from those of the prospectus committee. 

  13. Advancement to candidacy: In accordance with University guidelines, Ph.D. students are expected to advance to candidacy by the end of their sixth quarter in the program (i.e., by the end of their Spring Quarter in their second year in the program). It is the department’s practice that all students in their sixth quarter be considered for candidacy at a special meeting of the faculty (typically in Week 9 or 10 of Spring Quarter). All the requirements for advancing to candidacy listed in items 1-10 above must be completed by this meeting but advancement to candidacy is not automatic upon completion of these requirements. Advancement to candidacy is an expression by the faculty of their confidence that the student can successfully complete the Ph.D. program, and in particular, complete a doctoral dissertation that is an original contribution to scholarship that exemplifies the highest standard of the discipline. Should a student not be advanced to candidacy by the end of the sixth quarter, the student is at risk of being dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

  14. Dissertation Prospectus: By the end of the third year, a formal dissertation prospectus must be submitted to and approved by the student's prospectus committee and the Director of Graduate Studies. The dissertation prospectus must be approved by the end of the third year. Students must also make a dissertation prospectus presentation in spring quarter of the third year.

  15. Teaching Requirement: A candidate for the Ph.D. in Political Science is required to complete three quarters of teaching in Political Science department classes for a minimum of three quarters. Most students are required to complete up to five quarters of teaching as part of their funding package.

  16. Dissertation Reading Committee: The dissertation reading committee must be formed by the end of the fourth year.

  17. Oral Examination: The candidate must pass the University oral examination on the area of the dissertation at a time suggested by the candidate's dissertation committee.

  18. Dissertation: The candidate must complete a dissertation satisfactory to the dissertation reading committee.

  19. Adequate Progress: Students who are not making adequate academic progress are at serious risk of dismissal from the Ph.D. program. In addition to the specific program requirements listed above, at each stage of the Ph.D. program, the department has the following minimum standards for adequate academic progress:

    • Except in rare circumstances, no more than two of the following on the transcript at any given time: incomplete ('I'); grade not reported ('GNR'); not passed or no credit ('NP' or NC'); or withdraw ('W').

    • Adequate grades in all courses taken each term ('B-' and below are regarded as inadequate). Grades of B- or below are reviewed by the faculty and the student may be required to revise and resubmit work associated with the course or retake the course. (While a B is the minimum required grade for all classes, all students must earn a minimum grade of A- for courses taken to fulfill first and second field requirements.)

    • Completion of the 135-unit residency requirement and advancement to TGR status by the end of the fourth year.

    • Student who have advanced to TGR status must earn a grade of N in course in each quarter during the academic year. An ‘N-’ grade constitutes a warning. A second consecutive ‘N-’ normally causes the department to deny the student further registration until a written plan for the completion of the degree requirements has been submitted by the student and accepted by the department. Subsequent ‘N-’ grades are grounds for dismissal from the program.

    • Substantial progress toward completion of the dissertation in the fourth and fifth years.

    • Completion of the Ph.D. within five calendar years after attaining candidacy.

Written petitions for exemptions to requirements are considered by (as applicable) a student’s adviser, the relevant field convener and the Director of Graduate Studies. Approval is contingent on special circumstances and is not routinely granted.