Degree Requirements

Ph.D. Requirements

Required Credits

Each student is required to complete 60 graduate credits, of which at least 20 credits (5 courses) should be earned through 800-level doctoral research courses. These courses may be in any areas of political science and may include independent study, so long as the independent study includes a major research paper. Students matriculating in the fall of 2005 and thereafter are not allowed to take more classes after reaching 45 credits until they have completed at least one part of the first examination successfully.

Knowledge of Two Fields

For the Doctorate in Political Science, students are required to develop a major and minor area of concentration from among the five fields in the Program (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory and Public Policy). Special competence in these two fields is the basis of the student’s doctoral specialization and is also the basis of his or her First and Second Examinations. In each of the two chosen fields, students must take at least one course at the 700-level.

Exposure to Other Fields

Each student is required to complete a total of three courses in at least two fields OTHER THAN their major or minor with a grade of B or better. Courses which are cross-listed are counted only once in meeting any requirement.

Political Theory

Students who do not major or minor in Political Theory will take one course in Political Theory.

Research Design

It is advisable that before the completion of 45 credits every student complete at least one course in quantitative or qualitative research methods.

Foreign Language

Each student must demonstrate competence in a language other than English. This can be achieved by passing a language examination administered by the Program.

Students should also pay particular attention to the use of foreign languages in the collection of primary data through interviewing, analysis of foreign language documents, etc. They should also seek to improve their ability to handle the foreign literature on the subject of their dissertation.

Proficiency in a foreign language is demonstrated by a written examination, administered by the Program, in which the student is required to translate a page of typical text in Social or Political Science into English. The use of a dictionary is permitted.

In lieu of taking the language examination administered by the Program, a student may take one of the courses offered by the CUNY Graduate School Language Reading Program. A grade of B or better in one of these courses may be used to fulfill the language requirement.

Students who have received a BA from a foreign institution may use the language used in that institution as a medium of instruction to satisfy one of the language requirements.

Dates for the foreign language examinations are announced at the beginning of each academic year. Students who wish to be examined in a language not ordinarily given may make arrangements with the Executive Officer.

First Examination

The First Examination tests the student’s ability to explicate, examine, and assess the major theories, applications, and controversies within his or her chosen areas.

The First Examination must be taken after the completion of 27 credits and before the completion of 45 credits.

The First Examination examines students in two of the Program’s five fields.  Students are examined in one major field and one minor field.  The examination consists of a six-hour written examination in the major field and a four-hour written examination in the minor field.  Students may take their major and minor examination in the same semester or in consecutive semesters.

Students may select questions in sub-fields that they designate when they register for the examination.  (Majors must answer questions in three sub-fields, minors in two sub-fields).  In the American Politics Examination, students must answer one question on national institutions or one on political processes. In the International Relations Examination, beginning in January 2006, the “International Relations Theory and Foreign Policy” sub-field is considered the foundation of the field and will be required for all students taking the First Examination. That is, whether you are taking international relations as a major or a minor field, you must answer one of the questions for “International Relations Theory and Foreign Policy” as one of your three or two questions, respectively.

Each major and minor field is subdivided into standard specialized concentrations or subfields.  Any student wishing to broaden the focus of his/her major or minor field can request an additional concentration.  The First Examination Committee must receive these requests at least one semester prior to the examination.

Exam preparation materials can be found on Blackboard.

Second Examination

The Second Examination tests the doctoral candidate’s ability to explicate, examine and assess the major theories, applications, and controversies within his/her chosen areas, and place his/her ideas in the range of views in those areas, with a focus on his/her intended dissertation research.

Between the semester in which the student completes 60 credits and two semesters after the completion of 60 credits, the student completes a dissertation proposal under the supervision of a faculty adviser and faculty reader.

The dissertation proposal is considered satisfactory for the purpose of registering for the Second Examination when the faculty sponsor and reader so indicate in a written communication to the Executive Officer.

The examining committee consists of three faculty members, including the sponsor and the reader.  No more than three members of the examining committee can come from the student’s major field.  Upon completion of a satisfactory dissertation proposal, the student consults with his or her sponsor about the composition of the examining committee, which is then selected in consultation with the Executive Officer.

A faculty member from another Ph.D. Program may be invited to participate in the supervision of a political science dissertation as a reader, provided: (1) the Dissertation Committee is satisfied that the dissertation proposal fully meets applicable standards, and (2) a member of the Ph.D. Program in Political Science takes full responsibility as sponsor or co-sponsor of the dissertation.

The student circulates his or her dissertation proposal to the members of the examining committee, who should submit written comments to the faculty sponsor at least two weeks  before the examination.  The faculty sponsor then conveys the comments to the student.

The Second Examination itself is a two-hour oral examination in which the student is expected to place his or her research project within broader areas of the discipline.  A satisfactory written proposal is a prerequisite for the oral examination, not part of the examination itself.  The student is encouraged to consult with the individual members of the examining committee prior to the examination to identify the issues that will be addressed during the exam.  These issues should be primarily determined by the student’s research interests as expressed in the dissertation proposal.

Students have eight years maximum to complete all of the requirements for the Ph.D. degree. Students should keep in mind that a dissertation has the purpose of continuing their training in theory and research. It is not intended to become a lifelong undertaking. Doctoral candidates should also note that the probability for finding teaching, research and other positions is significantly higher for Ph.D. holders than for ABDs (all-but-dissertation).

Once the dissertation proposal has been approved, the student is expected to work closely with his or her sponsor and reader in researching, organizing and writing the dissertation. In addition, the student is encouraged to consult with other faculty members, as it may be desirable, in pursuing his or her research.

The Examination Committee for a Final Oral Examination represents the Ph.D. Program and through the Graduate Council of the Graduate Center. It is therefore responsible for the standard of the Ph.D. Degree at the University.  The committee must decide whether all academic requirements for the degree have been fulfilled.

The Dissertation Defense Committee is composed of the sponsor and reader of the candidate, as well as the three other members from appropriate disciplines chosen by the Executive Officer with the advice of the candidate.

The Dissertation Defense takes place no less than 30 days after the student has made complete copies of the dissertation available to all members of the Defense Committee.

The Dissertation Defense is a two-hour examination.  Each examiner has approximately 20 minutes to examine the candidate.

M.A. Requirements

Required Credits

Students must complete a course of study consisting of 30 graduate credits, which includes 24 credits in political science and related disciplines, the 3 credit Core Seminar in Political Science, and a 3-credit thesis tutorial.


Students must complete at least three courses in one of the five fields (American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Theory, and Public Policy).

Breadth of Study

Students are required to complete a course in a second field.

Course Level

Students are required to complete at least two 800-level courses.

Depending upon the research tools appropriate to their field, students must fulfill one of the following three requirements:

  • demonstrate proficiency in quantitative methods;
  • demonstrate proficiency in qualitative methods; or
  • demonstrate a reading knowledge of one foreign language.

Proficiency in quantitative methods may be demonstrated by passing a graduate course in quantitative methods/statistics with a grade of B or higher; proficiency in qualitative methods may be demonstrated by passing a graduate course in qualitative methods with a grade of B or higher. Foreign language proficiency may be demonstrated by achieving a B grade or better in an approved foreign language course or by passing the Program’s foreign language proficiency exam.

Students are required to complete a master’s thesis. This may take the form of a substantial revision of a research paper that has been submitted in a course during a prior semester, and ordinarily will be done under the supervision of the instructor in that course. Students may also choose to undertake a new research project for the thesis.

The Political Science Department also offers a special Concentration in Public Policy as a separate component of the M.A. in Political Science. In order to qualify for the Concentration, students must complete at least three courses in the Public Policy subfield, take at least one course in a second subfield, and complete at least two 800-level courses in Public Policy. In addition, the Master’s Thesis must pertain to the field of Public Policy. Please speak to your program advisor for more information.

Writing Politics Specialization

The Political Science Program has recently added the Writing Politics specialization to our curriculum.  The Writing Politics specialization will train students to write serious political analysis for an educated audience outside of the discipline.  This type of political writing, a form of literary journalism or creative non-fiction, can be found in many widely read publications like the New York Review of Books, Harper’s, DISSENT Magazine or the New Yorker, or in books of trade.  This specialization, the first of its kind in the political science academy, helps political scientists reach a larger audience and become involved in the public sphere, where diverse sets of ideas and views are shared and debated.

There are courses every semester designated as Writing Politics, including:

Writing Politics

Blogging and Writing Politics

Campaign and Elections

Peter Beinart

The Political Science Program is pleased to welcome Peter Beinart to our faculty as the anchor of our Writing Politics Specialization:

Peter Beinart is senior political writer at The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. He is also senior fellow at the New America Foundation. From 1999 to 2006, he served as editor of The New Republic. His second book, The Icarus Syndrome: How American Triumph Produces American Tragedy (HarperCollins), has been widely reviewed and highly acclaimed. His first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals – and Only Liberals – Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again, was published by HarperCollins in June 2006. Beinart has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, The Boston Globe, Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, Slate, Reader’s Digest, Die Zeit, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and Polity: the Journal of the Northeastern Political Science Studies Association. The Week magazine named him columnist of the year for 2004. He has appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” “Charlie Rose,” “The McLaughlin Group,” “The Colbert Report,” MTV, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and many other television programs. He graduated from Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford.

Ruth O’Brien

Ruth O’Brien, who earned her Ph.D. in political science at UCLA, joined the Graduate Center’s doctoral faculty in 1997 and, in 2004, founded the Writing Politics specialization in political science. She also serves as an adjunct affiliated scholar with the Center for American Progress. In her research and books, she focuses on American politics, law, political theory without national borders, globalism, and American/global dichotomy. She edits the award-winning “Public Square” series for Princeton University Press, showcasing public intellectuals such as Jill Lepore, Jeff Madrick, Anne Norton, Martha Nussbaum, and Joan Scott. O’Brien is also launching “Heretical Thought,” an Oxford University Press political-theory series that is global in outlook.   O’Brien’s latest book, Out of Many One: Obama and the Third American Political Tradition (2013), with a foreword by journalist Thomas Byrnes Edsall, distinguished professor at Columbia’s School of Journalism, was honored with a 2013 “Author Meets Critic” American Political Science Association convention session. She also wrote Bodies in Revolt: Gender, Disability, and a Workplace Ethic of Care (2005), Crippled Justice: The History of Modern Disability Policy in the Workplace (2001), which received an honorable mention from Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Human Rights and Bigotry (Meyers Center), and Workers’ Paradox: The Republican Origins of the New Deal Labor Policy, 1886–1935 (1998).   The Writing Politics specialization emanated from two books she contributed to and edited: Telling Stories Out of Court: Narratives about Women and Workplace Discrimination (2008) and Voices from the Edge: Narratives about the Americans with Disabilities Act (2004), which earned another honorable mention from the Meyers Center. O’Brien’s controversial blog led Rush Limbaugh to dub her a “professorette.”

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