Graduate Student Handbook

Section 1

University of Illinois Political Science Graduate Handbook


The objective of the PhD program in Political Science is to produce professional scholars capable of making important contributions to the understanding of political phenomena through research and teaching. This requires facilitating the transition of the student from a consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. To accomplish this goal, the program introduces students to the fundamental theories, techniques, and tools of social scientific inquiry. The program imparts an understanding of the breadth, diversity, and development of Political Science as a discipline and is designed to insure that students are capable of using the insights from important bodies of literature. At the same time, it is not so structured that students are prevented from pursuing innovative and self-directed courses of study. Finally, the program seeks to familiarize students with professional norms and practices.

The PhD program in Political Science blends a set of general requirements with a flexible approach to coursework in substantive areas. Students progress through the program with the assistance of a set of faculty committees that guides them in the preparation of an appropriate course of study and reviews their progress at various points.

Students are required to demonstrate proficiency in one of three basic fields in Political Science—American Politics, Comparative Politics, or International Relations—by completing a sequence of coursework and passing two qualifying examinations. Students also are required to complete coursework in a second field, a "scope and methods" requirement, and a "tools of inquiry" sequence. The student's progress at the dissertation stage is facilitated by a seminar aimed at the successful development and defense of a dissertation proposal. The successful defense of the completed dissertation qualifies the student for the awarding of the PhD. Each of these requirements is described in further detail below.

The Graduate College at the University of Illinois stipulates that a minimum of 96 semester hours of graduate credit is required for the PhD degree, 32 of which may be for dissertation research. This usually requires a minimum of four years of graduate study, two of which must be in residence. Doctoral candidates (i.e., those who hold ABD status, after having officially advanced to candidacy) must be enrolled as full-time students for at least one semester of their residency, and all degree requirements must be completed within seven years of the candidate's initial registration in the Graduate College. Students beginning the PhD program holding a master's degree must complete all requirements within five years of the date of first enrollment.


Major Area Coursework
Students in the PhD program specialize within one area of political science: American Politics, Comparative Politics, or International Relations. They must take at least five graduate-level courses (or the equivalent of 20 semester hours) of coursework in their substantive area. Students must also attend to any course requirements imposed on majors by the area; the decision to impose specific requirements is solely at the discretion of the area.

Except for area-imposed requirements, students may elect to take any sequence of graduate-level coursework within an area that they believe prepares them for comprehensive examinations and their planned research. The rule specifying five units of coursework does not in any way preclude a student from further training. More than five units often may be necessary to acquire the expertise required for a student to pursue a specific interest or substantive problem. Students are encouraged to take courses with an eye to the knowledge necessary to become expert practitioners of their chosen specialty and not to limit their education according to minimal requirements.

Minor Area Coursework
Students demonstrate expertise in a minor area with the completion of two courses (i.e., 8 semester hours) in an area in which they do not take examinations. Minor area coursework may be in the areas of American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, or Political Theory. One of these courses must involve the preparation of a research paper. Students must also complete any requirements imposed by the area.

Scope and Methods Sequence
To provide students with a broad introduction to issues affecting the conduct of scholarly inquiry, all PhD candidates are required to take PS 521 and a course in research design. Students with prior graduate training who have already successfully completed comparable courses may request a waiver of these requirements.

PS 521 is a "scope" course that introduces students to basic ideas and issues in the philosophy of science and to different approaches to the nature of knowledge and scientific laws and theories. The research design requirement is normally satisfied by the completion of PS 522 or PS 523. PS 522 is a course that introduces students to the basic issues and principles involved in the conduct of political inquiry. PS 523 is a course that introduces students to the theory and methods of qualitative research. With the approval of the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies, another graduate-level course in quantitative or qualitative research design may be used to satisfy the research design requirement.

Tools of Inquiry
Students are required to develop research skills that will enable them to carry out independent and original research. To this end the department requires that Ph.D. students complete a minimum of five graduate-level units (20 semester hours) distributed across the areas of statistics, formal theory, and qualitative methods, as appropriate for their specialization.

To fulfill this requirement, students must complete a two-course (8 semester hours) sequence in statistical methods. This requirement may be satisfied with a two-semester course in applied statistics, or with more advanced training. Either PS 522 or PS 523 may be taken in partial fulfillment of the Tools of Inquiry requirement, providing it is not also used to satisfy the Scope and Methods requirement. Graduate courses in another graduate program or other previous training may, in some circumstances, be used to satisfy portions of this requirement. This program requirement may be satisfied in many ways; therefore, both the student's advisors and the Director of Graduate Studies must approve the Tools of Inquiry sequence.

Policies Applying to Coursework
To receive credit toward the requirements listed above, all courses must be graduate-level and the student must earn a grade of B or higher. Students may also take up to two courses outside of the Department. In addition, they may undertake independent study courses, but the number of independent studies that can be taken for credit is capped at two (i.e., 8 semester hours), unless approved by the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Finally, should a course described in this document as required not be offered during the period of time in which a student is taking courses, he or she will be exempt from that requirement.

Counseling, Review, and Evaluation

Students undergo several evaluations at different points in the PhD program: the second-year review, qualifying examinations, the defense of the dissertation proposal, and the final defense of the dissertation. They also require advice and counseling on curricular, research, and professional matters throughout their graduate careers. These functions are performed by a set of committees that operate at different points in the program. Committee membership is solely dependent on the consent of the individual faculty members. These committees are automatically dissolved at the completion of their duties advising the student or making recommendations about the student's progress at a particular stage in the program.

The First-Year Committee
A two-person committee composed of members of the Department graduate faculty will be appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies at the beginning of each student's first year of graduate work. The function of this committee is to advise the student on matters concerning coursework and professional development and, when necessary, to approve course selection, including the student's research tool sequence. Responsibility for the development of a course of study in the PhD program lies solely with the student.

The Second Year Review Process
During the fourth semester of the graduate program, each student will undergo a second year review. The second year review process is designed to 1) evaluate the student's progress to that point, and 2) provide feedback and guidance to the student on coursework and research. Students are to provide the following materials for the second year review: transcripts, a worksheet outlining progress toward the degree requirements, one or two research papers, and a 3–5 page statement of purpose outlining research interests.

A Departmental committee evaluates student performance and makes a recommendation whether each student should (1) continue in the program with funding, (2) continue without funding, or (3) be asked to leave the program. The Departmental review committee includes the heads of the area committees (American, Comparative, International Relations, Methods, and Political Theory) and the DGS as an ex officio member. The Departmental committee will meet in February or March to evaluate the progress of second year students. The Departmental committee's recommendation about each student must be approved by the faculty in the appropriate area. The final decision on whether the student should continue with the program rests with the appropriate area committee.

In addition, a separate three-person review committee will be appointed for each student to provide advice and feedback on the student's planned coursework and research strategy. This committee will be selected by the Director of Graduate Studies after consultation with each student. This committee's recommendations are to be in the form of a short written report, a copy of which is to be given to both the Director of Graduate Studies and the student. The report should detail the student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as specify when the student is likely to take qualifying examinations and how various degree requirements (e.g., tools of inquiry) will be met. Failure to have a second year review by the beginning of a student's fifth semester will result in a student's immediate termination from the graduate program.

Qualifying Examinations and the Examination Committees
Prior to admission to candidacy for the PhD, students must demonstrate expertise in one of the following fields: American Politics, Comparative Politics, or International Relations. This requirement is fulfilled by successful completion of the required coursework in a major field and by passing two qualifying examinations in that field. One is a "general" examination in the relevant field, and the other is a subfield examination. The array of subfield examinations available within a field is within the discretion of the corresponding area committee. In unusual circumstances, a student may petition the Advisory Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies for permission to write an exam in an area outside those normally authorized by the Area Committee.

Qualifying examinations are designed to test each student's ability to utilize the insights and analytic abilities developed during his or her training. The examinations are normally to be taken at some point after the student's fourth semester and prior to the seventh semester. For the student who fails to meet these expectations without due cause, this failure will be a consideration in the department's decision about whether to grant financial assistance.

Qualifying examinations will be offered at three times each year: the week before the fall semester begins, the week before the spring semester begins, and the week following the end of the spring semester. Students are to notify the Director of Graduate Studies of the qualifying examinations that they propose to write no later than two months before the examination is to be scheduled. Students are required to notify the graduate office in writing of their wish to cancel an exam. Those who do not notify the graduate office or do so after the deadline (which is approximately two weeks prior to the date of the exams) will be considered to have failed their exams.

The qualifying examination process proceeds as follows: Examinations are drafted by a three-person committee appointed by the head of the appropriate area committee; the same committee grades the written portion of the examination and holds the oral examination. Students receive three questions drafted by the examination committee. Students are to respond to two of these questions. The response is to be prepared in a forty-eight hour period. All examinations must be typed and properly documented. The exams allow the use of notes, articles, and books. Nevertheless, "cutting and pasting" answers from pre-existing computer files is prohibited.

The student must also undergo an oral examination by the examination committee. The oral examination will be held within four weeks of the conclusion of the written examination period.

Examinations are to be graded "Pass with Distinction," "Pass," or "Fail". The result must be reported to the Director of Graduate Studies and to the student immediately after the oral examination. If a student fails a qualifying examination, he/she will be permitted to retake it one time, normally during the next regularly scheduled examination period. Failure to pass the examination at that time will result in the student's dismissal from the program.

The Dissertation Design Seminar, Proposal, and Committee

In the sixth semester of their graduate work, students must enroll in the Dissertation Design Seminar (PS 598). The seminar facilitates the development of the dissertation proposal, the defense of which constitutes the main requirement of the course. The identification and discussion of common problems among students aid progress in the formulation of a dissertation questions and research plan, and insights from other subfields contribute to the overall quality of the proposals at a point early enough to make a difference in the research. Another function of the course is to make available information to the students on funding opportunities for dissertation research.

Although the Dissertation Design Seminar is supervised by a single faculty member, the work on the dissertation proposal is to be done in conjunction with an advisor selected by each student. The Design Seminar course is completed when a student presents a proposal to the dissertation committee and successfully defends it to them. Unanimous approval of the committee is required. The dissertation committee consists of at least four members, all of whom must be members of the graduate faculty. In accordance with University policy on the diversity of dissertation committees, at least one member of the committee must be outside of the student's primary specialization. After approval by the committee, the student is encouraged to make a public presentation of the proposal.

Students become eligible for admission to candidacy (ABD status) after completing the following requirements: (1) defending a dissertation prospectus to their committee, (2) depositing the prospectus in the Graduate Office, and (3) completing all required courses, qualifying examinations, and at least 16 units of (graded) graduate credit (i.e., the equivalent of 64 semester hours) with a minimum grade of B. At the end of the sixth semester, each student must submit a form reviewing their coursework, confirming that they have completed all requirements (tools, second year review, qualifying exams, etc.), and formally identifying a dissertation advisor. The form requires the approval of the dissertation advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

The final stage in the successful completion of the requirements of the PhD is the defense of the completed dissertation, which requires the unanimous approval of the committee. After a successful defense and the completion of whatever changes are deemed necessary, the dissertation must be deposited with the Graduate College in a format that meets their specifications.

The Master of Arts Degree

The MA degree requires 8 graduate-level courses (i.e., 32 semester hours), 2 of which can be for writing a thesis (PS 599). Six of these courses must be at the 500 level and six must be Political Science courses. In addition, the student's advisor must approve a research paper. Candidates for the M.A. degree must achieve a minimum GPA of 3.0 out of a possible 4.0. Students in the PhD program usually receive a MA degree during their second year in the graduate program, following completion of the minimum requirements.