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School of Politics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs PhD: Political Science

Why WSU for your Ph.D.?


There are several features of our Ph.D. program that make it distinct from many of the others you might be considering:

A commitment to problem-driven research. The School is focused on “problem-driven research” that involves the analysis of national and international policy issues. At the heart of this approach are interdisciplinary research efforts to pursue scholarly activity that will solve the complex and “wicked” problems that democratic societies face. It is research that “speaks” to scholars, policy-makers and citizens. Our school’s research has focused on a variety of pressing problems: bio-ethics in medicine, political civility, environmental justice, gender equality, legal justice, democratic participation and representation, elite problem solving, terrorism, civil unrest, WMD proliferation, and disability policy, among others.

A commitment to methodological diversity. We promote, sustain and teach a multi-methods approach in order to contribute to large-scale problem solving through scientific inquiry. In a multi-methods approach, researchers marshal the full range of methodological tools, often in conjunction with one another, that cut across traditional boundaries, e.g. qualitative (process tracing, qualitative comparative analysis, case studies, discourse analysis) and quantitative tools (survey research, statistical analysis, experiments, etc.). We pursue projects that adapt our methods to our research agendas rather than being driven by a specific methodology. Our graduate and undergraduate training emphasize this methodological diversity.

An opportunity to pursue research with faculty members. WSU faculty are not just teachers; they are mentors, too. Most of our faculty members regularly publish research with their graduate students, and many of our graduate students enter the job market with at least one publication.

Because our faculty numbers are relatively small, we cannot offer training or faculty expertise in every field of political science. There are, however, several areas in which we specialize, including:

• Political Psychology
• Peace, Conflict and Security Studies
• Gender Policy
• Law and Courts
• Political Communication
• Environmental Ethics and Policy

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.

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.

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.

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. 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).

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.

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.

Preliminary examinations are held in March each spring semester.

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).

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 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.

Brelsford Visitor Center night shots

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.

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.


Credit Hour Requirements
  • 72 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.

Graduate Coordinator:

Diane Scott
Johnson Tower 801
Phone: 509-335-2545

Useful Links:

Graduate School
Schedule of Classes