Ph.D. in Political Science and International Affairs

The Department of Political Science and the Graduate School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) jointly offer a Ph.D. program in Political Science and International Affairs. The program builds on the considerable strengths that each unit currently possesses and offers a distinct focus from the Ph.D. degree granted by the Department of Political Science.

Students wishing to apply should contact GPS and submit their applications there. Applications will be approved by a Admissions Committee and the Department's Admissions Committee. It is anticipated that one or two students per year will enter the program in its initial years, perhaps rising to three or more in future years, contingent upon availability of funding.

The PhD Curriculum

All students pursuing this interdisciplinary degree will be required to take a common core consisting of four courses. This core builds on the existing core program of the Department of Political Science in the fields of International Relations and Comparative Politics, as well as the existing Ph.D. seminar on Comparative Public Policy offered by GPS. All students must also take one course in Research Design (and will be strongly encouraged to take additional methods courses, such as Game Theory or Statistical Methods, as part of their electives).

Students must declare an emphasis in either International Policy Analysis (IPA) or Comparative Policy Analysis (CPA), and a regional focus. The field of emphasis consists of three additional courses, plus a three-quarter Workshop (**see Attachment A).

The regional focus consists of IR of Asia Pacific or IR of the Americas, three additional courses in the student's primary region, and one course in another region offered by either GPS or the Department. By petition, students may count a region other than one of the GPS offerings (currently China, East Asia, Japan, Latin America, or Southeast Asia) as their primary region. (Students electing this option, by petition, may also take another regional IR course or equivalent in place of IR of Asia Pacific or IR of the Americas.)

Students will also take three specialized electives. These may be drawn from a pool of courses according to a given student's special interests, and selected in consultation with the student's advisor. Eligible courses include, but are not restricted to, additional courses in: methods (such as Statistics or Game Theory), region, public policy, or any of the fields offered by GPS or the Department.

All students must take a minimum of twenty-one courses, nine of which must be taken in the first two years from PS 201-279 or IP/GEN 200-290.

Effective Fall 2015. General Examination Rules. (Approved by Graduate Council Nov. 11, 2014). 

Program of Study

The PhD in political science and international affairs prepares students for research careers in political science, with an emphasis in international policy and comparative policy analysis. The program combines the analytical skills of political science with political economy, institutional analysis, policy analysis (especially economic policy) and regional training, with special attention to East Asia and/or Latin America.

Course Requirements

The PhD curriculum in political science and international affairs is designed to provide students with basic training in the disciplinary skills of political science, as well as applications to specific policy areas and countries or regions.

Eighteen courses are required prior to advancement to candidacy at the end of the second year. There is a common core sequence made up of six courses in the Department of Political Science: Political Science 200A-C and 204A-C. No other courses may be used to substitute for these courses. The remaining course work in research skills, language, regional expertise and/or a field of specialization may be taken at GPS or in Political Science with the approval of the faculty adviser. Two of the elective courses must be in international relations and/or comparative politics/policy of an Asia-Pacific country or region.


First Year

• 200A. Foundations in Political Science 
• 204A. Research Design 
• Field requirement or skills course

• 200B. Democracy 
• 204B. Quantitative Methods I 
• Field requirement or skills course

• 200C. States and Markets 
• 204C. Game Theory I 
• Field requirement or skills course

Second Year

• Field requirement 
• Skills course 
• Substantive course

• Field requirement 
• Skills course 
• Substantive course

• Field requirement 
• Skills course 
• Substantive course/directed reading

General Examination

Each student must pass a General Examination, which consist of written examinations in the fields of international relations and comparative politics, a focus field, and an oral examination. The General Examination will follow the same requirements and schedule currently required of students in the Ph.D. program in Political Science and will be graded by an interdisciplinary committee consisting of three permanent faculty members, with at least one from Political Science and at least one from GPS.

The focus field may be either a substantive field or a region. Regional focus fields include the current approved regions of the Ph.D. in International Affairs (the Pacific as a whole, a subregion, or individual countries), as well as additional regions (Europe, North America, etc.) that may be approved by the committee governing the program. Regardless of focus field, that part of the exam shall test the student's knowledge of theoretical literature and ability to apply it to a policy issue.<

Effective Fall 2015. General Examination Rules. (Approved by Graduate Council Nov. 11, 2014). 

General Examination

By the end of the second year, a student must stand for the general examination. The general examination consists of written examinations in each of two fields and an oral examination. The department offers examinations in five fields: American politics, comparative politics, international relations, political theory, and methodology. Each field also offers examinations in a number of focus areas that represent a specialized sub-field within a major research literature. It is expected that students complete their field requirements prior to sitting for the general examination. By the first day of spring quarter of the second year each student must submit to the graduate coordinator a general examination plan identifying the two fields within which exams will be taken. The general examination will normally take place during the seventh week of spring quarter. Normally, each written examination will be taken on a separate day within a one-week period, and the oral examination will be given within two weeks of the completion of the written examinations.

Written Examinations

Written field examinations last six hours. These examinations cover major theoretical approaches in a field. They are structured so that passing requires general knowledge and understanding of important work in the field as a whole. These examinations cover in greater depth one subfield within a major research literature. Written examinations are open-note and open-book. Students are expected to do their own work, and to compose their answers on the day of the examination. Text from computer files may not be downloaded into these answers.

Oral Examinations

The oral examination normally lasts between one and two hours, and covers two written examinations and the student’s seminar paper. A student must take the oral examination, even if one or two of the written examinations or the seminar paper is such that it is deemed impossible to pass the entire examination.

Each field has a designated field coordinator, appointed by the department chair in consultation with the director of graduate studies. The field coordinator, in consultation with the faculty in the field, prepares the written examinations. Each general examination is graded by a committee of four faculty members, with two from each of the student's examination fields. These examiners are nominated by the field coordinator and appointed by the department chair. Students are normally informed of the composition of general examination boards during the fourth week of the spring quarter.

Each general examination is graded in its entirety. A student passes or fails the entire examination, not simply parts of it. The examination committee may assign a grade of fail, pass, or distinction. A student passes the general examination if at least three examiners vote to assign a grade of pass or better. A student receives a grade of distinction by vote of at least three examiners. The student will receive written notification of the examination committee's decision. A student who fails the general examination must retake it at least one week prior to the start of the fall quarter of the third year. A student who fails the general examination twice will not be permitted to continue in the graduate program in political science.

Good progress toward the PhD requires that a student complete the general examination by the end of the second year. A student who has not attempted all parts of the general examination by the end of the second year may not continue in the program.

Seminar Papers

Each student must submit one seminar paper, which may be written as part of the requirements for a regular course or in an independent research course. The paper must demonstrate knowledge of the student's regional focus, as well as knowledge of relevant theory in the field. It should also demonstrate knowledge of a substantive policy area (e.g. trade, environment, international finance), related to the student's primary focus field. Certification that the paper fulfills the requirement for a seminar paper is at the sole discretion of the faculty member supervising the work. The paper must have been accepted as a Seminar Paper before the student may take the written portion of the General Examination.

Effective Fall 2015. General Examination Rules. (Approved by Graduate Council Nov. 11, 2014). 

A student must complete one seminar paper in one of his or her examination fields. This paper may be written as part of the requirements for a regularly scheduled seminar course or in an independent research course.

Guidelines for the Seminar Paper
  • Acceptable article length for most journals is eight thousand to ten thousand words and seminar papers should be a similar length.
  • The basic structure of the article should include
      • An introduction framing the significance of the question, sketching the answer, and (where subfield appropriate) delineating the research design and empirical findings
      • A comprehensive yet succinct literature review placing the research in the context of prior work on the subject
      • A discussion of research design (where subfield appropriate)
      • Appropriate empirical analysis (where subfield appropriate)
      • A conclusion highlighting the contributions of the research and returning to general questions
      • Papers must be solo authored.
      • Examples of recent published articles written by UC San Diego graduate students will be available to students upon request.

Papers may draw from papers originally written for courses. However, it is generally the case that course papers will need substantial revision before becoming suitable seminar papers. Students may write papers in fields other than their first or second exam fields.  

Students must identify an adviser for the seminar paper. Seminar paper advisers may be the first-year adviser but are not required to be. Seminar paper advisers may go on to supervise dissertations but are not required to do so. Advisers must agree (certified in writing, to the graduate program coordinator) to serve this purpose by 4:00 p.m. on Friday of the eighth week of fall quarter. Penalties for failing to identify an adviser by this due date are at the discretion of the director of Graduate Studies. Students are advised to contact the director of Graduate Studies or their field chair if they are having difficulty identifying an adviser.  

Students must submit a rough draft of the seminar paper (in hard copy and electronic form) to the graduate program coordinator by 4:00 p.m. on Friday of the first full week of spring quarter. The graduate program coordinator is responsible for ensuring that a copy of the paper is provided to the seminar paper adviser. Students failing to submit a draft of the paper by this deadline will not be permitted to take the comprehensive exam in the spring quarter. Please note that this implies leaving the program.

Students should submit a penultimate draft of the paper to the seminar paper adviser one week prior to the final draft due date. Students must submit a final draft of the seminar paper (in hard copy and electronic form) to the graduate program coordinator by 4:00 p.m. on Monday of the week prior to the written exams. Students failing to submit a final draft of the paper by this deadline will not be permitted to take the comprehensive exam in the spring quarter. Please note that this implies leaving the program.

Departmental Workshops

During the third year, a student must be enrolled in a departmental workshop (course numbers 280–89). Departmental workshops are intended to introduce students to advanced research in political science and to facilitate the completion of the doctoral dissertation. Workshops typically meet biweekly and include discussion of common readings, public talks, and student presentations. Each field is responsible for maintaining or identifying a workshop for students writing a dissertation in that field.

During the third year, each student is required to present a draft dissertation prospectus or an original piece of research to a workshop at least once. A form indicating completion of this requirement must be submitted to the graduate coordinator by the end of the third year.

By October 15 of the third year, each student must identify a prospectus adviser and the tentative topic of the prospectus. Each student is responsible for submitting the appropriate form, indicating the adviser’s name, to the graduate coordinator.


By the end of the sixth year good progress requires completion of the dissertation. A student who fails to complete the dissertation by the end of the sixth year may be denied all departmental financial assistance.

Language Requirement

Before being advanced to candidacy, each student in the program must meet a sufficiently high standard of foreign-language proficiency to carry out research in the student's region. Proficiency must be verified by an examination to be administered either by the GPS Language Department or by an approved outside examiner. The examination may be waived by petition for native speakers.

Defense of prospectus formation of dissertation committee, and defense of dissertation

In order to advance to candidacy, a student must prepare a dissertation prospectus and pass an oral examination. The committee overseeing the completion of the dissertation shall consist of four faculty members chosen from the Department and GPS, with at least one from each unit. A fifth member must be from outside the Department and GPS. The dissertation must be approved by the dissertation committee and publicly defended before the Ph.D. degree is awarded.

Effective Fall 2015. General Examination Rules. (Approved by Graduate Council Nov. 11, 2014). 

Students intending a field specialization in comparative politics and/or policy should assume that fluency in a relevant regional language, sufficient for the conduct of research, will be expected. Language training will be credited toward the degree.

Advising and Evaluation

Each incoming student to the PhD program in political science and international affairs will be assigned a faculty adviser in GPS. By the beginning of the third year, each student must select a faculty member from the department to serve as prospectus adviser. The prospectus adviser will help guide the student in writing the prospectus and selecting a dissertation committee. The prospectus adviser will not necessarily become the chair or a member of the dissertation committee.

During the spring quarter, each student is evaluated by his or her adviser in consultation with the departmental faculty. The student will receive a written evaluation from the adviser each year. The student must sign this evaluation for it to become an official part of the student’s departmental file. As part of the first-year review, each student must complete a plan of study that identifies a faculty seminar paper supervisor, two examination fields, a focus area, and intended preparation in each. This plan must be signed by the student’s faculty adviser and submitted to the graduate coordinator by the end of spring quarter of the first year.

Doctoral Committee

The dissertation committee must have at least five members, made up of both GPS and Department of Political Science faculty and one tenured professor from outside those programs. For students whose research is intended to establish a regional or country specialization, it is expected that at least one member of the committee will have such an expertise. At least two members of the committee shall represent academic specialties that differ from the student’s chosen specialty.

Student Petitions

To contest an evaluation or any departmental action a student must do so in writing. A petition should be submitted to the director of graduate studies no later than the end of the quarter following the evaluation (or other action) contested by the student.

Transfer From One Program to Another

Students may transfer from the Ph.D. degree program in Political Science to the interdisciplinary degree, or vice versa, only by petition. Such petition shall be subject to the approval of a committee authorized for such purpose by the unit into which the student is seeking entry.


One fellowship per year will be available to a newly admitted student from the current in-house funding at GPS. Additional fellowship support will be sought by GPS faculty. Students in the interdisciplinary degree program will be eligible for TA-ships in the Department of Political Science only after students in the Department seeking and eligible for such posts have been accommodated.

Our Ph.D. program in Political Science is designed to break down barriers and build bridges across the subfields and give all of our students a broad command of the discipline as a whole, regardless of their area of specialization.

Contact Us

Director of Graduate Studies
Zoltan Hajnal
(858) 822-5015
SSB 395

Graduate Coordinator
Arturo Vazquez
(858) 534-2705
SSB 305 (302)