Requirements for students admitted for Fall 2010 and later

Requirements Prior to General Examination

Candidates for the PhD in Government are expected to complete the required coursework during their first two years of graduate study and take the General Examination at the end of the second year.  A typical schedule consists of these two years, followed by three or four years of work on a dissertation, combined with supervised teaching.

First-year students are not permitted to serve as teaching fellows. Second-year students may teach with permission of the director of graduate studies (DGS).

Courses — A student must successfully complete at least 12 half-courses, of which eight must be in government. At least ten of these 12 half-courses and seven of the eight half-courses in political science must be listed in the catalogue as 1000- or 2000-level courses.

Students must complete six half-courses by the end of their second term in residence and nine by the end of their third.

Every first-year student must enroll in the Government Department graduate seminar, Gov 3001: Approaches to the Study of Politics. The course, offered each fall, is to be taken pass/fail for a full semester of credit.

Students are permitted to apply a Gov 3000 directed reading toward the 12-course requirement provided the independent study produces a seminar-style research paper.  However, a directed reading can not be counted toward the requirement for eight courses in Government.

Incompletes — A grade of Incomplete can be converted into a letter grade if the student completes the work before the end of the term following that in which the course was taken. If an Incomplete has not been completed within the period, the student must petition the Administrative Board of the Graduate School for an extension. No grade of Incomplete can be used to satisfy any departmental requirement.

Seminar Papers — In order to ensure that students secure adequate training in research and writing, at least three seminar-style research papers must be completed. The usual means is through enrollment in seminars, but the requirement may be satisfied also by reading or lecture courses in which papers of this type are written.

It is the student's responsibility to obtain written verification from the instructor that the completed paper is of seminar quality.

Students who wish to submit graduate seminar papers written outside the government department should consult the director of graduate studies. In order to receive credit, each paper must be read and evaluated by a faculty member designated by the director of graduate studies.

Quantitative Methods Requirement — Every student, during their first or second year, must successfully complete, with a grade of B or better, at least one graduate-level course in quantitative social science methods relevant to political science, from a list of appropriate Government Department and other Harvard/MIT courses regularly updated by the Graduate Policy Committee.

The following list presents the courses that satisfy the quantitative methods requirement in 2013-14: Gov 2000, Gov 2000e, Gov 2001, API-208 (HKS), Econ 2110, Sociology 202, Psychology 1950, and MIT 17.800.

Political Theory Requirement — Every student, during their first or second year, must take a minimum of one graduate-level half-course (or section) in Political Theory, chosen from a list of courses approved by the Graduate Policy Committee.

The following list presents the courses that satisfy the political theory requirement in 2013-14:  graduate sections of Gov 1060, Gov 1061, Gov 1082, Phil 178, and Phil 178q; graduate seminars Gov 2030, Gov 2034, Gov 2095, Gov 2098, and PAL-216 and DPI-251 (HKS).

Research Tools Requirement — Every student must submit to the director of graduate studies, by the end of his or her first year, a written Research Tools Plan outlining intentions to acquire tools and methodological expertise connected to his or her areas of research interest. The Tools Plan also should list the courses, modules or workshops the student intends to take in order to meet the research tools requirement (see below).

Every student must complete a minimum of 3.5 half-course-equivalent units of research tools and methods courses, modules or workshops by the end of their seventh term in residence (middle of the fourth year).  The required seminar, "Approaches to the Study of Politics," and the required graduate course in quantitative social science methods count for two units within this total. Students may count language training in various formats (e.g. semester courses; intensive summer sessions) toward fulfillment of this requirement. The Graduate Policy Committee will determine what counts for 1.0 or 0.5 units.  Research Tools Plan Guidelines.

Research Workshops — The Government Department offers a series of research workshops, in each of the four fields (American Government, International Relations, Comparative Politics, Political Theory), Applied Statistics, and Political Economy, for graduate students to present and discuss work-in-progress. Every student should attend at least one research workshop, starting in their second or third term in residence. Research workshops do not count toward the requirement to complete 12 half-courses.

The General Examination

Every student will sit for a General Examination in May of their second year, with the exam administered orally by three faculty not known in advance. The 90-minute exam will cover two of the four major substantive fields in political science (chosen by the student from among American Politics; Comparative Politics; International Relations; and Political Theory), plus an additional focus field defined by the student. A student may substitute either Formal Theory or Political Methodology for one of the two major fields. For the focus field, each student will submit by a date designated by the director of graduate studies a five to eight page statement outlining a special area for examination. This area may encompass a special literature; an area of the world; a realm of special interest spanning subfields or disciplinary boundaries; or a research approach.

The department regularly offers "field seminars" introducing each of the four major fields of the discipline. However, no examination field is co-terminus with any one course, or even with any group of courses. The student is responsible for preparation in the field and should not assume that satisfactory completion of a course or courses dealing with the material in the field will constitute adequate preparation for the examination. The student should consult faculty members in each field to ensure such preparation. All students who choose a field are responsible for the same range of materials.

The General Examination is scheduled in May of a student's second year of study.

Progress toward the Degree after the General Examination

Students in their third year and beyond spend most of their time researching and writing the PhD dissertation. These students are eligible for teaching fellowships, which enable them to participate in Harvard's undergraduate tutorial program, teach sections in the introductory government courses, or assist undergraduates in middle-group courses by leading discussion sessions or directing papers. Some research assistantships are also available from individual faculty members and research centers.

In the third year, most teaching fellows devote two-fifths TIME to teaching, the remainder to work on the dissertation. The fourth year may be devoted entirely to writing the dissertation or to a combination of teaching and research. Students who have passed the General Examination may teach three-fifths TIME for four years, with the following exception: those who have taught fewer than 16 term-fifths may be appointed in a fifth year up to that total.

Requirements relating to courses, seminars (research) papers, quantitative methods and political theory should normally be completed before the General Examination, that is, during the first two years of graduate work. In special circumstances, a student may defer fulfillment of two half-courses or two of the following until after the General Examination:

-      one seminar paper

-      one half-course

Within six months of passing the General Examination, the student must have fulfilled one of these deferred requirements. Within 12 months, he or she must have completed both deferred requirements.

Following completion of the General Exam, each student will engage faculty advisors through a two-stage process of research exploration and prospectus approval, marked by two meetings as follows: 

-      an initial “Research Consultation  Meeting” must convene in the fall semester of the third year, to discuss an approximately 10-page statement from the student, which, as appropriate, may either present a potential research question for the dissertation, or set forth alternative possible research questions for consideration and development.  The student may consult the director of graduate studies to identify three or four appropriate faculty consultants, if these are not readily apparent.

-      Involving the same three or four faculty or a different set where appropriate, the second “Prospectus Evaluation Meeting” will convene to discuss and approve the student's written dissertation prospectus. These faculty members, one of whom must be non-tenured, are chosen by the student with the approval of the director of graduate studies. The evaluation meeting will preferably be held in the spring semester of the third year and in no instance later than October 1 of the fourth year. Whenever this meeting is held, there may be a one month follow-up period for final changes in the prospectus.  To be in good standing, therefore, all students must have an approved prospectus, with the dissertation title and name(s) of the advisor(s) registered with the director of graduate studies, by no later than early November of the fourth year.

By May 15 of each year, each student must submit a progress report, approved by his or her major faculty advisor, to the director of graduate studies.  See> Research Exploration and Prospectus Guidelines.


If these conditions are not met, the student will be classified "not in good standing" by the Graduate School and the department and will become ineligible for a teaching fellowship, other financial aid, or employment within the University. After completing these requirements, the student may petition the department to be reinstated "in good standing." However, in the case of students for whom the necessary language training is unusually burdensome, if the student has made a good-faith effort to master the language in the allotted time, the director of graduate studies may grant one extension of up to an additional 12 months for meeting the language and/or dissertation conference requirements.

Dissertation and Final Examination

Dissertation — A student is required to demonstrate ability to perform original research in political science by writing a dissertation that makes a significant contribution to knowledge in the field. The requirement may also be fulfilled, with the approval of the dissertation committee, by a dissertation in the form of three publishable papers.  Dissertations must be approved by three committee members, two of whom must be members of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The chair must be a member of the government department. Any member of the committee who is not a member of the department must be approved by the director of graduate studies. Before a student can defend, the dissertation committee must have received a copy of the dissertation and agree that it is ready to be defended. The final copies of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in the booklet The Form of the PhD Dissertation. Any student who wishes to be considered for one or more of the available prizes should submit an extra copy of the completed dissertation to the department graduate office. 

Special Examination — After the dissertation has been approved, and after all other degree requirements have been met, a student will take the "special" oral examination or defense. This examination is focused on the dissertation and on the relevant special field, which is ordinarily one of the fields which the student presented in the general examination, or an approved portion of that field. At the defense a student will be expected to show such mastery of the special field, and such an acquaintance with the literature, general and special, bearing on it, as needed to qualify to give instruction to mature students. The defense of the dissertation is open to the faculty of the Government Department of Harvard University. Unless the candidate prefers a closed defense, the defense of the dissertation will also be open to graduate students in the Department of Government. Questions of the candidate will be asked initially by committee members. Others in attendance may then ask questions as long as the defense does not exceed two hours in length. The dissertation defense is announced to faculty and students and a one-page abstract is circulated to the faculty in advance of the defense.

Students who defend their dissertation later than six years after taking the General Examination must retake the focus field of the General Examination. Students who defend their dissertations more than eight years after taking the General Examination must retake two fields of the General Examination. Approved parental leave extends this period by one year per child, but no other reason for leave does.

Depositing Dissertation Data – Students are required to make available to the Harvard-MIT Data Center all of the quantitative data that they have compiled in machine-readable form (together with accompanying explanatory materials) upon which the findings in their dissertations depend. These data will be made available to other users five years after receipt of PhD or sooner, if the PhD recipient permits.  The director of graduate studies will consider petitions for exemption from or modifications of this requirement, if reasonable extenuating circumstances are given.