Criteria for Admission
For Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies admissions requirements, see Calendar.
For general information, see the Department requirements for admission to the M.A. program (Sections II. A. (2), (a-d) of this handbook).
Candidates are generally expected to have completed a Master’s level program in Political Science before proceeding with the PhD, though exceptional students may be accepted directly into the PhD from a B.A. degree or its equivalent. Students with superior academic records and Master’s degrees in other disciplines are also encouraged to apply. In all cases, the Admissions Committee may stipulate conditions for admission (such as completion of ongoing coursework and/or other degree requirements). If such conditions are not completed by registration time, admission may be revoked (but see section 3 below).
The Department does not admit candidates to the PhD program on a provisional basis.
We encourage students who have completed their B.A. and M.A. from UBC to do their doctoral work elsewhere as to increase their graduate program experience and exposure to other political science courses and faculty members.
In general, admission to the PhD program is based upon:
- high academic achievement as evidenced by the student’s undergraduate and graduate records;
- the compatibility of the student’s academic and research interests with the academic interests and strength of the Department;
- strong letters of reference indicating a significant likelihood that the student will be able to contribute to the discipline;
- a broad preparation in political science or related fields; and
- relatively recent contact with the discipline.
MA students in the Department are welcome to apply to the Department’s PhD program either during or after their time in the MA program.In general, Political Science coursework successfully and recently completed during the Department’s MA program will count toward the Department’s PhD course requirements, for students admitted to the PhDIn some cases, a UBC MA student who applies for the PhD program may be offered admission to the PhD program without being required to complete the M.A. thesis. The student will have the option of either (a) completing the thesis and receiving the M.A. degree, and thus starting the PhD program as a Year 1 PhD student or (b) proceeding directly to the PhD program, not receiving an M.A. degree, and starting as a Year 2 PhD student, as long as all other MA requirements and conditions are met.
English proficiency requirements for the PhD program are the same as those for the M.A. program. Please see section II.A.3 above. If their supervisory committee approves, a student may write their PhD dissertation in French instead of English.
General and Course Requirements for the PhD Program
For Faculty Requirements see the Calendar.
To obtain the PhD degree the candidate must:
- Complete 36 credits of course work, normally within the first two years; the minimum pass mark for PhD students is 68%;
- Pass their PhD comprehensive examinations, consisting of a written exam in their major fields, and a single oral exam. These normally take place in fall of the year following the completion of coursework, though under certain circumstances be taken in the spring.
- Have a dissertation proposal approved by their supervisory committee and present it to the Political Science 649 seminar. At this point, the student advances to candidacy. The deadline for advancing to candidacy is 36 months after the start of the program.
- Submit an acceptable dissertation and pass the doctoral examination. The deadline for final submission, following the doctoral examination, is 72 months after the start of the program.
Normal enrollment: Candidates normally enroll in 18 credits of courses (six graduate courses, three per semester) in the first year of their program. Enrollment in the second year may depend on how many courses the student has left to complete.
Previous graduate-level coursework: Previous graduate-level coursework up to a maximum of 6 courses (18 credits) may be accepted for PhD program credit, allowing a student to take fewer than 12 courses within the UBC PhD program. Typically, transfer credit can be granted only for prior graduate courses in Political Science (e.g., taken as part of a political science MA program). Credit will be given only for courses that are, in broad terms, comparable in requirements and rigour to a UBC Political Science graduate course. The Director of the Graduate Program must approve any transfer credits for prior coursework.
Students cannot get transfer credit for the core (field) seminar in their major or minor field (more on these below).
Upon entry to the program, PhD students are encouraged to consult with their initial academic advisors about whether they should place a request for transfer credit for courses taken previously. To apply to have previous coursework credited towards PhD coursework requirements, students must submit the following to the Director of the Graduate Program:
- an email identifying (a) the specific courses for which credit is being requested and (b) the specific Political Science PhD course requirements that would potentially be satisfied by these courses (e.g., political theory, methodology, major field, minor field; more on these below)
- a syllabus of each course for which credit is requested. The Director of the Graduate Program will seek the advice of faculty members with relevant substantive or methodological expertise in making a determination about whether credit should be granted.
Minimum Number of POLI Courses: All PhD students must take a minimum of 6 graduate (500-level) courses (18 credits) within the UBC Political Science program before advancing to candidacy, regardless of transfer credits or courses approved outside the Department or at senior undergraduate level.
Political Theory and Methodology Requirements: All PhD students are required to fulfill a political theory requirement and a set of methodology requirements
- Political Theory: All PhD students must take at least ONE graduate seminar in political theory.
- Methodology: All PhD students must take at least TWO graduate research methods courses.
Please check the specific and exact methods requirements for each field in the descriptions provided in subsection (f) below.
Departmental research methods courses include:
- POLI 571: Qualitative Methods
- POLI 572A: Quantitative Techniques of Political Analysis (Part 1)
- POLI 572B: Quantitative Techniques of Political Analysis (Part 2)
- POLI 574: Quantitative Techniques – Maximum Likelihood Estimation
- POLI 547: Interpretation and Criticism in Political Inquiry (which also counts as a political theory course).
Major and Minor Field Requirements: Each student must choose major field and a minor field.In the major field, the student must take the core seminar in that field, plus three other courses within the field.
In the minor field, the student must take the core seminar and one other course within the field.
Core seminars, which are constructed among other things with PhD exam preparation in mind, are mandatory for all examinees in a given field. Core seminars should provide students with a broad understanding of approaches, issues, and debates in the field. Core seminars are also designed to build academic community by providing a given cohort of students a common seminar experience. In addition, the seminars are designed to expose students to the diversity of approaches in the field. And finally, they are intended to contribute to exam preparation for the students. By no means, however, are core seminars designed to be sufficient for exam preparation. Preparation for the comprehensive examination is meant to go well beyond the core seminar, to include other department seminars and several months of studying following the end of coursework.
Seminar Requirements: Students are required to take no fewer than eight graduate seminars in political science. Additional credits may consist of graduate course work in another Department or of fourth-year undergraduate courses in Political Science, but only with the approval of the student’s advisor or supervisor and the Director of the Graduate Program. Undergraduate courses will be approved by the Director of the Graduate Program only with the approval of the student’s advisor/supervisor and in cases where the student makes an arrangement with the course instructor to supplement the course with substantial work at the graduate level (in which case, students usually register for a 580 Directed Studies course).
First-term requirements: PhD students must, in their first term, receive at least 80% in 1/3 of their graduate course credits or have an average grade of of 77% in their graduate courses. A student who does not meet this standard will be warned that his/her performance does not fulfill minimum Department requirements.
First-year requirements: PhD students must, in their first full year, receive at least 80% in 1/3 of their graduate course credits or have an average of 77% in their graduate courses. A student failing to meet this standard will be withdrawn from the program unless the Department finds special and compelling reasons for keeping the student in the program.
Department policy requires Faculty members to submit grades for all students in graduate seminars by January 1st for courses ending in December and by May 1st for courses ending in April. Students who do not submit all material in time for these deadlines, and do not have medical or similar reasons for not doing so, will receive no credit for the late material. In cases of courses taken outside the Department’s graduate program, it is the student’s responsibility to ensure that no extension take place past the dates stated above.
Auditing of Courses: With the permission of the instructor, any properly registered graduate student may audit any graduate course in the Department. Such courses will be recorded as Audit on the student’s transcript and will not count toward required course credits.
Political Science 580 -- Directed Studies: Students are expected to make use of the regular courses in designing their program. POLI 580, however, is available for use in exceptional POLI 580 is a generic course listing inserted in the Calendar to provide flexibility for those students whose academic needs cannot be satisfied by the regular courses. A student seeking Directed Studies in a particular field must find a Faculty member willing to direct his/her readings. Since the normal graduate seminar offerings cover the basic fields in Political Science, and since Faculty members have full teaching loads, there can be no assurance that any given request will be met. If an arrangement is made, the decisions on readings, on the frequency of meetings, essay requirements, etc., will be made by the Faculty member concerned. In all cases, students must complete the Political Science 580 Directed Studies Course information and application form (available from the Department) and obtain the approval of the Director of the Graduate Program.
Summer Courses: The department normally does not offer graduate courses in the summer.
Marks and Grading in the Graduate Program: Each graduate course is worth 3 credits and marked out of 100 points. The first class range is 80-100; the second-class range is 68-79. Students must obtain at least 68% to receive credit for a course (M.A. students, however, are allowed one mark as low as 60%).
A maximum of 4 courses (12 credits) may be taken in another UBC graduate program, at the senior undergraduate level, or at another University (during the PhD). Students must receive specific, prior approval from both (a) the Director of the Graduate Program and (b) their supervisor or initial academic contact for any course taken outside the UBC Political Science Department or at the senior undergraduate level. Approval will be granted only for courses that are taught to a broadly similar academic standard to courses in the UBC Political Science graduate program. Note that senior undergraduate courses and courses in professional Master’s programs (e.g., Public Policy, Education, Social Work, etc.) may not have reading or writing requirements comparable to those of courses in academic graduate programs, and so may not be approved for credit. Students wishing to take a course outside the department should consult with the Graduate Director first in order to identify any difficulties that might arise. Where the outside course is not comparable in rigour to a Political Science graduate course, the student may need to ask the course instructor to make adjustments to course readings and assignments in order to make the requirements comparable to those of a POLI graduate course.
Each major field has its own specific course requirements. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that these course requirements are met prior to the taking of the comprehensive exam in that field. Students in any field may apply for a partial exemption for the quantitative methods course requirements, based on their particular course of study, with the support of their supervisor. Any such exemptions must be approved by the Graduate Director. In addition, the substitution of a functionally equivalent course for a required methods course requires the permission of the Graduate Director.
Political Theory: To fulfill their departmental methods requirements and their own scholarly potential, PhD students majoring in Political Theory are required to take:
- at least two methods courses and are encouraged to talk with their supervisors/advisors and/or PT field chair about their selection of methods courses. Students may select methods courses from the array of methodological offerings in the political science department (e.g., POLI 547A, POLI 571, POLI 572A, POLI 572B, POLI 574) as well as from suitable graduate methods courses offered outside of the department. These might include the cross-cutting areas of interpretation, criticism, feminist methods, Indigenous studies methods, archival methods, small-“n” interview methods, other qualitative methods, etc. In selecting such courses outside of political science, political theory students should consult with their supervisors and with the political theory field chair.
Canadian Politics: Students majoring in Canadian Politics are required to take:
- POLI 571
- POLI 572A
- POLI 572B
Some students will also be expected to take POLI 574, the Department’s most advanced course in quantitative methods, if it is needed for their research programs.
Comparative Politics: Students majoring in Comparative Politics are required to take:
- POLI 571
- POLI 572A
- POLI 572B
Students in Comparative Politics are also encouraged to take POLI 574, the Department’s most advanced course in quantitative methods, if it is needed for their research programs.
Students majoring in International Relations are required to take:
- POLI 571
Students majoring in International Relations are also strongly encouraged to take:
- POLI 572A
- POLI 572B
Some students will also be expected to take POLI 574, the Department’s most advanced course in quantitative methods, if it is needed for their research program. Students should consult closely with their prospective supervisor about the methods courses that they intend to take.
United States Politics: Students majoring in United States Politics are required to take:
- POLI 571
- POLI 572A
- POLI 572B
Some students will also be expected to take POLI 574, the Department’s most advanced course in quantitative methods, if it is needed for their research program.
Each of the Comparative, Canadian, and U.S. fields includes a subfield dealing with political behaviour (in the Canadian field, the relevant subfield is “Parties and Elections”). For each field, the reading list is comprised of two parts: 1) a ‘behaviour-core’ reading list that includes foundational literature relevant to all three fields, and 2) a field specific supplementary list that includes material most relevant to a given field. For the Canadian field, the supplementary list includes work on political parties. The behaviour core list is approximately 13 books or equivalent and the supplementary lists are around 7 books or equivalent (i.e. 20 books/equivalent in total). For students who choose to write the behaviour subfield as part of two field exams (e.g. Comparative and Canadian), additional supplementary lists will be provided for each field such that the total number of books or equivalent will be 40 (e.g. approximately 13 ‘behaviour-core’; 14 comparative behaviour supplementary; 14 Canadian behaviour supplementary).
The PhD program has no second language requirement as such. The necessity for competence in a second and/or third language depends on the candidate's field of interest and the nature of the dissertation he/she proposes. The candidate in consultation with his/her committee will decide what work he/she will do in languages when he/she enrolls in the PhD program. For example, the field of Canadian Government and Politics necessarily requires a reading ability in the French language. In similar fashion, a candidate wishing to do thesis research in a particular country whose working language is other than English will necessarily have to have the appropriate language competence.
Comprehensive Examination: General Policies and Procedures
Each PhD candidate must pass a comprehensive examination, which involves a written exam in the student’s major field of study followed by an oral examination.
The purpose of comprehensive examinations is to provide all students receiving a UBC PhD with a broad understanding of literatures and issues in the discipline. This prepares students to enter the community of political scientists, so that they can communicate with colleagues who do not work in the same specialized field as themselves. The examinations are thus generalist in orientation, in contrast with the specialist emphasis of the PhD dissertation, of reading courses, and of certain graduate seminars.
Successful exams will provide evidence that the student has developed strong analytical, theoretical, problem-solving and critical thinking abilities; the required breadth and depth of knowledge within the discipline; the background for the specific doctoral research to follow; the potential ability to conduct independent and original research; and the ability to communicate knowledge of the discipline.
The department offers examinations in five major fields of political science:
- Canadian Politics
- Political Theory
- Comparative Politics
- International Relations
- US Politics
Three of these – international relations, comparative politics, and political theory – are core fields at every major department in the world. The fourth – Canadian politics – reflects our commitment to understanding the politics of the country in which we live and work as well as the fact that the study of Canadian politics has long been one of this Department's core strengths. The fifth, US politics, reflects the considerable concentration of expertise in this area among Department faculty as well as the important role that the study of US politics has played in the development of the discipline in North America.
Students must take their comprehensive exams within six months of the completion of their coursework. Under exceptional circumstances students may petition the Director of the Graduate Program to extend this time limit. Comprehensive exams will be offered in the fall of each year, normally in late September or early October. Comprehensive exams will also be offered as required by students in the spring of each year, with the written exam normally taking place in late April or early May.
The Director of the Graduate Program will announce the dates of written exams by the end of May for the fall exam period and by the end of November for the spring exam period.
- In the written comprehensive examination, the student must provide written answers to three questions relating to the student’s major field.
- The written comprehensive examination is to be taken without books, notes of any kind, or internet access.
- PhD candidates will typically have the option of writing a qualifying paper (details below) in place of one of three exam answers. In this instance, the “sit down” exam would consist of just two answers, and the qualifying paper constitutes the third section of the exam. For practical reasons, the availability of the qualifying-paper option is contingent on an appropriate faculty member being able and willing to assess and examine such a paper (e.g., not on leave and unable or unwilling to do it).
- For the sit down part of the exam, students will have two hours per question. Therefore, if a student does not write a qualifying paper, that student will have 6 hours to answer three questions; if a student does write a qualifying paper, that student will have 4 hours to answer two questions in the “sit down” portion of the comprehensive exam.
- All students wishing to be examined in a given exam period will take the exam on the same day and at the same time unless there are extenuating circumstances as approved by the Director of the Graduate Program (such as a request for accommodations by the Centre for Accessibility or previously approved amendments to a student’s program).
- The oral examination will normally follow the written examination by approximately one to two weeks. During the oral examination, which is two hours in length, students will be asked questions relating to the questions that they answered during the sit-down examination; students may also be asked questions about their qualifying papers. Students may bring to the oral exam a copy of their written exam answers and qualifying paper, with notes in the margins of these answers if desired. No other books or notes may be used.
Objective and requirements
The qualifying paper should consist of a critical review of key literatures on a specific topic. The topic is to be specified by the student in dialogue with the expected dissertation supervisor. The supervisor and student should also generate an initial reading list of key past contributions on the topic. Students may also seek initial guidance from other faculty members. Following these initial consultations, the student should write the qualifying paper on their own (as with the sit-down exam questions), without further input from faculty.
Note: The literatures addressed and analyzed in a Qualifying Paper must not have substantial overlap with the reading lists for either of the sit-down exam questions.
Qualifying papers are not intended to meet the standard of publishable essays. The standard for a successful (passing) paper is that the paper exhibits a level of theoretical knowledge, analytical rigor, and clarity of expression to indicate that the student is ready to undertake dissertation research. Specifically, a passing qualifying paper must, minimally:
- make significant contact with literatures relevant to the chosen topic.
- explain the importance of the topic and locate that topic within a broader field of inquiry (such as within the relevant subfield).
- clearly and accurately articulate key theoretical logics, arguments, and (where relevant) empirical findings in the relevant literatures.
- critically evaluate key theoretical approaches or empirical claims in the literature
- be clearly written.
Qualifying papers must be 4000-6000 words in length, including footnotes or endnotes but not including a list of references at the end.
When a student writes a qualifying paper, the paper is due before the start of the sit-down written exam. Students should submit their qualifying papers via email to BOTH the current field chair of their major field and the Graduate Secretary.
1. Overall Exam Assessment. The examination will be evaluated by the members of a three-person examination committee. The examination committee will be chosen by the appropriate field chair in consultation with the student’s supervisor. The examination committee will normally consist of at least two members from the student’s major field, usually including the student’s supervisor (unless she or he is on leave). Copies of the student’s written exam answers will be provided to all members of the examination committee. The examination committee will also administer the oral exam. The exam committee will assess the student’s overall performance in the written components of the exam, including the Qualifying Paper (where one has been written), and in the oral exams. The exam committee thus makes a single evaluation of the entire exam as a “Pass” or a “Fail.” To receive a passing mark, an exam must, taken as a whole, provide evidence:
- that the student has developed strong analytical, theoretical, problem-solving and critical thinking abilities;
- of the required breadth and depth of knowledge in the discipline, including sufficient background knowledge for undertaking the planned doctoral research;
- of the potential ability to conduct independent and original research; and the ability to communicate knowledge of the discipline.
Pass-fail decisions are taken by consensus or a majority vote on the exam committee. The committee will normally inform the student of the decision at the conclusion of the oral exam.
2. Qualifying paper assessment. The qualifying paper (where applicable) forms part of the comprehensive exam, and it is the assessment of the exam as a whole (as described above) that determines the student’s advancement in the program. While a weak qualifying paper will reduce a student’s chances of passing the exam, the exam committee may give an exam a passing mark despite a weak qualifying paper if the other components of the exam (the “sit-down” written answers and the oral exam) are sufficiently strong that the exam in its totality meets the standards described above.
Students must pass their comprehensive exam in order to continue in the PhD program. If a student fails the comprehensive exam, the student may retake the exam once. The exam retake will take place approximately two months following the initial oral examination.
Neither the exam field nor the subfield/specialization/special topic/leading theorist for the second or third sit-down questions may be changed between the initial exam and the retake.
The examination committee for the retake will normally be the same as the examination committee for the first exam. A change to the exam committee may occur if faculty members become unavailable between the first exam and the retake (e.g., because of a leave). Exam committees will not be changed between first exam and retake at the request of the student, absent credible evidence of faculty bias or inappropriate behavior.
The exam committee may deem only one portion of the exam as in need of retake or revision. In particular, if the exam committee deems the Qualifying Paper to be satisfactory but the sit-down and oral portions of the exam to be unsatisfactory, the committee may issue a decision of “fail” but stipulate that the Qualifying Paper need not be revised. The retake would then consist only of a retake of the sit-down and oral portions of the exam. If the exam committee determines the Qualifying Paper to be unsatisfactory but the rest of the exam to be satisfactory, the committee may require revisions to the Qualifying Paper without requiring a retake of the sit-down and oral portions of the exam.
For students writing a Qualifying Paper, the paper topic may not be changed between first exam and the retake without explicit agreement of the examination committee and the Director of the Graduate Program. Any such change must be motivated by the goal of addressing the paper more effectively to the student’s expected dissertation topic.
If the student fails both the first exam and the retake, then the student is not permitted to continue in the program. There is no appeal of a second exam-failure decision.
Students must inform the Graduate Program Coordinator and the relevant field chair by the end of April if they plan to take their comprehensive exam in the following academic year, indicating (a) which field they plan to take the exam in and (b) whether they plan to take it in the fall or in the spring.
Students taking exams in the fall must notify the Graduate Program Coordinator and the relevant field chair by the end of April which subfield(s) they wish to be examined in and whether or not they will be writing a Qualifying Paper. They must also at this point identify the faculty member whom they expect to be their dissertation supervisor. Students taking exams in the spring must provide these notifications by the end of October.
Meeting with field chair. In May, the chair of each examination field will meet with all students presenting themselves for examination in the field in the following academic year (fall or spring) to answer student questions and hear their suggestions for amendments to the core reading list.
Comprehensive Examination: Exam Fields
For all fields except Political Theory: Faculty field chairs will post core reading no later than the end of May, for all fields in which examinations will take place in the following academic year. The core reading list posted in May will serve for both the fall and spring exams in the following academic year.
For Political Theory: Political Theory does not have a core reading list. Instead, by the end of May, students should develop examination topics and reading lists in conversation with the field chair and members of the examination committee, including the topic and scope of a qualifying paper, if a student chooses this option. Normally one topic will involve a question about the nature and practice of political theory.
Subfield reading lists. For those subfields that will be examined in the fall, field chairs will post reading lists by the end of the previous May. For those subfields that will be examined in the spring, field chairs will post reading lists by the end of the previous November.
Descriptions of Examination Fields
The goal of the doctoral comprehensive examination in political theory is to ensure that the student has a sense of political theory as a general undertaking, and also, amid the enormous breadth of the field, has gained particular expertise in some chosen areas. The Political Theory comprehensive examination is composed of three sections:
- Approaches to Political Theory;
- one leading political theorist; and
- a special topic.
Political Theory students who choose to write a sit-down examination only must answer a total of three exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one question on Approaches to Political Theory, one question on the work of a leading political theorist, and on question on a specially selected topic. Students writing a qualifying paper in lieu of one sit-down exam question must answer two exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one question concerning Approaches to Political Theory and one question on either a leading political theorist or a specially selected topic, depending upon whether they write their qualifying papers on a selected topic or on a selected thinker. Topics for qualifying papers will be specified by students in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisors and they will typically speak to important problems and debates in political theory. (Note: Most of our Political Theory students have been writing qualifying papers and dissertations that focus on particular topics or problems rather than on particular thinkers; yet students may choose to write their qualifying papers and dissertation focused on particular thinkers, and at least one recent PhD has done so.)
The overall reading list is designed through a consultative process between examining faculty and each student. The list will include readings for each section of the exam, and each of these sections will include approximately ten to twelve major texts (articles, selections from books and/or books).In all cases, each exam section of “sit down” exams will have three questions from which to choose and each of the questions answered will be of equal value.
Students and supervisors should design reading lists and identify thinkers and special topics for sit down exams and qualifying papers no later than May 1 for Fall exams, and November 1 for Spring exams. Students and supervisors should have final reading lists confirmed by the end of May and November respectively.
One component of the Canadian Comprehensive Exam Reading List will be the Core Reading List, containing approximately 30 books or the equivalent.
The other components of the Canadian Comprehensive Exam Reading List will come from six subfield lists, each containing approximately 20 books or the equivalent:
- Federalism and Regionalism (including Quebec politics)
- Parties, Elections, and Public Opinion
- Public Policy, Public Management, and Political Economy
- Charter and Courts
Students majoring in Canadian Politics will choose two subfields from the list of five above. Those who choose to write a sit-down examination only must answer a total of three exam questions in the sit down exam: one question from the Core Reading List, and one question from each of two subfield specializations. Students writing a qualifying paper in lieu of one sit-down exam question must answer two exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one from the Core Reading List section and one question from one subfield specialization; their qualifying papers will focus on a special topic, specified in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisor, that is rooted in a second subfield of Canadian Politics. In all cases, each exam section will have two questions from which to choose, and each of the questions answered will be of equal value. Students should choose questions that demonstrate their breadth of knowledge in Canadian Politics.
Each candidate will be consulted for minor revisions to the relevant two category lists in the term prior to the comprehensive, and the Committee will be attentive to candidate concerns and interests in revising the reading lists. The reading lists for subfields not chosen in a particular year will not necessarily be revised in that year.
Students are encouraged to meet with faculty in the field, either individually or as a group, during their preparation period to discuss their reading. All members of the field welcome you to take the opportunity to discuss themes and developments in the literature before the examination.
Students majoring in Comparative Politics who choose to write a sit-down examination only must answer a total of three exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one question from the Core Theory section, and one question from each of two subfield/regional specializations.
Students writing a qualifying paper must answer two exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one from the Core Theory section and one question from one subfield/regional specialization (see below). Their qualifying papers will focus on a special topic, specified in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisors, that falls mainly outside of their selected sit-down examination subfield/ regional specialization.
In all cases, each exam section will have two questions from which to choose.
Core: Theory and Methods
This section covers major theoretical approaches and methodological approaches in comparative politics. The main course preparation for this section is POLI 511, the core seminar for comparative theory and methodology, which must be taken by all students intending to take the Comparative Politics comprehensive exam.
Students must also demonstrate specialized knowledge of particular thematic subfields or geographic regions. Students have substantial latitude in choosing their specializations but should discuss this choice with their expected supervisor. For students who do two sit-down specialization sections (i.e., student who do NOT writing a qualifying paper), at least one of the specializations must be a thematic subfield. Students should declare their specializations to the comparative field chair within a few weeks of receiving the updated comprehensive exam reading list (i.e., May for Fall exams, November for Spring exams). Students should arrange to meet at least 2 times with relevant faculty for each subfield; the first meeting should be near the start of the process of studying for the exam (i.e., May/June for Fall exams, November/December for Spring exams).
Students may choose from the currently approved thematic subfields, which are a function of both the structure of the field and current faculty expertise. The availability of a given subfield as an exam topic is contingent upon faculty availability in a given year. Before finalizing their subfield choice, students need to confirm with the Comparative Politics Field Chair that a given subfield will be offered for examination in the year of their exam. Where possible, students should have taken a graduate seminar in the thematic area in which they will be examined (i.e., if such a course is offered). In all cases, preparation should be guided by consultation with a faculty member in the subfield.
The currently approved thematic subfields are:
- Comparative Public Policy
- Comparative Political Economy (Advanced Industrialized Democracies)
- Political Economy of Development
- Comparative Parties and Political Institutions
- Political Behaviour
- The State
- Ethnic Politics
- Social Movements
In addition, it is possible for students to take an examination subfield on a literature about a particular region of the world in which there is comparative field faculty expertise. Permission to take such a regional subfield specialization is contingent upon agreement by the field chair, the student’s supervisor, and the relevant faculty member who is expert in that region, who would assist in building a reading list with the student and examine them in this subfield.
The PhD comprehensive examination in International Relations is designed to verify that students have acquired a comprehensive knowledge of their chosen fields of study within International Relations and are able to construct their own arguments about the major issues and debates in those fields.
Students who choose to write a sit-down examination only must answer a total of three exam questions in the sit-down portion of their exam: one question from the IR Core Theory section; one question from a section on a substantive area covered by one (or more) UBC IR graduate seminars, as nominated by the student, where the relevant seminar syllabus provides the basic required reading list; and one from a section reflecting a specially tailored reading list designed by the student in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisor and the IR field chair.
Students writing a qualifying paper must answer two exam questions in the sit-down portion of their exam: one from the IR Core Theory section and one from either a section reflecting a specially tailored reading list designed in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisors and the IR field chair or a section on a substantive area covered by one or more UBC IR graduate seminars, as nominated by the student, where the relevant seminar syllabus provides the basic required reading list. The option of a qualifying paper is intended to enable students to begin developing their own critical perspective on a literature that may be central to their dissertation research and, possibly, to identify fruitful avenues for research in that area. It is envisioned that, in most cases, writing a qualifying paper will contribute to the development of a student’s dissertation prospectus.
The Core Theory section will contain 4 questions from which to choose, and all other exam sections contain will contain 3 questions each. Both exam answers and qualifying papers should, at a minimum, demonstrate breadth and depth of knowledge of the relevant literature and familiarity with the main perspectives and debates in each area. Written work – including exam answers and, where applicable, the qualifying paper – must avoid excessive repetition with respect to content and literature.
Students, in consultation with their supervisors, should identify topics for sit-down exams and qualifying papers no later than May 1 for Fall exams, and November 1 for Spring exams. They should have final reading lists for exams confirmed by the end of May and November, respectively.
The US Politics examination field provides students with expertise in US politics, comparable to that offered in leading U.S. universities. It puts special emphasis on understanding US politics in comparative perspective. It prepares students to write dissertations, with or without a comparative focus, in a variety of subfields of US Politics.
The US Politics Reading List comprises a Core Reading List, which contains the equivalent in books, chapters, and articles of about 30 complete books, and twelve separate subfield lists, each of which contains the equivalent of about 20 books. The list of subfields is as follows:
- The Presidency
- Political Behaviour
- Public Policy
- Political Parties
- Interest Groups
- Constitutional Law and Judicial Politics
- Political Thought
- Political Development
- Foreign Policy
Depending on faculty availability, however, some subfields may not be offered for Comprehensive Examinations, or may not be supported for dissertation research, in a given period.
For all students who major in US politics, the Comprehensive Exam will include a Core section dealing broadly with the literature and major themes of US Politics. The Core section will be based heavily on a Core Seminar in US Politics. Those students who choose to write a sit-down examination only must answer a total of three exam questions in the sit down exam: one question from the Core Reading List, and one question from each of two subfield specializations, with two questions from which to choose for each section. Students writing a qualifying paper in lieu of one sit-down exam question must answer two exam questions in the sit down portion of their exam: one from the Core Reading List section and one question from one subfield specialization, with two questions from which to choose for each section; their qualifying papers will focus on a special topic, specified in consultation with their prospective dissertation supervisor, that is rooted in a second subfield of US Politics.
Students are expected to consult with faculty in choosing their subfields. Majors should choose a combination of subfields that complement each other substantively and that support dissertation projects for which appropriate faculty supervision is available.
Students planning to take a US Politics Comprehensive Exam should discuss their plans with the US Politics Field Chair during the second semester of the preceding year. Subfield reading lists will be prepared in consultation with students who are planning to take examinations each year. Students are encouraged to meet with appropriate faculty to discuss issues in the field and review their preparations during the summer and early fall leading up to the exam.
Supervisory Committees for Doctoral Students
The doctoral student’s supervisory committee is responsible for guiding the student in selecting any required courses, planning the research and preparing the dissertation. The committee should be established as early in the student’s program as possible.
The student will obtain the agreement of a full-time, full member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies to chair the supervisory committee. Normally, the supervisor chairs the committee, and has had experience on doctoral committees. The chair of the supervisory committee is responsible for determining the composition of the committee, subject to the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
If the Chair leaves the University but the dissertation is close to completion the chair may, with the permission of the Dean of Graduate Studies, continue. In this case, a co-chair who is a full-time, full member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will be appointed. If the Chair is on study leave or any other leave exceeding 2 months, it is highly recommended that an interim co-chair who is a full member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies be appointed.
The principal role of the supervisor is to help students achieve their scholastic potential and to chair the student’s Supervisory Committee. The Supervisor will provide reasonable commitment, accessibility, professionalism, stimulation, guidance, respect and consistent encouragement to the student.
The supervisor should consult with prospective supervisory committee members about any proposed coursework before the dissertation topic has been decided.
Clinical assistant professors, associate professors and professors actively engaged in research programs at UBC and experienced with graduate education may apply to their Head, Director or Dean who, in turn, may recommend to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that they be approved to act as sole supervisors.
If an approved Adjunct Professor acts as the co-supervisor (research), a full member of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies is required as co-supervisor (academic) who chairs the committee.
The committee must include at least two additional members, beyond the supervisor, normally faculty members at least at the rank of Assistant Professor, who may be from other graduate programs.
The supervisory committee membership may include senior instructors, professors emeriti, honorary faculty, adjunct faculty, off-campus professionals as well as faculty members from other universities. A request for approval for these members submitted to the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies must include a copy of the individual’s curriculum vitae and a letter from the Director of the Graduate Program.
Normally, a supervisory committee will be comprised of 3 members, though they may have more than 3 if . At least half of the committee must be a member of UBC’s Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.
The supervisory committee members are to be available for help at every stage of the student’s program, from selection of course work to formulation of the dissertation research proposal by establishing the methodology and discussing the results, to presentation and publication of the dissertation.
It is the responsibility of the supervisory committee to provide constructive criticism and assessment of the student’s ideas as the program develops, thereby broadening and deepening the range of expertise and experience of the graduate student.
The supervisory committee must meet with the student at least once a year to discuss and assess progress on the dissertation and provide feedback on work completed. It is the supervisor’s responsibility to organize committee meetings.
While the Supervisory Committee should be an important source of advice and aid to the student, it is not responsible for the final quality of the dissertation, nor for its final disposition by the Committee which examines the dissertation. Its responsibility is to see that the student does the best job of which he/she is capable within a reasonable period of time, and then to decide, after discussion with the student, whether or not the dissertation should be placed before an examination committee for evaluation. The Supervisory Committee must be convinced of the quality and acceptability of the dissertation before approving its submission for public examination to the University Dissertation Examining Committee.
PhD Dissertation: Selection and Approval of Topics
- See Section II.D.(1) of this handbook for some general comments on the selection of dissertation topics.
- See Section I.B.(7) above regarding the Dissertation Supervisor and Supervisory Committee.
- Students are reminded that the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies policy stipulates that “A student who is not admitted to candidacy within 36 months from date of initial registration must withdraw from the program.” “Candidacy” in Political Science is conferred on completion of course requirements and approval of the dissertation prospectus and presentation to the POLI 649 seminar.
Within 36 months of their date of entry into the program, PhD students must be admitted to candidacy, which means the completion of all coursework requirements and approval of the thesis proposal. Students should work closely with their thesis supervisor and committee to develop a thesis proposal (typically about 25 pages double-spaced), which usually includes the following: a statement of the question or nature of the problem; the existing state of knowledge on the topic, which includes a concise survey of the bodies of relevant literature; the expected contribution of the thesis; the specific research methods to be employed in the study; and a projected chapter outline. Once the thesis committee approves the prospectus, the student must fill out the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Approval form and submit it to the Director of the Graduate Program. Upon approval by the Director of the Graduate Program, the student must then present the proposal to the POLI 649 seminar, the scheduling of which the student will coordinate with their committee and the Graduate Secretary.
All faculty and graduate students are invited to attend the 649 seminars. Committee members are expected to attend, as are all PhD students in residence.
- The task of giving approval to a dissertation topic is not undertaken lightly. It is important to bear in mind that the student may spend the equivalent of two or more years on research and writing. The initial discussions on the dissertation proposal should explore, therefore, all conceivable problems that may arise in the subsequent research so that any necessary modifications can be made sufficiently early. Approval of a dissertation proposal should not be given without the assurance that the candidate has or will acquire the necessary language competence and methodological skills to undertake his/her dissertation research.
- The student’s supervisory committee must meet at least once before approval of the prospectus and the POLI 649 seminar.
- After the POLI 649 seminar, a copy of the dissertation prospectus, amended where necessary, should be placed in the student’s file along with the 649 approval form.
- The candidate is expected to maintain frequent contact with his/her Supervisor and Supervisory Committee in order to receive advice and to report on the progress of the research. If the candidate’s research does not permit him/her to be in Vancouver, such reports can be submitted by mail or email. Reports may be requested of the candidate by his/her Committee. (Students should consult the G+PS publications, “Guidelines for the Various Parties Involved in Graduate Student Dissertation Research” for a description of general norms.)
- It is expected that, in the progress of their research, candidates may slightly change the nature of their topics. Major changes, however, can be made only with the approval of the Supervisory Committee. A major change, moreover, may require the formation of a new Committee for the candidate.
PhD Submission and Doctoral Examination
- Completion of the PhD requires a doctoral examination: a public oral examination on the doctoral dissertation. Doctoral examinations at UBC are administered centrally by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Complete information on policies and procedures around doctoral examinations can be found on the G+PS website. The examination committee includes members of the supervisory committee as well as an external (non-UBC) examiner, a University examiner (from UBC but outside Political Science), and a member of the Department who does not sit on the supervisory committee.
- Guidelines for initial submission of the doctoral dissertation for examination, including information on deadlines/timeline, can be found on the website of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Guidelines on final, post-examination submission can be found here.
- The final examination of the dissertation by the University Dissertation Examining Committee is not a formality. Candidates may be asked to undertake revisions, or their theses may be rejected at this stage. Nevertheless, if the candidate’s Dissertation Supervisor and his/her Supervisory Committee have done their supervision and evaluation of the dissertation effectively, rejection at this final stage should be infrequent.
- To be accepted, the PhD dissertation must be a significant contribution to the discipline of Political Science. It must be stressed that the dissertation will be judged on its scholarly quality rather than length. So far as length is concerned, the dissertation will normally be of the proportions of a monograph rather than a book, and generally will not exceed 250-300 pages.
- The candidate should be aware of the technical requirements for the preparation of the dissertation contained in the handbook of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, Instructions For The Preparation of Graduate Theses. As far as style is concerned, students may use any of the widely accepted formats in Political Science, such as the Turabian (Chicago) or MLA styles. The UBC Library website provides citation style guides for your reference.
Transitions to Work
Our PhD students have been very successful in obtaining both tenure-track (or equivalent) academic employment and non-academic employment that uses the expertise and analytic tools that they have gained during their doctoral studies.
Department policy is that no student will be encouraged to take, or be recommended for, full-time employment outside UBC (e.g., for a faculty position) before he/she has devoted at least one calendar year exclusively to his/her dissertation. Exceptions to this rule may occur, of course, but candidates should recognize that premature commitment to teaching or other employment significantly reduces the likelihood of finishing the dissertation.
A PhD student may be considered for sessional employment in the Department. The only restrictions placed on this by the university are that the student must have been “admitted to candidacy” (i.e., has completed course work, passed comprehensive examinations, and has received approval of dissertation prospectus by supervisory committee), teach no more than one course per term and have the written approval of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Moreover, during the period of appointment, the student “shall receive no remuneration which is contingent upon full-time status” such as TAships. The same restrictions apply to other fellowship holders, such as SSHRC and Affiliated doctoral fellows. Within these constraints set by the university, the Department has adopted the following guidelines.
- Eligibility: students who meet university requirements for appointment, have spent a minimum of 3 years in the PhD program and have made substantial progress towards completing dissertation requirements as determined by their supervisors.
- Restrictions: normally no more than 6 credits per year, for a maximum of two years. Normally, graduate students are not eligible to teach course sections that require supervision of teaching assistants.
- Priority: Students will be considered for extra-sessional appointments, particularly in the summer term. In the case of appointments to teach courses in the winter terms, priority will be given to Sessional Lecturers in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
- Procedures: Eligible students will be informed of teaching opportunities as they arise. They may also propose to the Head courses for recommendation to extra-sessional studies for funding. This will normally be in September and October for summer session courses. The Head will make course and appointment recommendations after consultation with the Director of Undergraduate Programs.
Review of the Progress of PhD Students
The progress of all students working for the PhD, D.M.A., and Ed.D. degrees will be reviewed from time to time and at least once a year by the home Department and by the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. A candidate may be required to withdraw if progress has not been satisfactory as shown by course work, the comprehensive examination, progress on the dissertation, or other requirements of the Department or the Faculty.
- The Department undertakes an annual review of each student’s progress in late spring. The review is carried out by the Director of the Graduate Program in consultation with faculty who have taught or supervised each graduate student. The Director of the Graduate Program will send a letter to each student currently in the program summarizing the student’s performance and raising any concerns about progress in the program.
- Students whose performance is unsatisfactory will enter a probationary period, with continued enrollment in the program dependent on further progress during this period. The student will be informed of the specific criteria and timeline that the Department will apply in reviewing their performance and progress during the probationary period.
- A request that a student withdraw will be made by the Graduate Program Director only after the student has failed to meet the criteria or timeline established for the probationary period, after thorough consultation with those faculty who have taught or supervised the student, and after the student has been given an opportunity to present their case for remaining in the program, including by drawing attention to any extenuating circumstances that might warrant consideration.
- Evaluations of student performance will take into account health and personal difficulties that may impede academic progress. Students facing extenuating health or personal circumstances that they believe warrant consideration in assessments of their performance and progress must request either a concession or academic accommodation. Students facing ongoing difficulties making progress should also consider taking a leave of absence from the program:
- Concession: Students facing mental or physical health issues; unanticipated changes in personal responsibilities; or traumatic events, sexual assault, or death in the family or of a close friend that prevent the student from completing specific course requirements on time should request a concession from the course instructor. Students may also contact the Graduate Program Director to help arrange course-specific concessions.
- Academic accommodation: Students with ongoing medical conditions or disabilities that affect their studies for more than one term should register with the Centre for Accessibility and seek an academic accommodation.
- Leaves of absence: Students whose health or personal circumstances, including parental or other care responsibilities, prevent them from making adequate progress in the program for an extended period should consider taking a leave of absence from the program. A leave of absence “stops the clock” on program deadlines. Moreover, no tuition fees are owed during on-leave terms (only a nominal on-leave fee is owed), and students are not expected to make any academic progress while on leave. See here for more information on leaves of absence. See also information on parental accommodation.
- Extensions: Extenuating circumstances not of the student’s making may justify allowing the student additional time to complete his or her degree program. See here for more information about requesting an extension. Requests for extensions must usually be accompanied by documentation of the reason for the extension request.