Comprehensive Examination: Exam Fields

Core reading list.

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

1)         Political Theory
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:
(a)        Approaches to Political Theory;
(b)        one leading political theorist; and
(c)        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.

Topic/thematic specialization
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.

 

2)         Canadian Politics
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
  •    Parliament

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.

 

3)         Comparative Politics

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.

Subfield/regional specialization

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
  • Democratization
  • 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.

 

4)         International Relations

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.

 

5)         United States Politics

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:

  •                Congress
  •                The Presidency
  •                Political Behaviour
  •                Bureaucracy
  •                Public Policy
  •                Political Parties
  •                Interest Groups
  •                Constitutional Law and Judicial Politics
  •                Political Thought
  •                Federalism
  •                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.

 

6)         Note on Political Behaviour as a Subfield Choice

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).

Second-Language Requirements

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.