Pushing the Scholarly Frontier

PhD in Political Science

Our doctoral students are advancing political science as a discipline. They explore the empirical phenomena that produce new scholarly insights—insights that improve the way governments and societies function. As a result, MIT Political Science graduates are sought after for top teaching and research positions in the U.S. and abroad. Read where program alumni are working around the world.

How the PhD program works

The MIT PhD in Political Science requires preparation in two of these major fields:

  • American Politics
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Relations
  • Models and Methods
  • Political Economy
  • Security Studies

We recommend that you take a broad array of courses across your two major fields. In some cases, a single course may overlap across the subject matter of both fields. You may not use more than one such course to "double count" for the course distribution requirement. Keep in mind that specific fields may have additional requirements.

You are free to take subjects in other departments across the Institute. Cross-registration arrangements also permit enrollment in subjects taught in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University and in some of Harvard's other graduate schools.


1. Number of subjects

You will need two full academic years of work to prepare for the general examinations and to meet other pre-dissertation requirements. Typically, a minimum of eight graduate subjects are required for a PhD.

2. Scope and Methods

This required one-semester seminar for first-year students introduces principles of empirical and theoretical analysis in political science.

3. Statistics

You must successfully complete at least one class in statistics.

4. Methods

You must successfully complete at least one class in empirical research methods.

5. Philosophy

You must successfully complete at least one class in political philosophy.

6. Foreign language or advanced statistics

You must demonstrate reading proficiency in one language other than English by successfully completing two semesters of intermediate-level coursework or an exam in that language, or

you must demonstrate your knowledge of advanced statistics by successfully completing three semesters of coursework in advanced statistics.

International students whose native language is not English are not subject to the language requirement.

7. Field research

We encourage you to conduct field research and to develop close working ties with faculty members engaged in major research activities.

8. Second Year Paper/workshop

You must complete an article-length research paper and related workshop in the spring semester of the second year. The second-year paper often develops into a dissertation project.

9. Two examinations

In each of your two elected fields, you must take a general written and oral examination. To prepare for these examinations, you should take at least three courses in each of the two fields, including the field seminar.

10. Doctoral thesis

As a rule, the doctoral thesis requires at least one year of original research and data collection. Writing the dissertation usually takes a substantially longer time. The thesis process includes a first and second colloquium and an oral defense. Be sure to consult the MIT Specifications for Thesis Preparation as well as the MIT Political Science Thesis Guidelines. Consult the MIT academic calendar to learn the due date for final submission of your defended, signed thesis.


Questions? Consult the MIT Political Science Departmental Handbook or a member of the staff in the MIT Political Science Graduate Office.