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Ph.D. in Political Science

About the Doctoral Program

The doctoral program in Political Science emphasizes policy studies, and in particular public policymaking. The Ph.D. in political science trains students to become independent researchers who may apply their skills in the academic, government, non-profit, and business worlds.

Students master the skills to frame researchable questions that make original contributions to empirical and theoretical knowledge about problems in politics.

Students learn to rigorously specify cause-effect relationships, and to master techniques for marshalling evidence using quantitative and qualitative methods to test competing hypotheses about problems in politics.

The program is strong in the areas of urban politics, policy processes and institutions, American political behavior, political economy, comparative politics and international relations. Our public policy focus encourages students to adopt a multi-disciplinary perspective and training that cuts across traditional disciplinary boundaries.

The Ph.D. program in Political Science prides itself on promoting diversity. Between 2011 and 2020, 25 percent of our Ph.D. graduates were African American. 

The faculty in political science are highly productive and well recognized scholars who publish in top ranked journals and university presses. Our faculty provide unusually accessible, creative, and professional Ph.D. preparation. Their active research and publication records contributed significantly to UMSL Ph.D. programs being ranked 11th of 65 among small research universities in 2007 (according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 12, 2007).

Our Ph.D. students are expected to develop expertise in a major field of study and area of specialization in Political Science, develop expertise in research design and quantitative methods and gain teaching and research experience as a research assistant, teaching assistant and graduate instructor.

There are two phases to obtaining the Ph.D. in Political Science at UMSL: course work and dissertation writing. The typical graduate course is a small seminar that analyzes critically the literature of a field or focuses on a research problem. These courses prepare students for the Ph.D. comprehensive examination requirements within a three-year period and for work on the doctoral dissertation

The course work phase lasts three years for full-time students. During this phase, students develop expertise in one of the major fields of political science. A student is required to take 54 hours of course work and 6 hours of dissertation. Core courses include 18 credit hours in the areas of research methodology, policy process and institutions. Students also select 12 hours in the disciplinary scope of political science. The student completes 18 credit hours in a subfield of political science and, within that subfield, an area of specialization. Six one-semester courses (18 credit hours) provide a common core of training for Ph.D. students in our program. The courses provide an indispensable framework of research methods, policy processes and institutions.


PS 6401: Introduction to Policy Research (or equivalent)
PS 6402: Intermediate Techniques in Policy Research
PS 6403: Advanced Techniques in Policy Research

Process and Institutions

PS 6430: Proseminar in American Politics
PS 6440: Proseminar in Public Administration
PS 6442: The Policy Process

Ordinarily, the student completes this portion of the curriculum in the first four semesters of full-time study. Each student will develop an individual program for achieving appropriate competence in their areas of specialization, for example in economics, foreign languages and other advanced analytic skills.

The student, in consultation with his or her advisor, constructs the remaining part of the curriculum around individual interests and career goals. One part of the curriculum introduces the student to the breadth of the political science discipline. This part of the curriculum requires a survey of diverse areas of political inquiry. To achieve this goal, the student selects four additional courses (12 credit hours) that survey important subfields of political study. In most cases the student will select from the following list.

Disciplinary Scope

PS 6404: Multi-Method Research Design
PS 6410: Introduction to Policy Analysis
PS 6420: Proseminar in Public Law
PS 6422: Law, Courts, and Public Policy
PS 6431: American Political Development
PS 6432: Intergovernmental Relations
PS 6448: Political Economy of Public Policy
PS 6450: Proseminar in Comparative Politics
PS 6460: Proseminar in Political Theory
PS 6470: Proseminar in Urban Politics
PS 6480: Proseminar in International Relations
PS 6482: International Political Economy

Other courses may be used to satisfy this survey requirement if approved by the students advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. Note that students with a Masters degree in political science from another institution may meet a part of this requirement by transferring courses, subject to approval by the Director of Graduate Studies and the students Advisor.


The student completes 6 courses (18 credit hours) in a subfield of political science and, within that subfield, an area of concentration. Subfields in political science include Public Policy (including Comparative Public Policy), Urban Politics, American Politics, Comparative Politics, International Relations, Political Economy, Public Law, and Public Administration. Areas of concentration within Public Policy might include Economic Policy or Health Policy, Social Welfare, Criminal Justice, Labor and Employment, Housing, Environmental Protection, Policy Analysis, Public Budgeting and Finance, or other areas not enumerated.

This list is not inclusive. Students should consult their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies for additional options tailored to individual career goals. Students may need to acquire knowledge and skills more commonly taught by faculty in another discipline such as Economics, Public Administration, Criminal Justice, Gerontology, Sociology, History, or the sciences. These students should develop a suitable program in that discipline in consultation with the appropriate faculty and with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies. The Department has explicit agreements for transferring credit to the Ph.D. in Political Science from the UMSL  Masters in Public Policy Administration, the Masters in Economics, and the Gerontology degrees.

General Examination

Students must pass the qualifying written examinations in three areas: methodology, institutions and policy processes and subfield specialization, accompanied by the subfield oral examination. General examinations are given three times a year. Doctoral students advance to candidacy when they pass all required comprehensive examinations, written and oral, and successfully complete all course work.

Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation

The second major phase of the doctoral program consists of an oral defense of a written dissertation proposal and full time devotion to dissertation research and writing. A dissertation embodying the results of original research must be accepted by the faculty and the Graduate School after an oral defense of the completed written dissertation. The Ph.D. is awarded when the student submits a satisfactory dissertation to a committee of four faculty members. The time required to complete the dissertation phase varies, depending on the topic and related research requirements and full or part-time status of the student. The University requires that all credit hours for a Ph.D., including transfer credits and the dissertation, be completed during a continuous eight-year span.

Please see The Doctoral Program in Political Science: Policies and Procedures, 2021 for the most current and complete information about the degree requirements.