PhD in Political Science
The doctoral program encourages students to pursue specialized interests and broaden their understanding of political phenomena. The program is an intellectual environment that seeks students with previously demonstrated abilities to develop further the creative and analytical skills necessary for thinking critically, conducting research, and providing original scholarship. The program is a fertile environment for students who bring a wide variety of backgrounds to the study of politics and who have the competence to initiate investigations and work independently. In emphasizing a problem-solving and critical perspective, the department expects students to enrich their knowledge of and proficiency in several traditional discipline elements.
Students have seven years from the time they enter the program to complete and defend their dissertation. The department recommends completing the degree in no more than five years. If a student has not completed the dissertation by the end of the seventh year, they are placed on academic probation and risk dismissal from the program. Students should review and adhere to Graduate Division requirements for the Time Allowed for Completion of Degree.
The department seeks to further clarify issues of degree progress through the following policies:
- Progress Reports - Students must demonstrate continued progress towards the degree and submit a progress report at the end of each academic year. These reports are kept on file with the department and help the faculty assess what each student must do to complete the program.
- Leave of Absence - Students must be registered for at least one credit hour every semester (excluding summers) or request an official leave of absence to avoid being dropped from the program. A student can take no more than one year of leave of absence for personal reasons. A leave of absence is designed to allow students to focus on non-academic issues that may interfere with the degree progress and not for students to do academic work while not enrolled. If students fail to register for courses and do not have a formal leave of absence, they will need to reapply to the program. Re-admission is not guaranteed. Note that all degree candidates must be enrolled during the term in which the degree is awarded.
- Residency Requirement - Three full-time semesters or the equivalent in credits. Enrollment in POLS 800 is considered full-time. A master’s degree earned through the UHM Department of Political Science may be used to satisfy two semesters of the three-semester doctoral residence requirement.
- Thesis Completion - MA Thesis students who have not written and defended their thesis after three years must provide a justification to the graduate chair for their progress. At that time, an assessment will be made about their continued tenure in the program.
The following inclusive but not exhaustive list outlines responsibilities in each role:
- Assures new students have an Interim Advisor
- Facilitates faculty assessment of student progress in the program (and may impose deadlines)
- Assesses students continuance in the program
- Signs required forms and memos
Interim Advisor *
- Helps students in selecting classes and planning the degree program
- Ensures that the student has a permanent Dissertation Committee Chair before relinquishing their duties
- Performs annual progress checks with their advisees
* The department assigns an Interim Advisor to incoming PhD students based on specialization interest. These advisors are not permanent and students can change them at any time (consult with Graduate Chair). The Interim Advisor may eventually become a Chair or member of the student's dissertation committee.
Dissertation Committee Chair
- Establishes a work plan for proposal defense and comprehensive exams
- May determine the order of proposal defense and comprehensive exam
- Works closely with student on dissertation proposal
- Works with the student to set a date/time for the proposal defense
- Facilitates the development of comprehensive exam questions
- Collects and facilitates committee review of comprehensive exam responses
- Works with the student to devise a plan for completing of dissertation
- Facilitates committee review of the dissertation
- Works to resolve disagreements between students and committee members
- Facilitates the dissertation defense and helps the student to meet all necessary deadlines
We encourage PhD students to take a broad range of classes, and there are no specific requirements for coursework. Instead, appropriate coursework is to be determined by the student with their Interim Advisor’s input*. The department strongly advises students to take POLS 600: Scope and Methods of Political Science upon entry into the program. The department further urges students to take three of the following core courses if they have not taken them or their equivalents at the MA level:
- POLS 610: Political Theory and Analysis
- POLS 620: Introduction to Indigenous Politics
- POLS 630: International Relations
- POLS 640: Comparative Politics
- POLS 650: Public Administrative Theory
- POLS 660: Public Law and Judicial Systems
- POLS 670: Introduction to Public Policy
- POLS 680: Asian and/or Pacific Politics
Students must complete all courses counted toward the degree with a grade of at least a B.
The department recommends that students:
- Complete at least two full semesters of coursework before completing the dissertation proposal and comprehensive exams. This coursework does not include POLS 699: Directed Reading and Research.
- Take no longer than one additional year of coursework, including POLS 699: Directed Reading and Research, preparing for the dissertation proposal defense and comprehensive exams. Note that a student transitioning from the POLS MA to PhD program has already taken the requisite coursework and should move more quickly towards completing a proposal.
- Meet with their Interim Advisor to create a course plan that outlines the necessary coursework within and outside the department to achieve degree objectives. Students should make their course plans during or after the first semester.
- Take at least one methods course related to the methodologies relevant to the dissertation project. Students can take this course inside or outside the department.
- Take coursework in at least two department subfields, with at least three courses in each subfield.
Coursework with Committee Members
Students must take at least one course with each of the three core department faculty on their dissertation committee. Students taking a course with each of their five committee members is highly recommended. Students should anticipate which faculty may serve on the committee to fulfill this coursework requirement on time. Exceptions to this requirement can be made based upon the assessment of the Graduate Chair and the Dissertation Committee Chair.
Students may take POLS 699: Directed Reading and Research with a committee member as the required course. If taken, student efforts in the course should allow the committee member to gain a sense of the student’s academic work.
POLS 699: Directed Reading and Research
Students may take no more than two full semesters of POLS 699 credits constituting 12 total credits.
Course content is subject to mutual agreement between the student and the directing faculty member and may be related to a dissertation, comprehensive exam, or other related topics.
A third and final semester of directed readings may be provided if, in that semester, the student defends the dissertation proposal and takes comprehensive exams. The department will recommend the student for academic probation if they fail to complete these program milestones.
After an agreed-upon amount of course work, PhD students must construct a dissertation committee that includes at least three department members and one external member. Students should review and adhere to Graduate Division requirements for the Committee Composition & Potential Members.
Constructing a Dissertation Committee
- A committee consists of five members. Three core members must be graduate faculty in the Department of Political Science, and actively teaching courses.
- The Dissertation Committee Chair must be a member of the graduate faculty in good standing. The Chair establishes a work plan for the proposal defense and comprehensive exams.
- The three core members may not include affiliate or emeritus faculty, but faculty fitting these descriptions can serve as the committee’s fourth member.
- Untenured faculty can serve on the committee, but they cannot chair the committee.
- The external member (University Representative) must be a full member of the graduate faculty in another department at UH Mānoa. They must have served on at least one dissertation committee in the past. Graduate Division states that this person plays a procedural role in the dissertation defense. However, the department sees the university representative as a full participant in the process.
- The requirements for the fifth committee member are much more flexible.
Confirming the Committee
During the semester of the proposal defense and comprehensive exam, students must submit Pre-form II – Committee Structure (from the Department of Political Science), which confirms that each committee member meets the requirements and has agreed to serve. The form requires committee members and Graduate Chair signatures. Students submit the form to the Department Secretary.
Note that students whose research involves living human subjects are required to secure approval from the Human Studies Program Institutional Review Board (IRB) in the Office of Research Compliance. To avoid delays, students should begin this approval process while they are completing Pre-form II.
In the semester before the dissertation defense, students must confirm that the committee composition has not changed.
Changes to the Committee
After a student completes their comprehensive exam, committee changes can only be made if a member retires, moves away, or is otherwise no longer available to serve. Students cannot reconstruct their committee at the last minute, and changes require completing the appropriate paperwork (see Doctoral Petition to Revise Dissertation Committee from Graduate Division).
If a student makes substantive changes in the dissertation’s direction that require significant committee member changes, they will need to retake the comprehensive exam with each new committee member.
Students cannot consider failure to meet a committee member’s academic standards as a reason for changing the committee structure.
Generally speaking, the proposal should cover the dissertation topic, indicate the body of literature relevant for the study, provide an outline of the research methodologies to be employed, and offer the underlying argument of the project.
The student should submit their proposal to the Dissertation Committee Chair, providing sufficient time for committee member review. Once all committee members have had the opportunity to read the proposal and provide feedback, the student should set a date/time for a proposal defense in conjunction with the Dissertation Committee Chair.
Defending the Proposal
The proposal defense brings the committee together formally for the first time. The student presents the proposed scope of work, and each committee member has time to ask related questions. After questions, the student leaves the meeting while the committee confers about the project.
If the committee approves the proposal, a general conversation regarding the comprehensive exam's topic areas should immediately occur. Students are encouraged to take the comprehensive exam soon after they successfully defend their proposal.
If the student fails the proposal defense, they must revise the proposal and establish a new defense date. The department will dismiss students from the program if they fail their proposal defense for the second time.
The department recommends that students defend their dissertation proposal no later than the end of the third year.
Note that the order in which students complete their proposal defense and comprehensive exam is determined by their Advisor/Chair.
Upon the completion of full-time course work, each student will have one year to take a comprehensive exam. If a year has passed and the student has not taken the exams, the Graduate Chair may request a hard deadline be imposed in conversation with the Dissertation Committee Chair. The department may remove students from the program if they fail to meet this deadline. Students should review and adhere to Graduate Division requirements for the Comprehensive Exam.
Note that the order in which students complete their proposal defense and comprehensive exam is determined by their Advisor/Chair.
Comprehensive Exam Design
The student’s committee designs a comprehensive exam based upon the dissertation proposal and the general fields within which the dissertation is situated. The design process begins with the student negotiating four reading lists with the committee. The Dissertation Committee Chair facilitates the development of eight questions, two for each reading list, once the student has indicated readiness to sit for the exams and has agreed upon a date. The department expects each committee member to contribute questions for the comprehensive exam. The Dissertation Committee Chair collects and organizes the questions.
Taking the Exam
On the agreed-upon date, the committee supplies the student with the four sets of questions. The student selects one question from each pair and writes an essay in response. The student has eight consecutive days to write and return the answers to the committee.
The student may also take the exam in two parts of four days each, over two weeks. In that event, the student will receive the first set of questions at the start of the first period and the second set at the beginning of the second period.
Accommodations can be made, under exceptional circumstances, to break up the eight days into four two-day chunks. The student must turn in all answers at the end of each exam period to begin the next exam period, and the student must complete the exam within one month.
The student should work independently during this period without seeking external advice or help from others. The exam is open book, and all materials used to study for the exam can be available during the exam week.
Submission and Grading
The student submits the four essays to the Dissertation Committee Chair at the end of the exam period. The Dissertation Committee Chair shares the responses with the committee for evaluation. Each committee member reads and grades the essays within two weeks of submission. The committee must confer regarding the essays and grades. Committee member comments may be written or expressed in a meeting. If one or more committee members have a concern, then a meeting is recommended.
The student can receive a “pass with distinction,” “pass,” or “fail” for the exam. It may be the case that a student will pass the exam, but a committee member may seek clarification in writing for one of the questions. If committee members agree that the candidate has completed the comprehensive exam, they are advanced to candidacy (ABD) and proceed to dissertation writing.
To remain in the program, the student must pass all exam questions. A student who fails an exam question will be given a makeup question and may be required to respond orally to the question asked during the exam period. If the committee agrees that the student has successfully responded to the makeup question, they can proceed in the program. The department will dismiss students who fail the makeup exam unless recommended otherwise by the Graduate Chair.
The department has determined that a student who has taken more than five years to complete the dissertation proposal and comprehensive exam will not have sufficient time remaining to finish the dissertation requirements within the seven-year limit.
As a result, if a student has not successfully defended a dissertation proposal and taken a comprehensive exam after three years of full-time coursework in the program, the Graduate Chair will assess progress towards the degree. The Graduate Chair may recommend that the student be placed on academic probation if there is no evidence of progress. To do this, the Graduate Chair will send a memo to Graduate Division, notifying them of the student's lack of progress. Removal from academic probation will only occur after the successful completion of the proposal and the comprehensive exams.
Furthermore, if a student has not successfully defended a dissertation proposal and taken a comprehensive exam by the beginning of the fifth year, they are offered one additional semester to complete these steps. Students who cannot advance to ABD status by the end of this time are dismissed from the program.
While the department may consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis, the underlying intent is to make sure students have a viable proposal and have completed their comprehensive exams with at least two years remaining to write the dissertation.
Students who complete their dissertation proposal and comprehensive exam should submit a Doctorate Form 2 – Advance to Candidacy (from Graduate Division). This form includes signatures from all dissertation committee member signatures and the Graduate Chair.
Once Graduate Division approves the form, the student will receive ABD status and can now register for POLS 800: Dissertation Research for one credit. Full-time status at the ABD level is one credit. Students must be registered for POLS 800 in the semester in which they graduate.
Note that students whose research involves living human subjects are required to secure approval from the Human Studies Program Institutional Review Board (IRB) in the Office of Research Compliance before they can advance to candidacy and register for POLS 800.
ABD status students should meet with their Dissertation Committee Chair and devise a plan for completing the dissertation.
Students and required to produce and defend a dissertation that offers a significant and original contribution to their field of study. Students should review and adhere to Graduate Division requirements for the Thesis & Dissertation.
Students are expected to review and adhere to the Style and Policy Manual for Theses and Dissertations (from Graduate Division).
Approval to Defend
Students must present a completed copy of the dissertation to all committee members at least four weeks before the target defense date. The Dissertation Committee Chair will poll the committee to determine if the document is acceptable and ready for defense no later than two weeks before the target date.
If two or more committee members feel more work is still needed, a defense cannot be scheduled.
If at least four out of five committee members agree that the dissertation is ready for defense, it may proceed as scheduled. In this case, the candidate, Dissertation Committee Chair, and the dissenting member must meet before the defense to discuss the concerns. All committee members are invited but not required to attend this discussion.
Defending the Dissertation
Students should review and adhere to Graduate Division requirements for the Final Defense. Note that the University requires a public announcement of the defense. Students are required to submit their dissertation title and abstract to the Department of Political Science (email to firstname.lastname@example.org) three weeks prior to the defense date. Public announcements are made by submitting the Final Oral Examination for Doctoral Dissertation Defense to Graduate Division.
Students begin the defense with a 15-20 minute presentation summarizing their dissertation. Students should model the presentation after a conference presentation and address the various epistemic communities with which the dissertation engages. As members of the audience will not have read the dissertation, students should frame their remarks accordingly.
After the presentation, each committee member will have an opportunity to ask questions about their dissertation to which the student must respond. The audience will then have a chance to question the student.
After the question period, the student and the audience leave the meeting to allow the committee to confer and decide whether the defense was successful. The student is then invited back into the room to hear the decision.
A successful defense requires a majority of the committee to sign off on Doctorate Form 3 – Dissertation Evaluation (from Graduate Division). The Dissertation Committee Chair and the University Representative must be in the majority.
If the student fails the initial defense, they can repeat it once with Graduate Chair and Graduate Division approval. If the student fails the second defense, they will not graduate with a PhD.
Ideally, only editorial changes and minor revisions should be made after the defense, and not substantial revisions and rewrites. The committee may request final revisions to be made before the final document is submitted to Graduate Division. The department advises students to provide themselves with sufficient time to make revisions as it is the student's responsibility to meet all deadlines. Once the final dissertation has been approved, the student is expected to submit Doctorate Form 4 – Dissertation Submission (from Graduate Division).
Students are required to submit a copy of their final dissertation to the Department of Political Science (email to email@example.com).
The following inclusive but not exhaustive list outlines 5-year program milestones. Students must also complete annual progress forms.
Year One (Fall)
- Meet with Graduate Chair to discuss program plans
- Complete Doctorate Form 1 – Pre-Candidacy Progress (from Graduate Division)
- Meet with Interim Advisor to develop a comprehensive study plan, including specialization and potentially necessary courses (ex. language or methodology)
- Begin coursework
Year One (Spring)
- Continue planned coursework
Year Two (Fall)
- Continue planned coursework
- Meet with the Interim Advisor to begin planning dissertation proposal efforts
Year Two (Spring)
- Continue planned coursework
- Meet with the Interim Advisor to begin planning dissertation committee formation
Year Three (Fall and Spring)
- Continue planned coursework
- Organize dissertation committee
- Secure IRB approval for research involving living human subjects (if applicable)
- Complete Pre-form II – Committee Structure (from the Department of Political Science)
- Write the dissertation proposal
- Defend the dissertation proposal
- Complete the comprehensive exam
- Upon passing the defense, complete Doctorate Form 2 – Advance to Candidacy (from Graduate Division)
Years Four and Five
- Write the dissertation