The graduate program of the Department of Government is designed to train students for ­careers in university teaching and advanced research in political science. The department does not offer an independent master’s program, the master of arts in political science being reserved for PhD candidates on the way to their final degrees.

Admission, Financial Aid, and Residence Requirements

A distinguished undergraduate academic record is a prerequisite for admission. The GSAS Guide to Admission and Financial Aid specifies the supporting documents to accompany applications for admission. Applicants are requested not to submit writing samples.

Applicants are required to submit Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

Applicants whose native language is not English must submit the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Failure to submit the TOEFL will ordinarily result in rejection unless an undergraduate transcript is submitted verifying receipt of a degree from an institution at which English is the language of instruction.

Applications for admission and financial aid, together with information regarding admissions procedures, may be obtained at The department requires the online submission of the entire application for admission. There is no interviewing process in this department.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is administered under the direction of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS). The department intends that all graduate students should have support adequate to enable them to complete their studies while enrolled full-time. Prospective students apply for financial aid at the same time they apply for admission and are also required to submit a supplement to the application for admission. The financial aid package for government students typically includes tuition and fees plus a stipend and a summer research grant for the first two years; tuition and fees plus guaranteed teaching fellowships and a summer research grant for years three and four; tuition and fees for year five; and tuition and fees plus a stipend for the completion year. Students in the third year of beyon, who have been deemed eligible by the director of graduate studies, will receive a one-time professional development fund of up to $2,500 to cover approved expenses. The department strongly encourages all eligible first-year students to apply for the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Additional information is available from

Renewal of financial aid for the second year of study is contingent upon the student having received satisfactory first-year grades. All third- and fourth-year students who have passed the General Examination are awarded teaching fellowships; a normal teaching load is two-fifths.

Having teaching experiences in political science courses is an important part of the graduate experience and an essential part of graduate training. Therefore, to complete the PhD program, all graduate students will normally be required to teach a minimum of two sections in departmental courses sometime during the period that they are in residence. To ensure diversity of experience, one section will normally be in an introductory course and one section will be in an advanced course (such as a 1000-level course).

Residence Requirements

The Graduate School has a minimum academic residence requirement of two years; i.e., a student must do resident graduate work for a minimum of two full academic years, or the equivalent of 16 half-courses. Beyond the 12 courses required by the department, the remainder of the two-year residence may be devoted either to further courses and research workshops or to special study under the direction of a department member of faculty rank.

It is expected that a student who chooses the latter option will attend a substantial number of courses and seminars as an auditor and do such other work as his or her advisor may suggest. For that portion of the residence requirement not covered by courses, a student registers in the Graduate School in terms of TIME.

Financial Residence Requirement — Every PhD candidate must be registered continuously until receipt of the degree. Students must pay two years at the full tuition rate and two years at the reduced tuition rate if the elapsed time from initial registration to the receipt of the degree is four or more years. After the payment of the required full and reduced tuition charges, candidates who continue to use Harvard facilities will be charged the facilities fee. Students who do not use Harvard facilities will be charged an active file fee. Students must pay a fee equal at least to the facilities fee in the term in which the dissertation is received and accepted by the department.

Reporting Requirement — Every student beyond their third year must submit a progress report every year by May 15, signed by a faculty advisor, to the director of graduate studies. Graduate students should report on their progress through the dissertation, their completion of any other pending requirements, teaching, and other professional activities within and outside Harvard.

Departmental Requirements Prior to General Examination

Candidates for the PhD in Government are expected to complete the required coursework during their first two years of graduate study and take the General Examination at the end of the second year. A typical schedule consists of these two years, followed by three or four years of work on a dissertation, combined with supervised teaching.

First-year students are not permitted to serve as teaching fellows. Second year students may petition to serve as Teaching Fellows with permission of the director of graduate studies and the GSAS dean of admissions and financial aid.

Courses — A student must successfully complete at least twelve half-courses, of which eight must be in government. At least ten of these twelve half-courses and seven of the eight half-courses in government must be listed in the catalogue as 1000- or 2000-level courses.

Students must complete six half-courses by the end of their second term in residence and nine by the end of their third.

Every first-year student must enroll in the graduate seminar, Gov 3001: Approaches to the Study of Politics. The course, offered each fall, is to be taken pass/fail for a full semester of credit.

Incompletes — A grade of Incomplete can be converted into a letter grade if the student completes the work before the end of the term following that in which the course was taken. If an Incomplete has not been completed within the period, the student must have the instructor and DGS approve the petition for extension. No grade of Incomplete can be used to satisfy any departmental requirement.

Seminar Papers — In order to ensure that students secure adequate training in research and writing, at least three seminar-style research papers must be completed. The usual means is through enrollment in seminars, but the requirement may be satisfied also by reading or lecture courses in which papers of this type are written.

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain written verification from the instructor that the completed paper is of seminar quality.

Students who wish to submit graduate seminar papers written outside the government department should consult the director of graduate studies.

Quantitative Methods Requirement — Every student, during their first or second year, must successfully complete, with a grade of B or better, at least one graduate-level course in quantitative social science methods relevant to political science, from a list of appropriate Government Department and other Harvard/ MIT courses regularly updated by the Graduate Policy Committee.

Political Theory Requirement — Every student must take a minimum of one graduate-level half-course (or section) in Political Theory, chosen from a list of courses approved by the Graduate Policy Committee.

Research Tools Requirement — Every student must submit to the director of graduate studies, by the end of his or her first year, a written Research Tools Plan outlining intentions to acquire tools and methodological expertise connected to his or her areas of research interest. The Tools Plan also should list the courses, modules or workshops the student intends to take in order to meet the research tools requirement (see below).

Every student must complete a minimum of 3.5 half-course-equivalent units of research tools and methods courses, modules or workshops by the end of their seventh term in residence (middle of the fourth year). The required seminar, “Approaches to the Study of Politics,” and the required graduate course in quantitative social science methods count for two units within this total. Students may count language training in various formats (e.g. semester courses; intensive summer sessions) toward fulfillment of this requirement. The Graduate Policy Committee will determine what counts for 1.0 or 0.5 units.

Research Workshops — The department offers a series of research workshops, in each of the four fields (American Government, International Relations, Comparative Politics, Political Theory), Applied Statistics, and Political Economy, for graduate students to present and discuss work-in-progress. Every student should attend at least one research workshop, starting in their second or third term in residence. Research workshops do not count toward the requirement to complete twelve half-courses.

The General Examination

Every student will sit for a General Examination at the end of their second year, with the exam administered orally by three faculty not known in advance. The ninety-minute exam will cover two of the four major substantive fields in political science (chosen by the student from among American Government; Comparative Politics; International Relations; and Political Theory), plus an additional focus field defined by the student. A student may substitute either Formal Theory or Political Methodology for one of the two major fields. For the focus field, each student will submit by a date designated by the director of graduate studies a five to eight page statement outlining a special area for examination. This area may encompass a special literature; an area of the world; a realm of special interest spanning subfields or disciplinary boundaries; or a research approach.

The department regularly offers “field seminars” introducing each of the four major fields of the discipline. However, no examination field is co-terminus with any one course, or even with any group of courses. The student is responsible for preparation in the field and should not assume that satisfactory completion of a course or courses dealing with the material in the field will constitute adequate preparation for the examination. The student should consult faculty members in each field to ensure such preparation. All students who choose a field are responsible for the same range of materials.

The General Examination is scheduled in May of a student’s second year of study.

Progress Toward the Degree After the General Examination

Students in their third year and beyond spend most of their time researching and writing the PhD dissertation. These students are eligible for teaching fellowships, which enable them to participate in Harvard’s undergraduate tutorial program, teach sections in the introductory government courses, or assist undergraduates in middle-group courses by leading discussion sessions or directing senior theses. Some research assistantships are also available from individual faculty members and research centers.

In the third year, most teaching fellows devote two-fifths TIME to teaching, the remainder to work on the dissertation. The fourth year may be devoted entirely to writing the dissertation or to a combination of teaching and research. Students who have passed the General Examination may teach three-fifths TIME for four years, with the following exception: those who have taught fewer than 16 term-fifths may be appointed in a fifth year up to that total.

Requirements relating to courses, seminars (research) papers, quantitative methods and political theory should normally be completed before the General Examination, that is, during the first two years of graduate work. In special circumstances, a student may defer fulfillment of two half-courses or two of the following until after the General Examination:

  • one seminar paper
  • one half-course

Within six months of passing the General Examination, the student must have fulfilled one of these deferred requirements. Within twelve months, he or she must have completed both deferred requirements.

Dissertation Prospectus

Following completion of the General Exam, each student will engage faculty advisors through a two-stage process of research exploration and prospectus approval, marked by two meetings as follows:

  • An initial “Research Consultation Meeting” must convene in the fall semester of the third year, to discuss an approximately ten-page statement from the student, which, as appropriate, may either present a potential research question for the dissertation, or set forth alternative possible research questions for consideration and development. The student may consult the director of graduate studies to identify three or four appropriate faculty consultants, if these are not readily apparent.
  • Involving the same three or four faculty or a different set where appropriate, the second “Prospectus Evaluation Meeting” will convene to discuss and approve the student’s written dissertation prospectus. These faculty members are chosen by the student with the approval of the director of graduate studies. The evaluation meeting will preferably be held in the spring semester of the third year and in no instance later than October 1 of the fourth year. Whenever this meeting is held, there may be a one month follow-up period for final changes in the prospectus. To be in good standing, therefore, all students must have an approved prospectus, with the dissertation title and name(s) of the advisor(s) registered with the director of graduate studies, by no later than early November of the fourth year.

By May 15 of each year, each student must submit a progress report, approved by his or her major faculty advisor, to the director of graduate studies.

If these conditions are not met, the student will be classified “not in good standing” by the Graduate School and the department and will become ineligible for a teaching fellowship, other financial aid, or employment within the University. After completing these requirements, the student may petition the department to be reinstated “in good standing.”

Dissertation and Final Examination

Dissertation — A student is required to demonstrate ability to perform original research in political science by writing a dissertation that makes a significant contribution to knowledge in the field. The requirement may also be fulfilled, with approval of the dissertation committee, by a dissertation in the form of three publishable papers by approval of the dissertation committee. Dissertations must be approved by three committee members, two of whom must be members of the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The chair must be a member of the government department. Any member of the committee who is not a member of the department must be approved by the DGS. Before a student can defend, the dissertation committee must have received a copy of the dissertation and agree that it is ready to be defended. The final copies of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in The Form of the PhD Dissertation

Special Examination — After the dissertation has been approved, and after all other degree requirements have been met, a student will take the “special” oral examination or defense. This examination is focused on the dissertation and on the relevant special field, which is ordinarily one of the fields which the student presented in the general examination, or an approved portion of that field. At the defense a student will be expected to show such mastery of the special field, and such an acquaintance with the literature, general and special, bearing on it, as needed to qualify to give instruction to mature students. The defense of the dissertation is open to the faculty of the department. Unless the candidate prefers a closed defense, the defense of the dissertation will also be open to graduate students in the department. Questions of the candidate will be asked initially by committee members. Others in attendance may then ask questions as long as the defense does not exceed two hours in length. The dissertation defense is announced to faculty and students and a one-page abstract is circulated to the faculty in advance of the defense.

Students who defend their dissertation later than six years after taking the General Examination must retake the focus field of the General Examination. Students who defend their dissertations more than eight years after taking the General Examination must retake two fields of the General Examination. 

Depositing Dissertation Data — Students are required to make available to the Harvard-MIT Data Center all of the quantitative data that they have compiled in machine-readable form (together with accompanying explanatory materials) upon which the findings in their dissertations depend. These data will be made available to other users five years after receipt of PhD or sooner, if the PhD recipient permits.

The DGS will consider petitions for exemption from or modifications of this requirement, if reasonable extenuating circumstances are given.


As stated in the introductory paragraphs of this announcement, the graduate program of the Department of Government is designed for students preparing for the PhD. Those seeking to enroll for the AM degree only will not be admitted. Active PhD candidates who wish to be awarded an AM in the course of their work towards the PhD must meet all the requirements for the PhD except the dissertation and the special examination.

Students who have met all the requirements for the PhD except the General Examination, the dissertation, and the special examination may also receive the master of arts in political science provided they state in writing that they shall not pursue the PhD degree any further. This option is available only within the thirty months after first matriculation.

Degrees are conferred three times during the academic year: in November, March, and at Commencement in May. Relevant due dates for degree application are published annually in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Handbook.

Related Joint Degree Program: Government and Social Policy

The Department of Government also offers a joint degree with social scientists in the Kennedy School of Government: the PhD in Government and Social Policy. This program is particularly suitable for students who wish to combine theoretical and methodological expertise in political science with policy training in such fields as urban poverty, inequality, segregation, and labor market studies. Details may be obtained by referring to the entry on PhD Programs in Social Policy in this publication.

Students interested primarily in training for public service, and in a master’s program in public administration for this purpose, should contact Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Appendix: Facilities, Curriculum, Major Fields of Study

The Department of Government Faculty

Timothy J. Colton, Morris and Anna Feldberg Professor of Government and Russian Studies (Chair)

James E. Alt, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government

Stephen Daniel Ansolabehere, Professor of Government

Muhammet Ali Bas, Associate Professor of Government

Robert H. Bates, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies

Eric Beerbohm, Frederick S. Danziger Associate Professor of Government and of Social Studies

Matthew Blackwell, Assistant Professor of Government

Daniel P. Carpenter, Allie S. Freed Professor of Government

Jorge I. Domínguez, Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico

Grzegorz Ekiert, Professor of Government

Ryan Enos, Assistant Professor of Government

Michael Frazer, Associate Professor of Government and of Social Studies

Jeffry Frieden, Stanfield Professor of International Peace

Claudine Gay, Professor of Government and of African and African American Studies (Director of Graduate Studies)

Peter A. Hall, Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies

Michael J. Hiscox, Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs

Jennifer L. Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government and Professor of African and African American Studies, Harvard College Professor

Stanley Hoffmann, Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor

Torben Iversen, Harold Hitchings Burbank Professor of Political Economy

Alastair Iain Johnston, Governor James Albert Noe and Linda Noe Laine Professor of China in World Affairs

Joshua D. Kertzer, Assistant Professor of Government

Gary King, Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor

Horacio Larreguy, Assistant Professor of Government

Steven R. Levitsky, Professor of Government

Roderick Macfarquhar, Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science, Emeritus

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government

Gwyneth McClendon, Assistant Professor of Government

Eric M. Nelson, Professor of Government

Elizabeth J. Perry, Henry Rosovsky Professor of Government

Paul E. Peterson, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government

Susan J. Pharr, Edwin O. Reischauer Professor of Japanese Politics

Robert D. Putnam, Peter and Isabel Malkin Professor of Public Policy

James Robinson, David Florence Professor of Government

Michael E. Rosen, Professor of Government

Stephen P. Rosen, Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs

Nancy Lipton Rosenblum, Senator Joseph S Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government

Michael J. Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government

Kenneth A. Shepsle, George D. Markham Professor of Government

Beth A. Simmons, Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs

Theda Skocpol, Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology

Daniel M. Smith, Assistant Professor of Government

James M. Snyder, Leroy B. Williams Professor of History and Political Science

Arthur P. Spirling, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences

Latanya Sweeney, Professor of Government and Technology in Residence

Dennis F. Thompson, Alfred North Whitehead Professor of Political Philosophy

Dustin Tingley, Associate Professor of Government

Richard Tuck, Frank G. Thomson Professor of Government

Cheryl Brown Welch, Senior Lecturer on Government (Director of Undergraduate Studies)

Daniel F. Ziblatt, Professor of Government

Faculty Directory