Political Science

Graduate Program at a Glance

Learn more about the program requirements and courses in the Political Science graduate program.

Coursework Phase

American Politics, Comparative Politics, and IR primary subfielders in the first year must successfully complete the Research Methods (POLS2000) and Quantitative Research Methods (POLS2580) requirements. If you enter the program with advanced quantitative training, you may petition the DGS to satisfy the statistics requirement with an advanced statistics class.

Political Theory primary subfielders must successfully complete either Research Methods (POLS2000) or the Quantitative Research Methods (POLS2580) to fulfill the methods requirement. You must also take the Theory Proseminar II (POLS2360) as soon as it is offered. 

During the first two years, students must take two of the four pro-seminars (American Politics, Comparative Politics, Political Theory, or International Relations.) These courses are designed to provide a broad knowledge of contemporary political science by subfield, and they are an integral part of preparation for the preliminary examinations. Since pro-seminars are usually offered every other year students should take the pro-seminars as soon as they are offered. All graduate students are also required to take one graduate-level course in political theory.

Anyone planning to take the IR prelim, it is strongly recommended that you take electives in security studies and IPE.

Students in their second year are required to register for six courses. Students holding TAships in their second year are required by the Graduate School to register for no more than three courses per semester. 

Students must complete twelve courses before taking preliminary exams. Also, students must successfully complete a minimum of two courses including the appropriate proseminar in those subfields the student is taking preliminary exams in.

Students in their third year are required to register for POLS2050 (fall) and POLS2051(spring), a year long prospectus writing seminar worth one course credit. This course commences after students pass preliminary exams. Students will receive credit for this course only when they have successfully defended their prospectus, which in most cases will be at the end of their third year. Students who do not defend a prospectus by the end of the third year will receive a grade of incomplete until the prospectus has been defended. In such cases, the student will be asked to propose an alternative date for the defense with the full support of his/her dissertation committee, to be approved by the DGS. Students holding TAships in their third year are required by the Graduate School to register for no more than three courses per semester, if students choose to avail themselves of the option to take more courses.   

To round out your course requirements, you may choose from among a variety of research seminars at the 2000 level. In consultation with individual faculty members, you may set up an independent reading/research graduate course (POLS2980) for credit. A complete list of graduate seminars is available on courses.brown.edu.

Students are required to achieve a minimum grade of B in each course in order to receive full department credit, however, grades of A are expected for the majority of coursework. Sub-par grade performance (less than a B) may be grounds for termination in the program. 

Students in their fourth year or above must register for POLS2990 every semester. This is a not for credit course and indicates active enrollment while preparing a thesis.

If you were admitted to the Ph.D. program at Brown without a Master's degree in political science, you will be awarded the A.M. degree upon completion of eight courses with a grade of B or better. If you were admitted to the Ph.D. program with a Master's in political science from another university, you will not receive a second Master's degree from Brown on your way to the doctorate.


Ph.D. students in the subfields of American politics, comparative politics, and international relations are required to take POLS 2000 or POLS 2400 AND POLS 2580 (the first in the graduate quantitative methods sequence) AND one graduate course in political theory unless your first field is political theory.

Primary field political theory students are required to take POLS 2000 OR POLS 2400 OR POLS 2580. Students should follow the advice of their faculty advisors to gain any additional methods skills they may need, which may call for them to do more than the required courses.

To support these requirements the department will regularly offer the following methods courses:

  1. POLS 2000 - a survey of key models of research in political science, including sessions on the philosophy of social science; causality/relationships between variables; process tracing; quantitative and qualitative methods of data analysis; experimental logic; and methods of political theory. The course will normally be co-taught by two faculty members from different subfields.
  2. Quantitative methods sequence: POLS 2580, POLS2590, POLS2605, and POLS2610
  3. Additional qualitative methods and other methods (e.g., experimental methods, methods in political theory, game theory)

Students may consider augmenting their methods training with courses outside of the department. The four most popular courses are listed below but there is an extensive list linked here. Not all courses will be offered in all years. Please check cab.brown.edu.

  • ECON 2260: Political Economy I
  • ECON 2270: Political Economy II
  • ECON 2320: Economics of Labor and Population (possibly called Applied Methods?)
  • DATA 2020: Statistical Learning

Keep in mind that graduate training is always a partnership. The faculty, through a mix of required and elective courses, puts together a program to help enable you to think, write, and scientifically and/or philosophically support your research projects. But the program here, as is the case elsewhere, presupposes that students will take responsibility for shaping and giving articulation to their own distinct research agendas and projects. And where necessary, we expect students will seek out additional intellectual pathways here at Brown or beyond.


At some point during your first two years in the program, you may find it necessary to take an incomplete in a graduate course. Please be aware that faculty generally regard incompletes as a warning sign that a student is having trouble balancing the various responsibilities and demands associated with graduate study.

An incomplete is also a mortgage on your future, with the potential to seriously undermine your ability to perform satisfactorily in the ensuing semester. Therefore, you should make every effort to avoid taking incompletes. If it becomes necessary to take an "INC", please discuss the matter with the instructor and with the DGS so that it can be explained at the annual review. 

Department deadlines for incompletes are as follows:

  • If the incomplete was taken for a course in the fall semester, coursework must be completed as indicated by a grade  on the transcript by the first day of the spring semester of that academic year. 
  • If the incomplete was taken for a course in the spring semester, coursework must be completed as indicated by a grade on the transcript by June 30th at the end of the current academic year. 

If the course is completed by the deadline, the instructor will change the INC to a grade. A course not completed by the deadline will revert to No Credit (NC) on the transcript and a make-up course will need to be taken for credit. Faculty members will enforce the new deadlines and they have the discretion to extend them in consultation with the DGS. 

No student with an incomplete shall be allowed to take a preliminary examination.

Cross-Registration at Harvard University

There are agreements in place between Brown and the Harvard University Faculty of Arts & Sciences and Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design to allow cross-registration of graduate students in courses without paying tuition to the host institution. A Brown graduate student is required to use the appropriate form in UFunds to obtain authorization from the DGS of their graduate program and a dean from the Graduate School. The Brown graduate student would then receive instructions to electronically enroll at Harvard FAS or manually at RISD. Neither Harvard nor RISD is required to offer courses in online or hybrid formats by virtue of these agreements. Students should confirm that they can participate in the course in accordance with its listed format. Once cross-registration is complete, the Registrar's Office at Brown will manually register you for POLS2450. This is what will show on your transcript. Once the course is complete, you must request that Harvard send an official transcript to Brown. 

About the Exchange Scholar Program

Transfer Credits

Doctoral students who have completed graduate coursework elsewhere may apply to transfer up to 8 tuition credits toward the tuition unit requirements for the Ph.D. You are encouraged to do this in your second semester. Complete the appropriate transfer form and return it to the Registrar's Office. As long as a copy of your old transcript is on file at the Graduate School, a new copy will not need to be provided.

Tuition units are not the same as course credits. Transferring tuition units will alleviate some of the financial burden on the Graduate School. It does not reduce the number of required 2000-level courses you must take in the Political Science Department.