Can I focus my studies on [insert your favorite topic here] while getting my Ph.D. at WashU?
While students typically have at least a general sense of the research questions on which they would like to focus during graduate school, we encourage students to remain open minded. Your interests will almost undoubtedly evolve as you take courses, as you otherwise interact with faculty, and as your understanding of the discipline increases in depth. It is, of course, wise to focus on topics in which we have particular expertise so that we can most assuredly help you do absolutely top notch work. Please consult the Faculty Directory to see the various specialty areas our professors possess.
How does the Washington University in St. Louis Department of Political Science rank relative to other programs?
Ranking methodologies vary widely, and we think their results should be taken with a grain of salt. However, we understand the usefulness of shorthand measures comparing departments on a standard set of criteria. Even if the ranking systems are necessarily flawed, we are very proud of how the Department of Political Science at Washington University in Saint Louis fares.
Our faculty are held in high regard. The National Research Council published reputational rankings of departments based on a poll of more than 200 political scientists. A comparison of "Faculty Quality Ratings" controlling for size and faculty rank (% full professors) placed our department 4th (Katz and Eagles 1996). In a recent worldwide comparison of departments based on their publication productivity, controlling for the size of the department WashU ranked 14th in the world based on the impact of the published work of our faculty (Hix 2004). In 2009 the U.S. News and World Report rankings (which do not control for department size) ranked us 13th overall, and our methodology subfield was singled out as a top 10 program.
In many respects, our graduates are held in even higher regard than our faculty! "Effectiveness Ratings" controlling for size and faculty rank (% full professors) placed WashU 2nd (Katz and Eagle 1996). Controlling for the number of Ph.D. students produced, a study based on the productivity of programs' graduates (measured as publication in the field's top journals) ranked WashU in the top 10 (McCormick and Rice 2001). Even when one does not control for the relatively small size of our program and the personal attention that goes along with it, our graduates made us the 12th ranked department in terms of publications in the discipline's flagship journal, The American Political Science Review (Miller, Tien, and Peebler 1996).
Who provides the financial support for graduate Students?
Unlike the programs in other countries, financial support is not tied to a specific professor or research project. Students come in with full funding from the Graduate School, which allows students to only take classes the first year of study. During the following years, students are teaching assistants in the department, often rotating between different faculty members across semesters.
At what level are students typically funded, and do students compete for funding?
As long as you are making satisfactory performance in the program, the Graduate School maintains a policy of funding students (that is, providing tuition remission and a fellowship) for at least four years - often longer. Students receive a fellowship during their first year of study. For the next three years or so, they are appointed as assistants (with a work obligation of about 16 hours per week).
In their final year of study, students typically go back on fellowship while they write their dissertations. The current remuneration for fellowships and assistantships is approximately $20,400 (+ $3,000 for summer projects - see below). Fellowships and assistantships include tuition waivers and health benefits.
Students can also apply for University fellowships such as the Chancellor's Graduate Fellowship and the Olin Fellowships during the Ph.D. program application process. (Please see the Fellowship website for details on deadlines and requirements.)
Do I serve as a teaching or research assistant every year I receive funding?
No. First-year students do not serve as teaching assistants (T.A.s); the department feels that you should concentrate exclusively on your course work. Between your first year and the year that you go on the job market, you serve as a T.A. or research assistant (R.A.). Assistants work for a particular faculty member for up to 16 hours per week. During the year before you go on the market, you normally receive a dissertation fellowship (as in your first year, without assistantship obligation).
Do you provide students with summer support?
Yes. First, the Dean of the Graduate school typically approves summer research stipends for students who have a project or activity that has met with department approval. Stipends for summer projects are approximately $3,000. Second, we can provide some support for you to attend programs associated with your research needs, such as intensive language and statistical/mathematical programs. Third, professors with research grants often hire students to work as research assistants during the summer. Fourth, many students teach in our Summer School program to earn extra money and to gain classroom experience. (For more on teaching, see below). Finally, there are a number of interdisciplinary programs at Washington University that run summer programs of interest to our graduate students, and participation in these programs often includes financial support. Among these are programs in American Cultural Studies; the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences; the Center on Political Economy; the Weidenbaum Center for the Study of Government, the Economy, and Public Policy; the Center for Global Legal Studies; as well as programs in Women's Studies, African-American Studies, and International Studies. Finally, the Dean of the Graduate School typically approves summer research stipends for students who have a project or activity that has met with department approval.
Do you provide support for graduate students to attend professional conferences?
Yes. The amount of money varies from year to year, but many of our students attend two meetings annually.
In what other ways can students earn money?
There are four. First, as noted above, professors often hire students to work as research assistants during the school year and the summer. Second, many students teach in our Summer School program and, during the academic year, in Washington University's night school (University College). Third, the department has a limited amount of money to help graduate students offset the costs of research associated with dissertation expenses. In the past, we have used this money to send students abroad, print mail surveys, and so forth. Finally, many advanced graduate students apply for outside funding for help with their dissertation research. Faculty members are quite willing to assist you in preparing a grant application.
Are there a lot of required courses?
In general, all students must successfully complete - with a grad of B or better - the following core courses:
- Math Camp: August before 1st semester
- Mathematical Modeling in Political Science (5052): 1st semester
- Research Design (540): 1st semester
- Quantitative Methods I (581): 2nd semester
- Game Theory (505): 2nd semester
- Quantitative Methods II (582): 3rd semester
- Research Workshop I and II (TBD): a year-long course taken in student's 5th and 6th semesters
In addition to required courses, students will be taking courses in different fields. Coursework is mainly concentrated in the first two years. Students should plan to take 4 courses per semester in their first year and 3 courses per semester in the their second year.
Where can I find the department's course listings?
You can find a complete listing of the department's course offerings here. This page lists course offerings for current and upcoming semesters, as well as a detailed history of courses taught.
Do students take courses during all their years in graduate school?
No. First-year students take four courses per semester. Second and third-year students typically take three courses. After the third year, most students sign up for independent research with their dissertation advisor(s) or with a professor who specializes in an area of particular interest to them.
Do students take courses in other departments?
Yes, with approval from the Director of Graduate Studies. Depending on your specific areas of concentration, you may take courses offered in the Economics and Anthropology Departments and in the Schools of Business and Law-to name just a few. Indeed, we believe that one of the great strengths of Washington University is the freedom that you have to pursue a wide-range of theoretical, substantive, and technical interests beyond the bounds of particular departments.
Do students get an opportunity to teach their own courses?
There are three opportunities for graduate students to gain teaching experience. First, you can teach undergraduate courses during the summer. Second, you can teach undergraduate courses in our night program. Finally, virtually all of our students will serve as teaching assistant (at least once) for a big introductory course, and as part of this experience, you may lead a weekly discussion session. In sum, all of our graduate students go out on the job market with at least one course prepared and ready to teach.
How do comprehensive examinations work in your department?
You take a written comprehensive exam covering all required courses (including math camp, math modeling, research design, quantitative methods 1 and 2, and game theory). This exam takes place in January before the start of the students' 4th semester.
How long does it take students in your program to earn the Ph.D.?
It varies by field. Most students go out on the job market in the Fall of their fifth year and complete the dissertation by the Summer of that year (a month or two before you start your job). The exceptions here are students in Comparative Politics. It typically takes them about a year longer to complete their degrees (6 years instead of 5) because they may need to spend time learning a language and/or conducting field work. In almost all instances, we are able to support these students through the sixth year.
These are average figures. Of course, there are always exceptions - the students who are able to go out on the market at the start of their fourth year and those who are still in residence in their seventh. How you will fare is largely up to you.
Why is placement so good?
There is probably no one factor that explains our success. Rather, it is a combination of some of the following:
- Strong alumni network. Since virtually all of our students go into academics, we have alumni all over the country-and at a wide range of institutions, from the top private schools to the major state universities to small liberal arts colleges. Our alumni are a dedicated lot and have been quite helpful with placement. For one thing, because they know just how well we train students, they do not require a lot of convincing to recommend our people for positions. For another, because our alumni have done well themselves, their departments don't need a lot of convincing either. Along these lines, Rice is a good example. The department there hired one of our Ph.D.'s six years ago. At least in part because of its satisfaction with his performance, the department interviewed (and made offers to) two other students in subsequent years.
- The sort of students we train. We have a reputation for producing "complete" scholars-those with excellent theoretical and methodological skills but who are motivated to answer interesting substantive questions. Since these are the very same qualities that many departments desire in their candidates, we often receive inquiries about our students in advance of formal searches.
- Socialization. Whether related to the small size of our program or the dedication of our faculty, we have a reputation for well socializing our students into the norms of the discipline. By the time our students go on the job market, they have attended many conventions, presented at least one conference paper, worked on NSF-sponsored projects, and, in many cases, published an article or a book chapter. We also put them through rigorous "practice job talks" before they go on interviews.
- Visible faculty. Virtually all members of our faculty, from the most junior to the most senior, are active professionals: They attend meetings and they publish. The work of many faculty transcends subfields within political science, as well as conventional disciplinary boundaries. Nevertheless, we can safely say we are home to some of the most prominent scholars in their respective fields. See our list of faculty and their interest.
How have your students fared on the market?
They have done extraordinarily well. Our students get interviews at schools all over the country including in recent years, Harvard, University of Chicago, UCLA, Northwestern, Rice, Caltech, and others. More important, we place about 90 percent of our students and we place most of them in tenure-track positions.
Consider our recent track record: Since 1998, the department has awarded 37 doctorates. 31 of those students landed tenure-track jobs. The list of schools includes: Bates, Denison, Florida State, Harvard University, Iowa State, Midwestern State, Milliken, Notre Dame, Portland University, Princeton University, Rhodes, San Diego State, St. Louis University, Texas A&M, University of Georgia, University of Kansas, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, University of Pittsburgh, University of Southern Illinois, University of Southern California, University of Southern Maine, West Point, and Wright State University. More information on our retention and placement can be found here.
The short and long of it is this: While we cannot guarantee that you will get an academic job (no program can!), we can say that our placement record is one of the best in the country.