Program Requirements

The PhD program in political economy is structured to provide accelerated and intensive training in formal theory and empirical methods for causal inference alongside substantive training in political science. Students who satisfy the following program requirements graduate with a PhD in political economy.

Core coursework

Students are required to take (normally in the first year):

  • Formal Political Theory I, II, and III. This sequence provides training akin to graduate microeconomics, but with a focus on topics and methods of particular importance to scholars of political economy.
  • Applied Econometrics I, II, and III. This sequence, which is shared with the Harris School Ph.D. program in public policy, provides training in statistical methods and tools of causal inference.

They are also required to take (normally in the second year):

  • Political Economy I (Formal Models of Politics), Political Economy II (Theory and Empirics in Political Economy), and Political Economy III (Advanced Topics in Political Economy). This sequence builds upon tools learned in the first year of the program.

Elective coursework

Students must also take at least eight elective PhD-level courses. In consultation with their advisor, students may choose courses from Political Science, the Harris School, or elsewhere in the University.

As part of their elective coursework, students must complete a field-seminar sequence in Political Science (one or two courses, depending on the field) in American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory. If no field seminar is offered for the student’s chosen field, the student may take one or more alternative courses, to be approved by the program director in consultation with the student’s advisor and relevant faculty in Political Science.

Research Paper

By the end of their second year in the program, students must complete a research paper that uses formal theory and/or empirical methods of causal inference in a sophisticated way to answer an important question about politics. This paper may be coauthored with other graduate students but not with faculty. The paper is read by two affiliated faculty, who evaluate the manuscript as if it were a journal submission. Following receipt of faculty comments, students revise and resubmit their paper, for review by the same affiliated faculty.

Comprehensive Exams

Students must pass comprehensive exams in three areas: formal theory, econometrics, and a substantive subfield of political science (American politics, comparative politics, international relations, or political theory).

The comprehensive exams in formal theory and econometrics are written exams, to be administered the summer after the first year. Students who received an average grade of B+ or better in the first-year sequence in formal political theory are exempt from the comprehensive exam in formal theory; students who received an average grade of B+ or better in the first-year sequence in applied econometrics are exempt from the comprehensive exam in econometrics.

The substantive subfield exam is a two-hour oral exam, to be administered by two faculty, at least one of whom must be an affiliate of the program. This exam must be taken no later than the end of the second year.

Substituting prior coursework for program requirements

In limited circumstances, and with the approval of the program director, students with prior graduate training may replace one or more required courses with an equal number of elective courses. Students who have completed the equivalent of either of the first-year core sequences at some other university can petition to take the comprehensive exam in that area upon entry into the program. Performance on the exam equivalent to a grade of A- or better allows for elective coursework to be taken in place of the core sequence.

Requirements for progression beyond the second year

To progress beyond the second year, students must

  • Receive a passing grade in all core courses and eight electives, as specified above; two of the elective courses, but not the field-seminar sequence in Political Science, can be taken pass/fail
  • Receive a B+ or better in each of the core second-year courses in political economy
  • Receive approval of the research paper
  • Receive a passing grade or grade-based exemption on all three comprehensive exams

Coursework beyond the second year is optional but encouraged if important for a student’s research.

Mentored Teaching Experience

Students in the program serve as a teaching assistant, core intern, core lecturer, or lead instructor in at least three courses. Teaching outside of Political Science or the Harris School must be approved by the program director. Under typical circumstances, students do not teach until their third year in the program.


Under the supervision of a dissertation committee, students prepare a dissertation proposal during their third year. The committee must comprise at least three University faculty. At least two committee members, including the chair, must be affiliates of the program. The proposal must be defended no later than the end of the Autumn quarter of the fourth year in the program.

Defense of the completed dissertation takes place before the dissertation committee. Under typical circumstances, this occurs by the end of the fifth year in the program. Students may request an additional year to complete a dissertation project, should the nature of the student’s research require it (e.g., because the project requires extensive fieldwork). Any such request must be approved by the program director, in consultation with the student’s advisor. No extensions are provided beyond the sixth year.

Measuring Progress

Continued enrollment in the program requires students to make satisfactory academic progress. The program reviews student progress annually, and will communicate deficiencies to the student, along with a timeline for completing the deficiencies, and the consequences resulting from failure to do so.

Students with questions about program requirements and milestones should contact Marcy Krause ( Program Administrator. Students may also contact Brett Baker (, Associate Dean of Students in the Social Sciences, and Amanda Young (, Director, Graduate Student Affairs in UChicagoGRAD.