Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Examination (QE) process is intended to demonstrate a student’s mastery of and engagement with a range of literatures, including a) core literatures in two of the Program’s four areas of emphasis and b) specialized literatures relevant to her/his research trajectory. It is also intended to provide a forum for the student to specify and develop her/his research question and plan for the dissertation.

A student’s preparation for the QE process begins with her or his first core seminar and continues throughout the two years of coursework. The QE process itself is completed during a student's third year. It has three components: 1) two written examinations (take-home exams or field statements); 2) the dissertation prospectus; and 3) an oral examination.

The QE timeline requires that the first of the two written exams be submitted in the Fall quarter, and that the second be submitted in the Winter quarter. The prospectus and the oral exam are to be completed during the Spring quarter. Students must complete the QE process to advance to Ph.D. candidacy by the end of their third year in the program. This timeline provides students a full year to meet the QE requirements, thus motivating completion of the dissertation in a timely and reasonable manner. It also ensures that students are well-positioned to apply for intra- and extramural funding for fieldwork and other research in the fourth and fifth years. On this schedule, students are expected to complete the degree in five to six years.

All components of the QE process are evaluated by a QE Committee composed of four faculty members, at least two of whom must be in the Politics Department. One Politics member of the committee serves as its Chair. Each student must form this QE committee, and inform the Graduate Advisor of its members, by the end of the second year. If the student fails any component of the QE process twice, she/he will not be permitted to continue in the program.

University regulations require that paperwork be submitted in order to proceed with the QE and to advance to candidacy. Timely advancement affects students’ academic standing, financial aid opportunities, and fees. Students should therefore contact the Graduate Advisor (Maya Woolfe) about the paperwork to be completed and submitted to the Graduate Division when beginning the QE process and immediately after completing the process. Satisfactory progress through the QE Process is one factor the department considers it its funding decisions (e.g., TAships, summer research monies, and fellowship nominations).


There are two options for satisfying the written exam component of the QE process: take-home exams or field statements. Each student must select one of the two options, and notify the Department of this choice, by the time of her/his second-year review. A student’s consultation with the QE committee regarding the literatures or reading lists for each exam should begin by the summer of the third year.

Both options require students to complete and submit two written exams. In the Core Literatures Exam, students must display knowledge of and the ability to develop a coherent argument that integrates two of the Politics Ph.D. program areas of emphasis (represented in the four core graduate seminars). Each student must select and declare, also in her/his second-year review, the two areas to be addressed in the exam. The exam will cover assigned materials from the appropriate core seminars as well as a supplemental, but broader, reading list of books and articles from each area.

For the Dissertation Literature Exam, the reading list is compiled by the student, in conjunction with the QE chair and at least one other person on the committee. The list should be quite general and should speak to an issue or “problematic” that the student intends to address in the dissertation project, while engaging relevant debates within a literature or literatures identified by the student in conversation with the faculty members. The student’s exam should define an empirical or theoretical issue, drawing on a broad area of inquiry such as: gender and politics, global governance, nationalism, citizenship and democracy, immigration, culture, power and politics, political economy, race and ethnicity, specific geographic areas, and comparative studies.

Each of the two written exam options has specific requirements and deadlines, as follows:

A) Take-Home Exams

Students who select this option complete two 72-hour take-home exams. The Core Literatures Exam is organized around questions presented by the QE Committee. The Dissertation Literature Exam is focused on questions determined by the student and two of the Politics Department faculty on the QE Committee. The take-home exams, unlike the field-statements, are time-based rather than length-based, and therefore have a specific time limit (72 hours) but no specific page guidelines or limits.  If a student has questions about how many pages of writing would be expected of them for their 72-hour exams, it would be appropriate for them to consult with their committee members and in particular their chair.

The Fall Quarter deadline for the Core Literatures Exam is just prior to the beginning of classes in September. If the student fails, this exam must be retaken by the following January. The Winter Quarter deadline for the Dissertation Literature Exam is the second week of Winter Quarter. If the student fails, this exam must be retaken the following April. Any student who fails an exam twice will not continue in the program.

B) Field Statements

Students who select this option complete two field statements of approximately 25 double-spaced pages (with a 7500-word maximum). A “field statement” is a paper that addresses the relevant literatures and reading lists through the development of a reasoned argument, analysis of key themes, and discussion of critiques and alternative approaches. The topic to be addressed in both the Core Literatures Field Statement and the Dissertation Literature Field Statement is determined by the student, subject to the approval of the QE Committee chair. 

The Core Literatures Field Statement is to be completed in Fall Quarter, and the Dissertation Literature Field Statement is to be completed in Winter Quarter, with deadlines as follows:

  • An abstract of 500 words, identifying the question to be addressed, and a preliminary argument, must be submitted to the Chair of the QE Committee one week before the start of the quarter, and approved by the Chair (after any necessary revisions) by the end of the first week of the quarter.
  • A complete draft of the field statement is due to the Committee by the end of the 6th week of classes. Faculty have one week to return the statement with comments.
  • The completed field statement, which addresses the QE Committee members’ comments, is due by the last day of classes. Any issues or questions not adequately addressed by the student in the written exam may be raised for further discussion by faculty in the oral exam.

The deadline for the completed field statement may be extended only in cases of major extenuating circumstances, with the prior written approval of each member of the QE Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies (or Department Chair, if the DGS serves on the QE Committee). In such cases, a new and final deadline will be set by the QE Chair and the DGS. Failure a.) to obtain advance approval to extend a deadline, or b.) to meet the revised deadline, will constitute failure of the field statement in question. Failure to submit satisfactory work within six weeks of a missed deadline will constitute a second failure of the field statement; any student who fails a field statement twice will not continue in the program.

Written exams will be evaluated by the QE Committee on the basis of the student’s 1) critical and scholarly integration of the questions into coherent essays; and 2) demonstrated familiarity with the materials on the reading lists.



The second component of the QE process is the dissertation prospectus. The prospectus is a research and writing plan that provides the members of a student’s committee an opportunity to help the student refine a question, sharpen her or his approach, identify literatures and sources of information, and minimize the risk of research duplication. It also provides a template for funding applications.

The prospectus should be approximately 15 pages and should describe:

  • The political problem the student wishes to address.
  • The specific questions she/he plans to examine.
  • The significance of the research for larger theoretical and political concerns in the study of politics, and its relation to relevant literatures.
  • The research strategy and methodology she/he intends to use.
  • The principal sources that are available.
  • The qualifications or limitations that may attend the results.
  • A proposed table of contents and a bibliography.
  • A projected timetable for completing the dissertation.

Each student will prepare the prospectus in consultation with members of the student’s Dissertation Committee. Two members of this Committee must be in the Politics Department, including the Chair, who can be the same person as the chair of the QE committee.

Every candidate for the Ph.D. must submit a dissertation prospectus by the end of her/his third year of residence at UCSC. The prospectus is to be completed Spring Quarter, with deadlines as follows:

  • A complete draft of the prospectus is due to the Committee by the end of the 3rd week of classes. Committee members have one week to return the draft with comments.
  • A revised draft is due to the Committee by the end of the 6th week of classes, or two weeks before the scheduled oral examination (whichever comes first). The revised draft will be a principal topic of discussion in the oral exam.
  • Subsequent to the exam, the prospectus will be revised as needed, on the basis of comments made in the Oral Exam.
  • The revised prospectus must be approved by the Dissertation Committee Chair and another Politics faculty member on the Dissertation Committee, and submitted along with a completed Dissertation Committee Nomination Form to the Department's Graduate Program Coordinator. These materials are due no later than the last day of Spring Quarter. 


The oral examination is the third component of the QE process. This is a meeting of the student with the four members of the QE Committee and the proposed Dissertation Chair (if she/he is not already a member of the QE Committee). The meeting runs up to three hours and consists of two principal parts.

Part One (at least one hour) entails a review of the two field statements or take-home exams. The student reviews her or his work; the Committee members raise any unresolved questions from their initial review of the written exams and may raise additional questions pertaining to the readings, particularly those relevant to the exam topics.

Part Two of the oral exam (at least one hour) focuses on the prospectus. The candidate may be asked to elaborate on:

  • The specific questions she/he plans to examine.
  • The significance of the research for larger theoretical and political concerns in the study of politics.
  • The research strategy and methodology she/he intends to use.
  • The principal sources that are available.

This part of the oral exam is an opportunity for the student and Committee to benefit from a frank scholarly exchange about the student’s proposed research project. Following the oral exam, the student will make necessary revisions to the prospectus before securing the necessary approval and filing it.