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During their first two years in-residence at Harvard, students typically complete 16 one-term courses to acquire PhD-level proficiency in macroeconomics, microeconomics, political science, and quantitative methods. They develop a deeper understanding of economic theory during this period as well as of the area – or areas – of political or social science theory that is most relevant to their dissertation research topics.
Students continue to master two substantive fields that are related to their dissertations during their third year in-residence. By December of their third year, they complete their Oral General Examination to ensure that they have achieved enough understanding of their fields to be considered experts.
By the beginning of their fourth year in-residence, students submit and defend a dissertation prospectus after which they research, write, and prepare to defend their dissertation under the guidance of their faculty committee. To be successful, dissertations must demonstrate students’ highly-skilled research abilities, and their capacity to make original and substantial contributions to the broader intellectual community.
When applying to the program, students must specify their academic track – either economics or political science – that they will focus on while in the program. They are required to stay on their declared track while working towards their doctorate, and meet the core requirements below.
Students on the economics track will need to complete 16 half-courses:
Political science track
Students on the political science track are required to complete 16 half-courses:
Students on both the economics and political science tracks are tested to see whether they have mastered their fields sufficiently to be considered experts. The Oral General Examination is held at the beginning of students’ third year, and it is comprised of three sections that examine:
For students on the economics track, the first section is a written exam that is administered and graded by faculty members at Harvard’s Department of Economics. Those on the political science track can choose either to take the written exam in economics or incorporate it in their oral examination.
The second and third sections are bundled into one 60-minute oral exam; each section is about 30 minutes. Students on the political science track who opted to incorporate the first section in their oral examination will be tested on economics for an additional 30 minutes; their oral exam will last a total of 90 minutes.
Students will need to complete their required coursework as well as their research paper ahead of the oral exam. If students are taking the written exam, they will need to complete it by the end of their second year.
Apart from the oral exam, students will also need to prepare their dissertation prospectus to present by the beginning of their fourth year.
Students typically finish researching and writing their dissertations within two years after they submit their written prospectus the beginning of their fourth year. Once students defend their dissertation successfully in a forum that is open to the public, they will be awarded their doctoral degrees by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
A complete list of PhD dissertations from 1973 to the present is available in the Political Economy and Government Dissertations Archive.