Department of Political Science

Comparative Politics at Rochester

Graduate Studies

Comparative politics is a field that develops and tests theories to explain political events and patterns across political systems, largely, but not exclusively, nation-states. It also incorporates substantive description of political phenomena relevant to such explanation. In American political science this has largely come to mean description and explanation of politics in countries outside the United States.

The field requirements in comparative politics comprehend three elements: an overview of the comparative field in general, usually gained by taking the comparative politics field seminar (PSC 550), and courses in two substantive subfields. This knowledge can be acquired through three graduate courses taken during your first two or three years of graduate study. Only if appropriate courses are not offered, will it be necessary to supplement formal courses with independent study.

Click here for a complete list of PhD requirements and here for a complete list of course offerings.

Overview of the Comparative Field

An overview of the comparative field will be presented in PSC 550, Comparative Politics Field Seminar. This course is designed to introduce some “classic works” and some recent approaches in the various subfields of comparative politics. It will also introduce various methodological approaches and issues in the comparative field, including research design and measurement of important concepts. Unless explicitly waived, this course is a prerequisite for students taking the comparative politics field examination.


Major substantive subfields in comparative politics include, but are not limited to: democratization and development; conflict and revolution; democratic political processes; comparative parties and elections; comparative political institutions; and comparative political economy. It is also possible to organize research and knowledge in comparative politics by cultural or political regions. If a graduate-level course is offered in comparative politics, it is reasonable to assume that the course syllabus comprises an acceptable basis for your preparation in a subfield. It is assumed that students will take at least three graduate comparative seminars as preparation for the comparative field. These courses are unlikely to be offered every year, so students should consult with faculty and plan their schedules accordingly.

Organization of the Field Examination

The field examination is a written examination. In principle, it may be written at any point in the year, but you are advised to discuss your plans with a relevant faculty member well ahead of time. The exam will consist of two parts, with a choice of questions for each part. Barring exceptional circumstances, students will be given eight hours to answer each part, and the parts will be administered on successive days. A strict word limit will be specified for each part. The syllabi from two of your required substantive courses (not including the Field Seminar) will be used to generate the questions for the exam. In general, the examination will be written and read by the faculty members who taught the courses used to generate the exam.

If an examination scheduled to accommodate you falls at a particularly inconvenient time for relevant faculty, this may produce delay in reading and returning the examination to you. Normally, however, examinations are read and returned within two weeks. Results are ultimately reported as "pass" or "fail." In indeterminate cases, the examining faculty may offer you the opportunity to rewrite part of the examination before a final decision is reached.