Ph.D. Program Advising

The department assigns a faculty adviser to each entering student before the first semester of enrollment. These preliminary adviser assignments are based on affinities between faculty expertise and the research interests that students express during the admission process. 

Students may seek to change advisers at any time for any reason by completing the Change of Adviser form and submitting it, with the new adviser’s approval, to the Graduate Program Coordinator, who will update the department record. Students need not worry about offending anyone by shifting to an adviser whose interests, expertise, or advising style better suits their needs. Faculty understand that initial adviser assignments are preliminary and that student interests may change or become clearer once they enroll and gain experience in the program.

During the third year, as students complete M.Phil. requirements and transition to the dissertation stage of the Ph.D., the term used to identify the primary faculty member supervising students’ research shifts from adviser to sponsor. The change in terminology reflects the adviser's role and responsibilities in supporting the completion of the student's final academic requirement, preparing, defending, and depositing the dissertation.

At this stage, students should consult closely with at least two faculty members while developing the dissertation prospectus, which the student will defend to a faculty committee. The student will name two faculty members in the application for prospectus defense, a “First Sponsor” and a “Second Sponsor,” both of whom must approve the prospectus for submission. The first sponsor may be, but is not required to be, the same person who was the adviser in the pre-M.Phil. stage of study. If the first sponsor is different from the pre-M.Phil. adviser, students should use the adviser change form to inform the department.

The First Sponsor must be on the list of approved sponsors for the Department of Political Science. 

The application for prospectus defense also requires students to suggest four faculty members working in subfields other than their own major subfield who might serve on the prospectus defense committee. These are normally full-time political science professors and may work in any subfield other than the student’s major field. Students should consult with their sponsors about whom to list, but they are not required to ask the permission of these “other subfield” faculty members to list them. The Director of Graduate Studies will select two of these four to serve on the prospectus defense. Unlike the sponsors, these members of the prospectus committee will not necessarily advise the student during dissertation research and writing. Serving on the prospectus defense is not a commitment to continue working closely with the student’s dissertation, nor does not serving on the committee preclude anyone from working with a student in the research and writing stages. The role of the “other subfield” committee members is rather to provide outside perspective on the dissertation project.  

The role of the prospectus committee members from other subfields is not the same as the role of the outside examiners who will be named to the dissertation defense committee (see below). They are named to their respective committees at different times, for different purposes, and by different processes and authorities.

While researching and writing the dissertation, students will work most closely with the sponsors who supported the development and defense of the prospectus. The department recommends that students also consult with and obtain feedback from other members of the faculty and/or faculty in other departments, as appropriate, for expertise and advice on the project. These consultations may occur on an ad hoc basis, but many students find it helpful to consult regularly with a third faculty member in addition to the first and second sponsors. Although the official dissertation committee is not formed until the student is preparing to defend the dissertation, GSAS and the department encourage students to form advising relationships and to seek regular feedback on dissertation chapters/papers from three or more faculty members.

As in the early years of study, students may change sponsors at any point. To do so, students should simply discuss the shift with the new sponsor and complete and submit the adviser change form. (Even though at the dissertation stage the adviser is called the sponsor, the same form is used to record the primary faculty member who is advising the student’s academic work.)

As students near completion of the dissertation, their sponsors will discuss with them the formation of a dissertation defense committee consisting of five faculty members. Three of the five must be “inside examiners,” that is, faculty “holding a formal appointment or approved as a dissertation sponsor in the doctoral candidate's home department or program.” At least one, and preferably two, members must be “outside examiners,” that is, faculty appointed in a department other than political science, OR faculty (whether political scientists or not) appointed outside the Arts & Sciences division (e.g., at Barnard, at SIPA if not also appointed in the Department of Political Science, Columbia Law School, Columbia Business School, Jewish Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, or another university).

The members of the defense committee can be, but need not be, faculty with whom the student has consulted while working on the dissertation.  

Students should not be put in the position of approaching faculty members about serving on their committee. This is the responsibility of the sponsor. 

More information on the entire dissertation process and GSAS rules and guidelines for the dissertation and defense can be found here.