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Political Economy and Government

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The First Two Years

Students select either the economics track or the political science track when applying to the PEG program. Once a student is admitted, the track may not be changed. All students must successfully complete the required coursework in the first three years of study. Credit for coursework done elsewhere is not given.

There is no language requirement.

Requirements for Economics Track

Required courses, including:

  • Microeconomic theory (Economics 2010a, 2010b)
  • Macroeconomic theory (Economics 2010c, 2010d)
  • Econometrics (Economics 2120 and Economics 2140)
  • Four courses in government, including two in the same major field of political science
  • Two courses in a major field of economics
  • Doctoral Research Seminar

Requirements for Political Science Track

Required courses, including:

  • Microeconomic theory (Economics 2020a, 2020b)
  • Macroeconomic theory (Economics 2010c)
  • Econometrics (Government 2001 or a more advanced course)
  • Two courses in Formal Political Theory, or two approved courses in Political Economy
  • Two courses in a major field of political science
  • Two courses in a major field of economics
  • A field seminar course in government
  • Doctoral Research Seminar


In order to convert an Incomplete to a letter grade, the student must complete the requisite coursework by the end of the term following that in which the course was taken. The student must petition the Graduate School for an extension if the work has not been completed in this period. No grade of Incomplete can be used to satisfy any departmental requirements.

The (Non-Terminal) Master of Arts Degree

Students must complete eleven courses, including the courses outlined above in the appropriate track. Students must also have completed the general oral examination.


Teaching is not required. A maximum of sixteen term-fifths over a period of five years is permitted. Students are encouraged to limit their teaching to two-fifths TIME during the first two years. During the third year, a combination of teaching and research, not to exceed three-fifths TIME, is recommended.

Other Requirements

Oral General Examination

Students in both tracks will be tested in their mastery of economics and political science. The exam consists of three parts:

i)     Examination in an approved field of economics.

ii)    Examination in an approved field of political science.

iii)   Examination in general analytical and research abilities, based in part on a research paper prepared by the student.

Parts ii) and iii) consist of a 60 minute oral exam, with about half of the examination devoted to each part. Students in both tracks complete an oral examination on parts ii and iii.

All coursework and the research paper must be completed in advance of the general exam. Students are expected to sit for the oral exam at the beginning of their third year.

In choosing examiners, students must submit four faculty names to the Program Director. Of the four, there must be one economist, one political scientist, and one person from HKS. The Program Chair will choose three of the four faculty as examiners for the Orals Committee. One examiner will focus on the submitted research paper, but questions may range beyond the substance and methodology of the paper itself.

Research Seminar

In the third year of study, all students must take a full-year seminar in research methodology. This can be the API 902 seminar offered at the HKS, or two approved seminars taught in the government or economics department. By the end of these courses, a dissertation prospectus must be presented orally. In addition, the prospectus must be approved by two faculty advisors who have been chosen by the student to sit on the dissertation committee. A copy of the prospectus, with written approval from the two advisors, is submitted to the program office by December of the fourth year.


First Two Years

Students are assigned an advisor, taking into account each student’s stated research interests at the time of admission. If the research focus changes, students are encouraged to seek out new advisors on their own; however, the director of graduate studies will intervene as needed to facilitate new links to different faculty.

The major effort expended in the first two years is on coursework. By the end of the second year, students are encouraged to affiliate with a research center at the University. Research assistantships and, in some cases, teaching fellowships often lead to a close relationship with a faculty member that will develop into an official advisor/advisee role.

Third Year

The main accomplishments of the third year are 1) completion of all remaining course requirements; 2) selection of two dissertation committee members; 3) and completion of the third-year oral examination by the beginning of the third year.

Fourth Year

By December of the fourth year, all students must have completed the dissertation prospectus and scheduled a presentation date with two dissertation committee advisors. A prospectus is not “approved” until the two advisors have agreed that the chapter (or paper) presented orally, are satisfactory. A student who is writing a three-paper dissertation must also present an executive summary linking all three proposed papers. Students are encouraged to add a third faculty advisor after the prospectus has been accepted, thereby completing the dissertation committee. These three advisors must come from within Harvard and must include a member of the PhD committee, a HKS-appointed faculty member, and a Harvard Griffin GSAS-appointed faculty member. No readers are assigned by the PhD committee unless one of these affiliations is not met.


The candidate is required to demonstrate their ability to perform original research in political economy by writing a dissertation that represents a significant contribution to knowledge in that field. Three faculty members supervise the writing of the dissertation. One member of the committee must come from the HKS; the other two must come from Harvard Griffin GSAS.

Note: Members of the Committee on Higher Degrees in Political Economy and Government may represent the Harvard Griffin GSAS at a dissertation defense. Each year following completion of the oral examination, the student must show satisfactory progress on the dissertation by completing one chapter and submitting it for approval by the dissertation committee. Evidence of satisfactory progress may also include manuscripts submitted for publication, or abstracts of papers delivered at professional meetings, or other evidence as specified by the dissertation committee chair.

A dissertation may be written in chapters, or it may take the form of three publishable papers. Permission to include one co-authored paper (at maximum) may be granted only by the chair of the PhD committees.

Details on the format of the PhD dissertation are published in Policies

Dissertation Defense

After the candidate has met all other degree requirements, they must pass an oral examination focused on the dissertation. This examination is given after the entire dissertation has been completed in a final draft, but before the dissertation is formally presented for acceptance. Dissertation examiners will normally include the three supervisors to the dissertation. However, if a member of the Harvard Griffin GSAS cannot be present, a member of the Committee on Higher Degrees (CHD) in Political Economy and Government will represent the Harvard Griffin GSAS at the defense. The purpose of this examination is to assure the committee that the methodology and basic approach of the dissertation are sound and that the student has received critical advice at the most appropriate stage of their advanced research. The dissertation must be accepted before the formal application for the degree can be activated.

Note: The dissertation defense is open to the public.

Length of Time to Degree

Average time to completion of the PhD is five years. Except by special vote of the committee, all work for the PhD degree must be completed within five years of completion of the general oral examinations.


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