Department of Political Science

Frequently Asked Questions

Click on each question to view the answer.

Where is the joint AU-AUM program administered?
Currently, administration of the Ph.D. Program alternates between campuses every three years. During 2009-2012 the AU campus is the administrative home to the program.  For further questions on administration of the Ph.D. program, please contact Ms. Arnita France at (334) 844-6153 or 844-5370 or email her at  Ms. France will be glad to help you with the admissions process or enrollment issues.  For more detailed questions about the PhD program itself, please feel free to contact the current PhD Director, Dr. Mitchell Brown by email at
Do I have to take the GRE? Can I substitute another exam?
All prospective students must submit a GRE score from the last 5 years. No other exam is appropriate. If a student does not have an up-to-date score (i.e. took the exam more than 5 years ago), it may be possible to use an official letter from a previous school where the GRE score is recorded. If this is your situation, please check with the PhD Director to determine if this is appropriate.
What is the typical courseload?
  • Students typically take 2-3 courses per semester
  • The maximum course load per semester is 12 hours (4 courses)
  • The typical total course load is 5 core courses, 3 track courses, 5 elective courses, and 10 hours of dissertation credit.
Can I transfer classes from previous graduate programs?
With the approval of the Ph.D. Director and the Committee, once one is formed, a student may transfer up to two courses from other universities. This is done when significant course work overlaps for an elective class, or a student has more than 1 MA level degree. However, track courses cannot be transferred.
What do I need to become an Alabama resident?
For information regarding Alabama residency please visit the Office of the Registrar's website.
At which campus should I enroll in my courses?
Core and track courses are offered either at the AU or AUM campus, depending on which professor is teaching the course that term.  For electives, students may take courses at either campus, including courses in different departments if the student’s advisor agrees. Every effort is made to facilitate the logistics involved in a joint program operating on two campuses. However, students should be aware that the start times for courses at AU and AUM are often different. Consult the respective school calendars before registering (AU calendar; AUM calendar).
What time of day are the courses offered?
All of the core and track courses are offered at 4 p.m. or later. Many electives are also at night, but some are available during the regular school day as well. A few electives may be offered as weekend courses at the AUM site.
What is an Advisory committee (AC)?
Advisory committee (AC): formed in the first three semesters of the program to advise and oversee the plan of study and to interact with students about their coursework. May be the same members as the dissertation committee, but changes are allowed. The CAC should be formed within three semesters of starting.
What is a Dissertation Chair and Committee?

Dissertation Chair and Committee: formed later in the coursework to assist doctoral students in preparing prospectus, dissertation and a viable defense. The Committee is chaired by the student’s advisor (“major professor or chair”) who serves to review and comment on the dissertation chapters as they are written. The Chair works most closely with the student and therefore must be chosen carefully. Students are encouraged to get to know the faculty before making their Committee choices.

A few helpful tips:

  • The Dissertation Committee must be formed in advance of the general comprehensive exams.
  • The Dissertation Committee is composed of at least four members including the Chair.
  • The Chair and at least one other member must be Level-Two members of the Graduate Faculty.
  • At least one member of the Committee must be from AU and one from AUM.
  • Adjunct Faculty are sometimes approved for dissertation committees if they have graduate teaching status. If previously approved for another student, the approval continues in effect. For other adjuncts, faculty from other universities, or other unusual cases, students and their chair must submit their request and their CV to the Associate Dean and Graduate School for approval.
What are the research forums?
Research forums are offered throughout the year to provide students with refreshers in methodology and assist in ‘writer’s blocks’ and other challenges of dissertation completion. Multiple opportunities exist as well for students to present their emerging research and to discuss it with peers and faculty. A social support system is also maintained and encouraged.
What are the comprehensive exams?

The comprehensive exams are taken at end of coursework. The exams are offered once a semester in the Fall and Spring (place and time to be announced). Each student will take three written exams: a core exam, a track exam, and a specialty exam.

Comprehensive Exams Details:

  • The core exams are the same for all students.
  • There are two track exams: one for public policy and one for public administration. The student will choose what track to take.
  • The exams are open-notes (but closed book). Notes are limited to five one-sided double spaced pages.
  • The specialty exam is tailored to each student’s interests and expertise based on elective classes the student has taken.
  • The exams are taken in a secure computer lab at the same time on both campuses.
  • The exam questions are written by members of the graduate faculty in both departments (AU and AUM) and coordinated through the Ph.D. Director and the Ph.D. administrators.
  • 3 professors from the core or track grade the exam.
  • Faculty will provide a core reading list, which each student will supplement, for each field and track. The core reading lists go beyond course material.
  • A student who fails one or two parts of the exam may retake those sections the following term, but only once. If a student fails all three parts, the chair and student will jointly revisit the question of whether this program is the best fit for the student.
  • A student failing the exam more than once will not be allowed to continue the program.
  • Passing exams is a prerequisite to starting the dissertation. Graduate School approval is not needed before taking the exams.
What are the Oral exams?

Following the comprehensive exams, each student will write a dissertation prospectus and defend it during the oral exam. The oral exam is taken before the student’s committee and any interested faculty members.

Oral Exams Details:

  • Scheduled shortly after the comprehensives have been passed.
  • Students must get permission from the Auburn Graduate School at least ten days in advance.
  • Students must be enrolled for at least one credit hour in the semester the oral exam is taken.
  • Students defending their proposal should adhere to a standard form for the Prospectus available through the website.
  • The AC must unanimously pass the student on the oral exam. If a student fails, a reexamination may be given with the approval of the Graduate Dean, but additional reexaminations require exceptional circumstances and approval of the Graduate Council.
What happens after I pass both my comprehensive and oral exams?

Students will work on their dissertation after passing their written and oral preliminary exams must register for at least one credit hour every semester for a total of 10 credits. The dissertation/research courses are GS8990 at AU and PUAD7992 at AUM.

Dissertation Proposal: Students should submit a dissertation proposal to their committee well in advance of beginning to write a dissertation. The proposal is the topic for the oral exam (below) and is an important element of the Ph.D. process. Having a clearly stated proposal, one approved by the advisory committee and in proper format, can greatly facilitate the process and reduce the amount of rewrites as the Dissertation Committee reviews the chapters.

At least one complete semester must intervene between the Oral Exam and the Final Defense. The two exams cannot be taken in the same term or consecutive terms. The student must be registered for at least one hour of dissertation in the semester the Oral Exam and the Final Defense is taken.

What else do I need to graduate?
  • Dissertation Committee approves a Draft.
  • Draft sent to Graduate School who appoints an Outside Reader who must approve the draft before scheduled the Defense. The student’s Chair may request the appointment of the Outside Reader at any time (rather than waiting until the draft).
  • The Defense is administered by the Dissertation Committee and the Outside Reader.
  • Students must file a request for approval to hold the Defense (final examination) with the Graduate School at least one week in advance – allowing at least ten days, however, is a good rule of thumb.
  • Committee approval must be unanimous.
  • Procedures for reexamination are the same as those for the Oral Exam.
  • Students should request a Graduate Check from the Graduate School no later than the last day of the semester prior to the semester of graduation.
A few helpful hints:
  • Students requiring transcripts from both campuses must request separate transcripts from each campus.
  • To be listed in the AU Graduate School computer as an enrolled student, students registered only at AUM should request to be enrolled in GS 7000 at the Auburn Campus – a non-fee, non-credit course. First ask the Ph.D. Director to email the graduate school that you are enrolled. Take your AUM ID with you to the Graduate School. This also allows an AUM student to use the AU Library. At the AUM end, fill out the demographic portion of the AUM application form (available in the Political Science Department). Students enrolled may use the library at either facility by showing their ID.

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Last Updated: February 13, 2017