Graduate Program

The Department of Politics offers both Ph.D. and terminal M.A. degrees in Government, which includes American Politics and Political Theory, and in Foreign Affairs, which includes Comparative Politics and International Relations.

The aim of graduate training in the Department is to equip graduates with a critical understanding of the practical and theoretical dimensions of national and international political processes and institutions, and to provide a diverse package of analytical and methodological skills. Programs are designed to prepare students for careers in teaching and research, as well as public service at all levels of government.

Isabela Mares
Isabela Mares, visiting speaker, Lansing Lee/Bankard Seminars

The University of Virginia’s Department of Politics has a number of distinctive strengths and rare qualities that make it a very attractive place to do graduate work.

Our faculty is intellectually diverse yet we share a commitment to exploring vital political questions in depth. We probe contemporary developments with careful attention to the ideas, institutions and history that animate politics in the United States and the world. The UVA Politics Department is therefore, when compared to those at other universities, exceptionally dedicated to probing the deep historical roots of contemporary developments in political life; unusually committed to examining political problems in a comparative and global context (indeed, we think that American Politics is much more interesting when its principal features are compared to other countries and observed in the arena of international affairs); and deeply concerned with the philosophical principles that inform political life, as well as the ethical motivations of political actors that Max Weber considered so central to the vocation of politics.

The Politics Department has this orientation because most of its faculty believe that contemporary political developments are best explained by examining them in a broad philosophical and historical context that sheds light on the long-term development of political structures that set the boundaries of acceptable behavior and public policy, the most pressing conflicts that that determine who exercises and benefits from power, and the patterns, if any, in the way those conflicts play out. Recognizing, however, that political questions can be examined in a number of different ways, the Department has a deep and abiding commitment to methodological pluralism. Indeed, the Department is committed to broad training in all methodologies, and to matching the appropriate methodology to the question at hand. What matters to us is that our graduate students examine questions that explain important developments within countries or in the relationship among them. Graduate training in the UVA Politics Department is not hampered by conflicts between subdisciplinary fields or tension between those who employ quantitative and qualitative analysis. For example, our exceptional political theory group is integrated into the other fields: it includes faculty who are deeply interested in both political theory and other topics such as public policy and political behavior. Similarly, our public opinion faculty is both strong and dedicated to teaching and research that shed light on the quality of democracy in the United States and elsewhere.

The description of the subfields will provide you with the specifics on the major areas of the study in the Department and the faculty who teach within each area. Beyond these subfields, our distinguished faculty have a number of strengths that transcend traditional disciplinary boundaries. The Department’s special strength in areas such as democratic theory, political development, elections and political parties, and international security help give students the opportunity to explore important themes broadly, even as they undertake a rigorous regimen within the conventional subfields of political science.

In sum, graduate students can obtain high quality training at the University of Virginia in a great variety of subjects and a wide variety of methods to studying them. UVA’s broad training is a great advantage for new students, who may not know the precise area of specialization that they will want to pursue. It is no less advantageous for our newly minted Ph.D.s who graduate from a program with a distinctive and widely recognized strength in producing students who combine a breadth of knowledge and rigorous research training. Consequently, our students readily acknowledge the high quality of the mentoring they receive and appreciate their very good prospects on the job market. (See the Ph.D. Placement page for details of recent placements.)

See our resources and policies for graduate students who are parents here.

We hope our web page will help to answer whatever questions you may have about the Department of Politics and its graduate program. If you desire to know more, please do not hesitate to contact the Director of Graduate StudiesProfessor Phil Potter.