Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts

Political Methodology (Major)

Political Methodology (Major)

Reading Lists

Because of the nature of methodology as a field, it is not possible to provide specific reading lists to students. Rather students selecting political methodology as their major or minor field of doctoral study are expected to demonstrate a mastery of foundational material covered in PLSC 501, 502, 503, and 504.  In addition, students who have methodology as a major must demonstrate proficiency in at least two areas of advanced research methodology taken from their additional graduate-level methodology courses. Material pertaining to advanced work will be drawn from the syllabi from those courses, which may include advanced statistics courses taught in political science; formal-and game-theoretic methods, agent-based-modeling, as well as courses from outside the department (e.g., social network analysis; Bayesian methods; geospatial analysis; analysis of unstructured data such as text; and machine learning methods).

In addition to a clear conceptual and technical understanding of these topics, students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in implementing these methods, including data preparation in a data analysis system; usually this will be R.

Criteria for Grading Exams

Students are expected to have mastered the major contemporary approaches to linear regression— including continuous-response, limited dependent variable (e.g. logistic, ordered probit), and hier­archical (e.g. fixed and random effects) models—and the diagnosis and consequences of common problems with these methods such as omitted variable bias, colinearity, endogeneity and other challenges to causal inference, and heterogeneous subsamples. Such competency is indicated by the ability to see linkages among diverse methods, make wise choices on design questions posed in real time, and the capacity to explain this material at a level that students would find cogent. To successfully pass the exam, answers must be technically accurate, use exact terminology and numeric values when appropriate, and convey mastery of both the intuition behind and details of relevant techniques and/or estimators.

Passage of the methodology exam indicates the student has a degree of breadth of knowledge and training in political methodology beyond the average graduate student as well as technical competence in specialty areas. Passage also indicates that the student has the written and verbal communication skills necessary to present results of analysis or teach basic techniques to a variety of audiences (e.g., peers at a professional meeting, undergraduates in a statistics class, analysts at a government agency, etc.) High scores shall be reserved for students who demonstrate unusual achievement and clear promise and competence as an instructor of political methodology at the graduate level.


Qualifying Exam

The major field political methodology qualifying exam has two components: a written exam and an oral exam. Briefly, the written exam is a six hour exam, which tests the student on the foundational materials covered in the political science methods sequence (PLSC 501, 502, 503 and 504) as well as the students advanced coursework. The oral exam is a two hour exam that tests the student on a select advanced topic in methods and may also permit the examiners to follow-up on questions related to the written exam.

Responsibility for evaluating the qualifying examination—both written and oral—shall rest entirely with the designated subfield examiners. However, the highly specialized nature of some research techniques may make it desirable for the examiners to seek the advice and input of faculty who have used techniques relevant to or taught courses related to the students method of specialization. Therefore, additional faculty from Political Science or other departments may be invited to read and evaluate the written examination and participate in the oral portion of the examination.

Written Exam

This component covers the foundational material presented in PLSC 501-502-503-504 (formerly 597C) as well as the two syllabi of methods courses designated by the students and approved by the subfield examiners.

The written exam consists of two parts, a four hour morning session and a two hour afternoon session.  The morning exam consists of three sections. The first two of these consists of short answer/essay questions. The third section requires students to conduct data analysis in the lab in the context of a substantive application. All sections will be open book and open note and the student will have access to statistical programs.   The afternoon exam consists of essay questions relevant to the advanced topics chosen by the student.

Students skipping 501 or 502 because they completed an equivalent course elsewhere should consult with subfield examiners and course syllabi to confirm the emphasis in content for their particular exam session. The readings listed in the syllabi will be assumed to provide the topic basis for the exam. Students may draw on alternative presentations of the same material in studying for the exam. More important is that the students have a conceptual and technical mastery of the material and be able to demonstrate proficiency in implementing the methods. The examination committee recognizes that the content and emphasis of these courses varies from year to year. Therefore, the student can expect to be examined on topics that correspond to the emphasis and scope of the versions of 501-502-503-504 that he or she experienced.

Oral Exam

The oral component of the exam is built around one methodological specialization (e.g., models of qualitative outcomes, spatial analysis, small-N case studies, survey research, or formal modeling). The focus of this portion of the examination shall be one technique that exemplifies advanced work in the area of methods. The research area shall be selected by the student and formally proposed to, and approved by, the years field examiners.

The student will prepare an oral presentation of 30-45 minutes that: a. Describes a substan­tive problem; b. Explains the methodological issues associated with it; c. Explains the important characteristics and advantages of the technique employed, including technical details as necessary; d. Provides information on implementation of the technique; e. Identifies the limitations of the technique for this substantive problem.

In other words, the student should prepare a mock class session that introduces the advanced technique and illustrates it with one practical application.

The student shall assume that the audience is familiar with material covered in PLSC 501-502-503-504 but should not assume that the audience is familiar with the specialization chosen. The core of the oral presentation, lasting 15-25 minutes, is to explain the technique as in part c above. Secondarily, 10-15 minutes may be devoted to parts d the implementation of the technique. For these reasons, parts c and d, should be both highly elaborate and accessible.

After the presentation, the subfield examiners and other attending faculty members shall examine the student. Questions will be generally linked to the presentation and its substance, but may include those related to basic issues of research design, causal inference, validity, and case selection (i.e., topics covered in PLSC 501), questions about the basic statistical foundations (i.e., relevant issues from 502, 503, and 504), as well as questions specifically focused on the topic of the oral presentation.

Students intending to sit for the political methodology qualifying exam must propose an advanced topic to serve as the basis for the oral presentation. Students must describe the scope of their advanced topic and make the case that the topic balances breadth and depth in such a way as might be appropriate for a 15 week graduate seminar (even if such a seminar is not offered at Penn State). Recent topics have included:

  • Sequence Analysis
  • Genetic Algorithms in Complex Simulations
  • Cox’s proportional hazards models
  • Automated Text Analysis
  • Bayesian Model Averaging
  • Time series analysis
  • Sample Selection Models
  • Gene-Environment Interaction Models

This list is intended to be illustrative only. In addition, the breadth/depth balance may differ from student to student (a single topic of survey research might encompass sampling and questionnaire design).

The student must submit to the field examiners a short written proposal that identifies the particular methodological topic to be presented, the significance of the methodological technique, the readings for the oral presentation on the technique, and the reasons why the topic is appropriate for examining the students competence on that topic.

Both the selection of the topic and the selection of the article must be approved by the field examiners before the student takes the oral exam. This petition should be made at least ten weeks prior to the next scheduled round of qualifying examinations but, ideally, should be made several months in advance. In the event that the topic is rejected by the field examiners, the student must submit another proposal for approval. It is the students responsibility to select a topic and submit a proposal that can be approved by the field examiners. Thus the student is encouraged to consult the field examiners informally before filing a formal proposal.

The oral exam is open to all faculty and graduate students within the department, although graduate students may not ask any questions.

Minor Field Qualifying Exam