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School of Humanities and Social Science

Course XVII -- Political Science

When people think about MIT, political science isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. MIT’s political science department, however, is one of the strongest in the nation.

“The department has historically been known around the world for its strengths in securities studies, comparative politics (the politics of countries other than the United States), and political economy,” said Associate Professor Charles Stewart III.

Within the department, the 37 undergraduates and 140 graduate students can focus in public policy, non-US or international politics, US politics, or political philosophy.

The political science department consists of 28 faculty members. Seven are professors emeriti and 11 are professors; there are also seven associate and eight assistant professors. The department “provides opportunities for students to work closely with faculty members, both in small classes and, when it comes to be senior year, on the thesis,” Stewart said.

Traditionally, the political science department has focused more on its graduate rather than undergraduate education, but now the department is trying to make changes to offer more options to its undergraduates.

“We’re not always concerned about getting a rounded curriculum” that undergraduates need more than grad students do, said Student Administrator Tobie F. Weiner of the political science department. “We try instead to get the top people” tenured at MIT.

“Unlike almost every other department at the Institute, we don’t have a program that emphasizes fundamentals in introductory subjects and then builds from there,” Stewart said.

The department is also putting more emphasis on the thesis experience by requiring a pre-thesis class to be taken in the spring of junior year rather than in the fall of senior year.

The political science department offers many outside opportunities to students interested in political science. At its undergraduate office, a student can pick up lists of internship opportunities, and Course XVII also runs the MIT-Washington internship programs for political science majors as well as for other MIT students.

The political science department also runs programs abroad for students of all majors to work in Germany, China, Japan, India, or Italy.

At MIT, students can get UROPs with senior members of the political science faculty. “Many of our undergraduates work in UROPs -- it’s easy to get one as a freshman or sophomore, and it’s easy to keep it up all four years,” Stewart said.

This spring, there are 10 students with UROPs in the political science department; nine of those are for pay, four from faculty grants and five from the UROP office. Political science UROPs usually consist of research or statistical analysis.

After graduation, about one third of Course XVII undergraduates go on to law school, and about an equal number go to graduate school, mostly in PhD programs, Stewart said. -- Rima Arnaout