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Course of Study

Award of the Ph.D. is the culmination of a sequential process of coursework, comprehen­sive examinations, and the research, writing, and defense of a doctoral dissertation. As a cohort, first-year students take a series of six courses commonly referred to as “the core” and are examined on this material upon completion. During their second and third years, students complete their field and research methods coursework. The comprehensive exam­ination that follows the satisfaction of all course requirements typically asks students to think prospectively about the application of this material to their dissertation work. After the completion and defense of a dissertation proposal, students advance to Ph.D. candidacy. The last remaining hurdle is the dissertation.

Core Coursework

Six courses comprise the program’s foundational core coursework and share a common theme of governance. Typically, incoming doctoral students are a diverse group in terms of academic background, professional experience, and expected specialization within the pro­gram. The core, taken by first-year students as a cohort, is intended to provide a social scientific grounding in a variety of topics related to governance, which students then build upon as they pursue policy specializations in public administration, political science, com­munity health, or criminology and criminal justice.

Field Coursework

Students develop their substantive expertise in one of two field tracks, each corresponding to one of the academic units participating in the PAP program.

  • Public Administration and Policy. Students focus on the functioning, management, and leadership of organizations in the governmental, health, and nonprofit sectors.
  • Politics and Public Policy. Coursework in this track emphasizes the po­litical and economic processes affecting public policy at the local, national, and interna­tional levels.

The field coursework re­quire­ment consists of 4 mandatory courses plus electives. The large elective compo­nent means that there is considerable flexibility built into each track; this allows students, in consultation with their advisors, to assemble programs of study that draw upon multiple fields. Students sometimes take one or more courses contributing to a field specialization during their first year in the program, but field coursework commences in earnest in the second year after completion of the core.

Research Methods Coursework

Often students elect to begin satisfying their course requirements in research methods early on so they may make use of their methodological training in subsequent coursework. Required courses cover topics in the philosophy, design, and implementation of social scientific re­search. Elective courses are chosen in anticipation of the research skills necessary to complete a dissertation in the student’s field of specialization. A variety of research methods courses are offered in the College, including courses on qualitative methods, advanced statistical modeling, and operations research. Courses offered outside the College may also serve as electives (e.g., historiography, game theory, econometrics).

Comprehensive Examinations

There are two parts to the written comprehensive exam, coming at different points in the student’s program of study. Part A, also known as the “core exam,” is taken in late summer or early fall after completion of the first-year core coursework. The exam tests the student’s mastery of the subject matter covered by the core curriculum, including the ability to inte­grate theoretical and policy concepts treated in multiple courses. It is a five-day take-home exam, is taken by the cohort at the same time, and is evaluated by the instructors of the core courses during the past year.
Part B of the comprehensive exam, the “field exam,” is also a five-day take-home exam and comes after after the student has finished all remaining coursework, both required courses and electives. The exam is administered and evaluated by the student’s Field Committee (see below) and is designed to test the student’s field and methodological expertise, espe­cially as the basis for prospective dissertation research. Part B of the written comprehen­sive exam is followed by an oral defense in which the Field Committee may probe the limits of the student’s expertise and provide further direction as the student sets out to prepare a dissertation proposal.


Ph.D. candidates are students who have completed “all but dissertation” (ABD). Candidacy requires submission of a dissertation proposal to the Dissertation Committee and an oral defense, or “colloquium” in PAP parlance. Success­ful disser­tation proposals establish the viability of the project and its potential con­tribution to scholarship on public affairs and policy.
The dissertation is the doctoral student’s crowning achievement—a book-length manu­script built upon an immersion in the academic literature, informed theoretical reasoning, and original research and analysis, intended for an educated readership of one’s peers. The dissertation is defended in an oral presentation that lays out the purpose, implementation, and findings of the dissertation project, and makes a case for the project’s contribution to scholarship in a particular field of study. The presentation is di­rected mainly to the Dissertation Committee, whose members then question the candi­date on the significance and limitations of the study, but the dissertation defense is open to the public.

For more information, please look at the current Program Handbook.