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Explore emerging and overlooked issues as you define the future of policy research, education and practice.

The Doctoral Program prepares scholars and scholar-practitioners for academic and professional careers. Our PhD students are educated to be versatile and, judging from the success of our graduates, can expect to thrive in whatever positions they choose — and in whatever positions choose them — over their full careers.

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Public Policy doctoral programs have proliferated and prospered over the last half century. Why? Answers would vary, of course, but here’s one that’s usefully understood in dissertation context. In more traditional disciplines, especially in the social sciences, doctoral students choose methods and then look for ways to demonstrate mastery of those methods. In Public Policy, ideally, doctoral students choose problems and then master the methods needed to solve those problems. Choosing a problem takes a while. So does composing a research question leading to a problem-solving answer.

Required Coursework

The PhD program requires successful completion of 24 credit hours of graduate coursework. Most graduate courses earn 3 credit hours, so doctoral students typically take 8 courses. Full-time students usually take 2 courses per semester over 4 semesters.

Doctoral students typically take PhD-only research seminars in three areas:

  • Normative analysis
  • Qualitative analysis
  • Quantitative analysis

Five other courses are chosen in consultation with a student’s faculty advisor. Choices will reflect past coursework and current research interests but must also be chosen with qualifying examinations in mind.

Steps in advancement to candidacy for the PhD

  1. Passing all qualifying examinations Qualifying Exams (also known as Comprehensive Exams or General Exams) are taken right after 4 semesters of coursework or when a student feels prepared and whenever made available by the examining professor or professors. Many students take exams right after finishing the courses most likely to prepare them to pass. Areas examined (in alphabetical order) are: Microeconomic analysis Normative analysis Political analysis Quantitative analysis Specialization(s) This is a single area (or combination of areas) chosen by the student as bearing directly on dissertation intentions. The specialization exam is planned jointly by the student, the student’s advisor and, often, one or more professors sharing aspects of the student’s research interest. Preparation is lengthy but instructive. The exam’s authors — always at least two professors — grade the exam.
  2. Assembling a faculty committee chaired by a student’s advisor This committee, once fully formed and successfully nominated, will go on to function as a dissertation examining committee.
  3. Proposing a dissertation research plan (prospectus) to the faculty committee
  4. Defending the proposal at a scheduled public event

Note: Students are required to maintain continuous enrollment, i.e., be registered every semester. If the student has completed all coursework but not yet advanced to candidacy, the student should register for PLCY898-Pre-Candidacy Research in the research advisor's section number.

Steps in the dissertation phase

  1. A student who has advanced to candidacy is automatically enrolled by the UMD Registrar in 6 credits of PLCY 899, Doctoral Dissertation Research. The UMD Graduate School requires a minimum of 12 credits of PLCY 899 before a student is eligible to graduate.
  2. Nominating the fully formed dissertation examining committee, with the candidate’s advisor as the chair. The committee’s composition must observe Graduate School rules with approval needed for any exceptions. Note that all members of the dissertation examining committee should have earned the degree to be awarded (the PhD) or an equivalent terminal degree (such as the DSc or DPH).
  3. Writing the dissertation
  4. Defending the dissertation at a scheduled public event
  5. Submitting the committee form approved via signature by all members of the committee to the Office of the Registrar and electronically submitting the dissertation through the university's online system. The Registrar will verify the dissertation formatting and clear the student for graduation.

FAQ

View our frequently asked questions for more information about the PhD program.

Dissertations

Explore dissertations completed by candidates in the School of Public Policy.

Policies

View the Graduate School's policies related to the Doctor of Philosophy degree. 

View our PhD Candidates

Meet the Program Director

R.H. Sprinkle

Associate Professor

Robert Hunt Sprinkle works at the intersection of politics and the life sciences. He studied history at Dartmouth College and medicine at the University of Cincinnati and trained clinically at the University of Virginia and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. He is a diplomate of both the American Board of Family Medicine and the American Board of Pediatrics and a fellow of the respective clinical academies; he maintains current certification in both specialties and medical licensure in four states.

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