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Doctoral students register for a full course load (four half courses each semester). Sixteen half courses are required to receive the PhD degree, at least eleven of which must be at the doctoral level. All students must complete at least five half-courses at Harvard Kennedy School.
During their course work, students are required to complete distribution requirements and core requirements, complete an oral examination, and participate in the PhD Research Seminar. All Public Policy course work and qualifying exams should be completed in the first two years.
By the end of the third year, candidates submit and defend a dissertation prospectus, and then go on to write and defend the dissertation. Students generally complete their dissertation writing and research within three years of completion of the Oral General Examination.
In principle, it is possible to complete the dissertation in the third year. However, students generally need more time for research and writing. Typically, students complete all degree requirements within five years. The degree is conferred after the dissertation defense is completed, and the dissertation has been submitted.
Those students who do not hold a Master in Public Policy degree (or an appropriate master's degree in a related field) must complete the distribution requirement. This requirement may be fulfilled by taking two MPP courses; one each in Democracy, Politics and Institutions (DPA) and Management, Leadership, and Decision Sciences (MLD).
Students wishing to advance to PhD candidacy must demonstrate PhD level proficiency in the areas of theory, methods, and a substantive special (primary) field. The general requirements include distribution requirements in five fields within these areas, with courses and exams as specified below:
PhD-level special field courses of the student’s selection (e.g., in Environmental Policy, International Economic Policy, International Security Relations, Risk Assessment, Economic Regulatory Policy, International Development and Judgment and Decision Making).
In years one and two, course plans for completion of the requirements are reviewed with the faculty advisor and submitted to the Doctoral Program Office. Students designate two of the six fields listed above as primary and secondary subject fields, and four as “minor” fields. The primary field is always the student’s special field. The secondary field may be a disciplinary or methodological area where the student has completed two or more PhD-level half-courses. In the minor fields, students may demonstrate proficiency by:
Qualifying exams are routinely offered in Analytic Methods in January.
The Oral General Examination lasts from 60 to 90 minutes, in which the student’s mastery of two fields is tested. Students propose their fields, one being a primary field of substantive interest and one a secondary field which may be a disciplinary or methodological area. The fundamental purpose of the exam is to determine whether the student has achieved sufficient understanding of scholarship in the fields to be considered someone with expertise. In particular, the exam helps indicate whether the student has sufficient grounding in the literatures that are likely to be most pertinent for writing a successful dissertation. More broadly, the exam provides an assessment of the student's academic preparation and aptitude, as well as the student's interest in and prospects for a successful career after completion of the PhD.
The purpose of this requirement is to establish a solid foundation for future research. Students should seek PhD-level courses that broaden and deepen their knowledge in the special field. Most Harvard Kennedy School courses and seminars are targeted toward practitioners rather than scholars and do not normally serve as PhD-level courses. As a consequence, at least part of the special field work will normally be done in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences or other graduate units outside the Kennedy School.
A plan of study that includes the syllabus for each proposed course in the special field must be submitted to the Program Office for approval at the beginning of each year.
Many concentrations in a variety of fields are possible. Three pre-approved primary fields include Environmental and Natural Resource Policy; International Development; and Judgment and Decision Making.
Following the preparation of a written prospectus at the end of the third year, students usually complete their dissertation research and writing within two years.
Dissertations may be written as either one multi-chapter work, or a collection of three independently publishable, substantively linked essays. The degree is conferred by the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences after the dissertation defense (which is open to the public).
View a complete list of dissertations written from 1972 to the present in the Public Policy Dissertations Archive.
It is important to identify possible dissertation committee members by the end of the second year in residence. Two principle advisors must approve the dissertation prospectus in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies after the oral presentation at the end of the third year. The prospectus for a multi-chapter dissertation should include at least the following:
The prospectus for a 3-paper dissertation must include: