PhD in Public Policy

The PhD in public policy is a research-based, interdisciplinary social science degree. Graduates of the program are prepared for academic careers and professional positions in research, consulting firms, or public agencies.

The program requires a two-course sequence in theories of political economy and coursework in three other social science disciplines. Students designate a disciplinary concentration in economics, political science, psychology, or sociology, as well as a policy focus, such as social policy, globalization and development, or health policy.

Information about the PhD in Public Policy can be found in the Graduate School bulletin here.

The MA in Public Policy

PhD students in good standing become eligible to receive an MA degree upon successful completion of the comprehensive exam, typically administered at the beginning of a student’s third year in residence. Students who elect to exit the PhD program, or who fail one or more qualifying requirements up to and including the comprehensive exam, may be eligible to earn an MA in public policy, under conditions described below.

A. Coursework

Students must pass at least ten 3.0 credit graduate courses. These courses must include the following:

  • Public Policy 901

  • Public Policy 902

  • two courses in research methods

  • two courses in a disciplinary subfield within economics, political science or sociology

  • two public policy electives in a specific policy area (500 level or above)

B. Completion Exercise

  • Option 1: The Comprehensive Exam

    • Description: Students enrolled in the PhD program in public policy who have met all coursework requirements and successfully passed the Comprehensive Exam may apply for an MA in public policy as they continue to work toward the PhD degree. Students interested in obtaining the MA must apply to receive it and bring the necessary forms to be signed by the Comprehensive Exam Committee. Receipt of the MA in public policy precludes students from obtaining master’s degrees in any other area during the course of their doctoral studies.

    • The Comprehensive Exam is designed to assess a student’s mastery of existing scholarly work in an area delimited by traditional disciplinary subfield and policy area and is taken at the beginning of a student’s third year in the PhD program. The Comprehensive Exam will consist of three components: 1) a research paper to be initially submitted in advance of the exam, with a revision due on the date of the written exam, 2) the written exam itself, and 3) an oral follow-up with the three-member examination committee. The paper and written test collectively serve the role of a completion exercise, and the oral follow-up serves as the defense of this completion exercise. Literature Review Option (replaces the written exam): Instead of an eight-hour written test, students may opt to write a journal-length manuscript that reviews and synthesizes a literature and/or makes a theoretical contribution to a field. The manuscript should indicate mastery of literature, and the author should synthesize and critically examine a field of research. The intent is to help the student grow these research skills and add to their academic accomplishments/vita.

    • The standard for passing the comprehensive exam at the MA level is intended to be lower than the standard for passing at the PhD level, thus a comprehensive exam committee may simultaneously deliberate (a) whether a student has met the standard to continue in the PhD program in good standing and (b) conditional on failing to meet this threshold, whether the student has met the requirements to receive the MA degree.

  • Option 2: The MA Project

    • Rationale: The proposed “accelerated” master’s degree for PhD students in public policy draws heavily from similar degrees available to PhD students in the political science, economics, and sociology departments at Duke. The option is primarily intended for those students who have completed the majority of the coursework for the doctoral program but were unable to meet one or more specific qualifying requirements, or for those students who have elected to leave the program voluntarily.

    • Students interested in pursuing option two must obtain approval from the director of graduate studies of the Public Policy PhD Program prior to the oral defense of the MA project.

    • Students, who elect to leave the program before the administration of the comprehensive exam, or those who fail to complete an earlier qualifying requirement, complete an MA project in lieu of the comprehensive exam. The MA project should demonstrate the student’s ability to collect, interpret, and analyze pertinent material on a research problem. Ideally, the MA project will be a paper of approximately 20-30 pages, double-spaced. Students may choose to expand upon a term paper to fulfill this requirement. Student projects will be completed under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The project will be the principal topic of a final oral examination conducted by the advisor and two other public policy faculty members and scheduled to meet posted Graduate School deadlines for master’s examinations (gradschool.duke.edu/academics/preparing-graduate/graduation-deadlines).