Prepare yourself for a research-oriented career involving the substantive and institutional aspects of public policy.

The PhD program at Harris Public Policy prepares students for careers in academia, industry, and government. It emphasizes a rigorous foundation in microeconomics, econometrics, and political economy, along with in-depth study of particular substantive areas associated with policy and policy-making. The program allows students to develop individualized and innovative courses of study in which they work closely with faculty members of the School and the University.

STEM Eligibility for International Students: The PhD program is STEM-eligible for international students.

Program Details


Ph.D. students should expect to complete their program of study after a minimum of four to five years in residence. While earning their Ph.D., if doctoral students meet the requirements of the A.M. or M.P.P., they may petition to earn that degree.

Ph.D. students must complete a minimum of 8 courses in the first year and 6 courses in the second year, all for quality grades. Individual areas of focus (AOFs) might require more than these minimums. All core courses must be completed with an average B+ (3.3) grade point average (GPA). The core courses consist of two courses in microeconomics, three courses in econometrics, and one course in game theory. 

Following completion of their coursework and examinations, PhD students will be able to take advantage of opportunities to obtain financial support for their doctoral research from internal and external sources and to participate in research projects in the School and the University. Students receiving internal financial support will also serve as course assistants beyond their first year of study.


Other Requirements

Beyond the successful completion of required course work, Ph.D. students must fulfill the following requirements:

Teaching Experience
Ph.D. students must serve as a teaching assistant (TA) for no fewer than six (6) credit-bearing Public Policy courses in order to graduate. Students generally do not serve as a TA in the first year of Ph.D. study must TA for at least two classes each year in years two, three, and four.

Qualifying Examinations
Ph.D. students are required to pass a qualifying exam in a specialized field as specified by the AOF. The exam can take the form of passing two or three courses with adequate grades rather than a separate exam.

Qualifying Paper
A qualifying paper must be completed by the end of the second year of study. During their third year of study, Ph.D. students make the transition from coursework to dissertation research. An acceptable qualifying paper will show evidence that the student is developing the capacity for formulating and conducting an independent research project and for creating a scholarly argument. Ideally, the qualifying paper will constitute a step toward completion of a dissertation proposal.

Dissertation Proposal
Following completion of the qualifying paper, students will write and defend a dissertation proposal before the student's dissertation committee and other interested University faculty and doctoral students. The proposal hearing will ordinarily be held by the Autumn Quarter of the fourth year of study, after which the student is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. The hearing must precede the defense of the dissertation itself by at least 8 months.

Dissertation Defense
The dissertation should be a significant public policy research project carried out under the supervision of the student's dissertation committee, composed of at least three qualified members approved by the director of doctoral studies. The dissertation defense is a public meeting of faculty and students directed by the chair of the dissertation committee. The dissertation is expected to constitute an original contribution to public policy knowledge and to demonstrate mastery of relevant theories and research methods.

Check out the University of Chicago's Dissertation Guidelines.

PhD Policies & Procedures


Key Contacts

Program Director
Scott Ashworth, Professor (

Before joining Harris, Ashworth was an assistant professor in the Department of Government at Harvard University and in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.

Associate Directors
Koichiro Ito, Associate Professor (

Adam Zelizer, Assistant Professor (

PhD Academic Advisor
Cynthia Cook-Conley (

Nancy Staudt picture
Alumni profile

"Here the Client is Truth"

For Nancy Staudt, a Harris PhD was the key to deeper understanding of the law - and a great career move.