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.

Program Details


PhD students should expect to complete their program of study after a minimum of four to five years in residence. PhD students must complete a minimum of 27 courses, including demonstrated mastery of the School's core subjects, unless they enter the program with a master's degree in the same or a related field, in which case the number of required courses may be reduced by up to 9 courses.

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, PhD students must fulfill the following requirements:

Qualifying Examinations
PhD students are required to pass four qualifying examinations offered by Harris: methods (statistics and econometrics), microeconomic theory, political economy, and a field exam in a substantive field of public policy studies chosen by the student and the student's advisor. These examinations will ordinarily be taken following two years of coursework. In exceptional cases, a student may propose an alternative to either the methods or the theory examination.

Qualifying Paper
During their third year of study, PhD students make the transition from coursework to dissertation research. As a first step, they complete a qualifying paper and present it at a Harris workshop or other University forum. 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 PhD. 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 ([email protected]) 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
Steven Durlauf, Steans Professor in Educational Policy ([email protected])
Luis Martinez, Assistant Professor ([email protected])

PhD Academic Advisor
Cynthia Cook-Conley ([email protected])

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.