Thesis and Candidacy

Thesis and Candidacy

By year three of the program, students are expected to be conducting research and writing their dissertations, presenting preliminary drafts of their dissertation work, and regularly attending at least two workshops.

Dissertation Committee

A Ph.D. dissertation committee of three or four current or emeritus faculty members from the University of Chicago, with academic interests related to those of the student, will guide and judge the student’s dissertation research. Faculty members who are not University of Chicago faculty or emeritus may not formally be a part of the dissertation committee. However, student may list them as fourth “readers” on their committee. These members have no voting rights on the committee. The participation of the Ph.D. dissertation committee members is essential to the decision-making process that eventually results in the awarding of the Ph.D.

The Ph.D. dissertation committee will be formed by the DGS in consultation with the student and the student’s faculty advisor. The chair of the student’s Ph.D. dissertation committee will thereafter be the student’s primary faculty advisor. At least two members of the committee, including the chairperson, must be current or emeritus members of the faculty of the Harris School. Doctoral candidates at the Harris School of Public Policy are expected to have members of the Harris tenure track faculty as dissertation committee chairs. For cases where Harris faculty members to not have sufficient expertise in a student's topic, then, with the approval of the DGS, a non-Harris faculty member may serve as dissertation chair. A current or emeritus member of the University of Chicago faculty who is not on the School’s faculty may be included on the Ph.D. dissertation committee. In special cases, a professor from outside the University may be asked to participate on a committee. The Director must approve the initial composition of the dissertation committee, as well as any subsequent changes. If a committee member leaves the University, the DGS and chair of the committee must approve for the member to remain on the thesis committee if he/she agrees. Forms for designating or changing committee members or the committee chair are available from the Program Director.

The University has prepared a toolkit about mentoring for faculty and graduate students. It can be downloaded here: Mentee Toolkit 

Dissertation proposal 

After successful completion of the courses in (Microeconomics, Game Theory, Statistics/Econometrics, and the substantive field) and the qualifying paper, a proposal for the dissertation must be defended publicly before the student’s Ph.D. dissertation committee and other interested parties in the University. The proposal must be submitted before a major part of the dissertation research is completed.  

Students are admitted to Ph.D. candidacy upon the approval of the student’s dissertation committee and the faculty Ph.D. committee after acceptance of their dissertation proposal. The proposal should be completed in time for a proposal hearing by the start of the autumn quarter of their fourth year to increase the prospects of progress on a strong dissertation before entering the job market.

The dissertation proposal and the dissertation itself should address policy-relevant issues and demonstrate mastery and originality in applying methodologies of policy research and analysis. The dissertation proposal should formulate clearly the scholarly purpose of the dissertation research and lay out as carefully as possible how that purpose is to be realized. It should constitute a statement of the reasons for proposing this research on this topic, using this approach, in light of the current status of research in this field.

A draft of the proposal will be read critically by the student’s dissertation committee, who will then discuss their critiques with the student. When all members of the committee signify in writing to the DGS that they believe the proposal is ready for hearing, a proposal hearing shall be scheduled. It is the responsibility of the student to obtain the form for approval of the proposal hearing from the Program Director.

It is the student’s responsibility to contact his or her dissertation committee and arrange a date and time for the proposal hearing. The date and time also must be cleared with the DGS and scheduled with the Program Director.

The dissertation committee members and the Harris School’s faculty will be notified of the time and place of the proposal hearing and each faculty member will receive a copy of the abstract. The initial part of the hearing is a public meeting.

An electronic copy (e.g., PDF) of the final proposal to circulate by e-mail, and a brief abstract (100-250 words) should be submitted to the Program Director 14 calendar days in advance of the scheduled hearing. The length of the proposal should be adequate to describe the research problem and its context, hypotheses, the state of the relevant literature, conceptual framework or model and the methods to be used (data and qualitative or quantitative analyses that are appropriate).

At the hearing, the student presents a summary of the proposal (generally lasting 45 minutes to an hour) and has the opportunity to hear and respond to faculty reactions. Immediately following the proposal hearing, the members of the student’s dissertation committee, the Director, and the other faculty present will evaluate the written proposal and the oral presentation. They then will vote privately on whether to approve the proposal. The dissertation committee will discuss the results of the hearing with the student and will suggest revisions to the proposal. If the proposal is not approved, the student will be required to submit a new proposal in a hearing at a later date. The chair of the dissertation committee will summarize the discussion and the decision in writing and submit it to the DGS.      

Human Subjects Research Issues (IRB) for Ph.D. Thesis

If your study involves research with human subjects, then it may require review by the Institutional Review Board (the IRB is a University committee that protects the rights of research participants). A student who does not have an approval or exemption from the IRB by the time of the thesis proposal hearing must submit a memo to the chairperson of the Ph.D. committee informing him/her of progress to that date and either plans to complete the IRB process or an explanation of why the research is not human subjects research that requires IRB review. Some projects that only involve secondary data analysis do require IRB review. If your study only involves secondary data analysis, refer to the IRB document 'Guidance on Secondary Analysis of Existing Data Sets' [link]. If you are unsure whether your research will require IRB review, contact the SBS IRB office. The SBS IRB office can be reached via email at, and the IRB has a lot of information on their website at

Admission to Candidacy

The Harris School grants admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. to a student who has completed all necessary coursework, passed the required AOF qualifying examination, completed the qualifying paper requirement, and successfully defended the dissertation proposal.