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Qualifying Requirements

Throughout their course of study in Duke Public Policy doctoral students are required to meet the following qualifying requirements. Failure to meet any of these requirements may result in dismissal from the PhD in Public Policy Program.

  • Satisfactory performance in the core public policy and disciplinary departmental courses (minimum 3.0 GPA ).
  • Passing a qualifying exam on theories of public policy. This exam is common to all students, and is normally taken at the end of the first year.
  • Passing an exam covering a student’s chosen disciplinary concentration and policy area focus. The student, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, will form a faculty committee responsible for writing and administering this exam. This requirement is normally fulfilled at the beginning of the third year. Details can be found in the PhD Student Handbook.


A successful Public Policy PhD dissertation must constitute a significant contribution to policy-relevant knowledge, either through innovative application of social science methods to policy problems, or by innovation in theory or methods appropriate for addressing public policy problems.

Students are expected to develop and defend a PhD prospectus before a dissertation committee composed of four members of the Public Policy PhD Program faculty. Students are generally expected to have defended a dissertation proposal by the end of their third year. Normally, in years four and five, students work on their dissertations, defending their dissertations by the end of the fifth year.

The PhD Committee will be appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies, in consultation with the student, early enough to advise in the formulation of the student’s program and in defining the research topic for the dissertation.

Dissertation Proposal & Preliminary Examination

In their third year, students take a yearlong (two-course) seminar on Research Methods for Public Policy. This course provides each student with an opportunity to develop the required dissertation proposal. The PhD program expects the proposal to include a thorough literature review, an evaluation of current knowledge in the field, and a statement of how the dissertation will add to that body of knowledge. The proposal should reflect a thorough understanding of the disciplinary research methods that will be used in the dissertation.

The student is required to submit his or her dissertation proposal to all members of the PhD Committee at least two weeks before the preliminary exam.

The preliminary exam includes an oral defense of the dissertation proposal and an oral exam evaluating the depth of dissertation area knowledge and the research methodologies to be used in the dissertation. A student is not accepted as a candidate for the PhD degree until after he or she passes the preliminary exam.