What to Expect

Below you’ll find basic information about what to expect from the PhD Program in Regional Planning. Consult the PhD Program Handbook for more information and complete guidelines.

student walking across the street

Time to Completion

The department expects most students to complete their program within 4 academic years. Some students need 5 or more. Those students who enter the program with a workable question and accessible data will finish sooner. Those students whose research requires extensive fieldwork may need more time.

student walking across the street

Advisor and Committee

Upon admission to the program, we assign an advisor. After consulting with the advisor, the student invites faculty to form a committee. Composition of the committee at different stages of the doctoral studies is indicated in the PhD Handbook.

The student presents the following to their committee over the course of the program:

  • plan of study
  • qualifying exam
  • proposal defense (preliminary exam)
  • dissertation defense

Although the committee may change throughout the program, ideally, students present the proposal and dissertation defenses to the same committee members.

Credit Hours and Course Requirements

The PhD program requires 64 to 96 credit hours and awards graduate credit only for 400- and 500-level courses. This includes:

  • 2 years of formal coursework
  • independent study
  • dissertation preparation credit hours

Planning Theory: The PhD program requires 4 to 8 credit hours of Planning Theory.

  • UP 501: Planning History and Theory (4 hours)
  • UP 580: Advanced Planning Theory (4 hours)

Students may petition for exemption from UP 501 if they completed a similar course during their master’s program.

Research Design and Research Methods: We require 4 credit hours in a research design course. We strongly encourage students to take UP 589 Research Design and Methods. We also require 12 approved hours in research methods to prepare for dissertation research.

Area of Specialization: Students need 16 credit hours of graduate-level coursework in their area of specialization, regarding its theories, histories, epistemologies, and methodologies. At least 8 of those 16 hours must be theory courses.

DSUP Seminars

During the first 2 years, we require students to attend the weekly PhD student-organized seminar series, DSUP Seminars. The series is named after the registered organization, Doctoral Students in Urban Planning. Second-year students are required to present. Students beyond their second year are encouraged to attend and present.

Major Milestones and Timeline

  • Plan of Study: presented 2nd or 3rd semester
    Students prepare and present their Plan of Study to their committee. This document discusses plans for courses, qualifying exam preparation, and preliminary dissertation objectives.
  • Synthesis Papers: completed by end of 4th semester
    Before the qualifying exam, students write 2 literature review papers that demonstrate mastery in 2 distinct areas of planning research.
  • Qualifying Examination: completed within 3 months of the end of the 4th semester
    Students take a qualifying exam that tests mastery of planning theory, research methods and design, and their specialization. The qualifying exam has a written and oral component. For the written component, students may take a “traditional” exam with written questions formulated by their committee. Or they may produce original scholarly research of journal-submission quality. This choice is made with an advisor, and both choices still require an oral exam. Consult the PhD Handbook for more details.
  • Dissertation Proposal Defense (the preliminary exam): completed within 1 semester of qualifying exam
    Students ascend to candidacy after defending their dissertation proposal, ideally within 1 semester of their qualifying exam. The student works with their advisor in preparing a 20-page paper, double spaced. The student then organizes and presents an oral proposal to their committee. The proposal preparation process provides the opportunity to hone grant and funding application skills.
  • Dissertation Preparation and Defense: defended by the end of the 8th semester
    Following candidacy, students conduct, analyze, and write their dissertation. They have 2 options: a traditional monograph or a series of 3 related journal publication-quality papers about their core research topic. (This decision is usually made during the proposal preparation process). Students consult with their advisor and committee during the writing process, presenting drafts and soliciting feedback. Once the committee approves, students defend their dissertation in a public oral defense.
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