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Ph.D. Public Affairs Handbook

Overview of Program

This program integrates the fields of public policy analysis, public finance, public management, and environmental policy. The course of study encourages mastery of the concepts and methodologies necessary to identify, research, and solve public sector problems.

Degree Requirements

The Graduate School requires doctoral students to complete 90 hours of graduate credit. Typically, two-thirds of the 90 hours are taken in formal course work and directed readings and one-third in thesis credit but this ratio varies among students. Most students who are funded for 12 hours of credit per semester will take three, three credit seminars or methods classes, and the remainder as thesis credit. Students completing a Masters in Public Administration or similar degree may transfer course work (up to 48 hours for SPEA MPA graduates, 30 hours for graduates of other universities) if approved by their Progress Review Committees.

Core Courses. As part of the 90-hour requirement, all Public Policy students are required to complete the following courses:
  • V680: Research Design and Methods in Public Affairs
  • V621: Seminar in Teaching Public and Environmental Affairs. This course prepares students for their professional responsibilities toward students.
  • V691: Workshop in Public Policy. Each student is required to take this zero or one credit hour course for three semesters. The workshop provides an experiential base that prepares students to critique research in the field, prepare manuscripts for publication, and to defend new ideas and theories. The course meets once a week for 90 minutes.

Research Skills

Basic Research Skills. Required course work includes a two-semester statistics sequence and two additional elective courses or proficiency in a foreign language.  The two-semester statistics sequence can be fulfilled in a number of ways, such as the sequences listed below.  You should consult your advisor as to the appropriate sequence.  Students interested in alternatives must consult the Program Director.

  • V606/V607: Statistics for Research in Public Affairs I and II
  • Y575/Y576: Political Data Analysis I and II (Y576) (Companion course Y591 advised)
  • E571/E572: Statistical Techniques in Economics I and II
    (knowledge of advanced calculus and matrix (linear) algebra theory advised)
  • G651/G652: Econometric Methods in Business I and II
    (calculus and matrix algebra knowledge useful)
  • S554/S650: Fundamentals of Social Statistics I and II
    (Normally, there is limited accessibility to non-Sociology students)

Advanced Research Skills. For the advanced skills requirements, you must demonstrate either (1) advanced proficiency in quantitative analysis or specialized research skills by completing two additional courses approved by your Progress Review Committee or (2) proficiency in a language appropriate to your field of study and approved by the Progress Review Committee.  To demonstrate language proficiency, you must pass a language proficiency exam (contact the appropriate language department for proficiency testing information).

Major Fields

Students select two of the four SPEA Public Affairs major fields.  For each major field, the student must complete the two required courses and two approved electives.

Public Management: the design and operation of government institutions, including strategic/operations management and interrelationships between public and private organization;

Required Courses: V671 Public Organization and Management I and V672 Public Organization and Management II. V671 emphasizes public management theory and research and V672 organization theory and research. These seminars may be taken in either order.

Suggested Courses: Discuss with advisor.

Public Finance: the theory and practice of fiscal administration, including public budgeting, revenue administration, and financial management.

Required Courses: V666 Public Revenue and V668 Seminar in Public Budgeting.

Suggested Courses: E660/E661 Public Economics I/II (requires advanced microeconomic training), E520/E521 Fundamentals of Micro Theory (provides training for E660/E661).

Public Policy Analysis: research methods and quantitative techniques for policy analysis, including the content, design, and evaluation of public programs.

Required Courses: V673 Policy Analysis and Management/Operations Research and V664 Seminar in Policy Analysis.

Suggested Courses: Discuss with advisor.

Environmental Policy:
Required Courses:
  • Economics: V625Environmental Economics
  • Law: V645 Environmental Law or B783 International Environmental Law
  • Policy: V710 Domestic Environmental Policy or V710 International Environmental Law

Minor Field

Students select a minor field according to their research interests. A three- to four-course sequence is negotiated between you, the Progress Review Committee, and the representative from the department or school awarding the minor. A minor in environmental science within SPEA requires: (1) a sequence of environmental science courses (course number must have an E prefix, e.g. E527 Applied Ecology), and (2) that a member of the Environmental Science faculty be the minor representative on the Progress Review Committee. A minor taken outside of SPEA must meet the requirements of the applicable department or school.

Major Junctures

Progress Review Committee

Forming the Committee. Each student is assigned an advisor when s/he arrives in Bloomington. You may or may not request that the advisor serve as chairperson of the Progress Review Committee.  If you find another professor is more suited to your research interests, then you may switch advisors. There is no formal process for switching advisors. However, please advise Donna Pritchett, Ph.D. Program Coordinator of any change.

At the end of the first year, you develop a Progress Review Committee. The Committee, in cooperation with you, defines program objectives, supervises the selection and completion of the minor field, and monitors overall progress toward completion of course work requirements. Members of the Progress Review Committee should be familiar with your academic record and be specialists in the two major fields in which you will stand examination. The Committee will consist of four to five members, with one member generally representing your minor field (though the department granting the minor field may waive representation).

Third Semester Review. Students should plan to schedule their Progress Review Meeting in their third semester. The purpose of this meeting is to reach an agreement between you and the Committee about the character and status of your program. This meeting also serves as a formal evaluation of your performance and prospects. The earlier you are able to negotiate a plan for fulfilling field requirements the better. Committee members can help you devise a scheduling plan that will assure all requirements will be met. It is your responsibility to schedule the meeting. It is best to start with the chairperson’s schedule to select potential dates and then circulate a memo to your committee members. This can be a frustrating experience for students because of the difficulty of coordinating faculty schedules. Students are advised to communicate carefully with committee members about scheduling. After a date and time has been set you should send a memo stating the date, time and location of the meeting to Committee members, Professor Sergio Fernandez, Program Director, and Donna Pritchett, Ph.D. Coordinator.

Writing the Progress Review Statement/Memo. To prepare for the meeting, you should develop a document that serves as a “contract” for the completion of degree requirements. A template for the Progress Review Statement is provided in Appendix A. The statement needs to include background professional and educational information, course work completed and planned in each concentration and for basic and advanced tool skills, tentative dates for taking qualifying exams, and a discussion of a proposed dissertation topic. It should also include tables of course work planned and completed in chronological order and by concentration so that the committee can easily see how each degree requirement will be fulfilled. Your Progress Review Statement should be given to committee members two weeks prior to the progress review meeting. Though the PRS is considered a “contract,” a student may change the plan of coursework with the approval of the advisor.

If you are planning to transfer credits from previous graduate study, you should indicate this in the statement and in the tables. Typically, students may transfer coursework that is taken at the Master level or above and is related to one of the three selected fields (up to 30 credits). Coursework from either U.S. institutions or foreign universities may be transferred, however, the Progress Review Committee must approve all transferred coursework. Copies of syllabi from potential transfer courses must be attached to the statement to provide Committee members with an idea of the content and structure of these courses. To assist you in preparing this document, talk with advanced students and review their statements. Please note the Seven-Year Rule discussed on page 32 under Transferring Credit. Students are strongly advised to circulate the Progress Review Statement before the meeting and make any adjustments as deemed necessary.

The Progress Review Meeting. Before the Progress Review Meeting, you should discuss expectations with the Committee chairperson. You may be asked to orally present the statement or merely to answer questions. During the Progress Review, the Committee will discuss with you fulfillment of the degree requirements, expectations for Qualifying Exams and research directions. At the end of the meeting, the professors must sign the Report of Progress Review form (See Appendix B for an example). The Program Director must also sign the form. Usually students will revise the Progress Review Statement to reflect the course of study agreed upon in the meeting. The statement and the signed report form must be delivered to Donna Pritchett, Ph.D. Program Coordinator. SPEA 441, for further processing. Students are advised to take the Progress Review Report form with them to the meeting and for all members to sign before leaving the meeting. The final Progress Review Statement serves as a blueprint for completing coursework. Changes to the finalized PRS can be made with the approval of your advisor, but such changes are infrequent. Link to documents with comments/suggestions from previous PhD students on the PRM. HERE 

Transferring Credit. If you will be transferring credit from another graduate institution, you will need to complete the “Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit” form (see Appendix B for example). Determination of transfer credits is made at the Progress Review/Advisory Committee Meetings. Students need to be aware of the Seven-Year Rule which states that all course work offered in partial fulfillment of the degree requirements must have been completed within seven consecutive calendar years preceding passing the Qualifying Examination/Oral Examination. The seven-year limitation includes course work in graduate study elsewhere that a student intends to transfer to Indiana University. If the seven-year rule is not met, you will have to revalidate the course work in question. The complete rules for transferring and revalidating courses are set out in the Indiana University Bulletin published by the University Graduate School (may be obtained in Kirkwood Hall 111). In brief, courses may be revalidated by such things as:

  • Passing an exam on the material covered by the course
  • Passing a more advanced course in the same subject
  • Passing a comprehensive exam demonstrating substantial knowledge of the course content
  • Teaching a comparable course
  • Publishing scholarly research demonstrating substantial knowledge of the subject.

The Ph.D. program coordinator and director prepare and submit the required documentation to the Graduate School for course revalidation.

Progress Review Paper. Each student must prepare and present a Progress Review Paper before taking qualifying exams. Early in the third semester of residency, it is recommended that you meet with members of the review committee to obtain consensus on the progress review paper. The Progress Review Paper helps faculty to judge whether you have the ability to complete all degree requirements in a timely fashion. The paper should demonstrate your ability to conduct independent research and to write in a logical and coherent fashion. The paper should also demonstrate that you have a good command of the literature and the ability to use appropriate research methods.  The paper must be of a quality that is acceptable for presentation at a scholarly professional meeting.

Given the highly competitive nature of the academic market, you should try to publish an article or two by the time you graduate. Thus, a secondary objective of the paper review process is to encourage you to prepare a paper for presentation at a national research conference or for submission to a refereed journal. The progress review paper often is a revision of a substantial research paper written for a regular course. (You can, however, submit an entirely new paper to fulfill this requirement.) If the paper is prepared in conjunction with a research project headed by a professor, you must be the sole author of this paper, which must present your ideas and not those of the professor.

At the end of the successful progress review meeting, each member of the Progress Review Committee must sign the Third Semester Review form (sample in Appendix B). If the Committee agrees to allow you to transfer prior graduate course work, you will need to submit the “Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit” form (see Section 1, Part B4 for more information).

Qualifying Examinations.

Students are required to sit for qualifying exams in their two major fields. Some students schedule their Qualifying Exams after they have completed their course work in all fields, while others begin taking exams earlier. SPEA field exams employ a standard format for all students in a field and are offered at predetermined times each year. Each exam is administered by a team of faculty and organized by an exam coordinator for each field. If there is an exam requirement in the minor department, then you must also complete a third exam. Copies of previous exams are on file with Donna Pritchett, Program Coordinator and students may review these exams to make sure the courses they are taking will prepare them sufficiently for the exams. In addition, the Association of SPEA Ph.D. Students(ASPS) has electronic copies of old exams & reading lists on its Oncourse sites. It cannot be stressed enough that students need to communicate with examiners about potential question areas, expectations of literature to be mastered and exam schedules. Students should consult the Program Director and Progress Review Committee chairperson for more information.

Taking the Written Exams. Students are not allowed to utilize notes from a computer disk or hard drive during the exam: the entire exam must be original work composed during the exam period. They may have a bibliography on the hard or disk drive but any use of computer files in exam composition is a violation of the honor code and grounds for dismissal. Students will receive a pass, qualified pass, or a fail for each of the three exams. If you receive a qualified pass, you have the option of taking the exam a second time or going ahead with the oral examination. If you fail, you will be allowed to take the examination a second time. A student who fails to pass a field exam on second taking will be dismissed from the program.

Dissolving the Progress Review Committee. After successful completion of the Qualifying Exams the Progress Review Committee is officially disbanded. Many students have the same committee members for both their Progress Review Committee and Research Committee but it is important for you to communicate with the involved faculty regarding continuation into the Research Committee. For information on completion of the Ph.D., please see the section “Candidacy and the Dissertation”.


Except for thesis credits, no incompletes are to be carried from one academic year to the next. Incompletes earned in independent study or readings courses taken during a summer session must be removed before the end of the following spring semester.

Normal Progress for Students in Public Affairs Ph.D. Program

“Normal progress” is attainable by those who diligently work toward the degree. Students who fall behind in any of the stated “normal progress” criteria run the risk of losing financial support. One exception is if the lack of progress is not the student’s fault, specifically if the appropriate required courses are not offered on a timely basis or if courses outside SPEA are not available. After being given a formal warning, full time students demonstrating dramatic and continued departures from normal progress standards are at risk of being expelled from the Program.

Year 1:
Normal Progress Requirement:
  • Course Work
Year 2:
Normal Progress Requirement:
  • Course Work
  • Complese V680 and Basic Research Skills
  • Progress Review Meeting - Report of the Progress Review Form
  • Progress Review Paper - Request for Transfer of Graduate Credit Form
  • Qualifying Exam - Report of Written Preliminary Examination Form and Report of Preliminary Examination Committee Form
Year 3:
Normal Progress Requirement:
  • Complete Course Work
  • Complete Qualifying Exams - Report of Written Preliminary Examination Form
  • Create Research Committee - Report of Preliminary Examination Committee Form, Nomination to Candidacy for Ph.D. Degree Form, and Nomination of Research Committee for Ph.D. Form
Year 4 and up:
Normal Progress Requirement:

Candidacy and the Dissertation

Candidacy Status. After successful completion of the Qualifying Examinations, students need to complete the “Nomination to Candidacy for the Ph.D. Degree” form (See appendix G for example). After processing this form, you officially attain doctoral candidate status. The candidate has seven years from the date of the oral examination to complete his/her dissertation. If the 7-year deadline is not met, you will have to retake qualifying examinations.


Writing the Proposal. Ideally, by the time students have completed the Qualifying Exam, they should have a rough outline of a dissertation research proposal, which is then completed before the proposal defense.  In determining a specific topic area, the candidate needs to consistently discuss ideas and research plans with his/her chairperson.  Once the candidate decides upon a research path, s/he develops a dissertation proposal.  In general, the proposal is intended to demonstrate to the committee that 1) the research question selected makes a sufficiently compelling contribution to the field and 2) you have a plan of action that will lead to its completion in a reasonable amount of time. The actual form of the dissertation proposal varies depending on the expectations of the chairperson and Research Committee members.  Students are advised to seek examples of proposals from advanced students and to communicate with her/his chair throughout the proposal development. In practice, the proposal is often finished one or two months after exams; in fact, exams are often seen as part of the preparation for the proposal.

Forming the Research Committee. Technically, after filing for candidacy status, the doctoral candidate forms a Research Committee consisting of at least four faculty members. In reality, the RC is often formed much earlier. Students are advised to begin forming their RC as soon as possible, ideally in their second year. Committee selection should reflect the dissertation topic. Each member should have a particular knowledge base for you to draw upon as you begin the dissertation research. Professors with whom one has taken classes are often good candidates to consider. The selection of the RC should be done in conjunction with the advisor. Research committees generally contain four faculty members. All members must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least half of the members must have endorsement to direct dissertations, including the committee chair (the University Graduate School maintains a current list of Graduate Faculty and faculty endorsed to direct dissertations; Please note that all faculty are not automatically members of the Graduate Faculty and that in special cases, the Graduate School will make exceptions to this rule. In addition, the University Graduate School recommends that a representative from the minor field be included on all dissertation committees. In the event that the dissertation research does not involve the area(s) of the minor(s) whether outside or inside the department the major department may request, with the consent of the minor-field representative(s), the substitution of a representative or of representatives from some other field(s) more appropriate to the topic of the dissertation. This representative may come from outside of Indiana University. Finally, please note that the Advisory Committee/Progress Review Committee and the Research Committee need not have the same members.

Dissertation Proposal Defense. It is the candidate’s responsibility to schedule the dissertation proposal defense. Before the defense, you will need to have communicated sufficiently with Research Committee members to ensure their support. During the defense the Committee will review the research proposal and make changes as needed. After the Research Committee agrees to the dissertation proposal, the candidate needs to complete the “Nomination of Research Committee for the Ph.D.” form (see Appendix G for an example). Each Committee member and the Program Director must sign the form. A one- to two-page prospectus must be included with the submitted form. Once the Dean of the University Graduate School has approved the nomination, any change to the Research Committee must be formally processed using the “Request for Change of Research Committee Members” form (see Appendix G for an example). All dissertations involving human subjects must be reviewed and approved by the Human Subjects Committee before commencement of research. Virtually every dissertation involves human subjects-assume that yours does, and so requires review and approval. Contact the Human Subjects Committee, Bryan Hall 10, (812)855-9943 for a full set of guidelines and application.

Completion of the Dissertation. The Research and University Graduate School publishes “A Guide to the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations” containing all the administrative requirements for completion of the dissertation. To obtain a copy, contact the Ph.D. Recorder Office, 111 Kirkwood, (812)855-1117 or view the Web site here.