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University of Pittsburgh    
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Jun 14, 2024
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog

Public and International Affairs, PhD

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Whether you want to teach, conduct research, or work in a policy environment, our Ph.D. program will equip you with the skills, tools, and knowledge to succeed in highly competitive environments such as leading universities, government agencies, and nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations around the world.

To apply to the PhD program, you must have a bachelor’s degree. Before undertaking doctoral study, it’s beneficial, but not mandatory, to have a master’s degree in public and international affairs or in one of the social sciences. . If you have earned a master’s degree, you may be able to transfer 30 credits.

  • We’ve designed our doctoral studies program to ensure a high-quality education that also expedites your time to degree. To do so, we’ve implemented the following procedures:
  • We limit the number of students we admit to ensure that virtually all admitted students will receive at least four years of financial support, contingent on their academic performance.
  • We review student progress annually, offering constructive feedback to students about their progress and providing an appropriate strategy for completing the program.  
  • We streamline and clarify the comprehensive exam format to expedite the completion of this requirement, so that students can move on to preparing their dissertation proposals.  
  • We develop strong partnerships with other academic units in the University of Pittsburgh to collaborate in offering a wider range of doctoral courses




Students must earn 73 credits to graduate, including advanced standing (transfer) credits, 19 credits from required core course, 18 credits from elective course, and 6 dissertation credits (PIA 3099).   Full-time students are expected to complete the required core and elective courses with in the first two years of study (see also “Expected Degree Progress for Full-time Students” below).  Failure to do so may be grounds for dismissal. Comprehensive examinations may only be taken after all courses are completed with a grade of “B” or better.

The required courses are:


Doctoral Core Courses: 19 credits

Electives: 48 credits (including transfer credits)

Note that students can transfer up to 30 credits from a relevant master’s program (and up to 36 for a graduate from GSPIA). 

Must include PIA 2023 Intermediate Quantitative Methods (pre-requisite for PIA 2032)  if the student does not have similar coursework from a prior degree.

Students will use electives to fill remaining credits.

PIA 3099 Dissertation: 6 credits

Students must be admitted to candidacy and must be writing their dissertation to be eligible to register for PIA 3099 Disseration.  Six (6) credits of PIA 3099 Disseration are required to graduate.

Minimum Required Credits: 73 credits

Students must complete 67 credits of course work, excluding the 6 dissertation credits, with a minimum GPA of 3.0. Students must meet this requirement in order to qualify for final approval of their comprehensive examinations.  Students are required to maintain full-time status while completing the 67 credits of coursework.

Additional Information

Additional Information

Students may register for additional individualized course work or guided research under the direct supervision of a GSPIA faculty member if the following conditions are met:  all required course work in the School-wide core has been completed or will be completed in the term PIA 3097 will begin; the student must be in good academic standing and making normal progress toward the degree; and a summary study or research design must be submitted in writing by the students and signed by the faculty member supervisor and Doctoral Program Director. 

Doctoral Practicum

As part of their coursework, students are encouraged to use the experience of a Doctoral Practicum course to better prepare themselves for subsequent career practice.  This optional course, PIA 3098, can carry from one to three credits and can be taken only with the written agreement of a faculty member to supervise the practical training involved.  The approval form for this course can be obtained through Student Services (the form is entitled “Doctoral Practicum”).  Appropriate activities for a Doctoral Practicum include, but are not limited to, conducting basic and applied research and public policy analysis in the public, non-profit, or private sectors, teaching in higher educational institutions, and public policy development and management. 

FTDK (Full-time Dissertation Study)

Doctoral students who have completed all credit requirements for the degree, including any minimum dissertation credit requirements, and are working full-time on their dissertations may register for full-time dissertation study, which carries no credits or letter grade but provides students full-time status. Students so enrolled are assessed a special tuition fee but are still responsible for paying the full-time computer and network, security/transportation, student health service, and activity fees. Students must consult with the Office of Student Services for permission to register for full-time dissertation study.


Doctoral Milestones

The first two years of the PhD program are structured by coursework and preparation for comprehensive examinations.   Students are strongly encouraged to explore dissertation possibilities early in the program.  To earn a PhD, students must pass the following milestones.

Plan of Study Meeting

Every student is assigned a first-year advisor at program entry.  The student should consult with the first-year advisor to identify coursework for the first semester.   Prior to the end of the student’s first year the student should meet with their first-year advisor regarding the plan of study.  This meeting’s aim is to structure a program that best serves the student’s interests and ensure that the degree requirements are met in a timely and stipulated manner.

Annual Progress Evaluation:  First and Second Years

The annual evaluation serves the filling purposes:

  • To monitor the student’s progress in the program
  • To identify any necessary adjustments to the student’s original plan of study
  • In exceptional circumstances, to signal that a student’s performance points to a reconsideration of their doctoral status

In their first two years in the doctoral program, students must meet with their faculty advisor as part of their annual progress evaluation.  The relevant advisor for these meetings is the first-year advisor until the student has identified a dissertation advisor, at which point that individual becomes the relevant advisor.  During these meetings, the faculty advisor should revisit the plan of study to assess student progress and, if necessary, suggest corrective actions and/or adjust the plan.   The student is responsible for scheduling this meeting near the end of the Spring term and should be fully aware that many professors may be unavailable after the end of the term.   Failure to schedule this meeting in a timely manner may lead to the evaluation being undertaken without student participation.

Aside from the evaluation undertaken with the faculty advisor, the Doctoral Program Director may also solicit comments from faculty with whom the student has taken coursework during the year, especially in relation to courses in which the student did not perform adequately (i.e. received a G, I or lower than B grade).  Unsatisfactory progress may lead to students being put on probation, suspension of financial aid and/or dismissal from the program.

Annual Dissertation Progress Evaluation: Third and Fourth Years

At the end of the third and later years, the student must undergo an annual evaluation of their progress toward the dissertation.  The dissertation advisor is the relevant advisor for these meetings.  The student is responsible for scheduling this meeting and should be fully aware that many professors may be unavailable during the summer.  Failure to schedule this meeting in a  timely manner may lead to the evaluation being undertaken without student participation.   As stated in the Regulations Governing Graduate Study at the University of Pittsburgh, “meetings of the doctoral candidate and their dissertation committee must occur at least annually from the time the student gains admission to doctoral candidacy.   During these meetings, the committee should assess the student’s progress toward the degree and discuss objectives for the following year an a timetable for completing degree requirements.”

The student’s dissertation committee will undertake the evaluation. Students’ full dissertation committees must sign off on normal progress for each academic year following defense of the proposal.  This will normally occur for the first time at the end of the third academic year.   If the committee decides that insufficient progress has been made, one semester will be permitted for correction prior to removal from the program.

The annual review should be schedule at least once every academic year.

Unsatisfactory progress may lead to students being put on probation, suspension of financial aid and/or dismissal from the program.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is designed to assess the student’s mastery of their intended field of research.   The examination is based on a reading list jointly written by the student and two faculty advisors in the end of the first year of doctoral study (more detail below).  Unless an exception is granted by the Doctoral Program Director, comprehensive examinations are taken in May following a student’s fourth semester, after the student completes all required courses and earns at least 67 credits (including advanced student credits).  In addition, all incomplete grades must be removed by meeting the requirements to complete the courses: even if the course is viewed by the student as not being relevant to their degree program. 

The process for the comprehensive examination is as follows:

One month prior to the last day of the Spring semester of the student’s first year, the student identifies two faculty members to serve as advisors (a “chair” and a “reader”) for the exam and second year research paper.  Ideally, the student would seek out individuals who would go on to serve as members of the dissertation committee in following years, but there is no commitment to do so at this stage on either end.  The chair must be a GSPIA faculty member.  The reader should also be a a GSPIA faculty member but may be external to GSPIA with permission from the PhD Program Director.

After identifying advisors, the student and advisors discuss the student’s initial dissertation research interests and plans and would collaboratively form a reading list around those interests.  This process should be complete by the last day of the Spring semester of the student’s first year.   The reading list will form the basis of material that may be covered on the comprehensive exam at the end of the year.  The reading list must contain readings in three categories.

  1. Core readings in the student’s field (where “field” is defined on an individual basis), even it not directly related to the student’s specific research plans, to ensure that the student is well-read in the field that the student will be working in
  2. Topical readings specific to the student’s research interests
  3. Methodological read ins specific to the student’s research plans

All readings should be aimed towards providing knowledge and expertise necessary to execute the planned dissertation research.  This does not presume that the student has solidified specific research questions(s) for their dissertation at the time that the list is being formed; indeed, part of the aim of this process should be to help the student identify where there are gaps in the literature which will then help them pose or refine their research questions.

Individualized reading lists will be reviewed by the PhD director (with assistance from members of the PhD committee in relevant fields as necessary) to ensure sufficient coverage of each of the three categories described above.  No changes may be made to the reading list within six months of the comprehensive examination date.

Students will register for an independent study in the first semester of the second year, supervised by the comprehensive exam chair, to facilitate absorbing material on the reading list.

The chair and reader will then write an exam based around the reading list with six questions, asking the student to respond to three.  However, we will require that the questions cover the three broad categories noted above.  That is, the student must respond to one question on “core readings”, one on topic-specific readings, and one on methodology.

Each exam will be 60-hour take-home exam.  Answers are limited to 3,000 words per question (not including references or footnotes). During the 60-hour period, students cannot communicate with others about the exam questions.

Students will take the exam in May and will receive either a “high pass”, “pass”, or “fail”.  If a student fails, they must retake the exam prior to the start of the following Fall semester.  A second failure will result in dismissal from the program.

Second Year Paper

In addition to an exam, students will complete a second-year research paper.  A second-year paper will require students to complete a  research project which could (though it not required to) become a chapter of their dissertation and/or could be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.  The student will pose an original research question, review relevant literature, outline the methods used to answer their question, employ those methods, report their results, and provide a conclusion.

The timeline for the paper is as follows: students will submit a short proposal for their planned paper to their chair and reader no later than the last day of the Spring semester of the second year; students can and could be encouraged to complete the proposal sooner.  Approval of the proposal by chair and reader will be submitted to the PhD director.  Students must then submit a complete paper by the first day of the following Fall semester of the third year.  Student should present their research in a venue with their chair, reader, and the PhD program director present by the end of October of their third year.  The presentation should incorporate feedback provided by reader and chair following submission of the draft.  The paper (and presentation) will then be evaluated as “high pass”, “pass”, or “fail”.  As with comprehensive exam, a “fail” can result in dismissal from the program.

Establishing the Dissertation Committee

During the fifth semester (typically the fall of the third year of studies), and before admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, the academic advisor proposes, for the approval of the director of the school’s doctoral program and the dean, a committee of four or more persons, including at least one from another department in the University of Pittsburgh or from an appropriate graduate program at another academic institution, to serve as the dissertation committee.  The majority of the committee, including the advisor, must be full or adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty.  This committee must review and approved the proposed research project before the student may be admitted to candidacy.  A published Graduate Faculty Membership Roster is updated three times a year.  Only a GSPIA faculty member is eligible to serve as the chair of the committee.

This dissertation committee has the responsibility to advise the student on their research and has the authority to require high-quality research and/or the rewriting of any portion or the entire dissertation.  It conducts the final oral examination and determines whether the dissertation meets accepted standards.   The student must meet with their dissertation committee at least once a year (see Annual Dissertation Progress Evaluation above).The membership of the dissertation committee may be changed whenever it is appropriate or necessary, subject to the approve of the Doctoral Program Director and the Dean.

When a dissertation committee member leaves the University, the member must be replaced unless the dissertation is almost complete or the member has an essential role on the committee.   In the latter case, the dean’s approval should be obtained.   When the chair of a committee leaves and cannot be conveniently replaced, a co-chair must be appointed from within the department, and the restructured committee requires the approvaal of the dean and either the department chair or the director of the school’s doctoral program. If the defense takes place within a few months of the chair’s departure, the requirement of the co-chair is usually waived.

Retired faculty members may remain as members or chairs of committee if they are spending considerable time in Pittsburgh or the vicinity and are still professionally active. Retired faculty who meets these criteria may also be appointed as a member or as a co-chair (but not chair) of a newly formed committee.  Retired faculty who leave the Pittsburgh area and/or do not remain professionally active should be replaced on committees and the revised committee approved by the dean and either the department chair or the school’s director of doctoral programs.  

The completed and signed Dissertation Committee Approval Form and/or the Change in Dissertation Committee Form should be submitted to the Academic Advising office for posting and filing.

All coordination between Dissertation Committee members is the responsibility of the student.

Dissertation Proposal

Immediately after passing the comprehensive examinations, and establishing the dissertation committee, the students should meet with the chair to discuss the development of a dissertation proposal, which outlines the goals and objectives, theoretical argument, policy implications, literature, research design, and timetable for the dissertation research.  Students must defend their dissertation proposal by the end of the term after they take comprehensive exams, which will normally correspond to the end of Fall semester of the third year of studies. Students who do not defend their proposal by the end of the semester after their comprehensive exams will be placed on probation; students who do not defend their proposal by the end of the following semester (the probationary semester) are removed from the program.

The student will submit the Announcement of Dissertation Proposal Meeting Form to the Academic Advising office or the Doctoral Program Director ten days prior to the proposal meeting.  The announcement will be sent to the faculty and graduate student email lists. Proposal defense meetings are open to all faculty and students.

There must be a minimum of three members present for the meeting to be convened, and the absent member is required to submit a written evaluation of the proposal to the Committee Chair.  Under no circumstances can the meeting be held without the Chair.  If the Committee accepts the proposal, all Committee members will sign the Approval of Dissertation Proposal Form. The completed and signed form is then submitted along with a copy of the approved proposal to the PhD.D. Program Director, who has final approval.  According to University guidelines, only after the proposal has been accepted as final by the Doctoral Program Director does the student advance to candidacy.  The signed and completed form is to be returned to Academic Advising office for posting and filing.


The Dissertation Committee must meet a minimum of once a year; however, students are strongly encouraged to schedule more frequent committee meetings.

An appropriate dissertation should be a substantive piece of original and independent research grounded in an appropriate body of literature.  The characteristics which a dissertation should demonstrate are:

  • the establishment of a historical context for the presentation of an innovative and creative approach to the problem analysis and solution,
  • a clear understanding of the problem area as revealed by analysis and synthesis of a broad literature base,
  • a well-defined research design,
  • clarity in composition and careful documentation,
  • results of sufficient merit to be published in refereed journals or to form the basis of a book or monograph,
  • sufficient detail so that other scholars can build on it in subsequent work, and
  • the preparation of the author to assume a position within the profession.

Oral Defense of the Dissertation

At the oral defense, the student will be asked to explain and justify dissertation research and to assess its relation and contribution to the literature and policy in the field. The final oral examination in defense of the doctoral dissertation is conducted by the dissertation committee and need not be confined to materials in and related to the dissertation. Any member of the Graduate Faculty of the University may attend and participate in the examination. The date, place, and time of the examination should be published well in advance in the University Times. Other qualified individuals may be invited by the committee to participate in the examination. Only members of the dissertation committee may be present during the final deliberations and may vote on the passing of the candidate. A report of this examination, signed by all the members of the dissertation committee, must be sent to the Office of Student Services for posting and filing. If the decision of the committee is not unanimous, the case is referred to the dean for resolution. The chair of the dissertation committee should ensure that the dissertation is in final form, i.e., all required changes have been made, before requesting signatures of the members of the committee

Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD)

After approval of the dissertation, all candidates are required to publish the document electronically via d-scholarship.  For access to more information on ETD and training, go to 

General Academic Regulations in GSPIA

Applying for Advanced Standing (Transfer Credits)

At the Plan of Study Meeting students who have completed a master’s degree from an accredited institution prior to admission to GSPIA must submit official transcripts certifying graduate courses completed.  They can then be evaluated for acceptability as advanced standing, provided grades of B (or its equivalent) or better have been earned.  Other documentation such as course syllabi and descriptions will be required to support the student’s request.  All accepted course credits will be entered as block credits on the student’s transcript.  Grades and GPAs are not recorded for transfer credits.

The required 72 credits of coursework may include credits obtained through meeting Advanced Standing requirements.  In no cases, however, will accepted credits be used to waive required core courses.  For students with master’s degrees, a maximum of 30 credits for coursework may be applied to the PhD.D. degree.  For those students who have a master’s degree from GSPIA, a maximum of 36 credits for coursework may be applied. 

In recognition of relevant doctoral study completed at a school other than GSPIA, a maximum of 12 additional credits may be applied to the minimum credit requirement.  In no case, however, can the total of all credits accepted through advanced standing exceed 36 credits (master’s degree and relevant doctoral degree credits together, regardless of where the credits were obtained).  Course Credit Acceptance forms are available through the Academic Advising office.  When completed and signed, this form and supporting documentation must be submitted to the Academic Advising office for further evaluation, approval, posting and filing.

Acceptance of Transfer Credit

The completion of requirements for advanced degrees must be satisfied through registration at the Pittsburgh campus of the University; however, graduate students already enrolled may, when approved in advance by the Doctoral Program Director, spend a term or more at another graduate institution to obtain training or experience not available at the University, and transfer those credits toward the requirements for a GSPIA degree.  In such instances, neither the University nor GSPIA is responsible for any financial assistance to the graduate student.

Credit acceptance will not be granted for courses in which a grade lower than a B (GPA=3.0) or its equivalent has been received.  No credits will be granted toward a GSPIA degree for work completed in extension courses, correspondence courses, courses delivered electronically, or those offered in the off-campus center of another institution unless those credits are approved for equivalent graduate degrees at that institution, and provided that the institution has an accredited program.

Course Work Acceptable as Graduate Credit

Courses at the University of Pittsburgh numbered 2000-2999 and 3000-3999 are acceptable graduate courses.  No undergraduate language courses, courses numbered below 2000, or language acquisition courses may be applied toward GSPIA degree requirements.

Substituting Non-GSPIA Courses for Degree Requirements

Required courses for the individual degree programs are considered by the School as essential to the study of public and international affairs.  Accordingly, students are required to take these courses in GSPIA.  In exceptional cases, and on a case-by-case basis, students may be permitted to substitute comparable courses offered in other Schools and departments, provided they obtain prior approval from the Doctoral Program Director and the faculty advisors for either or both the fields of specialization.

Statute of Limitations

The purpose of the statute of limitation is to ensure that a graduate degree from GSPIA represents mastery of current knowledge in the student’s field of study. 

Requirements for the doctoral degrees must be completed within a period of eight consecutive calendar years from the students’ initial registration for doctoral study.

Under exceptional circumstances a candidate may apply for an extension of the statute of limitations.  The request must be approved by the program director and submitted to the assistant dean for final action.  Each student who requests an extension of the statute of limitations must be prepared to demonstrate proper preparation for the completion of all current degree requirements.

Leaves of Absence

Under special conditions, graduate students may be granted one leave of absence. A maximum leave of two years may be granted to doctoral students. The length and rationale for the leave of absence must be stated in advance and approved by the dean or his/her designee.  Only students in good academic standing will be approved for a leave of absence. If approved, the time of the leave shall not count against the total time allowed for the degree being sought by the students.  Readmission following an approved leave of absence is a formality.

Students who take an unapproved leave of absence may, at the discretion of the dean and the program director, be readmitted to the School, but must finish their degree requirements within the et by their original matriculation.     

Parental accommodation. Consistent with the University’s efforts to be inclusive and to support academic personal life balance, the University believes it is important to provide accommodations for graduate and professional students who become new parents, whether by childbirth or adoption, so that they may contribute to their family responsibilities while continuing to make progress towards their degree. This practice will help develop students who can successfully integrate their academic and personal pursuits. In recognition of the challenges of balancing the demands of graduate study and parenting a new child, these guidelines aim to improve the academic environment for student parents. The Graduate and Professional Student Parental Accommodation Guidelines assist graduate students immediately following the birth or placement for adoption of a child. The purpose of these guidelines is to make it possible for a student to maintain registered full-time student status, along with all the benefits of such status, while facilitating the return to full participation in courses, research and teaching.

Eligibility: The Parental Accommodation Guidelines apply only to full- and part-time students enrolled in graduate and professional programs who are in good academic standing and who are making satisfactory progress toward completion of a graduate degree. Students must have completed at least one full-time semester of their degree program to become eligible for coverage under these guidelines. The guidelines cover the situation of students who experience a childbirth, who adopt a child who is unable to be enrolled in full-day public school due to age or other developmental reasons, or who is a partner of someone who has experienced a childbirth or an adoption for whom the student has parental responsibilities. These eligibility requirements cover all provisions of the guidelines. 


Certification Requirements for Graduation

GSPIA doctoral program requires the satisfactory completion of:

  • Minimum of 67 credits of coursework (includes transfer credits)
  • Dissertation credits (PIA 3099) - 6 credits

Successful completion of the following milestones:

  • Plan of Study Meeting
  • Annual Progress Evaluations
  • Comprehensive Examinations
  • Approval of Dissertation Committee
  • Dissertation Proposal
  • Dissertation Defense
  • Electronic Dissertation Submission

Moreover, all candidates for graduation must be in good academic standing and registered in the term in which they wish to graduate. 

Application for Graduation

Students must submit an application for graduation early in the term in which graduation is expected.  As noted above, students should be registered in the term in which they are to graduate; in exceptional circumstances, students who complete all the degree requirements at the end of a term but graduate in the next term may petition the Academic Advising office for a waiver of this registration requirement. 



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