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University of Pittsburgh    
2016-2017 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Dec 08, 2023
2016-2017 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog [Archived Catalog]

Public and International Affairs, PhD

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The PhD program requires the completion of 72 credits of course work and 6 credits for the dissertation for a total of 78 credits. The curriculum for doctoral students is outlined as follows:

Integrative Field Seminars: 9 credits

Students must take three (3) of the following four field seminars.


Fields of Specialization: 18 credits

Students must select six (6) courses from  two of the following fields:

  • Energy & the Environment (E&)
  • Governance & International Public Management (GIPM)
  • Human Security (HS)
  • International Political Economy (IPE)
  • Nongovernmental Organizations & Civil Society (NGOCS)
  • Policy Research & Analysis (PRA)
  • Public & Non-Profit Managment (PNM)
  • Security & Intelligence Studies (SIS)
  • Urban Affairs & Planning (UAP)

PIA 3099 Dissertation: 6 credits

Minimum Required Credits: 78 credits

Students must complete 72 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 72 credits of coursework.

Doctoral Milestones

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

Plan of study Meeting

After electing field and subfields early in the first term of study, students will meet with the faculty advisers representing their field and primary subfield. This meeting’s aim is to structure a program that best serves the student’s interests and ensures that the degree requirements are met in a timely and stipulated manner. At this meeting, the acceptance of course credits from previous graduate studies is also discussed.    

Annual Progress Evaluation: First and Second Years

Held with the student’s field and primary subfield advisers, the review serves the following purposes:

  • 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 his/her doctoral status.

The annual review should be scheduled near the end of each academic year.  The student is responsible for scheduling this meeting, 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 review being undertaken without student participation.

It is expected that the two faculty advisers will solicit comments from those 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).

Annual Dissertation Progress Evaluation: Third and Later Years

At the end of the third and later years, the student must undergo an annual evaluation of their progress toward the dissertation. As stated in the Regulations Governing Graduate Study at the University of Pittsburgh, “meetings of the doctoral candidate and his/her 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 and a timetable for completing degree requirements.

The student’s dissertation committee, or academic advisers if a dissertation committee has not been approved by the end of the third year of studies, will undertake the evaluation. Unjustified failure to make sufficient progress toward the dissertation will be grounds for suspension of funding and, possibly, dismissal from the program.

Comprehensive Examinations

The Comprehensive Examinations are designed to assess the student’s mastery of the scholarly literature, as well as the ability to choose a relevant research question and an appropriate research design for its study. 

Unless an exception is granted by the Doctoral Program Director, Comprehensive Examinations are taken in the third year of study, after the student completes all required courses and earns at least 72 credits (including advanced standing 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 his or her degree program.

Two Comprehensive Exams must be taken, one in the student’s field and another in the student’s primary subfield. Students can combine any field exam with any subfield exam with two exceptions: a) students taking Public Policy as a field exam cannot take Policy Research Analysis as a subfield exam and b) students taking Public Administration as a field exam, cannot take Public and Nonprofit Management as a subfield exam.

The written component of each exam will be taken in-house and last 6 hours.  The format will vary slightly by field and subfield.  The exam will be given in early September following the second year of full-time study. Students may change their chosen field and primary subfield up until the registration for the Comprehensive Exams in the spring term of their second year. Changes are allowed only if students fulfill the coursework requirements of the newly declared primary subfield.

After taking the written exams, the student will take an oral exam attended by members of the exam committees for the field and primary subfield. In the oral exam, the readers will have the opportunity to clarify written responses that were ambiguous or otherwise problematic and to assess the student’s ability to respond comfortably in the context of real-time intellectual debate and discourse.  Also during the oral exam, the student will be expected to present a 2-3 page dissertation abstract, which lays out the student’s proposed dissertation research question, justifies its importance within the context of scholarly inquiry and identifies a suitable methodology for its study.  Faculty readers will have the opportunity at the oral exam to give feedback to the student on their research ideas, offering guidance and suggestions prior to the student preparing a formal dissertation overview prospectus.

The comprehensive examination for each field/subfield will be graded High Pass, Pass or Fail.  All faculty readers will submit one evaluation to the Doctoral Program Director and the respective Exam Committee Chair.  In all cases, the results of comprehensive examinations will be communicated to students within 4 weeks of the oral exam.          

A student has two chances to pass each comprehensive exam.  The second attempt must be taken in the makeup round, which typically takes place early in the Spring term.  Failure to pass on the second attempt will be grounds for dismissal from the program.

Establishing the Dissertation Committee

During the third year of studies, and before admission to candidacy for the PhD degree, the major academic adviser (i.e., committee chair) 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 major adviser, must be full or adjunct members of the Graduate Faculty. This committee must review and approve 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 his/her 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 his/her 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 approval 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 approval 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 committees if they are spending considerable time in Pittsburgh or the vicinity and are still professionally active. Retired faculty who meet 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 Office of Student Services for posting and filling. 

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. 


The student will submit the Announcement of Dissertation Proposal Meeting Form, available from the Office of Student Services, to 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, available from the Office of Student Services.  The completed and signed form is then submitted along with a copy of the approved proposal to the Ph.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 the Office of Student Services 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:

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

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