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Program of Study

Course requirements | Special Committee | Second Year PaperExaminations | Human Subjects in Research | Special and Terminal Master's Degree


Over their first two years, Ph.D. students take courses that cover the basic theoretical and methodological foundations of policy analysis.  In the second year, students continue taking a variety of methodological courses and begin to focus on their major and minor areas of specialty in substantive policy areas (education policy, family/social welfare policy, health policy and regulatory policy).  Students are also required to develop Ph.D.-level competency in economics or sociology (or by petition, another social science) by taking at least two classes in the discipline of choice.  Students normally choose to develop this competency in the same social science as their major faculty advisors.  By the third year, students should be developing ideas for dissertation research.  The course of study is accelerated for students who enter the Ph.D. having already completed a master's degree in a field related to policy analysis.

Required Course of Study

Each PAM PhD student is required to complete a course of study designed to insure that the student has: 

  1. Deep knowledge of one or more areas of substantive public policy (consumer policy, family/social welfare policy, or health policy)

  2. Theoretical and practical knowledge of relevant empirical methods for social science-based policy research

  3. Deep knowledge of a social science discipline

Each student's special committee (see below) will be responsible for developing an appropriate course of study. Students plan their program of study with their special committee. Members of the special committee may require students to complete additional course work.

Every year, each student's performance is reviewed and it is decided whether progress for the term has been satisfactory. 

The PAM field requires:

  • a grade of B or better in each course taken to meet a PAM PhD requirement

  • that course work be taken in a timely manner

  • that the student's record of academic integrity is satisfactory. The PAM department expects all students to understand and follow the Code of Academic Integrity

  • satisfactory attendance at the PAM Seminar Series

The Graduate School also requires doctoral degree candidates to earn at least six registration units (also referred to as 'residence units') before the degree is granted. One registration unit is equivalent to one semester of full-time study completed at an acceptable level of performance. Normally, PhD degree candidates take four to five years of full-time study to complete all degree requirements, so they earn more than six registration units.  All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within seven years of the first registration in the degree program; an extension may be obtained by petition to the Graduate School.

Special Committee

The PhD student's graduate program is supervised by a Special Committee composed of Graduate Faculty members chosen by the student. The committee consists of at least three members: one representing the major (Chair of Committee) and one for each of the two minor areas (Minor Members) the student has chosen.  All PAM PhD students are required to meet the core requirements listed above.  Beyond those requirements, the student's Special Committee determines additional courses and an appropriate program of study.  The Graduate School requires that all PhD students must select the permanent full Committee by the end of their third semester of study.  Students may change the membership of their Special Committee if their academic interests change.

The members of the Special Committee set specific degree requirements beyond the core requirements, conduct and report on oral examinations, and approve the dissertation.  Students are recommended for a degree when the Special Committee members agree that an appropriate level of scholarly achievement has been reached in the area of study and that the Graduate Faculty regulations regarding general examinations, registration units, and thesis or dissertation preparation have been satisfied.

A "Special Committee Selection and Change" form can be obtained from the PAM Field Office, 122 MVR, or from the Graduate School Records Office in 172 Caldwell Hall or online from the Graduate School web site. 

Every time you make any changes, a form must be submitted to the Special Committee and all signatures are required. Initially, the Director of Graduate Studies will be your temporary chairperson.

Second Year Paper

All PAM PhD students are required to write a second year paper.  This is an empirical paper with sufficient promise and contribution that it could potentially be publishable and/or part of the eventual dissertation.  This paper is structured like a journal article.  It can be co-authored with faculty, but should be led by the student.  Students begin writing the paper in the Spring of their second year (or earlier), and it is due on December 15th of their third year.  The student's committee chair is responsible for overseeing and approving the second year paper.  In the event that the chair is not available due to sabbatical or other leave, another committee member may serve in this role.


The Graduate School requires two examinations: a comprehensive Admission to Candidacy ("A" exam), taken after the student has earned at least two units of residence credit; and a final examination ("B" exam), given after completion of the doctoral dissertation. The Special Committee conducts these examinations. The A exam could involve satisfactorily answering oral and/or written questions submitted by committee members, or completing a dissertation proposal. The B exam entails a successful defense of the dissertation and shouild take place no later than the end of the seventh year.

At the A exam, the Graduate School requires all PhD students to complete a Compliance Form acknowledging that they are aware of all applicable federal and state laws and Universtiy policies pertaining to the conduct of research. For many PAM PhD students, the most relevant regulations concern the use of human subjects (including survey respondents and secondary data analysis) in their research.

Students schedule exams with the Graduate School at least seven days in advance by submitting a Schedule of Examination Form (available online from the Graduate School). Exams should be scheduled so that all members of the Special Committee, including the Field Appointed Member (usually the PAM DGS), are available to particpate in the exam. A student may petition to allow one committee member to participate from a remote location via conference call, video conferencing, or the like. No more than one member of the committee can be physically absent from an exam.

Students are required to complete their A exam by the beginning of their 4th year and to complete their B exam by the end of their 7th year. Most students complete their B exam at the end of their 5th or 6th year. Financial support is guaranteed for 5 years, and a 6th year of funding often is available but is subject to the availability of funds and is at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies. Financial support also is conditional on remaining in good academic standing.

Human Subjects in Research

Cornell University has a Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) to ensure the protection of the rights and safety of human participants in research. The Cornell University Institutional Review Board (IRB) is responsible for administering this program. All research projects that use human subjects, regardless of the source of funding, must be reviewed and approved by the IRB before the investigator may commence the study. All Cornell investigators, including graduate students, must complete training in the use of human subjects before submitting applications to the IRB for review. It is especially important that PAM PhD students recognize that human subjects review includes review of the analyses and creation of certain kinds of survey data. All primary data collection and analyses involving restricted, non-public use datasets and datasets with community or census level data merged into individual records must be reviewed by the IRB before the commencement of the project. Research investigators may not make the final determination of exemption from applicable Federal regulations about the use of human subjects in research. All applications for exemption must be submitted to and approved by the Cornell IRB office before research can begin. Students who are unsure whether their research qualifies should contact the IRB office for guidance at Procedures, forms, contact information, FAQs and required human subjects training at Cornell are available at the Institutional Review Board page.

Special and Terminal Master's Degree Requirements

On the recommendation of the special committee, a special M.S. degree may be awarded after a doctoral student has passed the A exam.  On the recommendation of the special committee, a terminal M.S. degree may be awarded to a doctoral student who has: a) earned at least four registration units; and b) received a master's level pass on a terminal master's exam or performed at the level of a passed master's exam on the A exam (without passing the A exam).

Students who meet the following requirements are eligible to be awarded an M.A. in Economics at the time of the A exam (the student can only get one Masters degree at the time of the A exam):

  1. 4 RUs, including the semesters during which the first-year Economics Ph.D. sequence is taken.
  2. A member of the Graduate Field of Economics is on the Special Committee
  3. Successfully completing the seven-course first-year program in the Field of Economics (currently ECON 6090, 6100, 6130, 6140, 6170, 6190, and 6200) with a grade of B- or better or an explicit waiver from the DGS in Economics.
  4. Passing the Economics Qualifying Exams in Econometrics, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomic Theory at the level of a Pass for Master's Degree or better.
  5. Passing the A Exam in PAM at the Ph.D.-level.


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