PhD in Regional Planning

Your Qualifying Exam or Qualifying Research Paper

To advance to candidacy you must take and pass either a qualifying examination or a qualifying research paper. You and your Plan of Study Committee must agree whether you will write the qualifying paper or take the qualifying exam.  It is however, your Qualifying Committee that assesses your qualifying exam or qualifying papers.  For clarification on Plan of Study Committee and Qualifying Committee see below.

Qualifying Examination

The examination is a written and oral exam that tests your ability to integrate materials from your courses in planning theory, research methods and design, and area of specialization and apply them to advanced research questions. It assesses whether you are ready to participate in scholarly discussions and should be invited to submit a dissertation proposal. You should take the exam at the end of the semester in which you complete your required coursework or within one month thereafter.

The content of these exams and the courses you take to prepare for them depend on the type of research you intend to pursue. Prepared by members of your Qualifying Committee, the questions are integrated, sequenced, or otherwise edited by the chair of the committee with the review and consent of the other committee members. You have one week to complete written responses to the questions. Most students do one set of questions each day, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, picking up the questions at 8 AM and e-mailing their answers by 5 PM. An oral defense of those responses before the exam committee should occur not more than 10 days after completion of the written exam.

Following the oral exam, the qualifying exam committee will vote whether you pass the qualifying requirements, must be re-examined, or are not qualified to continue your doctoral studies and work toward a dissertation proposal. Any disagreement must be discussed by the committee members and a single result agreed upon. If the committee decides there is sufficient promise to allow a student a re-examination attempt, it may do so only once and must either pass or fail the student on the second attempt. Any reexamination must occur within five semesters of the student’s initial enrollment in the program.

Qualifying Research Paper

The qualifying paper builds and demonstrates your capacity to design, conduct, and communicate original scholarly research. Your topic may originate in gaps you identify in your synthesis papers, research problems you encounter as a research assistant, courses that require you to write research papers, or independent study courses, research you read, and ideas you have. Your Plan of Study Committee can offer guidance in defining and producing the qualifying paper, but the analysis and writing must be your own. The assessment and approval of the qualifying research paper are by the Qualifying Committee.

Following an oral exam focused on your paper, the Committee will vote whether you have passed the qualifying requirements, must revise the paper or be re-examined, or are not qualified to continue your doctoral studies and work toward a dissertation proposal.

After the Qualifying Committee approves your qualifying paper, you will get additional feedback under scholarly conference conditions at a departmental event organized once each semester by the Ph.D. Program Director.

Plan of Study Committee and Qualifying Committee

The Plan of study (POS) committee consists of the advisor and one other member, agreed upon by both the student and the advisor.  The POS committee should be appointed during the first semester and serve to guide the student in the first year. 

In the second year, the student should form a Qualifying Committee.  This Committee will pick up where the POS committee leaves off and continue to guide the student through their courses, with the purpose of ensuring that they have the appropriate qualifications to do independent research in their chosen field.  The Qualifying Committee will guide and assess the student on their synthesis papers and the qualifying paper or the qualifying exam.  

The Qualifying Committee must include your advisor and at least two other faculty members who in combination are knowledgeable about planning theory, your research methods of interest, and your area of specialization.  Faculty members from other departments may be included on the committee, but the majority must be faculty from the Regional Planning Ph.D. program.  The members may or may not overlap with the POS committee.  Often, however, the Qualifying Committee will include both members of the POS committee.  The composition of this Committee often is different from that of the committees for the preliminary and final dissertation examinations.