PhD in Regional Planning

Your Qualifying Process and Requirements

To qualify you must satisfactorily complete two synthesis papers, and pass a qualifying exam. The qualifying exam has a written and an oral component. the written component of the qualifying exam could be satisfied through a Qualifying Written Exam (QWE) or a Qualfying Research Paper (QRP). The oral and final component of the exam will be held not more than 10 days after you submit the written component of the exam. You and your Plan of Study Committee must agree whether you will do the QWE or the QRP. It is however, your Qualifying Committee that assesses your qualifying exam or qualifying papers.  Below we describe each of the requirements for students to pass their Qualifying exam.

Your Synthesis Papers

All doctoral students need to successfully complete two synthesis papers in preparation for your qualifying examination. Through two literature review papers, you demonstrate mastery of the existing schools of thought within two distinct areas of planning research. Your papers focus on critiquing and synthesizing prior research and identifying gaps and research opportunities. These papers might form the basis of one or more dissertation chapters or lead to original research papers. Several departmental courses require a course paper that could be written in a way that meets this requirement, and independent study courses provide another way to complete this requirement in parallel with your coursework. There is no required length or format for these papers, but they should be similar in size to journal articles, which are typically about 6,000 to 7,000 words. The Qualifying Committee will guide and assess the student on their synthesis papers.

Qualifying Written Exam

The Qualifying Written Exam (QWE) 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.

Qualifying Research Paper

The Qualifying Research Paper (QRP) builds and demonstrates your capacity to integrate theory and appropriate methods 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.

After the Qualifying Committee approves your Qualifying Research Paper, you will get additional feedback at a public presentation organized through the department's doctoral seminars. This public presentation needs to be held at the earliest date possible.

Qualifying Oral Exam

An oral defense of the written component of your exam (be it Qualifying Research Paper or Qualifying Written Exam) should occur before your Qualifying Committee. The oral exam is an important component of your qualifying process. At this oral defense you need to demonstrate your ability to articulate your thoughts and reflect on your subject matter and disciplinary insights in your fields of expertise, engage in scholarly discussion and defend your written papers and statements.

This oral exam is a closed meeting (not open to public) and should be held not more than 10 days after completion of the written component of the exam. Your Qualifying Committee determines your qualification based on the two synthesis papers on file; the written component of the exam you have submitted and the oral component of your exam. In conclusion of the oral exam, the 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 six months of the student's initial attempt at the qualifying exam.

Archiving your Qualifying Material

To enhance future program review and consistency in expectations, once a student is qualified, the faculty adviser and the advisee are responsible to file with the program Director the final written components of the student's qualifying requirements. This includes final copies of the two synthesis papers and final copy of the Qualifying Written Exam (questions and answers) OR the Qualifying Research Paper. The program Director will upload these material onto a closed access website open to PhD program faculty only.

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 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.