Welcome, and thank you for your interest in the LBJ School of Public Affairs’ PhD in Public Policy program. The doctoral program has been in place since 1992 and is similar in size to several of the other top US programs with approximately 35 doctoral students at various stages of their degrees. Each year we admit 6-8 new students, of whom approximately half are international, coming from Asia, Europe and Latin America. You can find more about current students' backgrounds, research interests and career tracks in their mini-bios section of this website, together with the placement and current positions held by our graduates. It is an impressive group and we are proud of their achievements.
So what is special about our program?
First and foremost is the content of the courses. Ours is a truly flexible program in which you will have the opportunity to develop in areas that are of especial interest to you both intellectually and professionally. No less than 15 hours of the total 36 are pure electives (9 credits are suggested to be methods courses specific to the individual student's research). Within this flexible structure one can also build a “portfolio” in a particular area of public policy or methods – such as the portfolios in applied statistical modeling, non-profit management & philanthropy, cultural studies, sustainability, and many others. The core is the heart of the program and covers both the theory and intellectual underpinnings of the field public policy, as well as a range of research methods and applications that you will need in your own research and career path. We teach the core very efficiently through a rigorous set of four courses in theories and methods. This core set of courses occurs over four semesters and is taken in tandem with the elective methods and field-specific courses so that a student can complete the course portion of the doctorate in two years. This is the second plus: the University is a major tier one research university, and with over 100 graduate programs and 12,000 graduate students there is a huge array of classes from which you can select both core and electives, a process in which you may expect to will be closely advised and supported by LBJ faculty and your peers.
Third, is the excellence of the 50 plus faculty all of whom are closely engaged in the teaching and research life of the School. Their profiles speak to their national and international distinction and their far-reaching interests and expertise, both national and international. There are several major research centers in the School: Health and Social Policy; Politics and Governance; Philanthropy and Non Profit Management; International Security; Labor Economics. There are also research clusters working on Wage Inequality, Urban Policy, Sustainability, Technology and Innovation, Information Systems, and Environmental Policy. An exciting new addition in the past three years is that of international security and development, tied to the Strauss Center and more recently to the Clements Center. All of these Centers and clusters exist primarily as research foci, and our PhD students are central to that mission. While there is no requirement that an individual student be affiliated with a Center, many do develop a close association as their research interests become more defined in the second and third years. This attachment may lead to employment as Teaching Assistants and as Research Assistants, and offers great publication opportunities both solo and with faculty. This focus on research is a fourth significant aspect of the program. Beyond the core you have great flexibility and encouragement to develop your research program in a way that suits your interests, skills, expertise, and life choices. This also gives you the opportunity to work with faculty from other Departments outside the LBJ School.
A fifth major comparative advantage of our program is that you can move relatively quickly to your PhD. You will usually take your comprehensive examinations at the end of the fourth semester, and most students aim to get a dissertation proposal defended sometime in their third year and enter candidacy. If all goes well, they can graduate in their fourth or fifth years. The list of advantages we have to offer goes on, but a final plus has to be Austin itself. An extremely livable town with a great university life, marvelous cultural and sports facilities, live music, international music and film festivals, and even great food. And for policy analysts and would-be public policy PhDs, we have the state government on our doorstep, literally. Several of our faculty serve or have served in major positions in national, state and local government and bring that expertise to the classroom and to their research.
So, I encourage you to think positively about earning your PhD with us. Entrance is highly competitive and you need to have a strong record of achievement, both in your previous programs of study and your professional experience. Above all you must have a passion for research and for public policy: whether as a future policy analyst, an academic, or a policy maker and shaker. Our University is proud of its maxim “What starts here, changes the world.” It really does. Come and see for yourself -- first on these pages, and then in person.
William Spelman, PhD
PhD Program Graduate Adviser
Professor of Public Affairs