Ph.D. in Public Policy

PhD Program

Ph.D. in Public Policy

Producing the next generation of policy experts who will craft evidence-based solutions for the world’s most pressing problems.

Applications are open! Learn more on how to apply for a Ph.D. in public policy. In the meantime, browse our faculty listing, learn about the Ph.D. in Public Policy curriculum, explore other programs or contact our Office of Student Affairs

A flexible, interdisciplinary curriculum with strong faculty mentoring focused on rigorous analytical and professional training to bridge the gap between academic scholarship and real-world policy impact.

The LBJ School's Ph.D. program has been in place since 1992 and has approximately 35 doctoral students working at various stages of the degree program. Its flexible and interdisciplinary curriculum allows students to take advantage of The University of Texas’ wealth of graduate courses across campus to develop analytical expertise in students’ specific areas of research interest. 

All Ph.D. students receive close, personalized mentoring from our expert faculty members from day one. Many of our students publish with those faculty and present papers at major conferences and meetings. This, along with unparalleled access to one of the top public research universities, allows students to enter their chosen arenas with a strong foundation of theory and practice

Our doctoral students have access to an extensive network of alumni and connections throughout the U.S. and abroad. Our Ph.D. graduates have developed successful careers in academia, think tanks, international organizations, nonprofits, private consulting, policy research institutions and state and federal government.

Meet our Current Ph.D Students

Curriculum of the Doctoral Program

In addition to our excellent faculty members, all of whom are closely engaged in teaching and research, the LBJ School offers connections to several major research centers in the school with foci ranging from health and social policy, philanthropy and nonprofit management to international security and politics. 

The LBJ School has a streamlined core curriculum, consisting of the following coursework to be completed within the first two years of study:

Foundations of Public Policy

This course serves as a foundation and overview of major issues and theories in contemporary public policy-making, incorporating perspectives and analytical frameworks from a variety of disciplines.  Its aims are to provide exposure to, and an appreciation for, the classic and contemporary texts that have informed and shaped public affairs-related scholarship, and to identify questions and debates in the foundational literature that shape the way we think about and refine theory to address public policy questions and problems. In other words, this is a course on how to think about public policy.

Research Design & Methods I and II

This two-semester sequence introduces students to interdisciplinary social science approaches to the design of policy research, as well as the use of appropriate quantitative and qualitative methods. Together, these two semesters provide a survey of methods used in public policy, with the goal of making students critical consumers of different methods, conversant in the disciplinary methods utilized in public policy research, and able to select and justify their own choice of methods in any future research. The first semester focuses on basic principles of research design and an introduction to qualitative methods, while the second semester continues with a survey of various quantitative methods used in public policy research.  

Professional Development Colloquium (first year)

This is a weekly, zero-credit, one-hour lunchtime course that introduces first-year students to what it means to complete a PhD in public policy.  It focuses on professional development, socialization, and training, with the goal of preparing students for success in the public policy doctoral program, and later, successful navigation of academic and policy fields in public affairs. It includes topics such as creating a strategic plan for your time in graduate school; finding an advisor and mentors; funding your research; how to prepare for conferences and presentations; publication strategies and navigating peer review; learning to teach; and academic and policy job market preparation.

Research & Writing Colloquium (second year)

The second-year colloquium provides a structured forum for students to present, receive and provide feedback on work in progress, as well as be exposed to other scholars’ research. The course explores what research looks like at various stages: concept or proposal stage, draft papers and manuscripts, conference papers, papers that have received feedback via the peer review process, and published pieces. It is designed to provide structured support as students transition to developing and preparing original research papers, whether these are conference papers/draft article manuscripts, or a potential Qualifying Paper.    


What does the Admissions Committee look for in applicants to the PhD program?

The admissions committee looks at a combination of factors, including demonstrated intellectual curiosity; solid preparation for graduate-level work in research methods and quantitative analysis; proficiency in oral and written English; and a clear focus on learning to conduct social science research with relevance for public policy. Additionally, because the LBJ School’s program is an interdisciplinary one, a strong background in the social sciences and interest in interdisciplinary approaches to intellectual inquiry are helpful. Applicants should also present a coherent vision for their research: a compelling set of questions that they seek to answer, and a clear vision for how the resources and faculty at the University of Texas and the LBJ School are particularly suited to conducting that research. Finally, the LBJ School has stronger ability to advise some areas of research interest than others; because of this, it is helpful when applicants identify a clear set of faculty whose research interests match their own and with whom they would be interested in conducting their doctoral research.

How are faculty advising matches determined?

During the admissions process, faculty are consulted on whether they have availability and interest to work with specific candidates for admission. The LBJ School will typically not admit a student into the PhD program unless at least 2-3 faculty indicate interest in advising that student’s dissertation work.

What admissions test scores are required? Are there other pre-requisites for admission?

The GRE is currently optional, but strongly encouraged. If GRE scores are not provided, candidates must provide alternative information that allows the admissions committee to assess the applicant’s preparation for and ability to engage in quantitative coursework and research. The TOEFL is required for international applicants, with specific exceptions for candidates from UT’s list of “Qualifying Countries.” Please see here:… There are no other formal pre-requisites for entry. Many successful applicants have robust professional experience and/or solid quantitative training, depending on their intended area of future research. If an applicant without prior background in statistics is admitted, he/she may be advised or required to take a preparatory boot camp course in the summer before admission to ensure successful completion of the first year required coursework.

Is a masters degree required?

No, a prior MA (or equivalent degree) is not required, though in many cases it can strengthen an applicant’s candidacy.

Do LBJ PhD students commonly take courses in other departments?

Yes. One of the advantages of the LBJ PhD program is the ability that it offers to draw on the broader resources distributed across UT’s campus and research community. This page describes the core curriculum offered within the LBJ School itself, which students take during their first two years in the degree program: In addition to completing the core coursework during the first two years, students also pursue deeper theoretical, substantive, and methodological study in their chosen area of research (energy policy and environmental economics, national security, social policy, etc). Here, each student will work with faculty mentors and advisors to develop a tailored curriculum that includes the substantive coursework and methods training necessary to succeed in their chosen field of research. In developing this tailored plan of study, students draw not only on the substantive and methodological expertise at the LBJ School, but all of UT’s world-class disciplinary departments and research centers.

What are the core benchmarks or required milestones in the PhD program?

In addition to completion of the required coursework, students submit a Qualifying Paper that is evaluated and assessed by the faculty at the end of their second year. After successful completion of the Qualifying Paper, students prepare and defend a dissertation proposal to advance to candidacy.

What is the typical time to degree?

Your doctoral program is designed to be completed within five years of full-time study. We also admit several doctoral students each year who are on active duty with the United States military (such as through the Army’s ASP3 program); in those cases, the LBJ School works with candidates to craft an individualized track of instruction that enables them to complete their degree in three years. The University of Texas Ctalog notes the following with respect to time: All completed work that is included in a doctoral student’s degree program at the time of admission to candidacy must have been taken within the previous six years (exclusive of a maximum of three years of United States military service). Work over six years old may be reinstated upon recommendation of the Graduate Studies Committee. The Graduate Studies Committee will review the program of every student yearly; the results of this review will be provided to the student in writing. At those times, the committee may recommend additional coursework, further examinations, or termination of candidacy. In addition, the program is subject to review by the graduate dean.

Does UT-Austin offer housing for admitted PhD students?

Please see UT Austin’s housing resources.

What else should I know about the PhD student experience at the LBJ School?

We are proud of offering individualized, focused doctoral training to our graduate students. Graduate students engage in cutting-edge research with faculty across a range of disciplines, and participate actively in the life of the school and related Centers. Depending on their interests, past cohorts of graduate students have organized small public policy workshops or conferences in their fields of interest.

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