A Research Policy PhD

Our PhD program focuses on producing top quality policy-oriented researchers through rigorous training in advanced empirical and analytical analysis needed to perform and interpret cutting-edge economic analyses in a wide range of policy-oriented areas including education, environmental, health, labor, public economics, and technology and innovation.

The foundation for our program takes place in the first year of the program when you will focus on the core theoretical, quantitative, and statistical analysis skills needed to succeed in the program. Your second year then focuses on using those skills to explore areas of interest and on broadening your policy-focused toolbox. The third year is spent determining your specific dissertation topic and doing foundation work on that topic. Finally, the fourth year is spent completing the dissertation.

The length of our PhD program varies according to the specific content of the applicant’s master’s degree. For applicants whose master’s degree includes courses similar to what our MA in Applied Economics degree requires, it consists of 60 semester hours of course and dissertation work. For applicants who have master’s degrees that are not similar to what our MA requires, the number of hours may be higher. At most, the program would be 75 semester hours of course and dissertation work. In this latter case, applicants may wish to apply to our MA/PhD program instead.

Apply Now Admissions Requirements

Full- and Part-time Curriculums

Full-Time Curriculum

Students generally take 9 hours of coursework each semester in their first two years and 6 hours of coursework each semester in their last two years.  That pace, however, can vary depending on whether additional coursework beyond the 60 semester hours is required and depending on whether any master’s courses are used to satisfy those 60 semester hours of coursework.  Up to 18 hours of the 60 hours may be accepted from the MA in Applied Economics at UNCG or a comparable master’s in economics program.  The number of hours that are accepted will depend on the specifics of the master’s courses taken and when they were taken.

First Year

During your first fall semester, you typically will take three PhD core courses that will provide you with advanced training in microeconomics theory and econometrics:

  • ECO 741:  Advanced Mathematical Economics
  • ECO 742:  Advanced Microeconomic Theory
  • ECO 745:  Advanced Econometric Theory

In January of your first year, you will sit for two comprehensive examinations, one in economic theory and one in econometrics.  These examinations evaluate the state of your knowledge and skills in economic theory and econometrics and are based both on courses from the previous semester as well as on master of economics courses.  If you do not pass one or both of these examinations, you will have one more opportunity to retake those examination(s) in May.

In the spring of your first year, you will typically will take three courses that deepen your economic theory and econometric theory skills and give you a broader set of tools for conducting policy analysis:

  • ECO 642:  Microeconomics II
  • ECO 731:  Applied Policy Methods
  • ECO 746:  Advanced Econometric Theory II

Finally, by the end of your first year you will need to identify a member of the faculty to serve as the chair of your dissertation committee and work with your committee chair to select additional faculty members to serve on your dissertation committee and to write out a plan for your remaining course work.

Second Year

Your second year is spent finishing up developing foundational skills and taking field course work.   This is the time when you can begin branching out into fields of specialization in applied economics. The specific field courses that you take should be chosen in consultation with your dissertation committee.  In that regard, it is possible to pursue special interests by taking coursework outside the Department of Economics in other graduate departments (for example, Business Administration, Educational Research Methodology, Health, Political Science, or Information Systems) or at other universities such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or Duke University.  If you and your committee decide that courses outside the Department of Economics would be useful to your studies, you should talk to the Department’s Director of Graduate Studies as soon as possible.

The specific sequence of courses can vary in your second year, but one possible sequence is:

  • Second-Year Fall Semester
    • ECO 721:  Empirical Microeconomics
    • ECO 725:  Data Methods in Economics
    • ECO 73X:  Field Course
  • Second-Year Spring Semester
    • ECO 73X:  Field Course
    • ECO 73X:  Field Course
    • ECO 73X:  Field Course

It is important to note that depending on the availability of courses and the particular needs of the student, there is some flexibility in when courses are completed.  Thus, for example, it may be that a field course is taken in the spring of the first year and one of the courses listed for that semester is moved to the spring of the second year.

Third Year

Your third year’s focus will be spent identifying what you would like to research for your dissertation and constructing a theoretical and empirical foundation to conduct that research.  Your dissertation topic should be one that calls for a thorough investigation of a basic and significant empirical policy problem or question in economics.

To begin that process, you will begin in the fall semester by taking ECO 797:  Seminar in Empirical Economics (6 semester hours) where you will formulate the research question that will be the subject of your dissertation and begin the process of identifying, collecting, and assembling the data required to address your research question.  In the spring semester you will take ECO 798:  Seminar in Economic Research (6 semester hours) where you will complete an extensive review of the literature relevant to your dissertation topic and begin developing the formal theoretical and empirical structures needed to conduct your dissertation work.

The end of the third year then ends with you formally proposing your dissertation topic and explaining how research on that topic will be conducted.    As part of this proposal process, your dissertation adviser in consultation with your dissertation committee will administer a set of written and oral examinations known as the “Doctoral Preliminary Examinations”.  The purpose of these examinations is to assure that you have the skills and knowledge in your field(s) of study needed to complete your proposed dissertation. Upon successful completion of those examinations and approval of your dissertation topic, you will be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Fourth Year

Once you have been admitted to candidacy, you can conduct your dissertation research.  The course associated with this work is ECO 799:  Dissertation.  PhD students must complete 12 semester hours of ECO 799, and typically that is done by taking 6 semester hours in the fall and 6 semester hours in the spring.   Upon satisfactory completion of your dissertation research,  you will prepare and give an oral presentation that summarizes your work.  Known as the “Final Oral Examination”, this oral presentation occurs at a meeting that is open to the public.

Part-Time Curriculum

Students interested in pursuing the PhD in Economics program part-time should talk with the Director of Graduate Studies before beginning courses to develop an individual part-time plan of study that fits with the students ability to pursue the PhD program and meets university and program requirements.

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Have Questions?

Dr. Dennis Leyden

Associate Professor
Bryan 460 DPLeyden@uncg.edu