HomePublic Information about the Master of Science in URPL DegreePh.D. in Urban and Regional Planning

Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning

The Ph.D. is a research degree. The program's graduates have gone on to academic positions in the U.S. and abroad, as well as taking research posts with public sector agencies in the U.S. and overseas and in private consulting. Recent graduates can be found across the world working in a variety of research positions with an equally widely varying array of institutions.


Over fifty-five students have received Ph.D.s from the department (see our list of Ph.D. alumni here), with about fifteen students currently enrolled in the program. Generally students spend two years doing full-time course work before being advanced to candidacy, and an additional two to three years in preparation and defense of a dissertation. The University's requirements for the Ph.D. which govern departmental policy are detailed in the Graduate School's Policies and Procedures. A summary of the department's requirements are outlined below; details are available in the Department's Ph.D. Program Policies and Procedures.


Requirements for Admission

As the Ph.D. is an advanced degree, applicants are expected to already have a Master's degree in planning or a related field. And because planning is a practice-oriented field, applicants are also expected to have completed at least one year of full-time experience as a professional planner.


However, the Ph.D. program is flexible and is intended to appeal to individuals from diverse academic backgrounds. Therefore, it is possible to be admitted without having met the practice requirement. This deficiency may be made up once a student is in the program.


To be admitted a student must be sponsored by a regular member of the URPL faculty. Before final admissions decisions are made, student files are circulated among the faculty. Only when a faculty member agrees to sponsor an admissible candidate is a final admission decision made. The sponsor is the student's academic advisor, and it is expected that the sponsor will become the chairperson of the student's Ph.D. Committee.


More detailed information about the application process and deadlines can be found here.



Advancement to candidacy requires that the student take three department administered Preliminary Examinations. The purpose of the Preliminary Examinations is to determine that the student has the theoretical and empirical background germane to the field of urban and regional planning. The examinations may be taken in any order. Students may begin taking the examinations as soon as they and their advisor deem it appropriate. Students must take and successfully complete all three preliminary examinations within five regular semesters, i.e., two and one-half academic years, of program entry (not counting summer sessions).


Preliminary Examination I deals with the area of planning theory. It covers the rationale for planning, models of the planning process, and the history of planning and planning thought. Preliminary Examination II deals with the student's individual area of research specialization. Preliminary Examination III deals with the area of planning techniques and research methods. For all students, research methods shall include statistical techniques, research and survey design, data collection and field work skills. It may also involve philosophical analysis or communication techniques.


Preliminary Examinations I and III are administered by a rotating set of committees of departmental faculty members appointed by the Committee on the Ph.D.; Preliminary Examination II is offered by a pre-dissertation committee constructed by the student and her/his advisor.


Minor Field

The purpose of the Minor Field requirement is to supplement and support the student's program of study in the department. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of planning, the department prefers that the minor program be in a single discipline (Minor Option A in the Graduate School Policies). Students have minored in fields such as sociology, economics, political science, geography, industrial engineering, among others. The standards for satisfaction of this requirement are set by the minor department.


The Dissertation

A student who has met the requirements for being advanced to candidacy then begins work on the doctoral dissertation. This involves two steps: (1) the preparation and defense of the dissertation proposal--the purpose of which is to formulate and finalize the student's ideas for original research and creative scholarship; and (2) the defense of the completed dissertation. Students may prepare dissertations on a wide variety of subjects, using diverse methodologies. An oral examination is conducted on both the proposal and the dissertation. They are administered by the student's full Ph.D. Committee of five members, three of whom must be departmental faculty members.


Ph.D. Funding Opportunities

Several opportunities exist for funding doctoral studies in Urban and Regional Planning at the UW-Madison. In addition to funding opportunities through the Graduate School, the Department administers targeting funds for doctoral study. One such opportunity exists specifically for Ph.D. dissertators and provides up to $5,000 for successful applicants. Dissertators in applying for the URPL Dissertation Excellence Fellowship should follow guidelines found here.