The doctoral program in planning provides training in urban and regional social theory and research methods that enable graduates to contribute to our understanding of urban and regional issues, to formulate and evaluate innovative public policy, and contribute to and manage research programs in domestic and international contexts. The program is highly selective and individualized. It is ideal for mature students from a variety of backgrounds. Most doctoral students will have had previous graduate training and work experience in planning or a related field.
The Ph.D. student body is a diverse group of highly motivated and creative men and women from a variety of backgrounds and origins. Each year between three and six students begin the Ph.D. program, with about 20-25 Ph.D. students in residence at any given time. They come to Chapel Hill from all regions of the United States and the world. About three-quarters already have master's degrees in planning or related fields. Since its inception in 1961, over 100 men and women have earned Ph.D.s in the program. About sixty percent of the program’s graduates become faculty members in research universities. The others have challenging careers in domestic or international agencies or in private consulting and research firms. Twenty percent work outside of the United States or are engaged in multinational projects. Our Ph.D. graduates include department chairs, deans, officers of national academic and professional organizations, and many well published scholars.
The doctoral program is based on a mentoring model. Each admitted student is paired with a faculty mentor. The faculty mentor, with the assistance of a program committee, advises newly entered doctoral students on appropriate courses, and provides opportunities for, and supervision in the practical aspects of conducting state-of-the-art research. This closely supervised research experience is an integral part of the doctoral training, and is usually conducted within the auspices of the faculty mentor's sponsored research grants. Throughout the doctoral student's residency in the program, the faculty mentor provides feedback on progress, practical advice, and professional contacts to help each doctoral student prepare for a successful career in research and scholarship.
Course of study
Each student develops an individualized program statement to reflect his/her specific area of interest and career aspirations. Areas of specialization and appropriate course work are determined jointly by the students and their program committees -- which consist of the student’s advisor and two other department faculty members-- during their first semester in the program. The Ph.D. degree requires a minimum of 30 credits of course work, though additional credits may be required depending upon prior preparation. The written comprehensive exams, taken at the end of course work, require knowledge of planning theory, research methods and a specific area of specialization. Finally, students must conceptualize, carry out and defend a significant independent research project that contributes to knowledge in the field of city and regional planning.
Expertise in planning theory is fulfilled by taking PLAN 205 Advanced Planning Theory or an equivalent course. Doctoral students must also gain proficiency in two areas of research methods: policy-oriented research design and data analysis techniques. Coursework in qualitative research methods may also be required depending on the student's research interests. The former may be met by taking PLAN 801 The Design of Policy-Oriented Research, and PLAN 802 Advanced Seminar in Research Design. The minimum level of competency in statistical analysis can be achieved by taking courses in statistical methods through an intermediate level of multivariate statistics. A student may take a formal minor in another discipline with the consultation and approval of the appropriate department and the student's program committee. Students may take courses in any department at UNC, Duke University, North Carolina State University, or North Carolina Central University, all of which are convenient to Chapel Hill. The program draws on the intellectual resources of other academic departments on campus, including Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Sociology, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, and Public Policy. Students are also required to take three one credit Ph.D. seminars which cover three topics: developing and conducting research, teaching techniques, and career issues. Adequately prepared students with master's degrees in planning or related fields generally need between three and four semesters of formal course work leading to comprehensive exams.
During the second year of residency, each Ph.D. student registers for an independent study. The independent study leads to a paper that comprehensively reviews the scholarly literature in one's area of specialization and identifies one or several fruitful dissertation topics. This paper is submitted to the student's advisor to assess progress toward the degree and to provide advice and feedback.
A set of written and oral comprehensive exams are taken shortly after completing coursework. The written exams cover the student's area of specialization, research methods, and planning theory. Each Ph.D. student also takes an oral exam in which the student can further demonstrate his/her knowledge of the material covered by the exam and their ability to defend and elaborate on answers to the written exam.
The conduct of original research requires abilities different from those required to pass formal courses and examinations. Accordingly, great weight is placed on research performance at all stages of development--from the literature review and development of competence in research methods and statistical analysis, to the interpretation of results and formation of conclusions. The scholarly value and feasibility of the dissertation topic must be approved by the student's dissertation committee. The dissertation is expected to be a significant contribution to the field and must be successfully defended at a final oral examination. Dissertation research and writing typically takes 1 – 1.5 years to complete.
An important objective of the department's Ph.D. program is to train top quality and highly motivated teachers of planning. Teaching experience is, therefore, considered an important element of a doctoral student's training. Students, their advisers, and program committees are expected to provide for at least one semester of teaching experience, preferably more, as an explicit element of the program of study.
Time limit, transfer of courses, and residence credit
The time limit for the Ph.D. degree is eight calendar years from the first date of registration. Typically, most students complete the requirements within four to five years. Up to nine credits can be transferred into the program. Courses transferred from other graduate schools for application toward degree requirements must have been taken within the eight-year limit. At least two semesters of full-time residency equivalency (nine or more hours) must be taken in continuous registration on this campus.
The doctoral faculty
In combination with the quality of its students and graduates, the best measure of a Ph.D. program is the quality of the faculty and their expertise in students' areas of interest. The department's faculty members are exceptionally well qualified, energetic, and committed to the hightest quality scholarship. All are active in research and many are nationally acknowledged as leaders in their fields. They often serve as policy advisers to legislative and executive bodies at all levels of government. Yet, they are accessible and enjoy the one-on-one relationships necessary for sound doctoral-level training. The collective faculty regularly has more than $5,000,000 in on-going research projects, which provide financial aid, research experience and dissertation opportunities in a wide variety of areas.
The members of the Department's graduate faculty and their areas of research include the following:
Richard N. L. Andrews -- scientific and value judgments in environmental policy analysis; solid and hazardous waste management.
Todd BenDor -- system dynamics modeling, spatial analysis, and environmental planning, wetland and stream mitigation, regional land use change, urban growth modeling.
Philip R. Berke -- land use and environmental planning; sustainable development (domestic and international); natural hazard mitigation.
Richard E. Bilsborrow -- migration and rural populations (especially in developing countries); development impact on natural resources; population-development research.
Nikhil Kaza -- studies the phenomena of plans and their uses in public and private decision-making.
T. William Lester -- regional economic development; labor market institutions and income inequality; economic development policy evaluation; impact analysis; green economy and innovation.
Nichola J. Lowe -- economic development policy; workforce development; planning for the knowledge economy; planning for North American economic integration.
Emil E. Malizia -- economic structure and performance of metropolitan areas; real estate development and market analysis; development finance; urban redevelopment.
Noreen McDonald -- transportation policy, school travel, physical activity, transportation and land use, school transportation, school siting.
Roberto G. Quercia -- housing finance and housing policy; neighborhood dynamics and poverty.
Daniel Rodríguez -- transportation and land use planning methods; travel behavior and the built environment.
William M. Rohe -- affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization policy and practice; neighborhood and community studies; program evaluation.
Yan Song -- Land use planning; growth management and the economics of land use regulations; spatial analysis of urban form; planning supporting systems such as GIS.
Meenu Tewari -- political economy of economic and industrial development; poverty alleviation; small firms; and the urban informal economy from a comparative, institutional perspective.
Dale Whittington -- water and sanitation in less developed countries; computerized information and development planning; impact analysis of environmental standards.
In addition to the regular faculty, adjunct faculty in other UNC-CH departments and at nearby institutions in the Research Triangle area, such as the Research Triangle Institute, provide guidance to Ph.D. students and serve on doctoral committees.
Contact the program director:
Professor Noreen McDonald