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Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs (PAPA)

Limited Time! Application fee waivers are being provided to SPIA  graduate applicants. Use SPIA_2022 as the code for the Financial Assistance form when applying.

The CPAP PhD in Public Administration and Public Affairs equips students with the intellectual foundation and analytical skills to engage in scholarly inquiry that addresses cutting edge public administration and policy questions. The program is rooted in strong commitments to promoting public service values, equity and ethical leadership through scholarship and practice. The program is a springboard to academic careers as well as for researchers and analysts serving in government and the private sector. 

Program Description:

Early coursework covers theoretical foundations underpinning public administration and affairs scholarship and research methods. Required foundation courses include: Public Administration Theory and Context; Complex Public Organizations; Leadership and Management in Public Administration; Normative Foundations of Public Administration; Public Policy Processes; and Public Policy Design. Foundational coursework is complemented by in-depth public administration and policy seminars, electives, a two-semester capstone research seminar, and the dissertation. CPAP's Doctoral Mentoring Program promotes scholarly immersion and professional socialization.

Upon admission to the Ph.D. program, each student is assigned an advisor to provide counsel on the selection and timing of coursework as well as to help the student develop a clear sense of intellectual direction and a framework for thinking about his or her dissertation project. Students may change advisors at any time with the approval of the CPAP Chair and the consent of the new advisor.
Plan of Study: within the first semester of study new students complete a plan of study which identifies coursework from previous graduate work that may be transferred into the Ph.D. plan of study, and establishes the timing for completing additional CPAP course work. The student should contact his or her advisor to arrange a plan of study meeting, consisting of the advisor, two additional members of the faculty, and the student. Students should print the plan of study form and bring a copy to the program of study meeting. In some instances, the plan of study advising may be completed in conjunction with orientation or with a doctoral mentoring program session.

Doctoral Mentoring Program (DMP): Each student in the Ph.D. program must attend a total of 15 doctoral mentoring program sessions before defending his or her dissertation. The mentoring program is central to the community of scholarship at CPAP. Three DMP sessions are scheduled each semester, for a total of six each year. Students can earn DMP credits for attending additional lectures, round tables, and sessions identified as appropriate for DMP credit but students must attend at least 10 of the regularly scheduled DMP sessions, and no more than five alternative sessions. Students are encouraged to attend the DMP throughout their studies, even after reaching 15 sessions.

This exam is an important transition point in the program where students more actively and critically direct their scholarly interests. It is taken only when all course work (with the exception of the capstone seminars and the 12 hours of Research Concentration), has been completed. In order to take the examination, a student must submit the official form to the graduate school at least one month prior to the exam, and have a Plan of Study approved by his or her committees and committee chairs and the Graduate School, and he or she may not have any grades of “incomplete” in Foundation or Advanced Topics courses.

This examination tests the substantive knowledge, analytical ability, intellectual power, and writing and speaking skills necessary for completing the Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Affairs. Students passing the exam are considered to be qualified to go on to the prospectus stage of their doctoral work. The Virginia Tech Honor Code is in effect for all aspects of this examination. The exam is offered every Fall semester, usually in early September, and every Spring semester usually in early February.

The exam is offered in two parts: a written portion consisting of three essays in the three fields of study selected by the student and an oral exam two weeks later before the examination committee that consists of questions drawing primarily upon the written essays completed by the student.

Students planning to take the exams must respond to the preliminary inquiry from Laura French or Irene Jung distributed six months prior to a fall or spring exam, to confirm participation in the next scheduled exam and the fields of study they have selected for the exam.

Annual Student Evaluations: An evaluation of doctoral students in the CPAP Ph.D. program is conducted at the end of the Spring semester of each academic year. The purpose of the evaluation is to assure that each student is making adequate progress toward the program milestones. This evaluation involves the review of courses taken, grades earned, progress toward milestones, and professional accomplishments. The basis of this review is an annual evaluation form that is completed by each student. Special attention is given to course incompletes and other potential obstacles to adequate progress.

The Ph.D. program consists of three tightly integrated components, each designed to provide a foundation for, and transition to the next:

  • Introductory and advanced coursework consisting of 48 credits, culminating in the qualifying exams
  • 12 credits focused on the student’s concentration, culminating in the concentration lecture and the transition to the prospectus defense
  • 30 credits of dissertation and research, culminating in the defense of the dissertation

Students must complete three concentration courses and conduct a concentration lecture for a total of 12 credits.
Coursework: Students will complete three classes or independent studies that contribute directly to their dissertation research. Concentrations may focus on areas of student or faculty expertise leading to a dissertation such as non-profit management, public and regime values, public finance, strategy, homeland security, or many other areas. In consultation with an advisor students choose to complete either independent studies that are designed to hone and further their dissertation interests, courses that contribute directly to a student’s research interests, or a combination of the two. If a student chooses to complete an independent study, he or she must complete the independent study form in consultation with the faculty member who has agreed to supervise the Independent Study. These forms are filed with the Administrative Assistant for the program.

Selecting a dissertation advisor and Committee: Through completion of the concentration coursework, students are transitioning to their advisors for their dissertations. Students often work with different faculty during their research concentration courses or independent studies to consider selection of their dissertation committee chairs and members of the committees. The first step in this process is to ask a member of the Center’s core faculty to chair this committee. The faculty member who agrees to chair the dissertation committee will then become the student’s advisor. The next step is to constitute the Dissertation Committee, which consists of at least four members including the chair. Three members including the chair must be core CPAP faculty members. The fourth member can be a CPAP faculty member, affiliated faculty, a faculty member from another department in VT, or someone outside of VT with higher education credentials who brings particular expertise to the committee.

Concentration Lecture: When a student has completed nine credits of concentration work, he or she will present a concentration lecture to the faculty and peers. The lecture is an opportunity to share what the student has learned, and to test out a format and approach for the student’s dissertation prospectus.

Students must register for PAPA 7964 Concentration Lecture Section for the semester they plan to deliver their lecture. In addition, students are responsible for coordinating with their committee members to schedule the lecture, and communicating the day and time to Laura French in Blacksburg or Irene Jung in Alexandria for distribution on the student and faculty listservs. The announcement should be at least a full two weeks in advance of the lecture.



Mark Blane
Graduate Student Coordinator

Joe Rees
Faculty Coordinator (Richmond)


104 Draper Rd. 
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Washington D.C.
900 N. Glebe Rd., 6th Floor, VTRC,
Arlington, VA 22203

2810 N Parham Rd.
Richmond, VA 23294