PhD in Public Policy


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Interdisciplinary. Experiential. Scholarly-focused.

Northeastern’s PhD in Public Policy is a scholarly-focused degree and training program for individuals interested in conducting research in academia or other high-level professional settings such as think tanks, nonprofit organizations, industry, and government. It equips students with the skills to solve issues of pressing concern to society at national and international levels, from health care, sustainability and resilience, to transportation, housing and community development.

Students take core courses on policy, quantitative and qualitative methodology, and research design, and they specialize in one of three concentrations: Sustainability and Resilience, Urban and Regional Policy, and Health Care Policy and Management. Students, therefore, develop insight, experience, and synergies while working with faculty on key research projects or working at any of the School’s research centers. The School provides a high level of support allowing students to excel in their studies and research.

Current and prospective students should refer to the 2019-2020 Graduate Catalog for a description of the PhD in Public Policy curriculum, including the advanced entry option.


Sustainability and Resilience

The Sustainability and Resilience concentration of the PhD in Public Policy engages doctoral students to conduct cutting-edge, impactful research pertaining to climate resilience and climate policy at multiple scales. Examples of topical areas include energy systems, food systems, community resilience, green innovation, resilient infrastructure, environmental justice and equity, and urban sustainability. This concentration will connect students with the breadth of faculty expertise in sustainability and resilience at Northeastern and will provide students with opportunities for engaged policy research experiences.

The Sustainability and Resilience concentration offers exciting opportunities to get involved in PhD research on critical and increasingly urgent issues facing society. We train students to conduct research relevant to decision-makers in government, nonprofits and the private sector.” Jennie Stephens, Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science and Policy; Associate Director of Strategic Research Collaborations, Global Resilience Institute


Urban and Regional Policy

The Urban and Regional Policy concentration of the PhD in Public Policy prepares doctoral students for careers as academics in policy schools, consultants for industry and municipal groups, or research analysts working in the public and non-profit sectors. To prepare students, the curriculum draws primarily from the major contributions of social, political, economic, and planning theory including foundations of social organization across cities and regions, state and local political economy, metropolitan economic growth, and urban spatial change. The coursework applies these theories to policy issues such as growing city and regional social movements for collective action; changing governmental structures and functions; improving efficiency of labor, housing and transportation markets; addressing segregation, gentrification, and inequality; responding to globalization and neoliberalization; and ensuring representation in urban policy and planning across race, gender, and socioeconomic status. After their first year of coursework, students have the opportunity to apply their knowledge firsthand to a real-world policy problem through their residency experience conducting research for a government, policy, or nonprofit organization. This unique blend of coursework and practical experience equips graduates with both an interdisciplinary perspective and set of methodological tools to address a wide range of policy issues tailored to their interests.

“In the current political environment, most of the meaningful action for policy change is happening at the state and municipal levels with governors and mayors tackling global issues such as inequality and climate change through regional solutions such as workforce development, affordable housing, economic development, and urban planning and resiliency. Graduates of the Urban and Regional Policy PhD concentration will be able to synthesize and integrate planning, social, and economic approaches to craft innovative answers needed to address the complex set of problems facing cities across the nation today.” Alicia Sasser Modestino, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Urban Affairs and Economics; Associate Director, Dukakis Center


Health Care Policy and Management

The Health Care Policy and Management concentration of the PhD in Public Policy prepares doctoral students for careers as health care academics, consultants, or research analysts working in universities, the public sector, or industry. This preparation includes a deep immersion in the specific aspects of health care organization, financing, and delivery; learning about current health policy and management issues such as Affordable Care Act implementation and payment reform; studying health innovation; and acquiring the methodological tools to do high-level research on a variety of health policy and management questions. This concentration includes a dynamic mix of high-level coursework and a residency experience working in a health care organization that allows the student to conduct research around a real world health care issue. The coursework for this concentration is interdisciplinary and gives students the flexibility to tailor training to their interests. It blends the fields of policy, business, sociology, economics, methods, law, and public health to give students different conceptual and methodological tools for doing health care research.

“The policy and management issues facing health care systems across the world are profound, and health care is a major component of the economies of most industrialized countries. Students focusing on health policy and management in our PhD program will have an opportunity to gain important knowledge and real world research experience that can help turn them into high-level researchers able to ply their skills in a variety of different settings.” Timothy Hoff, Professor of Management, Healthcare Systems, and Public Policy

Research Residency Experience

Each student in our PhD program is required to participate in a summer research residency that in most instances will be paid for by and based in local Boston-area public, private, and nonprofit organizations whose missions and activities are aligned with a student’s concentration area (Sustainability and Resilience, Urban and Regional Policy, Health Policy and Management). These residencies will occur no earlier than the summer of the student’s second year in the program. They are designed to help develop dissertation proposal ideas, or to fulfill a concentration’s secondary academic requirement (e.g. a systematic literature review or research paper). Most importantly, they exist to help students gain valuable hands-on research experience working with relevant organizations on issues and problems within their areas of interest.

This partnership model of research, in which the student-researcher is embedded within an organization focused on various policy initiatives, is truly unique to our program and the Northeastern University experience. Our university is a global leader in experiential education, and PhD students can benefit immensely from participating in “real world” research programs, especially if they are interested in working within the public sector, industry, or academia. Concentration faculty will serve as advisors for the residency experiences, but individuals within the organization in which the student is working will be asked to serve as formal mentors for the student residency experience. Examples of organizations that already have linkages to Northeastern University and may provide residency experiences include:  The Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Partners Healthcare, Boston Public Health Commission, Department of Housing and Economic Development, The Federal Reserve, and Urban Land Institute.

For additional information, contact Julie Switkes.