Each PAM Ph.D. student completes a course of study designed to produce cutting-edge social science research on policy-relevant topics. Students gain expertise in: 

  1. One or more areas of substantive public policy (e.g., consumer policy, family/social welfare policy, health policy, education policy, labor policy)

  2. Cutting-edge empirical methods for policy research

  3. A social science discipline (Economics, Sociology, or by petition, another social science discipline)

The special committee is responsible for developing an appropriate course of study with each student. This individualized approach allows students to tailor their academic pursuits to meet their intellectual and professional goals. The program also provides ample opportunities for professional development and support throughout a student’s course of study.



PAM Ph.D. students typically spend their first two years immersed in disciplinary coursework, with an emphasis on foundational theory and methods. Common 1st year course sequences include: 

Theoretical Economics* (Micro Theory I & II, Econometrics I & II)

Applied Economics (Microeconomics for Policy Analysis, Applied Econometrics I & II)

Sociology (Social Theory I & II, Statistics for Social Research I & II)

Other disciplinary tracks are also accepted by petition. 

*Math pre-reqs include: multivariate calculus, linear algebra, real analysis

In the 2nd year, students turn to substantive policy courses in topics such as: labor, education, public, gender, family, race, development, urban, health, behavioral, immigration, and inequality. They also take additional methods courses in areas such as applied econometrics, demography, spatial analysis, computational methods, and qualitative and mixed-methods. 


2nd Year Paper

In their 2nd year, PAM Ph.D. students also begin work on their 2nd year paper under the supervision of their special committee chair. This is an empirical paper with sufficient promise and contribution that it could potentially be publishable in a peer-reviewed academic journal. As such, this paper is structured like a journal article.  It can be co-authored with faculty, but should be led by the student.  Students begin writing the paper in the Spring of their second year (or earlier), and it is due to their special committee chair on December 15th of their third year. The committee chair is responsible for overseeing and approving the second year paper.  The 2nd year paper form must be submitted to the GFA upon approval by the special committee chair. 


A and B Exams

The Graduate School requires two examinations: a comprehensive Admission to Candidacy ("A" exam), taken after the student has earned at least two units of residence credit; and a final examination ("B" exam), given after completion of the doctoral dissertation. The Special Committee conducts these examinations. 

The A exam typically involves completing and orally defending a dissertation proposal and must be completed by the beginning of their 4th year.  

The B exam entails a successful defense of the dissertation. Most students complete their B exam at the end of their 5th or 6th year, and should take place no later than the end of the 7th year.

Students schedule exams with the Graduate School at least seven days in advance by submitting a Schedule of Examination Form (available online from the Graduate School).  Exams should be scheduled so that all members of the Special Committee  are available to participate in the exam.  A results of Examinations Form must be filed with the Graduate School within three business days of the

Ph.D. Minors

PAM Ph.D. students may also earn a Ph.D. minor during their course of study, such as the Ph.D. minor in Demography offered by the Cornell Population Center or the Ph.D. minor in Data Science offered by the Statistics Department. 


Terminal Master's Degree Requirements

Terminal M.S. in PAM. On the recommendation of the special committee, a terminal M.S. degree may be awarded to a doctoral student who has: A) earned at least four registration units; and B) received a master's level pass on a terminal master's exam or performed at the level of a passed master's exam on the A exam (without passing the A exam).

M.A. in Economics. Students who meet the following requirements are eligible to be awarded an M.A. in Economics at the time of the A exam (the student can only get one Masters degree at the time of the A exam):

  • 4 RUs, including the semesters during which the first-year Economics Ph.D. sequence is taken

  • A member of the Graduate Field of Economics is on the Special Committee

  • Successfully completing the seven-course first-year program in the Field of Economics (currently ECON 6090, 6100, 6130, 6140, 6170, 6190, and 6200) with a grade of B- or better or an explicit waiver from the DGS in Economics.

  • Passing the Economics Qualifying Exams in Econometrics, Macroeconomics, and Microeconomic Theory at the level of a Pass for Master's Degree or better.

  • Passing the A Exam in PAM at the Ph.D. level.