h o m e i n t r o c u r r i c u l u m f a c u l t y s t u d e n t s r e s o u r c e s n e w s a p p l y
P h. D.  P r o g r a m s  i n  S o c i a l  P o l i c y  H o m e




The Joint Ph.D. Programs in Social Policy

• Ph.D. in Government & Social Policy
• Ph.D. in Sociology & Social Policy

Professor Robert Sampson
Professor William Julius Wilson Taubman Building, home to the Social Policy faculty of the Kennedy School of Government
Professor Christopher Jencks (John F. Kennedy School of Government)
Professor Jennifer Hochschild Professors Mary Jo Bane and Christopher Winship

Program overview

With the establishment of the Ph.D. Program in Government & Social Policy and the Ph.D. Program in Sociology & Social Policy, Harvard University has given institutional expression to the role of scholarship that bridges disciplinary boundaries and speaks to important social issues. These joint Ph.D. offerings are now available for students who wish to combine the full disciplinary depth of a Ph.D. in political science or sociology with multidisciplinary study on issues of social policy.

  Professor Bruce Western

Professor Bruce Western, Chair of the Social Policy programs.

Created in 1999, the Ph.D. Program in Government & Social Policy and the Ph.D. Program in Sociology & Social Policy constitute joint ventures linking the departments of Government and Sociology in Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences with the Social Policy faculty in the John F. Kennedy School of Government. "Discipline-plus" in their philosophy, they ensure a solid disciplinary foundation in political science or sociology, while providing unique opportunities for learning and research in social policy, a field enriched by the multidisciplinary insights of neighboring social science disciplines.

What does Social Policy encompass?

These joint Ph.D. programs are designed for students whose research interests embrace questions of economic inequality, neighborhoods and spatial segregation, poverty, changing family structures, race and ethnicity, immigration, educational access and quality, political inequalities and participation, and comparative and institutional studies of social policy, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe.

We encourage prospective applicants to look especially closely at the program's substantive research domains and faculty research interests to assess whether this program is suited to their scholarly objectives. Those with more international and comparative interests View of 124 Mt. Auburn, which houses a portion of the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Kennedy School.may be especially pleased to learn that the program has recently deepened its focus on Western Europe, complementing its traditional strengths in inequality and social policy in the U.S.

Prospective applicants should take note, however, that the Harvard Social Policy programs do not focus in any sustained way on social policy in the developing world. While it may be possible to combine study of developing countries in the disciplinary department—Government or Sociology—with the analytic framework acquired in Social Policy, the Social Policy curriculum itself focuses almost exclusively on the issues and experiences of advanced industrial countries. Those seeking greater applied emphasis on social policy in a developing country context may find their interests better served by other Ph.D. or professional school programs, such as the Kennedy School's MPA/ID in International Development, which may be of interest to future practitioners.

The "Discipline-plus" model

The discipline-plus structure of the joint Social Policy Ph.D. programs means that doctoral students complete all the normal requirements of the Harvard Ph.D. Program in Government or Sociology, plus an intensive program of study in Social Policy. In this way, joint doctoral candidates are fully trained in the theory, methods, and substantive concerns of a traditional academic discipline, building a strong foundation for extending inquiry in social policy to other disciplinary domains.

Institutionally, Social Policy doctoral students can stake claim to the best of both worlds within their graduate program. They participate as full members of both the larger, disciplinary-based department and a smaller cohort of doctoral students in Social Policy. Doctoral students are taught and supervised by faculty from Government, Sociology, and Social Policy, and may enjoy greater exposure to a network of scholars outside the home discipline and to colleagues with applied policy interests than they might otherwise experience in a single disciplinary department.

Students gain admission to the program in a two-stage process of review by both a multidisciplinary admissions committee in Social Policy and the admissions committee of the relevant disciplinary department. From the very beginning of their graduate careers, then, students are regarded as future contributors to the advancement of scholarship in their home discipline, as well as emerging leaders at the intersection of disciplinary boundaries in the study of social policy.

Who might choose this degree program?

Students who seek the flexibility to pursue research careers in university departments of political science or sociology, in graduate schools of public policy, or in policy think tanks, other non-profit organizations, and the public sector may find this degree especially suitable. In the course of their doctoral training, students acquire the analytic tools to connect scholarship in their disciplinary field to Harvard Yardproblems of social policy, bringing the combined insights of economics, political science, public policy, and sociology to bear on social issues that defy disciplinary compartmentalization.

Like most social science Ph.D. programs, the joint Ph.D. Programs in Social Policy are fundamentally about research—often research in highly specialized domains. The skills that doctoral students cultivate in the Ph.D. program are principally the analytic and research capacities that will enable them to identify important unanswered questions and to devise research strategies that enhance our understanding of social problems. This need not imply an academic career, but even those who aspire to professions in non-profit organizations or the public sector will likely find the Ph.D. most appropriate for research-related careers requiring advanced academic training and scholarship. Those whose professional goals are more practice-oriented may wish to explore other degree options further. The John F. Kennedy School of Government offers a Master's in Public Policy (MPP), which is designed to train future practitioners in the analytic, management, and advocacy skills for effective public service.

If the joint Ph.D. Program in Social Policy sounds right for you, we invite you to look around our web site and learn more about the program and its participants. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Photo info (from top of page):

Top row: Professor Robert Sampson (Sociology); Professor William Julius Wilson (University Professor, Social Policy); Taubman Building, home to the Social Policy faculty of the Kennedy School of Government.

Second row: Professor Christopher Jencks (Social Policy), Professor Jennifer Hochschild (Government), and Professors Mary Jo Bane (Social Policy) and Christopher Winship (Sociology).

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