Qualifying Exam

The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination represents the final hurdle prior to a student being “advanced to candidacy” and embarking on his or her doctoral dissertation.

The organization and composition of the qualifying exam are governed by Graduate Division rules and requirements


Content of the Qualifying Exam

The qualifying examination is oral and is scheduled to run for three hours. JSP qualifying exams are designed to address two dimensions of a student’s “qualification” or readiness for dissertation research. First, the exam evaluates the student’s general training and preparation in jurisprudence and social policy, or in the scholarship and methodologies basic to the social and philosophical analysis of law and legal institutions. Second, the exam evaluates the student’s developed plans for a proposed dissertation project.

To support the first area of attention, a student prepares a selected bibliography of leading scholarship in the social and philosophical study of law, which the student is prepared to discuss and elucidate in the exam. It is expected that the list will comprise literature introduced in the JSP Orientation Seminar and “Foundation” courses, supplemented by appropriate materials from later coursework and field specializations. (The aim is not simply to duplicate the specialized bibliographies of the field exams.)

To support the second area of attention, a student prepares a dissertation proposal of 15-20 pages in length. Given the very varied kinds of dissertation projects undertaken by JSP students, there can be no single blueprint for every dissertation proposal. (Projects involving empirical research on social behavior usually require rigorous methodological elaborations which are less likely to be necessary for dissertations in legal theory or international law. Projects in legal history are likely to be equipped with quite different forms of “literature reviews” than projects in public law or law and economics.) In general, though, the dissertation proposal should accomplish the following important tasks:

  • Identify the goals and scope of the dissertation, the themes and issues it considers, and the anticipated organization of the research and presentation of research findings

  • Elucidate the chosen research design for the project, or the primary source materials for the study

  • Explain why the project is timely and important, and how it seeks to advance the more specialized scholarship to which it contributes

  • Place the project and its themes more broadly within the wider contexts of relevant scholarly debate in the social and philosophical study of law.

Students are expected to prepare their bibliographies and dissertation proposals in consultation with the chair of the Qualifying Exam committee and the anticipated chair of the dissertation committee. The final versions of these written materials need to be distributed to the members of the exam committee at least two weeks before the examination date.