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Departments & Programs


PhD Fields of Inquiry

Fields of Inquiry are the central focus of a student’s dissertation research. Students have the freedom to define and choose the Fields of Inquiry in which they would like to develop depth of understanding and which are distinct enough to ensure that the student’s research is interdisciplinary. The student’s Fields of Inquiry define the two sub-disciplines in which the student gains expertise through the course of their PhD. These fields are similar to journal titles or definitions of expertise in which one might expect to receive an academic job (e.g., not “economics” but “agricultural economics,” not “ecology” but “terrestrial ecosystem ecology with a focus on modeling”). They can be informed by previously accepted Fields of Inquiry, or newly developed by each student. Students should work closely with their Lead Advisors and other committee members to define and refine their Fields of Inquiry leading up to the Oral Qualifying Exam.

The definition of Fields of Inquiry is an evolving process with three distinct stages. First, a working definition of the two Fields of Inquiry is applied in the 1st year core course informing the student’s literature review, research design, and course selection. Then, students identify their two Fields of Inquiry—and corresponding Lead Advisors who have expertise in these defined Fields of Inquiry—on a preliminary basis for discussion during their 2nd year Meeting of the Minds. Final certification of the Fields of Inquiry, including coursework taken to demonstrate mastery of these two distinct sub-disciplines.