PhD Program

The Urban Studies PhD program is a unique interdisciplinary doctoral program designed to prepare students for research and scholarship on urban society. The Program is based on the assumption that those who choose to examine the complex problems of the city must be literate in many different research methodologies, conversant with theories of urban development, and knowledgeable about the historical and sociological foundations of urban life. By utilizing scholars from a variety of urban-related disciplines, the Urban Studies PhD Program offers comprehensive training in urban research that is not possible in traditional PhD programs. Since its inception, the program has graduated over 100 doctorates.

The core curriculum of the USP PhD program includes sequences in urban social structure, methods of urban research, and theories of urban development. Students devote 3 of their courses to an area of concentration among the 10-plus specializations that are offered.

The ideal candidate for admission to the program will have:

  1. a master’s degree in a social science or related field,
  2. statistical proficiency at an intermediate level,
  3. a background in urban studies within some disciplinary framework, (e.g., urban sociology, urban history), and
  4. evidence of ability to conduct independent, scholarly social science research.

Students with deficiencies in these areas may be admitted with additional course requirements in order to satisfy these prerequisites. Students with advanced degrees outside the social sciences, such as law, will also be considered.


Faculty in Urban Studies have earned their doctorates at some of the nation’s most prestigious universities. Faculty members are generally drawn from social sciences departments, chiefly from Sociology and History but also including faculty from the departments of Political Science and Geography. Areas of expertise are diverse, consistent with the program’s goal of providing students with a range of possible specializations.


The program is designed to serve the recent Master’s graduate, particularly with a social science background, the part-time returning student already well established in a career, and the individual wishing to change careers. Courses are generally offered after 4:30 pm, and most meet once a week in order to accommodate the demanding lives of adult students. Student are encouraged to frame the 9 credits they devote to their areas of emphasis to maximize their future professional goals. In addition to variation in professional backgrounds and career goals, Urban Studies doctoral students are highly diverse in terms of age, sex, race, and ethnicity.

Intellectual Climate

Urban Studies students enjoy a wide array of intellectual opportunities in the program and throughout the campus. They range from individual mentoring by the faculty, to opportunities to enroll in classes in other disciplines, to public programming on campus and in Milwaukee. The Program offers an annual Lecture Series, bringing distinguished speakers from around the nation to give public addresses and meet informally with students. Urban Studies students themselves organize the annual Student Forum each spring at which students choose a theme and keynote speaker, present their work, and participate in panel discussions of student research. In the late fall Urban Studies organizes a State of Milwaukee Summit to address pressing issues facing the city and region. In addition, there are countless opportunities to attend urban-related lectures, events, and programs sponsored by other units on the UWM campus. Urban Studies students also administer and contribute to e.polis, an electronic journal. Urban Studies uses its electronic mail system, Facebook page, and administrative D2L site to keep students informed of major events, administrative deadlines, and job, internship, and fellowship opportunities.

Career Opportunities

Students completing the program are prepared for positions in a variety of governmental and private agencies as well as for academic positions in disciplines that are related to urban studies. Some students seek the Ph.D. degree to gain greater employment mobility within their present occupations. Others wish to explore new professional opportunities after graduation. For a review of some of our alumni, see Scott Greer Alumni Award.

Fellowship and Financial Aid Opportunities

Students admitted into the Program are eligible to compete for a variety of types of financial aid. The Program offers a number of project and teaching assistantships on a competitive basis to students who complete their applications by Feb. 1 each year. In addition, students may apply to a number of different graduate fellowships administered through the Graduate School. Advanced doctoral students may apply to be Urban Studies Graduate Teaching Fellows and teach an upper division undergraduate course in their area of specialization.