UC Davis Agricultural and Resource Economics

Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program at Davis provides rigorous training in a supportive academic environment. Students and faculty interact with the goal of advancing knowledge on important problems in agricultural economics, natural resources and environmental economics, development economics and related areas. Study in these specialized areas builds on strong foundations in economic theory and quantitative methods.

To complete the program, students:

  • complete nine core courses in microeconomic theory, econometric methods, and applied microeconomic theory
  • pass two comprehensive 'prelim' exams, one for the core microeconomic theory sequence and one for the core econometrics sequence
  • complete two elective fields consisting of three or four courses each
  • complete Ph.D.-level courses in addition to those in two elective fields for a total of nine
  • pass a comprehensive oral qualifying examination
  • write a dissertation research prospectus
  • submit a dissertation approved by three advisers

While rigorous, the program is also streamlined and flexible. The usual term — three "quarters" per year — has three courses. The scheduling of courses and requirements are such that all course work requirements can be completed in two years by students entering with M.S. training in microeconomic theory and econometrics, or equivalent. For these students, additional course work, in year three, is encouraged but is optional.

Splitting the Core

We advise students without a strong economics background to spread the core Ph.D. required courses over two years. A typical pattern is to take our M.S. sequence in microeconomic theory along with PhD econometrics in the first year and the rest of the Ph.D. core in the second year. By “splitting the core” in this way students gain a deeper understanding of core economic principles, which better prepares them for dissertation research. Students who split the core usually complete their elective field courses during their third year. During this third year, "core-splitters" often devise a dissertation topic, which makes up some time.

Required Ph.D. Courses

The Ph.D. core includes a set of three courses and a comprehensive exam in each of three subjects: microeconomic theory, econometric methods, and applied microeconomic theory. The microeconomic theory and econometrics core have content that is typical across Ph.D. programs in economics and agricultural and resource economics generally, and are offered jointly with the Economics Department. Following the end of Spring Quarter, a comprehensive 'prelim' exam is administered for each of these two sequences.

Microeconomic Theory: Satisfied by successful completion of a written exam, administered jointly with the Economics Department, covering material from the following courses, each of which is five units:

  1. ARE/ECN 200A Microeconomic Theory
  2. ARE/ECN 200B Microeconomic Theory
  3. ARE/ECN 200C Microeconomic Theory

Econometric Methods: Satisfied by passing a written examination covering material from the following courses, each of which is four units:

  1. ARE/ECN 239 Econometric Foundations
  2. ARE/ECN 240A Econometric Methods
  3. ARE/ECN 240B Econometric Methods

Applied Microeconomic Theory: The applied microeconomic theory sequence, taught in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, complements the microeconomic theory sequence and is taken concurrently with it. The goal is to show how the theory is used to solve applied problems in agriculture, resources, and development, with emphasis on the development and use of practical economic models and empirical applications. There is no comprehensive exam over this sequence.

  1. ARE 202A Introduction to Applied Research Methods
  2. ARE 202B Applied Microeconomics: Welfare Analysis and Imperfect Competition
  3. ARE 202C Research Design for Applied Microeconomics

Preliminary Examinations

Students in the Ph.D. program are required to pass two preliminary examinations, one in Microeconomic Theory and one in Econometric Methods, at the earliest opportunity following completion of the course work pertaining to each exam. It is necessary to pass both exams to continue in the program.


Students are allowed two attempts to pass each examination. No more than two attempts may be used for a single exam. Each exam is offered twice each summer. Students who enroll in the full core are required to take both examinations in the summer following their first year. Students who split the core are required to take the examinations relevant to the material they have covered—most often the Econometrics examination—at the end of their first year, and the Microeconomic Theory examination at the end of their second year. Adjustment in these schedules may arise from medical emergencies and similar matters, as judged by the Graduate Administrative Committee (GAC).

During the spring quarter, students are required to register for each exam. Failure to do so by the deadline will result in the forfeiture of one of their opportunities to complete the preliminary exam requirement, including the forfeiture of one of the (maximum) two opportunities to pass the exam in question. The GAC will notify students of this deadline once; while additional reminders may be provided, a failure to sign up for the exam given this initial notification will be entirely the responsibility of the student.

Students are required to take the first scheduling of each examination, which is in June or early July. Barring some family or medical emergency, failure to take the exam will result in the forfeiture of one of the four opportunities to complete the preliminary exam requirement, including the forfeiture of one of the (maximum) two opportunities to pass the exam in question. Failure to take any subsequent scheduled exams that are necessary to meet the preliminary examination requirement will result in the forfeiture of one of the four opportunities to complete the preliminary exam requirement, including the forfeiture of one of the (maximum) two opportunities to pass the exam in question.

Exam Preparation and Grading

The Econometrics exam is written and graded by a committee of at least three faculty members who are appointed by the GAC chair. At least one member of the committee will not be an instructor in the course sequence commonly taken as preparation for the exam: ARE 239, ARE 240A and ARE 240B. The Microeconomic Theory exam is administered jointly with the Economics Department.

Elective Fields

Students must complete a total of nine elective Ph.D. courses that are not included in the core requirements. Most students complete these elective course requirements in their second year.

Each student chooses two fields of specialization. As these two fields together cover six courses (or seven), students must take another three (or two) courses to complete the elective requirements for the PhD. These additional courses, such that the total is at least nine, can be a sequence in another field, or a selection among courses across several fields, or courses such as Macroeconomics, Econ 200D and 200E. Most field courses are offered every year, but not always are all combinations available.

One field must be selected from the following three:

  1. Development Economics (three courses among the following four)
    • ARE/ECN 215A Microdevelopment Theory and Methods I
    • ARE/ECN 215B Open Macroeconomics of Development
    • ARE/ECN 215C Microdevelopment Theory & Methods II
  2. Natural Resource & Environmental Economics (all four courses)
    • ARE 254 Dynamic Optimization Techniques with Economic Applications
    • ARE 276A Environmental Economics: Externalities
    • ARE 276B Environmental Economics: Non-Market Valuation
    • ARE 277 Natural Resource Economics
  3. Agricultural Economics (all three courses)
    • ARE 231 Supply and Demand for Agricultural Products
    • ARE 232 Agricultural Commodity Markets
    • ARE 233 Agricultural Policy

The second field can be one of the above three, any three-course field in the Department of Economics, a specially designed field approved by the GAC (a compelling reason is usually needed), or the Econometrics field, which is jointly taught with the Department of Economics:

  1. Econometrics
    • ARE/ECN 240C Time Series Econometrics
    • ARE/ECN 240D Cross-Section Econometrics, and either
    • ARE/ECN 240E Topics in Time Series Econometrics, or
    • ARE/ECN 240F Topics in Cross-Section Econometrics

Completing all courses in a field with a grade of B- or better satisfies that field. That is, there are no comprehensive exams over the fields.

The Dissertation Phase

Three specific requirements are associated with the identification of a dissertation topic and Dissertation Committee. Only after satisfying these requirements does the student ‘advance to PhD candidacy.’ 

•    The student selects a research topic, proposes an initial two-member Dissertation Committee and prepares a Dissertation Proposal (≤ 5 pages) prior to the start of Fall Quarter after completing coursework. 
•    The student prepares a Dissertation Prospectus (≤ 30 pages) under the guidance of this committee. The prospectus must be approved by the committee to serve as the basis of the student’s oral qualifying exam no later than May 31 of the prospectus year.
•    The student passes an oral qualifying examination based on the dissertation prospectus prior to the end of Spring Quarter of the prospectus year.

Each of the three requirements has a deadline. A failure to meet a deadline is a failure to make normal progress. If a student does not make normal progress, the student becomes ineligible for employment, and the department is no longer obligated to pay the student’s tuition and fees.

The Dissertation Committee 

The dissertation proposal and prospectus are written under the supervision of an initial two-member Dissertation Committee. The student works closely with the chair of this committee in the formulation of the proposal and (especially) the prospectus. The other committee member may also provide guidance in this process. Both committee members are ultimately responsible for approving the prospectus as the basis of the oral exam. This initial Dissertation Committee is only formalized by Graduate Studies as the student’s official Dissertation Committee once a third member is added and the student has passed the oral qualifying exam. 

The Dissertation Proposal

The student prepares a concise proposal that articulates the research questions that motivate the student’s proposed dissertation research and describes the methods to be used and the intended contributions of the research. The proposal should be no more than five pages in length (double-spaced, one inch-margins). In the process of preparing this proposal, the student forms an initial two-member Dissertation Committee. The chair of this committee must approve the proposal before it is submitted. The Graduate Administrative Committee reviews and approves proposals after they are filed and is authorized to require revisions to address specific concerns. 

DEADLINES: (1) Students must submit a tentative title of their Dissertation Proposal along with their initial two-member Dissertation Committee to the graduate program coordinator by the end of their final quarter of coursework, typically Spring Quarter of their second year in the PhD program (third year for core-splitters). (2) Students must submit a completed Dissertation Proposal approved by the chair of this committee to the graduate program coordinator prior to the start of the subsequent Fall Quarter.

The Dissertation Prospectus

The Dissertation Prospectus describes in detail the student's research plans for the dissertation. It should:

•    Provide a compelling motivation for the topic and a clear statement of the scope and objectives of the research
•    Discuss in detail the precedent literature to which the study aims to contribute and the nature of this contribution
•    Describe the structure and expected content of the dissertation, including potential sources of funding, theoretical models, research methods and data, anticipated obstacles, and preliminary analysis and results, if available
•    Include a specific timeline for completing and filing the dissertation.

The prospectus must be no more than 30 pages (double-spaced, one inch-margins). Appendices, if any, references, figures, tables, and maps do not count as part of the page restrictions. Prospectuses must conform to these limits in order to serve as the basis for an oral exam. 

The prospectus often disproportionately describes research that is furthest along – including relevant portions of a fully drafted paper with results in many cases – but it should nonetheless include details of the other expected components of the dissertation.

When submitting a prospectus approved by their initial two-member Dissertation Committee, students propose a third member of this Dissertation Committee to participate in the oral examination. This proposed third member need not approve the Dissertation Prospectus.

DEADLINE: The Dissertation Prospectus is completed after students have completed their coursework. Students should, however, strive to make progress on their prospectuses as they are taking their field courses. Some students may be in a position to complete their prospectus early in the Fall Quarter of their prospectus year (i.e., their third year (or fourth year for core-splitters)). All students should strive to complete their prospectus by Winter Quarter of their prospectus year. Students must complete and submit a prospectus with the approval of their two-member committee by May 31 of their prospectus year. 

The Oral Qualifying Examination

The comprehensive Oral Qualifying Examination is convened after satisfactory completion of all coursework and submission of an approved Dissertation Prospectus. The objectives of the oral examination are to determine the feasibility and research merits of the Dissertation Prospectus and to evaluate the student’s qualifications and preparedness to undertake the proposed research.

The oral examination committee is appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies, acting on behalf of graduate Council, upon the recommendation of the chair of the department's Graduate Administrative Committee. Every examination committee has five members. The three members of the Dissertation Committee typically will serve on this oral exam committee, but none of these three can chair the oral examination committee. Of the other two members of the oral examination committee, at least one must be a faculty member from outside the Agricultural and Resource Economics graduate program.

All members of the examination committee must approve the dissertation prospectus as a sufficient basis for an oral qualifying examination prior to the examination itself. Approval in this case constitutes agreement to convene the scheduled examination; no formal signature is required. If any of the five examiners determines that the dissertation prospectus is an insufficient basis for an examination, then the examination will be postponed. A student may appeal this decision in writing to the GAC.

The student is advanced to candidacy upon satisfactory completion of the oral examination and processing of the necessary paperwork by Graduate Studies. This paperwork includes a form that officially designates the student’s Dissertation Committee, which consists of at least three faculty members. Ideally, the three members of the Dissertation Committee that supervised and approved the prospectus will continue to serve on the officially-designated Dissertation Committee – with the chair continuing to serve as chair – but it is possible to alter the structure of the Committee. 

DEADLINE: The oral qualifying examination may be scheduled no sooner than four weeks after the approved dissertation prospectus has been submitted to the Graduate Program Assistant. These four weeks will provide examiners enough time to review the materials and the Dean of Graduate Studies with sufficient time to appoint the examination committee. All students should strive to pass their oral exam by Winter Quarter of their prospectus year. Students must pass their oral exam and advance to candidacy prior to the end of Spring Quarter of that year.

Sample Program Schedule for the Ph.D. Degree

Year One

Fall Quarter
o    ARE 200A Microeconomic Theory
o    ARE 202A Introduction to Applied Research Methods
o    ARE 239 Econometric Foundations

Winter Quarter
o    ARE 200B Microeconomic Theory
o    ARE 202B Applied Microeconomics I
o    ARE 240A Econometric Methods

Spring Quarter
o    ARE 200C Microeconomic Theory
o    ARE 202C Applied Microeconomics II
o    ARE 240B Econometric Methods

Summer After Year One
•    Pass Microeconomic Theory Preliminary Examination
•    Pass Econometric Methods Preliminary Examination

Year Two

(Supposing student is interested in environmental economics and development economics.)
Fall Quarter
o    ARE/ECN 215A Microdevelopment Theory & Methods I
o    ARE/ECN 240C Time Series Econometrics
o    ARE 254 Dynamic Optimization Techniques with Economic Applications

Winter Quarter
o    ARE/ECN 215B Open Macroeconomics of Development
o    ARE/ECN 240D Cross-Section Econometrics
o    ARE 276A Environmental Economics: Externalities

Spring Quarter
o    ARE/ECN 215C Microdevelopment Theory & Methods II
o    ARE 233 Agricultural Policy
o    ARE 276B Environmental Economics: Non-Market Valuation

Student should have identified two initial dissertation committee members to serve as prospective advisors and begun working under their supervision on the dissertation prospectus.

Year Three

•    All students should strive to pass their oral exam by Winter Quarter of their prospectus year.
•    Students must pass their oral exam and advance to candidacy prior to the send of Spring Quarter of that year.
•    Begin developing dissertation research.

Year Four

Continue dissertation research

Year Five

Complete dissertation research

Time to Complete the Ph.D. Degree

Students entering the Ph.D. program with an M.S. in Agricultural and Resource Economics from UC Davis, or a comparable degree, can complete their Ph.D. within four years, by following a normal program. This would involve
•    a minimum of two years of course work
•    two years in the dissertation phase comprising,
o    3 months to complete the research essay, pass the oral examination and advance to candidacy
o    6-12 months to develop the dissertation prospectus
o    9-15 months to complete the dissertation.

The time requirements may vary according to the previous experience and employment status of the student, and the type of dissertation research undertaken. Most students finish in their fifth or early in their sixth year. Students who undertake extensive field research tend to take longer than those who do not.

Contact Us

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University of California, Davis
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Davis, CA 95616

Main Office: 530-752-1515
DeLoach Conference Room: 530-752-2916
Main Conference Room: 530-754-1850

Student Advising Services: 530-754-9536