PhD 101

Welcome to PhD 101

Congratulations on your admission to the Schar School of Policy and Government! This website is designed to help you launch successfully into your doctoral program and will supplement the important information you receive during PhD Orientation. As you continue through the program, you can return to this site for information about key resources as well as academic tutorials to help prepare for your doctoral studies. We hope that you find this information useful and we encourage you to visit this site regularly.

To find out more about the Schar School PhD Student Services and how we can help you, click here. For an overview of the PhD program, please review the current Handbook.

Topic 1: Getting Started – For New PhD Students

Starting a doctoral program is a time of considerable transition. You can ease the transition by taking care of as many tasks as possible before your first semester. The information below will help you get started.

PhD Handbook
The PhD Handbook covers the rules and procedures of your doctoral program. You can find the PhD Handbook here.

PhD Student FAQs
This FAQ page will answer many of your questions.

PhD Student Orientation
New doctoral students are required to attend orientation. This day-long event takes place on the Friday before classes begin in August. You can find details in your admissions materials and in correspondence from PhD Student Services.

Orientation will provide you with useful information about academic requirements, program policies, and university resources. More importantly, you will have a chance to meet program faculty and hear advice from both faculty and current students about forming your research agenda.

Topic 2: Academic Advising

The school assigns all doctoral students an academic advisor shortly after admission. You will receive your advisor’s name and contact information before the semester begins. PhD Student Services provides further guidance on course selection and degree planning.

Public Policy, Political Science, and Biodefense students may contact John Washington (, Director of PhD Student Services.

Throughout the program, you are responsible for following academic policies and degree requirements. We encourage you to touch base with your advisor as well as John prior to registration each semester. Before your first semester, however, you do not need to consult with your advisor. All students begin the program by fulfilling pre-requisite and core requirements. PhD Student Services can answer your questions about registration or course selection.

Please review the PhD Handbook for your program to become familiar with course requirements. The degree plans and course information below can help you plan your progress.

Selecting Your Courses:

Degree planning worksheets for each program can be found here.

Topic 3: Getting to Know Your Faculty

Schar School of Policy and Government faculty members are highly accomplished in their fields and can serve as important resources during your doctoral program. To learn more about your faculty, you can review their biographies on the faculty directory or view a quick list of faculty research areas here.

Topic 4: Information Technology

Your Mason Email Account
As a Mason student, you are required to activate your Mason email account and to monitor the account on a regular basis. The Schar School and the university will provide official information to you using the Mason email system and you are responsible for the content of university communication sent to that address. Visit the Office 365 login page to activate your Mason email account.

Responsible Use of Computing Policy
Members of the Mason community are required to adhere to the Responsible Use of Computing Policy (RUC). The provisions of this policy can be found here.

Patriot Web
Patriot Web is a self-service interface created for Mason students, faculty, and staff. As a Mason student, you will use Patriot Web to do the following:

  • Register for courses and make schedule adjustments
  • Waitlist for courses
  • Check your registration status and view your class schedule
  • View your account balance and post tuition payments
  • Review your financial aid status and awards
  • View your final grades and degree progress
  • Update your address and contact information

The Schar School’s Student Guide to PatriotWeb provides step-by-step instructions for navigating various Patriot Web functions:

Blackboard is a web-based system used by some Schar School faculty to post course readings and assignments and to facilitate class discussions. If your professor is using Blackboard, he or she will provide you with access to the class folder in Blackboard. Your Blackboard login is your Mason email user name without the “” The password is the same as your email password.

Blackboard FAQs

WordPress Websites
All Schar School PhD students have the opportunity to create a free WordPress website. For those students who are not familiar with WordPress, it is a free online software from which you can build a blog or a website.

For additional information about this program and instructions on how to start a site, please email

Online Training and Tutorials
Mason partners with LinkedIn Learning to provide free and unlimited online training to Mason students, faculty, and staff. LinkedIn Learning offers more than 2,000 videos on a broad range of subjects, including business skills, Microsoft Office tools, coding, developing presentations, music and video editing and production, animation, and web design and development. New courses are added weekly. Access the LinkedIn Learning library 24/7—even from your iPhone, iPad, Android device, or mobile phone—using your Mason NetID and Patriot Pass password.

Go to LinkedIn Learning (LiL) at Mason to learn more.

Topic 5: Graduate Research and Writing

The rigors of research and writing at the doctoral level may require some adjustment. We encourage you to review the information below as you begin your studies and return to it throughout the program.

Writing Courses and Workshops
PUBP570, Fundamentals of Policy Writing, is a 3-credit course focusing on effective writing for the professions. The course provides opportunities for students to polish their writing skills and to adapt them to a variety of policy and public affairs purposes.

The Schar School writing courses and workshops are open to all Schar School doctoral students.

The Writing Center
The Mason Writing Center offers helpful information on everything from grammar to drafting an effective argument. The website offers handouts, a blog about writing, and information specifically for graduate students. Free tutoring is available to students on all GMU campuses.

The Honor Code and the Schar School Policy on Plagiarism
The profession of scholarship and the intellectual life of a university, as well as the field of public policy inquiry, depend fundamentally on a foundation of trust. Thus, any act of plagiarism strikes at the heart of the meaning of the University and the purpose of the Schar School of Policy and Government. It constitutes a serious breach of professional ethics and it is unacceptable.

Plagiarism is the use of another’s words or ideas presented as one’s own. It includes, among other things, the use of specific words, ideas, or frameworks that are the product of another’s work. Honesty and thoroughness in citing sources is essential to professional accountability and personal responsibility. Appropriate citation is necessary so that arguments, evidence, and claims can be critically examined.

Plagiarism is wrong because of the injustice it does to the person whose ideas are stolen. But it is also wrong because it constitutes lying to one’s professional colleagues. From a prudential perspective, it is shortsighted and self-defeating, and it can ruin a professional career.

The faculty of the School takes plagiarism seriously and has adopted a zero tolerance policy. Any plagiarized assignment will receive an automatic grade of “F.” This may lead to failure for the course, resulting in termination from the program and possible dismissal from the University. This dismissal will be noted on the student’s transcript. For foreign students who are on a university-sponsored visa (e.g. F-1, J-1 or J-2), dismissal also results in the revocation of their visa.

To help enforce the Schar School’s policy on plagiarism, all written work submitted in partial fulfillment of course or degree requirements must be available in electronic form so that it can be compared with electronic databases, as well as submitted to commercial services to which the School subscribes. Faculty may at any time submit a student’s work without prior permission from the student. Individual instructors may require that written work be submitted in electronic as well as printed form. The Schar School’s policy on plagiarism is supplementary to the George Mason University Honor Code; it is not intended to replace it or substitute for it.

Please be sure to review the Mason Honor Code in its entirety here.

University Libraries
To support and guide student research, University Libraries provides a comprehensive set of resources. Research tools are listed on the For Scholars page here. Online tutorials explain how to make the most of the library’s tools. You can learn how to search a database, start your research, and use the interlibrary loan services by visiting the tutorials page. The libraries also offer workshops on such topics as bibliographic management software and advanced research tools. Students are eligible to register for the workshops as soon as they have an active Mason email account.

Each GMU department has a designated librarian. Chris Magee is the liaison librarian for all Schar School programs. As a subject specialist in public policy, political science, and biodefense, he can help with your research questions. You may find Chris in the Mason Square library or by sending him an email at

Finally, the Get Help page can help you navigate the library’s resources.

Topic 6: Quantitative Skills

Basic Math Refresher
The Basic Math Refresher provides a review of math concepts with which all Schar School students are expected to be familiar. This familiarity is particularly important for those students who are required to take the statistical methods course (POGO 511). The math refresher will help you to prepare for these courses.

Screening for POGO 511
PhD Students are encouraged to take the PhD section of PUBP 511 which is offered in the fall semester. Students taking any other section of POGO 511 are required to pass a statistical screening exam prior to enrolling in the course. Screening exams can be taken one of two ways: 1) Attend the MPA Statistics Workshop; 2) Or RSVP for the Stats screening exam here: For additional information and a list of screening exam dates, please see Facts About 511.

Helpful statistical resources:

Economics Math Workshop
Each semester, the Schar School offers a free, two-session economics math workshop (PUBP 555). Using both online and in-class modules, the instructors cover fundamental mathematical concepts associated with microeconomics, particularly principles of basic algebra and calculus. Although the workshop is designed for students taking PUBP 720 (Managerial Economics and Policy Analysis), the instructors cover material that applies to other courses requiring mathematics proficiency. If you are taking PUBP 720, you should enroll in the workshop in the same semester. For all other students, the class is a useful refresher and you may take it at point during the program.

Topic 7: Professional Development

Doctoral students in the Schar School of Policy and Government have many opportunities to participate in research, build relationships with faculty, and interact with scholars from around the world. The school updates the Events Calendar regularly and encourages students to participate in these activities. The Schar School sponsors brown bags, seminars, colloquia, and workshops throughout the year.

Doctoral Research Workshops
As a Schar School doctoral student, you have a forum for engaging fellow students and faculty in a discussion of potential research topics. In these doctoral research workshops, you can also practice presentation skills in a constructive and collegial environment. A committee made up of doctoral students at different stages of the program organizes six workshops a year. The school strongly encourages new PhD students to attend during their first semester and to present in their second semester or later.

Workshops in Research in Political Science (WRiPS)
WRiPS is an internal speaker series for the Schar School, held three times every semester from 12:00-1:30 pm. Presenters send drafts of working papers or chapters to faculty and graduate students a week before each event. During the workshop, a graduate student discussant provides a brief summary of the presenter’s work and provides feedback. The floor is then opened for discussion by the rest of the attendees. Lunch is provided at each session. WRiPS is designed to allow faculty and graduate students to interact beyond the classroom in an informal and mutually beneficial manner. PhD students are encouraged to attend, serve as discussants, and even present.

Research Grants and Conference Support

To encourage doctoral students to present at conferences and to pursue research opportunities, the Schar School maintains a fund for PhD research activities. Please visit the Grants for PhD Research and Conference Support page to learn more about the fund and the application process.

The Office of Career Development
The Schar School provides a full range of services designed to foster students’ professional growth. The Office of Career Development provides one-on-one assistance in reviewing resumes/CVs and cover letters, exploring career goals, identifying employment opportunities, and developing the skills needed for a successful career search. You can learn more by visiting the Career Services website. Schar School Handshake provides an up-to-date listing of current positions and career events. Student can use it to connect with employers actively recruiting Schar School students and alumni. Click here to register to use the system. Additionally, the Office of Career Development offers training workshops for Schar School Students- register on Schar School Handshake to RSVP! 

PhD Student Services Programs
Partnering with faculty, alumni, the university and the larger community, PhD Student Services helps students reach their goals. Recognizing that academics should be your top priority as you attend to various aspects of your professional growth, PhD Student Services offers targeted activities to complement individual advising. These programs provide guidance and support as you work towards your degree.

Responding to economic trends and research advancements as well as to student needs, PhD Student Services builds a new program agenda every year. Below are a few of the activities on offer:

  • PhD Student/Faculty Lunch Hours on topics such as navigating conferences, writing for publication, securing grants and fellowships, and building a scholarly network
  • PhD Research Morning
  • Academic Careers Panel
  • Next Steps in the PhD Program Workshop
  • C.V. Workshop

Topic 8: Student Life and Involvement

SPSA Student Organization
The Schar PhD Student Association (SPSA) is a GMU-recognized organization for all Schar School doctoral students. SPSA hosts social and scholarly events throughout the year. Activities include an annual PhD student-alumni networking event and an interdisciplinary Regional Student Conference, co-sponsored by APPAM for emerging scholars. SPSA is the driving force behind the PhD Research Roundtables, and its trivia nights and social hours cultivate relationships that can grow beyond graduation. SPSA initiatives enrich the scholarly life of the Schar School while providing students with opportunities to build professional skills. To learn more and to get involved, visit the SPSA website.

University Life
Offering a variety of programs and activities, University Life builds community among students while supporting their personal and professional development. The University Life office is a hub for the many co-curricular resources at Mason. For events and resources on the Mason Square campus, visit University Life Arlington. For graduate student programs on the Fairfax campus, visit Graduate Student Life.

Campus Services
Mason’s student support resources are available to all Schar School students. These include counseling, learning support, student health, disability services, and others. You can find a list of Mason Square campus resources here. Fairfax campus information is here.

Graduate Student Housing
Mason has limited campus housing for graduate students on the Fairfax Campus. Please see George Mason's Housing and Residential Life website for more information.

Although on-campus residence is not an option in Arlington, housing opportunities (rooms, apartments, and houses to rent) in the area are plentiful. The Off-Campus Housing database helps Mason students find roommates and housing in the Northern Virginia and D.C. Metropolitan area. If you do not plan to bring a car, you may want to look for accommodations near a bus line or a Metro station.

Community Life
From museums to fitness, from nature to nightlife, you’ll find all kinds of ways to stay active in the communities around Mason campuses. To learn about activities in the Arlington, Fairfax and Metro-DC areas, visit the sites below:

Schar School Events
The Schar School hosts numerous events throughout the year, from high-profile political debates and policy discussions to resume workshops, mock interviews, and wine tastings for Schar School alumni. Browse our event calendar to view upcoming events for Schar School students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members.

Topic 9: International Student Services

The Office of International Programs and Services (OIPS)
In addition to assisting international students with visa and regulatory issues, OIPS offers cultural and social programs and assists international students in their adjustment to studying in the United States. OIPS also hosts an orientation for all new GMU international students each semester. Learn more about OIPS services and programs here.

The OIPS New Students page is designed to help you prepare for your travel and first few days at George Mason University. Here you will find information about your support team at Mason, the OIPS International Student Orientation, and important on-campus resources. View the OIPS new students page here.