Marketing Ph.D. Program Structure

The goal of the Marketing Ph.D program is to prepare our doctoral students to become productive researchers and teachers at quality research universities and institutions.  The basic structure of the program consists of five components, briefly described below:

Course Work

Coursework is drawn from the Marketing Department and supporting disciplines fundamental to marketing. Coursework depends upon your core area of interest (i.e., consumer behavior, marketing management, quantitative models). Some courses are required (e.g., core courses in each of these areas, research methods, Introduction to business research). For electives, students can choose from a wide variety of courses that are related to your research interests (e.g., advanced courses in each of the core areas, courses drawn from economics, management, psychology and other supporting disciplines). Coursework is normally completed during the first two years of the program.

Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam consists of four components: an evaluation of course work performance, a written qualifying exam to assess breadth of knowledge (administered at the end of the spring semester), a first year paper (due August 15 of the first summer), and a presentation of this paper to an evaluation committee (to take place during September). The Qualifying Examination committee, in consultation with the faculty members who were mentoring the student, will make a determination by the end of the third semester. The overall evaluation will be based on the student’s paper and presentation, scores on the written examination, as well as the student’s academic progress and potential for independent research.  Students who fail the Qualifying exam will normally be asked to leave the Ph.D. program.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam consists primarily of a second year comprehensive paper (due August 15 of the second summer). Leading up to and during the summer of the second year, students conceptualize, design and execute original research under the guidance of faculty. The paper and presentation are evaluated by the candidate’s committee (four to five faculty members, including the student’s advisor).

Dissertation Proposal

Students then establish a dissertation committee. Working with their adviser and committee, students then conceptualize, design and propose original research that will constitute their dissertation.  Students “defend” their proposal to faculty and receive feedback leading to a set of clear expectations, needed work to develop an acceptable dissertation, and a timetable for completion. The proposal defense normally takes place in the Spring of the fourth year (at which time, students normally send out applications and then interview during the summer for academic positions to start after the fifth year).

Defense of the Dissertation

When the doctoral committee thinks that the student has a sound dissertation, the students schedules a final oral examination. The final dissertation defense is public and students who successfully defend their dissertation are then granted a Ph.D (conditional on successful completion of coursework and other elements of the Ph.D. program). At this point, we all celebrate!

Other Aspects of the Ph.D. Program Include:


Students are expected to attend our Marketing colloquia. For example, faculty from Penn State and visitors from other universities may be invited to present their current research in the Marketing Department. Ph.D. students will also present in the colloquia series. The colloquia series is a great opportunity to learn about the latest ongoing research and network with the marketing community.

Conferences and Workshops

Students are expected to attend conferences to learn about the latest ongoing research and to present their own research. The "big" marketing conferences are Marketing Science, Association for Consumer Research, American Marketing Association, Society for Consumer Psychology, and so on. In addition, students may be invited to attend various “consortia” designed specifically for Ph.D. students (e.g., AMA Doctoral Consortium, Haring Symposium). Funding is available for Ph.D. students who present their own research.

Research Center

The Marketing Department works closely with the Institute for the Study of Business Markets.. This center provides education (e.g., ISBM runs online workshops and courses for doctoral students around the world), research opportunities (e.g., interaction with firms, data collection) and may provide funding for research (e.g., via grants). Additional research funding is also available from Smeal (e.g., research grants for doctoral students and from other sources).

Research Assistant (RA) work

Students who receive funding via graduate assistantships are expected to work with faculty, usually on joint research that is intended for publication. Students normally rotate among faculty, and both students and faculty are asked for input to best match faculty and students. The RA system provides faculty and students with an opportunity to work together and frequently leads to research publications.

Teaching Experience

Ph.D. students are also expected to teach during the program (usually in their fourth and fifth year, in lieu of RA work). Smeal provides teacher training and faculty serve as mentors, and this teaching experience helps prepare you for your teaching role as a business professor.

A Vibrant Ph.D. Experience

More generally, Ph.D. students are provided with the tools necessary to do their work, including:  offices, personal computers, research labs, libraries, and so on. The facilities at Smeal are truly impressive – visit us in the Business Building and see for yourself!