Carnegie Mellon University

Requirements for a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Theory

The Organizational Behavior and Theory (OBT) doctoral program has two components. Students take courses in each of them. The qualifiers are organized around these two components as well. The two components are:

  1. Micro Organizational Behavior Theory and Methods
  2. Macro Organizational Behavior Theory and Methods

Current Recommended Courses

All courses are at the Tepper School unless otherwise noted.

Three courses are highlighted as Year One. These are the three courses that are the core courses for the qualifier. All students should take these courses.

Students, with the advice of their advisor, should choose micro, macro, and methods classes suited to their needs. The Tepper School graduate seminars are taught by the OBT faculty at the school.

In addition, we offer three different seminars in topical areas in OBT. These will vary from year to year. They are labeled as topical seminars.

Micro Organizational Behavior and Theory

  • Seminar in Organizational Behavior (Core Course - Year 1)
  • Seminar in Groups and Organizations (Topical Seminar - Year 1 or 2)
  • Human Judgment and Decision Making (SDS*)
  • Behavioral Economics (SDS)
  • Group and Decision Experiments in Economics and Psychology (SDS)
  • ProSocial Behavior (Psychology)
  • Cross Cultural Psychology (Psychology)
  • Graduate Seminar in Groups (Psychology at Pitt)

Macro Organizational Behavior and Theory

  • Seminar in Organizational Theory (Core Course - Year 1)
  • Learning Processes in Organizations (Topical Seminar - Year 1 or 2)
  • Special Topics in Organizations (Topical Seminar)
  • Fundamentals of Social Network Methods (Heinz School)
  • Intermediate Social Network Methods (Heinz)

Methods and Statistics

  • Seminar in Behavioral Research Methods (Year 1)
  • Experimental Design for Behavioral and Social Sciences (Statistics)
  • Linear Models and Experimental Design (Statistics)
  • Applied Econometrics I, II (Heinz School)
  • Econometric Theory and Methods I, II (Heinz School)
  • Statistical Analysis I, II (Psychology at Pitt)
  • Multivariate Statistics (Pitt PSYED)
  • Applied Regressions Analysis (Pitt PSYED)
  • Hierarchical Linear Models (Pitt PSYED)
  • Structural Linear Models (Pitt PSYED)

*Social and Decision Sciences

First-Year Paper

The doctoral program recommends an informal first draft of the paper be completed by July 1 of the first year following entry into the program. At a minimum, this draft would include a problem statement, relevant literature review, and basic design of the study.

A completed draft of the first year paper must be submitted to the two faculty readers by August 1 of the first year following entry into the program. Completed here means a reasonable idea has been developed and studied, and the paper is on track for completion by August 31 of the same first summer. Students are expected to spend the summer working on this paper.

In general, the summer is a critical time for students to work with faculty on research, and students are expected to be working on their research all year, including summers. The student must complete the proposed study (or in the case of a very ambitious project, a part of the proposed study approved by the faculty readers) by the end of the summer after the first year. The final product will be evaluated for the third-semester review following the general evaluation guidelines set out by the Tepper School Ph.D. committee for first-year papers.

Second-Year Paper

The second-year paper is a research project that ideally will help the student work toward the development of a dissertation. The project can involve empirical research and/or theory development.

The paper should reflect the greater skill and sophistication of a second year student. Again, the topic should be a social science project with some clear, identifiable link to OBT. Again, the student must identify two readers for the paper. The student may ask one of the readers to be a primary reader, if the student so desires. At least one of the two readers should be on the OBT faculty. The primary reader does not have to be an OBT faculty member. The readers have primary responsibility for the supervision of the student's research and the evaluation of outcomes.

Qualifying Exams

The qualifying exam will be scheduled at the end of the third semester in residence. Students take two exams: micro and macro.

The questions covered in these exams will draw from the content of all the OBT doctoral courses offered in the three preceding semesters. However, we expect students to begin reading the current literature in the field (e.g., in publications like Academy of Management Journal, Academy of Management Review, Administrative Science Quarterly, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Journal of Applied Psychology, Research in Organizational Behavior, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes).

Students should be aware of classic work in the field as well as work appearing in the recent literature that pertains to the topics covered in the required courses.

Teaching Requirement

In order to develop teaching skills in preparation for an academic position, students are required to deliver a course or recitation section. Typically, Ph.D. students in OBT teach a section of Organizational Behavior I, the required course in the undergraduate Business Administration program.

The opportunity to teach often occurs during the summer session after the second, third, or fourth year. Students typically work as teaching assistants to faculty, grading and assisting more generally, in preparation for this requirement. However, the teaching requirement cannot be fulfilled by working as a TA.


The major requirement for the Ph.D. degree at Carnegie Mellon is the doctoral dissertation, which must be a significant research accomplishment representing a clear contribution to knowledge and containing material worthy of publication. In the Tepper School doctoral program, the dissertation may be either a monograph or a collection of related papers, depending on the nature and scope of a student's subject.

In OBT, a student works with the faculty to formulate ideas for the thesis. The student then forms a committee, usually composed of three to four faculty members from the student's major field and allied areas. One of these members serves as the Chair of the committee. At least one member of the committee must be a member of the OBT group.

Each student at the Tepper School writes and then presents a thesis proposal in a seminar with faculty advisors comprising the committee, other interested faculty, and other Ph.D. students. This seminar gives the student an opportunity to exchange ideas with faculty members and other students and to collect valuable suggestions and advice on the structure and direction of the dissertation. If the faculty approves the dissertation topic, the dissertation committee is formally appointed. The committee guides the student in completing the dissertation and in developing research skills that meet the highest professional standards.

The dissertation and the final oral defense should demonstrate a student's command of the field of study, independence in defining and solving a problem in that field, and skill in communicating ideas.