College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Individualized Exam

Among the two fields for which students must receive certification by departmental faculty before they are eligible to advance to candidacy, one of them may be a field that they have designed and which is designated as "individualized field." The specific content of that field is for the student to determine.

Description of the Individualized Field Option

This option allows a student to design a field in which he or she desires to secure professional competence that is not covered by one of our regular field exams. Some possible fields that reflect recent student and faculty interests are economics and philosophy, economic anthropology, economic sociology, computational economics, and evolutionary economics. This list is just illustrative, as actual instances will have to be developed by students.

As with regular field exams, a faculty committee of three members will certify the student's competence. Committee composition will follow the same rules as govern dissertation committees: at least two members must be full-time tenure or tenure-track members of the economics faculty, one of whom will chair the committee, while the third member can be Mason full-time tenure or tenure-track from either inside or outside the economics faculty.

Certification will be through an oral exam, written exam, or through a written paper, the specifics of which will be determined by the committee. The period during which certification will be established will coincide with the administration of the written field exams, with the results reported to the Graduate Coordinator within two days of the exam.

Designing an Individualized Field

First, a student must develop a professional field in which he or she wants to develop competence outside what can be accomplished through the regular fields. The student must give that field a title; for instance, "bio-economics," "economic sociology," or "computational economics." To conform to University record-keeping requirements, moreover, that title is limited to 30 characters inclusive of spaces.

Second, the student must secure three faculty members to serve on the examining committee, and select one to chair the committee. In securing committee members, the student must indicate, in writing, the scope of that field to the committee by providing a list of references that delimit the field and point to the competencies the student can be expected to attain.

Third, the student must seek the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies for the proposed individualized field. In order to obtain approval, the student must submit the following to the Graduate Coordinator ( in writing:

  1. The name of the field.
  2. The course sequence that supports the field. This sequence may include regular courses offered by the Economics Department, non-economic course work (in line with the "Non-economic Course Work Policy"), or approved Directed Readings and Research (ECON 896). Students must take four distinct, 3-credit courses for their two required fields meaning that courses constituting the Individualized Field Exam sequence cannot also be used as part of the sequence for a second field. If a student chooses to use two ECON 896 courses as part of their Individualized Field Exam sequence they must register for two distinct, 3-credit courses. Courses already completed prior to approval of a proposed individualized field by the Graduate Studies Office may not count towards the field.
  3. A list of the members of the committee and the chair, all of whom must have agreed to participate prior to submitting the application.
  4. A copy of the email approval from:
    -- the field exam chair indicating their willingness to serve as the exam chair; and
    -- each of the other committee members indicating their willingness to serve on the exam committee.
  5. A document delineating the scope of the field, the competencies to be gained, and an explanation of how the proposed field fits into the student's broader course of study in pursuit of his or her degree.

All documents must be submitted to the Graduate Coordinator ( two semesters prior to the administration of the individualized field exam, and by the following deadlines:

  • August 1 - prior to the upcoming fall / spring semesters sequence of courses
  • December 15 - prior to the upcoming spring / fall semesters sequence of courses

No exceptions will be made to the required documents or deadlines under any conditions. Students are encouraged to submit the required materials well before the specified deadlines.

Upon receipt of the application, the Director of Graduate Studies will review the proposed individual field and will make a determination as to its acceptability. The student and committee will be contacted by email with the final decision.

Fourth, after the individual field is approved by the Director of Graduate Studies, the chair of the committee will administer the examination via the oral examination format or the written field paper format. The oral examination must be convened within the time frame during which regular field exams are administered. All committee members must attend the oral exam in person and the final grade must be reported to the Graduate Coordinator within two days of administering the oral exam. If choosing the written field paper format, the committee must provide the Graduate Coordinator with guidelines for the written assignment and deadline for submission. No exceptions will be made to these policies under any circumstances. The committee chair is responsible for ensuring that these policies are upheld and for the overall integrity of the exam process.

*NOTE: If committee changes must be made due to extenuating circumstances, the student must seek approval, in writing, from the Director of Graduate Studies.


Registering for the Individualized Field Exam

In addition to following the steps outlined above, the student must also register for the individualized field exam. Registration is handled the same as it is for the regular field exams. This means that the student must register for the approved individualized field exam by emailing the Graduate Coordinator ( at least six weeks prior to the date of the 1st scheduled qualifying and/or regular field exams, which in turn is two Saturdays before the start of classes for that semester.


Deadlines for the Individualized Field Exam

Design the field Two semesters prior to the planned administration of the exam
Obtain DGS approval

Materials must be submitted two semesters prior to the administration of the exam and by the registration policy deadline

August 1 prior to the upcoming fall / spring semesters sequence of courses

December 15 prior to the upcoming spring / fall semesters sequence of courses

Register for the exam Six weeks prior to date of 1st scheduled qualifying and/or regular field exams
Complete the exam During the same time period as the administration of the regular field exams
Report of final grade Chairman of committee reports grade within two days of administering the oral exam









Last updated:  09/19/16

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