Closeup of three, gray, felt pinwheel lamps in the Dorothy O'Brien Innovation Lab.

AcademicsGraduate Programs

Civil Society & Community Research, PhD

With dynamic ideas, experiences, and research that enhances our department’s distinctive and exceptional qualities, graduate students are the heart of Civil Society and Community Studies (CSCR).

Through interdisciplinary coursework and research in community settings—often in collaboration with community organizations or coalitions—students have opportunities to become participant-scholars in change processes, and learn human ecological theory and participatory and application-focused research methods in the process.

The CSCR graduate program is designed to train educators and scholars to be highly qualified for positions in research and teaching within universities, cooperative extension, community-based groups, foundations, and other nonprofit and non-governmental organizations. The Department of Civil Society and Community Studies (CSCS) collaborates with communities, civil society organizations, and social movements to co-create a just and sustainable future for all.

As a department, CSCS:

  • Strives for social justice, common good, and sustainability for current and future generations;
  • Elevates the power of those who are marginalized by various forms of oppression and dominant cultural norms;
  • Embraces the multitude of ways of knowing and being in the world;
  • Engages with the wider community in our work as researchers, teachers, and members of civil society;
  • Uses systems thinking, mixed methods, and community-engaged research approaches to gain a holistic and comprehensive understanding of community issues and how to address them;
  • Emphasizes positive youth development, asset-based evaluation and programming, and appreciative inquiry; and
  • Seeks to understand and honor the various ways people come together to effect policy and programmatic change in their communities.


Build Professional Skills

Our CSCR program is designed to train educators/scholars to be highly qualified for positions in research and teaching within universities, cooperative extension, community-based groups, foundations, and other nonprofit and non-governmental organizations. Specifically, CSCR students build a range of sought-after skills and abilities in:

  • Scholarship and research
  • Publishing
  • Teaching
  • Outreach and application
  • Professional development

Civil Society & Community Research Faculty

Graduate Students-CSCR

Civil Society & Community Research Degree Requirements

Students entering the CSCR program without a master’s degree will earn a Master of Science degree in Human Ecology before progressing to the PhD option in Civil Society and Community Research. Master’s degrees require a minimum of 30 credit hours, of which at least 16 must have been taken as a graduate student at UW–Madison. In addition, students must complete an empirical master’s thesis under the supervision of their master’s degree committee.

To obtain a Ph.D. in Human Ecology with a named option in Civil Society and Community Research, students must also be able to demonstrate a high level of competency in the field as well as their specialization(s). Doctoral students will be required to complete a qualifying exam and a dissertation, as governed by the rules established by the Graduate School.

This UW–Madison PhD program requires a minimum of 51 credits of graduate study, distributed as follows:

  • 6 credits: Introductory Courses
  • 9 credits: Theoretical Foundations
  • 18 credits: Methods and Applications of Community-Based Research
  • 3 credits: Community Innovations for Civil Society
  • 9 credits: A Doctoral Minor Specialization
  • 6 credits: Research and Thesis

Timeline to a PhD

Full-time students can complete the required CSCR PhD coursework in six semesters (three years). A student beginning their graduate study and pursuing a PhD full-time should therefore expect to take at least five years from matriculation to graduation. Timelines will likely be shorter for students entering with master’s degrees or those with acceptable transfer credits in graduate coursework.

Four major learning objectives

  1. Professional development and community building
  2. Theoretical foundations of civil society
  3. Methods, analysis, and application of community research
  4. Innovations in civil society

Topics of study within Civil Society

  • Community leadership
  • Community organizing
  • Program evaluation
  • Voluntary associations
  • Youth civic development
  • Adult learning
  • Community development
  • Social change