What’s Up, Doc in Planning?

DPPD Diploma“What’s up, doc?”  Just about everyone knows this as popular cartoon character Bugs Bunny’s catchphrase.  It is also what a few people have jokingly said to me after learning that I hold a doctorate in planning.  No, I do not have a Ph.D. or doctor of philosophy which enables graduates to pursue teaching and/or research careers in academia.  Instead, I graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) with a professional doctorate officially called the Doctor of Policy, Planning, and Development (DPPD).  It is a unique program that prepares professionals for leadership in planning and development positions in public agencies, private firms, and nonprofit organizations.  Specifically, the DPPD offers an opportunity for working individuals like me to expand and deepen our professional abilities and achievements without leaving our jobs.  It has been over two years since my graduation, but I want to take some time now to share about this program because of its profound impact on me and its current “at-risk” status.

Why get a doctorate?

Author in cap & gown with DPPD sign

Author in cap & gown with DPPD sign

You may be wondering, why get a doctorate when you are not interested in a career in academia?  This is a good and legitimate question.  Quite honestly, there is no reason to do it unless you really enjoy school and learning.  After all, a master’s degree is enough and meets the academic requirement for nearly all planning positions.  I did it primarily because I love to learn and wanted the opportunity to further my education in the field I am passionate about.  The Ph.D. at USC was not an option because it would have required me to leave my job as a planner to be a full time student.  There are more flexible, online doctorate programs offered by universities like Walden and Capella, but they are more focused on public administration than on urban planning.  All I can say is that the DPPD program was perfect for me in a number of important ways.  First, it allowed me to learn with and from other working professionals and distinguished professors, including both full time and adjunct faculty members.  Second, it gave me the opportunity and motivation to increase my knowledge and improve my writing, research, and presentation skills, all of which are essential for planners.  Finally, classes were held at a location (USC main campus) and times (weekends and evenings) convenient for me as I was able to complete the program with minimal disruptions to my work schedule.

How has it helped me?

The DPPD program has helped me tremendously.  In addition to taking classes, I completed a doctoral project entitled “Alternative Ways, Locations, and Partners to Meet the Recreational Needs of Underserved Communities: the Case of Florence-Firestone“.  Working on this project enabled me to develop and improve my critical thinking, writing, and research skills.  It allowed me to see my work in a different light, challenged me to answer difficult policy questions, and compelled me to consider lesser known, but very creative and almost experimental approaches and ways to tackle problems.  Also, completing the project and earning my doctorate have propelled me into an unpaid, but highly satisfying side career in writing.  I started off by writing a couple of articles based on my project (published in Progressive Planning and Public Works Management & Policy), then contributed articles to the California Planning & Development Report, and now serve on the author panel for UrbDeZine.  In addition, I have had opportunities to guest lecture at both USC and the California State University, Northridge in large part because of the research and writing I did as a doctoral student.  (I wrote about my first-time teaching experience in a previous article.)  Finally, being in the DPPD program expanded my network as I was able to connect with other planners and professionals in allied fields through my classes and school-sponsored events.

What’s the status of the program?

USC Campus

USC Campus

A few months ago, I found out from a fellow DPPD graduate that the program is at risk and may be eliminated.  As a proud alumnus, I was immediately alarmed and went on to sign a petition supporting the program.  Officially, the program is being “reviewed” or “assessed,” according to both the program website and school sources.  Because of this review, the school did not accept a new cohort of DPPD students to the fall 2013 class.  I am hopeful that this review would soon be completed and that the program would not only be continued, but improved for future cohorts.  However, I am also fearful that it might be discontinued entirely due to the perceived lack of value of the program and its small size relative to the more established, traditional Ph.D. program.  For the reasons I stated earlier, I believe the DPPD program is much needed and uniquely serves working professionals who are passionate about continuing their education in planning.  There are simply no other professional doctorate planning programs around.


If you are a Trojan or have ever visited the USC campus, you should have seen the statue of Tommy Trojan.  Inscribed on the bronze statue’s granite pedestal are the five qualities of the ideal Trojan: faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, ambitious.  While I am far from perfect, there is no doubt in my mind that I am a bit more faithful, scholarly, skillful, courageous, and ambitious today because of my time in the DPPD program.  Fight On!

Photo Credits: All photos by author except photo of author holding DPPD sign in cap & gown, which was taken by Julie Yom

Profile photo of Clement Lau About Clement Lau

Clement Lau, AICP, has 15 years of professional experience in urban and regional planning. Currently, Dr. Lau is a Departmental Facilities Planner with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. He enjoys writing about a variety of planning issues and is on the author panel for UrbDeZine. He also has published articles in the California Planning & Development Report, Public Works Management & Policy, and Progressive Planning. Dr. Lau previously worked for Los Angeles County's Department of Regional Planning and the consulting firm of Cotton/Bridges/Associates in Pasadena. He has guest lectured on public policy and urban planning topics at the University of Southern California and California State University, Northridge. He holds a doctorate and master's in urban planning from USC, and bachelor's in economics from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.