PhD Requirements

The department offers the PhD degree in sociology, with faculty in the following research areas—culture and identity; health, aging & environment; political and economic institutions and social movements; and social inequality. The goal of the doctoral program is to educate scholars with the theoretical, methodological, and substantive background to conduct research, present findings, and publish work that significantly expands upon and/or challenges knowledge about social life. There is no separate MA program, although doctoral students may apply for an MA degree in the context of completing requirements for the PhD.


Admission decisions are made by the admissions committee. Students are admitted to the PhD program with either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree. The doctoral program requirements of those admitted with an MA degree are determined by the admissions committee, taking account of the content and skill level of their master’s programs.

Applicants must have a minimum of fifteen hours of undergraduate sociology courses, including a course in sociological theory, in basic statistics, and in research methods. Those without this background may be admitted with the requirement that they make up the deficiencies. Such background courses do not count for the PhD degree.

Applicants must present evidence that they are capable of successfully completing a rigorous doctoral program by submitting the required materials in the online application system through the Office of Graduate Studies.

Course Requirements

Unless waived or taken elsewhere and approved as equivalent by the admissions committee, the following course requirements apply:
At least 30 credit hours of regular courses, not including reading courses such as Soc 7960 or research courses such as Soc 7085, Soc 8110, or Soc 9090. At the discretion of the student's advisory committee, 9 credit hours may be taken outside the department in a related field of study. At least 12 credit hours should be seminars. Required courses are counted as part of the 30 hours. Courses listed in more than one program area or in theory and methods cannot fulfill the requirements of more than one area.

The following courses or their equivalents are required and should be taken as early in the program as possible:

  • • Soc 8130 – Advanced Social Statistics. Many students take Soc 7120 as a prerequisite to 8130.

    • Soc 9187 – Seminar in Sociological Theory I (Classical Theory)

    • Soc 9287 – Seminar in Qualitative Methods

    • Soc 9487 – Seminar in Contemporary Sociological Theory

    • Pro-Seminar

    • One additional methods course of the students choice is required. The elective methods course may be taken outside the department.

Advisory Committee and Plan of Work

The advisor and three additional faculty members constitute the four-member doctoral advisory committee. Three of the four committee members must be sociology department faculty members. One of the four committee members must be from outside the department. The committee must be selected no later than the end of the first year of study.

The advisory committee should be selected in consultation with the advisor and should represent the student's area of research interest and the program areas in which the student will take his or her comprehensive exam.

Students must submit an approved plan of work (D-3, Program of Study) before the beginning of the second year of study.

Second Year Paper

Students are required to complete a detailed and feasible (“doable”) research proposal that will be reviewed by the advisor and a second year paper committee.  A first draft will be due March 1.  The final draft must be approved by the committee by May 1 of their second year of study.

The research proposal should demonstrate the student’s ability to raise questions and advance arguments that are sociologically and theoretically informed.  The proposal must demonstrate competence in the proposed applicable research methodology. In addition, a one-credit writing workshop is required by the spring semester of the second year.

The paper is evaluated by the advisor and two other sociology faculty members chosen by the student. A grade of “pass” qualifies the student to continue in the doctoral program. Upon successfully completing the second year proposal, students may apply for the MA degree.  Failure to pass the second year proposal will result in dismissal from the doctoral program

Reasonable exceptions to these rules will be considered by the director of graduate studies on a case-by-case basis in consultation with appropriate faculty members.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam is coordinated by the student’s advisor and is evaluated as a whole by the advisory committee.  The exam includes both written and oral portions. The exam process will be decoupled from the program areas. Under the guidance of the advisor, exam areas will be drawn from the appropriate ASA section areas ( Advisors in consultation with the doctoral committee will use their judgement in choosing appropriate areas in which they can administer exams. Students are expected to propose additions to the lists consistent with their individual emphases.    

The comprehensive exam process unfolds as follows:

  • Soon after the advisor is selected and advisory committee formed, the student in consultation with his or her advisor and advisory committee begins to compile two comprehensive exam reading lists. The lists should be comprised of (a) core readings from the two exam areas in which the student is to be examined and (b) additional reading material from these areas considered by the advisor and advisory committee to be pertinent to the student's particular theoretical, methodological, and substantive needs.
  • There should be regular annual meetings between the advisor, members of the advisory committee, and the student to formally monitor the progress that is being made in reading and preparing for the comprehensive exam. Progress on this front should be part of the student's annual review and duly noted in student’s entry in the Graduate Student Progress System.
  • The readings lists should be thought of as a kind of intellectual contract between the student and his or her advisory committee. It is expected that comprehensive exam items will be generated and, in turn, answers developed in relation to the reading lists.
  • When the advisor feels that the student is ready to take the comprehensive exam, a meeting is scheduled with the student to finalize the reading lists, allowing sufficient time for "catching up" on additional material if needed. The advisor co-ordinates the examination process and also serves as the examination committee chair. Comprehensive exam items are solicited by the advisor from advisory committee members, who are expected to take account of the two finalized reading lists in formulating and submitting exam items.
  • The comprehensive exam is composed of three parts, two written take-home examinations and one oral exam. The two written parts center on the reading lists and are developed in relation to the student's two exam areas. The oral part provides the opportunity to elaborate upon and/or clarify the written examination material. The entire comprehensive exam is to be completed within a four-week period. Four days are allowed for the completion of each of the written take-home portions, with the oral portion scheduled one week after the completion of the written portions. Page limitations may be specified for responses to the written exam items.
  • The completed written and oral parts of the exam are evaluated as a whole by the student's advisory committee. If the overall assessment is a pass, this is duly recorded on the "Doctoral Comprehensive Examination Results” form. If the overall assessment is less than a pass but not a fail, the committee specifies the way to remedy deficiencies. When deficiencies are remedied to the satisfaction of the committee, the student is considered to have passed the exam and this is duly recorded on the results form. Students who fail the exam may retake it once at the discretion of the committee.
  • The comprehensive exams are taken during the first fourteen weeks of the fall and winter terms of the academic year at a time that is mutually convenient for the examination committee and the student.
  • Students who publish sole-authored, referred articles that make an empirical and/or theoretical contribution to knowledge in recognized scholarly journals or equivalent outlets, may request exemption from written examination in one of the two exam areas.
  • If a graduate student and faculty member publish a coauthored refereed article, and the graduate student was responsible for at least 75 percent of the intellectual and empirical contributions, then the student may request an exemption to the sole-authored rule. In such cases the student and faculty member should describe the student’s contributions in 1) article development, with regard to both framing the theoretical/conceptual arguments and developing the analytic strategy, 2) carrying out the analysis, 3) writing each section of the article (introduction, theoretical framework/conceptual arguments, methods, results, discussion), 4) responding to reviews and 5) revising the paper. The document should include both a qualitative description of the student’s work and a quantitative assessment of their percent contribution to each area.
  • The student’s advisor initiates the request with a recommendation to the director of graduate studies (DGS). Acceptance letters, evidence that the journal is refereed, and copies of referees’ comments are submitted in support of the recommendation. The exemption decision rests with a committee composed of the DGS, the student’s advisor, and an additional faculty member, the latter of whom are selected by the DGS. Approval does not exempt the student from oral examination. When a student has been approved as exempt from written examination in one exam area, an oral defense remains part of the comprehensive examination.

Students must complete their doctoral course work before taking the comprehensive exam. The advisor and director of graduate studies certify the eligibility of students to take the comprehensive exam. The Graduate School requires that the entire comprehensive exam process be completed within a 30-day period.


The dissertation is required and is the capstone of the doctoral student's career in the program. The Graduate School requires a 7-month period between the completion of the comprehensive exam and the completion of the dissertation.

The dissertation may take either of two forms, at the discretion of the doctoral advisory committee. One is the traditional “book-length” monograph. The other consists of three, sole-authored publishable articles combined with introductory and concluding chapters. The research reported in either case is based on an approved dissertation project conducted during the student’s tenure in the doctoral program.

Progress in the Doctoral Program

The doctoral program is designed to be completed in 6 years. The following rate of progress is strongly encouraged.

First Year

Fall: Soc 7120
Spring: Soc 8130, Soc 9287 and Pro-Seminar, Soc 9487 (elective course)  

Second Year

Course requirements and electives, including theory and methods not taken during first year.

3 research hours for second-year proposal.

Third Year

Fall: Complete course requirements
Spring: Work on publishing paper, which counts as a pass for one comprehensive exam area

Fourth Year

Fall: Complete comprehensive exam
Spring: Complete dissertation proposal and hold proposal hearing

Fifth Year

Complete dissertation research

Sixth Year

Dissertation defense; PhD conferred