The doctoral training program in Sociology is designed to give students a strong foundation in the core of sociological theory and research methodology and still allow students ample flexibility to explore and develop expertise in the subfields in which they are most interested.
The recommended milestones in the program are:
- 1st through 4th semesters: Complete the proseminar, required courses, and Part One of the A exam
- End of 3rd semester: Select the Special Committee
- End of 5th semester: Complete the qualifying paper
- Before the 7th semester: Complete Part Two of the A exam
- 7th semester onward: Complete the dissertation
- Defend the dissertation (i.e, complete the B exam)
Most of these steps require that the student submit a form to the Field or the Graduate School. The relevant forms are listed in the corresponding sections of this webpage.
Two core theory and two core methods courses are required of all students:
- Soc.5010: Basic Problems in Sociology I
- Soc.5020: Basic Problems in Sociology II
- Soc.6010: Evaluating Statistical Evidence
- Soc.6020: Linear Models
In addition, graduate students are strongly encouraged to take a third methods course in Sociology or an allied social science field. Methods courses taught by members of the Field include:
- Soc.5070: Research Methods III
- Soc.5080: Qualitative Methods
- Soc.6090: Causal Inference
The Special Committee may suggest other courses, depending on the student's interests.
Students who have completed graduate research methods classes at other institutions are still required to take the Cornell methods sequence. Exceptions can be made for students who choose to enroll in advanced methodological training offered in other fields (e.g., the advanced econometrics series offered in Economics). Other exemptions are unusual and require the permission of the instructor of the course(s), in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and the student's Special Committee.
The A Exam, also known as the Examination for Admission to Candidacy, is required by the Graduate School. It consists of two parts: (1) a written examination in two areas of concentration (Part One), and (2) an oral defense of the dissertation proposal (Part Two).
For Part One of the A Exam, students choose two areas of concentration from the list below, one of which must be chosen from the list of major areas.
- Collective Action and Social Movements
- Economy and Society
- Gender and the Life Course
- Inequality, Stratification, and Mobility
- Political Sociology
- Science, Technology, and Medicine
- Social Networks
- Social Psychology
- Work and Occupations
Minor Areas Only
- Policy Analysis
- Social Simulation
- Race and Ethnicity
Part One of the A Exam tests knowledge of the two areas of concentration based on written work. Graduate students may elect to satisfy Part One of the A exam through either (a) individualized written exams administered by a Field member or (b) Field-approved graduate courses with the permission of the Special Committee.
Individualized written exams vary substantially in their form, depending on the students' interests and strengths. Often, a student writes a 10–20 page exam over the course of 4–7 days, addressing questions written by a Field member that are designed to test knowledge of an agreed upon reading list.
In order to fulfill the written requirement through coursework, students must fulfill all requirements of the course at a satisfactory level. As with the required courses, the faculty members offering the A exam courses rotate, and each instructor sets his or her own requirements. However, the requirements usually include a take-home examination. Courses that are currently Field-approved to satisfy one concentration area for Part One of the A exam are:
- Soc. 5100: Comparative Societal Analysis
- Soc. 5180: Social Inequality: Contemporary Theories, Debates, and Models
- Soc. 6460: Economic Sociology
- Soc. 5400: Organizational Research
- Soc. 6490: The New Institutionalism
- Soc. 5800: Identity and Interest in Collective Action
Other courses may also fulfill a concentration area for Part One of the A Exam, subject to Field approval. Generally speaking, in order for the Field to approve a course, (a) the topic must be consistent with one of the existing areas of concentration, (b) the course syllabus must be appropriately comprehensive and indicate broad coverage of the core theories and research paradigms in the concentration, and (c) the faculty must have a commitment to offering the course regularly.
Upon completion of the written examination/course for each concentration area, graduate students must submit a signed Concentration Area Completion Form to the Graduate Field Assistant. The form must be signed by both the faculty member who has offered the examination/course and by the chair of the student’s Special Committee. If the student has not yet selected a Special Committee chair, then the Director of Graduate Studies signs the form as the default Special Committee chair.
The qualifying paper is designed to be a major research experience for the student, and sometimes also serves as the first phase of dissertation research. It is usually a relatively short but high-quality exercise in empirical research and theoretical analysis. The paper, which must be read and approved by the Special Committee, typically follows the style and format of an article in the American Journal of Sociology or American Sociological Review.
Upon completion of the qualifying paper, graduate students must submit a signed Qualifying Paper Completion Form to the Graduate Field Assistant. The form must be signed by the student’s Special Committee chair.
Students who want a Master's degree have to write a Master's thesis, per Graduate School guidelines for theses. Although there is no formal defense of a Master's thesis prospectus, students should discuss the expectations for their theses with their Special Committees well in advance of initiating their projects. A Master's thesis fulfills the Qualifying Paper requirement for the Ph.D. program.
Students who choose part way through the Ph.D. program to obtain a so-called terminal Master's degree should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies about the possibility of obtaining a no-thesis Master's degree.
The master’s thesis must be defended orally, usually in a two-hour session that is formally open to all members of the Field (although typically attended only by the Special Committee). A Schedule of Examination (Form A3) must be filed with the Graduate School at least seven calendar days prior to the examination, and a Results of Examination (Form A4) must be filed with the Graduate School within three business days of the examination. Both forms must be signed by all members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Field Assistant.
[See the Cornell Graduate School Forms page.]
Part Two of the A exam is focused on an oral defense of the dissertation proposal, also known as the prospectus. The proposal must give details on the theoretical problem to be addressed in the dissertation, the methods for collecting and/or analyzing data, and the relevance of the expected results as a contribution to the literature. The dissertation proposal is evaluated by the Special Committee. Depending on the requirements set by their Special Committee, students may also be asked to prepare for general questions on the two areas of concentration selected for Part One of the A Exam.
Part Two of the A exam should be completed by the summer after their third year so that students can be ready for final data collection, analysis, and writing of the dissertation by the beginning of their fourth year.
Students are required to submit a written dissertation proposal to all members of the Special Committee at least two weeks prior to the dissertation proposal defense, usually just after a date and time for the oral defense have been arranged. A Schedule of Examination (Form A3) must be filed with the Graduate School at least seven calendar days prior to the examination. Students should check the box “Admission to Candidacy (A Exam)” in the “Examination Information” section of the form and then secure signatures from all members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Field Assistant. A Results of Examination (Form A4) must be filed with the Graduate School within three business days of the examination. This form also must be signed by all members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Field Assistant. Once the Special Committee has approved the dissertation proposal, the student is admitted to candidacy in the Ph.D. program.
[See the Cornell Graduate School Forms page.]
The B Exam is an oral defense of the dissertation. The student is challenged to demonstrate mastery of the relevant literature, justify the thesis, and defend the data analysis and interpretations. A Schedule of Examination (Form A3) must be filed with the Graduate School at least seven calendar days prior to the examination, and a Results of Examination (Form A4) must be filed with the Graduate School within three business days of the examination. Both forms must be signed by all members of the Special Committee, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Graduate Field Assistant.
Once the Special Committee has approved the dissertation, the student submits it to the Graduate School in accordance with its guidelines for dissertations and is awarded a Ph.D. degree. Celebrations ensue.
[See the Cornell Graduate School Forms page.]
In addition to the course work, examinations, the qualifying paper, and dissertation research, the Field expects students to develop a set of professional skills, embodied in the following requirements and recommendations.
All first-year graduate students are required to attend the Sociology Proseminar (Soc. 6080). The proseminar introduces students to aspects of their graduate and professional careers and acquaints them with the members of the graduate faculty and their research and interests.
In 2012, the Field instituted a new requirement for graduate students who have not yet selected a Special Committee chair (usually the majority of students finishing their first year, and a small minority of students finishing their second year).
As a condition of receiving summer funding, these students are required to be involved in a research project sponsored by a Field member during the summer. In the Spring semester, students have the responsibility of locating a faculty member willing to serve as a sponsor for the upcoming summer. Students should then inform the Graduate Field Assistant and the Director of Graduate Studies (via email) of the overall plan for the summer and of the faculty sponsor.
The faculty member who acts as sponsor in a given summer has full discretion in structuring the experience, although the plan is worked out in collaborative discussion with the student. The sponsor may decide to involve the student in an ongoing project, work with the student one-on-one on a new project, or provide support/feedback on an independent project proposed by the student.
The summer research experience should not be regarded as the only academic activity that students should pursue in the summer. Most students will also be preparing for written examinations for the Part One of the A exam, working on group research projects, and beginning to explore potential dissertation topics by reading the latest published scholarship.
The summer research experience is not linked explicitly to the student’s later selection of a Special Committee, although students will often work with faculty members who later become members of their Special Committees.
Once students nominate a Special Committee chair to replace the Director of Graduate Studies as the default chair, they are not subject to this summer research experience requirement. The Special Committee chair will instead be charged with the responsibility of ensuring that graduate students have summer experiences that develop the research skills necessary to complete a qualifying paper and a dissertation.
Understanding the process of research — from formulating the question and arranging funding through evaluating the data, compensating for its deficiencies, and presenting the final results of the analysis — is an essential component of graduate study. It is not only important for students who expect to be employed as faculty in research universities, but also for those who will work in public or private sector organizations where data collection and evaluation are part of the job description.
The research assistantship is designed as a learning experience. By working on a collaborative project, students become exposed to, and learn, the research process and its potential pitfalls under the guidance of a mentor. The research assistantship may take many forms, ranging from working on data collection or management tasks assigned by the faculty member to managing undergraduate research assistants to more co-equal collaboration on a major research work, depending on the students' prior experience and abilities. Research assistantships often lead to a product such as a coauthored paper.
The Field recommends that students obtain at least a semester's worth of collaborative research experience, usually with a faculty member in the Field. Students typically work on collaborative research projects in their second or third years, but first-year students are also encouraged to begin working with at least one faculty member.
The Special Committee can help students find an appropriate mentor, but ultimately students are responsible for arranging their own research assistantships. For an updated list of the available projects, students should peruse Field members' home pages and the web sites of the research centers.
The research assistantship is an opportunity for the student to develop a body of skills that will prove useful in professional life. It is also a service that the student provides to the department. A student may, but will not necessarily, be paid for acting as a research assistant. In particular, students who are funded externally should still spend at least one semester as an RA, but cannot expect to receive both the external fellowship and research assistant "pay" for that semester.
Teaching is a skill that will be useful to many students, whether they intend to become university faculty members or not. The Field requires that all students fulfill a teaching assistantship and, as usual, the Special Committee determines whether the requirement has been satisfied.
The teaching requirement may be met in a variety of ways. The most common way is to serve as a teaching assistant in an existing course that has discussion sessions for which a TA is responsible.
Teaching well is a difficult task. The Field urges students to improve their teaching skills by taking advantage of the University's resources for teaching assistants offered by the Center for Teaching and Learning and by observing colleagues and faculty members in action.
Professional paper presentation
At some point in his or her graduate career, a student is expected to make a public presentation of research findings. Most students present papers at the American Sociological Association meetings. Other presentation opportunities are available around campus, including the ISS theme projects, Graduate Student Association events, and colloquia sponsored by allied academic units and research centers. Graduate students are also encouraged to present a working paper (i.e., a draft of the qualifying paper, a conference paper, or a dissertation chapter) in Sociology 6030, the Graduate Research Practicum.
Participation in the Sociology colloquia and practicum series
All graduate students are expected to attend Department of Sociology colloquia and job talks.
Next: Funding graduate studies