Skip to content

A Ph.D. in sociology prepares students to conduct methodologically sound, empirically rigorous, and theoretically grounded research in a variety of substantive domains

We offer foundational training in:

  • Social Theory
  • Research Methods
  • Statistical Analysis
  • Instructional Pedagogy
  • Research Ethics

This will give students the skills needed to pursue a range of academic and applied careers. Students will have ample opportunities to take courses in and conduct research in more than one specialized program area, and develop their own research interests and topics.

Students work closely with faculty members to pursue specialized training in one or more of the following program areas:

Population & Health

Focus on human populations and how population dynamics affect health and well-being.


Homeless man

Development & Environment

Examine the economic, political, social, and ecological dynamics of societies across the world.


political rally

Political & Cultural Sociology

Study the struggles over power, resources, recognition and meaning in contemporary societies.



Regardless of which emphasis area you choose, every Ph.D. student must complete the following program requirements:

A Ph.D. in Sociology requires:

  • All core courses must be completed with a B or better.
  • One full year (two consecutive semesters) must be spent in full-time (9+ credit hours) academic work at the U of U.

Required Courses

SOC 6010 Proseminar in Sociology (1)

SOC 6050 Classical Sociological Theory (3)

SOC 6110 Methods of Social Research (3)

SOC 6120 Statistics I (3)

SOC 6130 Statistics II (3)

SOC 7800 Professional Development Forum (3)

PHL 7570 Research Ethics (1)

CTLE 6000 Teaching in Higher Education (3)

Advanced Research Methods or Statistics (3)

Elective Seminars (9 or 12)*

At least 9 credit hours of electives should be fulfilled using the following seminars, which help prepare students for the Comprehensive Area Exams. Remaining elective requirements can be satisfied by courses inside or outside of the Sociology Department. Each of the listed seminars is offered on a rotating basis, typically every 2 to 3 years. Other seminars and/or advanced methods courses will be offered occasionally, based on instructor availability and student demand.

 Elective Seminars

SOC 6720 Medical Sociology

SOC 6732 Population Principles

SOC 6731 Population Techniques

SOC 6834 Sociology of Race

SOC 6837 Sociology of Gender

SOC 6840 Environmental Sociology

SOC 6845 Sociology of Development

SOC 6846 Political Sociology

SOC 6930 Comprehensive Area Exams (3 or 6)*

SOC 7910 Third Year Research Paper (minimum of 3)

SOC 7931 Qualifying Exam: Review of Literature (6)

SOC 7950 Qualifying Exam: Dissertation Proposal (6)

SOC 7977 Dissertation Research (14)

* Students must enroll in at least 3 credits of Comprehensive Area Exam reading hours (SOC 6930), but the course is repeatable one time for credit. Students who enroll in 3 credits of SOC 6930 will take 12 credits of elective seminars; students who enroll in 6 credits of SOC 6930 will take 9 credits of elective seminars.

Comprehensive Area Exams evaluate students’ ability to synthesize and critically assess the scholarly literature related to two substantive areas in Sociology as well as classical sociological theory.


The Comprehensive Area Exams test students in three areas: classical sociological theory and two subfield specializations. For the specialized component of the exam, students will select two out of the seven substantive areas represented by elective coursework:

  • Medical Sociology,
  • Population Principles,
  • Political Sociology,
  • Sociology of Development,
  • Environmental Sociology,
  • Sociology of Gender, and
  • Sociology of Race.

Satisfactory completion of the Comprehensive Area Exam (i.e., earning a Pass) is associated with the conferral of the master’s degree and permission to continue in the doctoral program. These two outcomes are distinct: for example, students may earn a terminal master’s degree upon completion of the Exam, but not be allowed to continue in the program. Thus, in addition to a Pass, the following grades may be awarded:

  • Fail – Dismissal from program without a master’s degree.
  • Marginal pass – Conferral of a terminal master’s degree; not allowed to continue in the program.
  • Conditional pass – Requires revisions; if revisions are acceptable, allowed to continue in Ph.D. program. Revisions must be approved no later than the first week of the following Fall semester.

Students will have only one opportunity to take the exam. Students entering the program with a master’s degree cannot waive this requirement under any circumstance; they must pass the comprehensive area exam to continue their doctoral studies.


By the beginning of the second year each student will select a comprehensive examination committee consisting of two tenure-line faculty members in Sociology, one corresponding to each of the substantive subfield areas selected. The student will designate one committee member the Chair, who has primary responsibility for monitoring student progress and ensuring that relevant deadlines are met.

Assigned readings from elective and classical sociological theory coursework constitutes the starting point for exam preparation. For the two area specializations, students will also work closely with their committee members to expand upon course-based reading lists, identifying broader literatures within these areas. Students are strongly encouraged to consult with other faculty members—especially those who routinely teach seminars in their selected subfield specializations—for advice when developing reading lists.


Students will produce three written essays in response to exam questions corresponding to classical sociological theory and each of their two specialized areas. Faculty in each area will be responsible for writing these questions. For each of the three essays, students will generally be given a choice of answering one of two questions. Students are expected to write well-organized essays, showing both a depth and breadth of knowledge related to each question. Each essay will should comprise 12 to 15 pages with standard formatting (double-spaced, 12-point font, one-inch margins), or approximately 3,000 to 3,800 words, not including references.

The comprehensive exam committee will designate a one-week period (typically commencing at 12:00 noon on a Monday and ending at 12:00 noon the following Monday) during which students will complete the exam. Students can access all readings, notes, and the internet during the exam period, but they may not consult with faculty or other students (beyond minor issues of clarification) once the exam questions have been distributed.


To prepare for the exam, students will enroll in SOC 6931 for 3 credits, typically in the Fall or Spring semester of their second year. SOC 6931 may be repeated one time for credit: students may take 6 credits concurrently or else distribute them across Fall and Spring semesters. These credit hours are intended to be independent study, in which students prepare for the exam on their own schedule and in consultation with their comprehensive exam committee. The Chair of each student’s committee will serve as the instructor of record. Students are encouraged to meet with one or both members of their committee at least every other week, and perhaps more frequently toward the beginning of their preparations; however, students and their committee members are free to develop a plan and framework that works best for them. Students are welcome and encouraged to consult with other students who will be taking or have already taken the exam, as well as the faculty in their chosen area.

Timing & Completion

Comprehensive Area Exams are administered toward the end of the Spring semester in students’ second year. The one-week exam period must be scheduled and completed by the last day of the final exam period of spring semester during the second year.

The committee will grade each exam and provide written feedback justifying the grade assigned. Each individual essay will be read and assessed by the two members of the student’s comprehensive examination committee, as well as by a third independent grader recruited by the committee members.

In the case of a Conditional Pass, if any required revisions are not completed and approved by the first week of classes during the student’s third year, the student’s overall progress in the program will be evaluated by the Graduate Committee. A student failing to make steady progress could be dismissed from the program.

As with all requirements, exceptions or deviations to these requirements will be made on a case-by-case decision. Please speak with the Director Graduate Studies, who will discuss your case with the Graduate Committee.

The Third-Year Paper is an independent research project in which a student produces a manuscript that contains empirical analysis. The Third Year Paper requires a Primary and Secondary Reader. The Primary Reader should be a tenure-track faculty member from within the Department of Sociology. The Secondary Reader can be a faculty member from within or outside of the Sociology Department.


The Qualifying Exam is a series of projects related to establishing ones own research agenda, and when completed, mark the important transition from a doctoral student to a doctoral candidate. The Qualifying Exam requires a student to select and consult with a Supervisory Committee and develop a clear plan for the Dissertation Project. The Qualifying Exam includes two components:

  1. Written Research Proposal
  2. Oral Defense of the Research Proposal

The research proposal outlines a detailed plan for the dissertation project, as well as a clear description of how the project is framed within and contributes to the literature associated with that topic.The first part of the document includes an extended analytic literature review. The second part of the document will include a clear statement of the research question(s), a description of the methodology including a description of the data or data collection plan as well as how the data will be analyzed, and a proposed timeline for a dissertation project.

Students are required to discuss the written research proposal during and oral defense that is approximately two hours in length. During this defense, the Supervisory Committee will ask questions about the literature review to ensure the student knows the relevant literature deeply and broadly. The Supervisory Committee will also ask the student to justify the proposed research design. At the end of this defense, the student and Supervisory Committee should agree on the scope and direction of the Dissertation.

The Qualifying Exam is overseen by a five-person committee called the Supervisory Committee. This committee is responsible for providing guidance and advice to the student throughout the development and completion of the Qualifying Exam requirements, as well as the final Dissertation Project as described on the next pages. In other words, this committee is the student’s dissertation committee.

The Supervisory Committee must consist of at at least five faculty members, including at least three regular sociology faculty. The chair of the committee must be a core faculty member in the Department of Sociology. One member of the committee must be appointed from a department other than Sociology.

To complete the Qualifying Exam, students will enroll in SOC 7931 for a minimum of 6 credit hours and SOC 7950 for a minimum of 6 credit hours.

A dissertation is the final requirement of a Doctoral Degree (Ph.D.). A dissertation is an original piece of research that provides evidence of a student’s ability to conduct an independent investigation. A dissertation should make a unique contribution to the field of knowledge in sociology.

To complete this final requirement, students will

  1. Prepare a written manuscript called a thesis
  2. Pass an oral examination, called the final defense

The Supervisory Committee is responsible for evaluating and assessing the dissertation requirements (e.g., thesis & defense), as well as providing guidance and advice during the development and execution of the dissertation research project. The same Supervisory Committee is also responsible for approving the student’s Program of Study and Qualifying Exam requirements.

For additional information visit our website at and

Dissertation Requirements

A Doctoral Supervisory Committee consisting of five members is appointed to direct a student’s work after the master’s paper requirement has been fulfilled. Students entering the program with a master’s degree will form this committee by the second semester of the first year. At least one member must be from the faculty in another department. The chair of the committee is the student’s major professor for the dissertation and normally directs the student’s research for and writing of the dissertation. This committee approves the post-master’s paper program of study, prepares and evaluates the qualifying examinations, approves the dissertation proposal colloquium, judges the final oral dissertation defense, and grants final dissertation approval.

Two written qualifying examinations determine the student’s mastery of general sociological principles and depth of understanding within two areas or fields of specialization. These exams are taken only after all required course work is completed. One of these areas must be in either Comparative International Sociology (CIS) or the Sociology of Population and Health (SPH). The second exam may be taken the other core area, or in an area of specialization defined by the student in consultation with the Doctoral Supervisory Committee.

Students are required to present a dissertation proposal colloquium that is approximately two hours in length and open to all sociology faculty and graduate students. A written dissertation proposal must be distributed to each committee member and available in the main office no later than two weeks prior to the colloquium. The proposal should include a clear statement of the research question, a review of the relevant literature, a description of the methodology to be employed, and the data sources. After successful defense of the dissertation proposal in the colloquium, research for the dissertation may proceed. Students whose dissertation research will involve human subjects are responsible for following the procedures of the University’s Institutional Review Board (

Students must submit a dissertation embodying the results of research that provides evidence of originality and an ability to do independent investigation that contributes to knowledge in the field. The dissertation should be of sufficient merit to warrant publication in a professional journal or monograph series. Style and format are the same as required for manuscripts submitted to the American Sociological Review and are verified by the Graduate School dissertation editor.

Following submission of the dissertation and prior to graduation, the student must pass a final oral dissertation defense. This is a public examination scheduled by the Doctoral Supervisory Committee. Public notice of the oral defense must be made two weeks prior to the event. A copy of the dissertation must be on file in the Department office and available to faculty and students at the time of public notification. The final format and distribution of the dissertation and abstract as well as the use of restricted data are governed by the Graduate School as described in A Handbook for Theses and Dissertations, which is available on-line at the Graduate School web site (  under "Academics" then "Thesis & Dissertation" then "Thesis Office."

Students are expected to complete the doctoral program within five years. Students who are allowed to continue after the normal five years must complete the degree within seven consecutive calendar years. Upon written recommendation from the Dissertation Supervisory Committee and the Department Graduate Director, the Dean of the Graduate School may modify this requirement in extraordinary cases.

The Department will notify students admitted to the Graduate Program in Sociology of departmental policies and requirements that may not be represented in this document. Degree Requirements are subject to change. All students should check the Department web site ( for the most current degree requirements. The University of Utah and the Department of Sociology are committed to a policy of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity in all programs, activities, and employment.

Graduate students in the Department of Sociology are expected to

  • pass the requirements of any course in which they enroll
  • meet the expectations and milestones of their graduate program
  • adhere to standards of academic honesty
  • uphold the professional and ethical standards of the discipline.

All students in the sociology graduate programs are required to complete a self-evaluation each spring (by April 1st). This self-evaluation focuses on the accomplishments and progress of the student for the past academic year, with specific attention paid to whether or not s/he has successfully completed program requirements that keep him/her on track and in good standing in the program.

During this evaluation period, faculty members consult the self-evaluation forms submitted by each student, as well as additional documentation including:  official grades, teaching evaluations (if applicable), online grad tracking system, and written and verbal assessments from any faculty member in the department.  Funded students will also be assessed on their performance as a TA, GA, or RA, as evaluated by the faculty member who supervised their work.  Typically by mid-May, each student will receive an evaluation letter containing:  

  • A review of the student’s progress, performance, and achievement of academic goals
  • Advice for what the student should focus on in upcoming years
  • Specific timelines and expectations, if the student is deficient in any regard
  • An evaluation of the student’s performance as a TA, RA, or GA, if funded as one of these job classifications
  • Status of the student’s funding (if applicable), including if they will receive funding from the department for the following academic year (including how much), as well as the number of years of remaining TBP eligibility the student has.






Finances & Scholarships


Graduate Contacts


Daniel Adkins, Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies

alana robison 

Alana Robison

Administrative Assistant

Last Updated: 9/22/23