- PhD Programs – Residency, Time to Degree and Prerequisites
- PhD Programs – Course Requirements
- Area Exams
- Dissertation – Supervision
- Dissertation –Proposal Defense
- PhD Thesis – Submission and Evaluation
Our PhD programs are designed to train students for careers in academia, research and/or social policy. Our graduates have gone on to research positions in (e.g., University of Chicago) and outside of academia (e.g., Statistics Canada); others have taken up teaching positions at colleges and universities across North America (e.g., Oberlin College) or more locally, for instance, in Quebec CEGEPs (Collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel). Please see our listing of recent placements for more details.
Our PhD programs are generally geared to students who have already completed a Master’s degree in sociology. Such students enter the program at the PhD2 level. In exceptional cases, students with a Bachelor’s degree may be admitted directly into the PhD program as a way of ‘fast-tracking’ them. These students enter the program at the PhD1 level, which necessitates that they take an additional year of coursework during which they are expected to take the required MA level courses (SOCI 504, 580, 600, 652) and two complementary courses. Students with an MA degree in a field other than sociology may also be considered for admission at the Phd1 level.
Note: The Sociology Department’s graduate programs are governed in vital bureaucratic matters (e.g., residency, additional sessions, leaves of absence, withdrawal, plagiarism and cheating) by Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies (GPS). Students may consult the GPS website and the university calendar for elaboration.
Residence and Time to Degree
Students entering the sociology PhD program –at the PhD1 level – are required to spend three years in residence. Students entering at the PhD2 level must spend two years in residence.
The duration of a student’s PhD program depends significantly on previous background and success in developing a dissertation topic. Candidates for this degree, must, however, complete the degree within six (if admitted at PhD 2) to seven years (if admitted at PhD1) after the initial registration in the program (i.e., at the end of PhD7). For more information on time limits, see the university’s time limitation policy.
Within four years, all program requirements, with the exception of the dissertation thesis, must be completed. There is no residency requirement while the student is writing the dissertation but a student must be registered in ‘additional session’ until his/her dissertation thesis is submitted. Whether in residence or not, regular contact should be maintained between a student, his/her supervisor and the committee members.
Students entering the program at the PhD2 level (i.e., with an MA in hand) are expected to have completed the following courses or their equivalents:
- SOCI 504 Quantitative Methods 1
- SOCI 580: Social Research Design and Practice
- SOCI 600: Qualitative Research Methods 1
- SOCI 652: Current Sociological Theory
Students will have to ‘make up’ such prerequisites if they are lacking, in addition to completing existing program course requirements.
Students entering the program at the PhD1 level are required to take these ‘prerequisite’ courses (and two additional complementary courses) in addition to the regular PhD program requirements; if any exemption is granted to a PhD1 student, another course must be substituted in its place.
SOCI 504: Quantitative Methods 1
Students are required to demonstrate a knowledge of basic statistics before enrolling in SOCI 504. Preparedness is assessed via an exam given at the start of the fall term. To qualify for SOCI 504, a student must pass the exam with a score of at least 75%; those who do not must take SOCI 350 and receive a B+ grade or higher in order to advance to SOCI 504.
IMPORTANT NOTE: STUDENTS ADMITTED PRIOR TO FALL 2014 HAVE THE OPTION TO FOLLOW ‘OLD’ PROGRAM COURSE REQUIREMENTS (see Old PhD Program – Course Requirements) OR THE CURRENT PROGRAM GUIDELINES DETAILED BELOW (in effect as of January 2014).
Students may elect to pursue either the standard sociology PhD program or they may couple it with one of two ‘options’ in either: 1) gender and women’s studies or 2) population dynamics. Such options enable students to acquire a cross-disciplinary specialization. Coursework and thesis foci requirements vary in accordance with the option selected.
*Students may take a course in a related field, with the approval of the Graduate Program Director.
PhD Programs - Reading and Research Courses
A student may register for one independent reading and research course as part of his/her complementary courses. Reading and research courses provide an opportunity for students to study a topic of interest in greater depth in an independent way. These courses are negotiated between a student and a professor on an individual basis. Students must complete the ‘Reading and Research’ form detailing the nature of the work involved and the method of evaluation. The form must be signed by the student and the professor overseeing the course and must returned to the Graduate Program Coordinator.
PhD Programs - Taking Courses Outside the Sociology Department
Subject to the requirements of a student’s elected course of study and with the approval of the Graduate Program Director, students may take a course in another department (e.g., epidemiology, anthropology). Language courses require the approval of the Graduate Program Director and Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies; in some instances, student may incur additional costs for such courses.
PhD Programs - Taking Courses at Other Universities
Students may take a graduate course at another university, when needed, in order to meet their PhD program requirements at McGill. Students interested in pursuing coursework at other Quebec universities are eligible for a Quebec Inter-University Transfer. Students interested in universities located outside Quebec should confer with the Graduate Program Coordinator as to the current procedures for authorizing such exchanges.
Area Exam - Preparation and Areas
Students are required to be examined in two substantive areas. The area exams in sociology provide an opportunity for students to read comprehensively in two areas of research and/or teaching interest, after which they write an exam that assesses their competence in an area. Preparation necessary to pass these exams is substantial, usually requiring 2-3 months of intensive study.
Area exams are currently offered in ten areas: 1) development and social change 2) deviance and social control 3) race and ethnic relations 4) work, labour markets and the economy 5) medical sociology 6) political sociology 7) population dynamics 8) sex and gender 9) social stratification and 10) sociology of knowledge.
A committee of at least three faculty members is normally responsible for administering each exam. In preparing for an exam, students draw on a core reading list (designed by the respective area exam committee) and a specialized reading list (designed by the student). The combined reading lists – core and specialized – total approximately 40 books and 40 articles (or their equivalents). Each committee is responsible for ensuring that its core reading list is up-to-date. Committees are also responsible for working closely with students in the creation of their specialized reading list, so as to insure coherence and coverage. Students are required to submit their proposed specialized reading list to the area exam committee chair NO LATER than two months prior to the intended exam date. The chair of an exam committee formulates the questions and exam format in collaboration with other committee members. Students should contact area exam committee chairs for copies of core reading lists. Students may contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for copies of past exams.
Area Exam - Committee Chairs and Members
Development and Social Change
Deviance and Social Control
Race and Ethnic Relations
Work, Labor Markets and the Economy
matthew [dot] lange [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Matthew Lange) (chair)
eran [dot] shor [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Eran Shor) (chair)
morton [dot] weinfeld [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Morton Weinfeld) (chair)
michael [dot] smith [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Michael Smith) (chair)
Axel van den Berg
aniruddha [dot] das [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Aniruddha Das) (chair)
Sex and Gender
Sociology of Knowledge
john [dot] a [dot] hall [at] mcgill [dot] ca (John Hall) (chair)
Axel van den Berg
celine [dot] lebourdais [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Celine Le Bourdais) (chair)
elaine [dot] weiner [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Elaine Weiner) (chair)
steven [dot] rytina [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Steven Rytina) (chair)
Axel van den Berg
alberto [dot] cambrosio [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Alberto Cambrosio) (chair)
Area Exam - Timing
Area exams in sociology are offered three times a year: 1) during the second week of January 2) the last week of May and 3) the last week of August. Students should register for the area exam courses – SOCI 700: PhD Area Examination 1 and SOCI 701: PhD Area Examination 2 in the term that they intend to take the exam. Both exams must be taken by the end of the PhD3 year. Students failing to pass their two area exams by this point will be put on probationary standing.
Area Exam - Format
The format of an area exam is a three-day open-book exam. An additional day is permitted for students whose mother tongue is neither French nor English and for students whose first language is French but who choose to write the exam in English. There are no editing privileges, however, for non-French and non-English students. The Graduate Program Coordinator sends the student the exam questions at the exam start time; students are to return the exam exactly 72 hours later to the Graduate Program Coordinator, the area exam chair and the committee members. Students must respond to three questions; at least one must focus principally on the core reading list.
Area Exam - Grading
Area exams are assessed on a pass/fail basis. Passing an area exam requires: 1) synthesis in coherent, concise and accurate fashion of relevant literature and 2) display of an intelligent and critical perspective on pertinent readings in response to a given exam question. The student is expected to demonstrate sufficient mastery of key concepts and theories of an ‘area’ such that s/he could design and teach a course in this area. If the exam committee deems it necessary, a student may be required to take a supplemental oral examination in the same area. In instances of exam failure, the student must retake the exam prior to the next official area exam date.
Each student is responsible for finding a faculty member willing to service as his/her supervisor for the PhD thesis. The first step for a student is to seek out faculty members and informally discuss possible topics. The student is not bound by the outcome of any exploratory meetings. Students may consult the Graduate and Postdoctoral Support website for guidance about supervisor-supervisee relationships. Once the student selects a supervisor (and the supervisor has agreed to supervise him/her), the student and supervisor work closely together to craft a dissertation research proposal. In the proposal, a student must: 1) state the research problem/puzzle clearly 2) review relevant literature so as to justify the significance of the proposed research 3) generate specific hypotheses 4) relate these to appropriate data and methods 5) provide a tentative outline of the thesis chapters and 6) delineate a timeline for completion of the thesis – from data collection through write-up.
Two other faculty members are also required to form a student’s dissertation committee. Such members are typically drawn from within the sociology department but, with the approval of the Graduate Committee, members may be drawn from other departments within McGill and/or from other universities. Ideally, the committee members will regularly communicate with each other about the student’s progress and actively advise the student on a regular basis. Generally, the dissertation committee is charged with reading and commenting on a student’s proposal and then later on dissertation chapter drafts.
Dissertation Committee – Rationale
A three-person departmental committee is commonly used in North American social science departments. It has many advantages for both students and faculty, including:
1) Providing more guidance for the student, giving him/her the benefit of ongoing advice from several people, chosen for their expertise. Access to a variety of expertise, throughout the process, is likely to produce a better dissertation.
2) Providing security for the student in case of conflict with the supervisor or the loss of a supervisor (e.g., due to departure from McGill).
3) A close working relationship with three faculty members is likely to have important career benefits for the student beyond the dissertation. Frequently, relationships with committee members are maintained throughout one’s career. More immediately, when the student begins the job search, s/he can call upon the three faculty who are familiar with him/her and his/her research.
4) For faculty, the committee structure is beneficial in fostering interaction with one another around a student’s research. The supervisor is also relieved of the sole responsibility of advising (although s/he remains responsible for the committee process and bureaucratic matters). Credit will also be given to committee members via the academic merit review process.
Prior to the start of a student’s research for his/her dissertation thesis, s/he must orally defend his/her dissertation research proposal to his/her committee. Students must register for SOCI 702: PhD Proposal Approval during the term that the proposal is to be defended. The PhD Proposal Approval Committee form must be signed immediately following the defense by all committee members and returned to the Graduate Program Coordinator. The proposal should be defended no later than the beginning of a student’s fourth year in the program.
PhD Thesis – Format
The PhD thesis represents a student’s individual contribution to the field of sociology and specifically to his/her own research sub-field. There are two (2) typical formats for a dissertation in sociology at McGill: the manuscript and the paper-based format. A manuscript is akin to a book manuscript. The paper format requires the completion of three (3) or four (4) article-length papers that are meant for publication (and may indeed be published before the completion of the PhD, though publication does not ensure that the dissertation passes), with an introduction, and a conclusion explaining the coherence of the papers. Past dissertations can be located at the McGill library.
There are also university requirements regarding the content and format of the PhD thesis. Please consult the GPS guidelines.
PhD Thesis – Formal Deposition
PhD theses can be submitted at any time but there are set deadlines set by GPS for each graduation date. Please see GPS’s website for deadlines.
All program requirements must be met before the thesis is initially, formally deposited. Moreover, all members of the dissertation committee (from its proposal stage) should approve the dissertation in terms of its readiness for deposition.
PhD Thesis –External and Internal Examiners
PhD theses must be evaluated by one ‘external’ examiner and one ‘internal’ examiner.
The ‘external’ examiner must be a scholar of established reputation and competence in the field of the thesis research from outside the university and normally must hold a doctorate. The external examiner must be at “arm’s length” and have no other conflict of interest. Once a doctoral thesis is formally submitted, the supervisor should submit three names (and contact information) of potential external examiners – agreed upon by both the supervisor and doctoral candidate – to the Graduate Program Director who is responsible for securing the external examiner.
The ‘internal’ examiner is typically a McGill faculty member (but not the Supervisor) affiliated with the department but s/he may also be drawn from other units at McGill. The internal examiner is expected to be knowledgeable in the area and topic of the thesis, though not necessarily to the same degree as the external examiner. The internal examiner serves to ensure that McGill norms are observed with respect to quality of the thesis. S/he need not satisfy the arm’s length conditions required of the external examiner (but must not be in conflict of interest according to McGill’s “Policy on Conflicts of Interest in Academic Supervision and Evaluation” ). As such, a member of the student’s supervisory committee may be named as the internal examiner. Once a doctoral thesis is formally submitted, the supervisor may directly contact a prospective internal examiner – agreed upon by both the supervisor and doctoral candidate – to secure his/her involvement. Importantly, the internal examiner must attend the final oral thesis defense.
Please see GPS’s guidelines for more details on thesis examiners.
PhD Thesis – Oral Defense
Once the PhD thesis has been formally deposited and deemed passable by both the internal and external examiners, an oral defense is scheduled. In instances where the thesis is not passed by an examiner (prior to the oral defense), a student may revise and resubmit. See the GPS guidelines on ‘Thesis Examination Failures.’
A dissertation must then pass at the oral defense stage in order for a student to graduate. In instances where the committee deems the thesis not passable, there are several possible recourses. For details, see the GPS guidelines on ‘Thesis Examination Failures.’
Oral Defense – Committee
The oral defense committee for the PhD thesis traditionally is comprised of five members as follows:
- Thesis supervisor
- Department chair (or delegate)
- 1 Faculty member from the department
- External member (selected from outside the department but preferably from McGill)
- Pro-Dean (selected by GPS)
- The primary function of the Pro-Dean is to see that the examination is carried out with fairness to the candidate and with respect for the academic standards of GPS. S/he is a voting member of the committee.
NOTE: The rules have been altered, however, to permit all three faculty members from a student’s dissertation committee (from the proposal stage) to sit on the oral defense committee, if desired. Whether a five or seven member committee is elected (must be an odd number to avoid a tie vote), the majority of the oral defense committee members must not have been closely involved with the thesis research. Please see GPS’s guidelines for doctoral oral defense for seven-member oral defense committee options.
The Graduate Program Coordinator arranges for the oral defense. The department advises GPS of the composition of the committee and the date of the defense. This must be done at least two weeks in advance of the defense in order that a Pro-Dean can be appointed by GPS. One week prior to the defense, an invitation is sent to department faculty members and students. The candidate will receive copies of the examiners’ reports at the conclusion of the oral defense.
The oral defense is open to the public. It entails a 15-20 presentation by the student followed by a question and answer period, and finally an announcement as to whether or not the student has passed. The oral defense committee may request that the student make changes to the thesis before it is finally deposited to GPS. This is the last stage before a student is eligible for graduation.