PhD Programs


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.


PhD PROGRAMS – Residency, Time to Degree and Prerequisites

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. 

            General Timeline


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.





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 broad areas within the discipline, after which they write an exam that assesses their competence in each area. Preparation necessary to pass these exams is substantial, usually requiring 2-3 months of intensive study. Students are strongly encouraged to work on their academic writing skills in preparation for their area exams. The Writing Center offers a number of courses that can help develop these skills (

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. Students are required to take an exam in two of the ten substantive areas listed above.

In preparing for an exam, students draw on a core reading list (designed by the respective area exam committee) and a specialized reading list. The combined reading lists – core and specialized – total approximately 40 books and 40 articles (or their equivalents). Some area exam committees have pre-defined specialty reading lists while others require students to define and design the specialty list. When taking an area exam that requires students to define and design the specialty reading list, students work with the chair of the area exam committee to create a suitable specialty topic within the area. Once the topic has been approved, the student, working closely with area exam committee members will create a relevant specialty list, so as to insure coherence and coverage. Once complete, students are required to submit their proposed specialized reading list to the area exam committee chair for review and approval. Note that the final specialized reading list must be approved no later than two months prior to the exam date.

The area exam committee is responsible for defining the expectations of each exam, writing the questions, and assessing the answers. 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 also contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for reading lists and copies of past exams.

Area Exam - Committee Chairs and Members

Development and Social Change

Deviance and Social Control

Nationalism, Ethnicity/Race and International Migration

Work, Labor Markets and the Economy

Medical Sociology

poulami.roychowdhury [at] (Poulami Roychowdhury) (Chair)

Shelley Clark

Matthew Lange

Luca Pesando

Jan Doering (Chair) 

Jason Carmichael

Eran Shor

thomas.soehl [at] (Thomas Soehl) (Chair)

Jennifer Elrick

Matthew Lange

Zoua Vang

Morton Weinfeld

axel.vandenberg [at] (Axel van den Berg) (Chair, Fall Term)

michael.smith [at] (Michael Smith) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)

Barry Eidlin 

Elaine Weiner

amelie.quesnelvallee [at] (Amélie Quesnel-Vallée) (Chair, Fall Term)

aniruddha.das [at] (Bobby Das) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)

Alberto Cambrosio

Jennifer Fishman



Political Sociology

Population Dynamics

Sex and Gender

Social Stratification

Sociology of Knowledge

barry.eidlin [at] (Barry Eidlin) (Chair)

Jennifer Elrick

John A. Hall

Matthew Lange

Axel van den Berg (Leave Winter 2020)


celine.lebourdais [at] (Céline Le Bourdais) (Chair)

Sarah Brauner-Otto

Shelley Clark

Bobby Das

Amélie Quesnel-Vallee (Leave Winter 2020)

Luca Pesando

Zoua Vang

elaine.weiner [at] (Elaine Weiner) (Chair)

Jennifer Fishman

Poulami Roychowdhury 

Eran Shor

axel.vandenberg [at] (Axel van den Berg) (Chair, Fall Term)

michael.smith [at] (Michael Smith) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)

Peter McMahan

Thomas Soehl

alberto.cambrosio [at] (Alberto Cambrosio) (Chair)

Jan Doering

Jennifer Fishman

Peter McMahan


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 (under some circumstances, minor modifications to exam dates are possible with the approval of the chair of the area exam committee and the GPD). 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 passed 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. The exam may be written in either French or English. 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. That said, no student is allowed seek outside assistance with editing their answers. The Graduate Program Coordinator sends the student the exam questions at the exam start time; students are to return the exam within 72 hours to the Graduate Program Coordinator, the area exam chair and the committee members. Students typically respond to three questions; at least one must focus principally on the core reading list.

Area Exam -Assessment

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. Answers should be the student’s own and assistance from others in either content or style, is prohibited ( 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.

After students submit their area exam, the area exam committee will evaluate the answers. The committee will convey the outcome of the area exam to the student within 4 weeks after submission. In instances where answers are deemed to be insufficient, the chair of the area exam committee will inform the student whether a partial or full retake is required. Retakes must occur on or before the next official area exam date. Form and content of the re-examination are at the discretion of the exam committee. Note that students are required to re-take failed area exams. Switching to another area exam after a full or partial failure is not permissible. If committees deem a rewritten area exam insufficient, or should the student fail to retake the exam on or before the next exam date, the student will receive a grade of F for the exam and will be withdrawn from the Ph.D. program.


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.



The dissertation proposal is one of the required milestones of the Sociology PhD program. To complete the proposal requirement, a student must (a) write a ‘dissertation proposal’ and (b) orally defend the proposal to their dissertation committee (the committee is typically composed of the supervisor(s) and two additional members). The dissertation proposal should be defended no later than August of the student’s PhD4 year. Students who fail to do so may receive an unsatisfactory on their Annual Progress Report.

Proposal Structure

Dissertation proposals vary substantially in their format and length. The guidelines presented below are intended to provide a rough blueprint for a typical proposal. Ultimately, the structure of the proposal will be determined through close consultation between the student and members of the dissertation committee. Students may also want to refer to the ebook Grad Skool Rulz, by Fabio Rojas (2011), for a detailed discussion about the structure and content of dissertation proposals. That said, a dissertation proposal will typically contain the following components:

  1. Statement of the research problem(s) or research question(s)
    Research questions typically address a concern within the existing literature or an issue in the wider world, and such questions should be clearly stated in the proposal. Students should be explicit about whether they intend to use the monograph or article-based format for their dissertation. Students who intend to write an article-based dissertation should take particular care to explain how the three or four manuscripts will fit together as part of a coherent whole.
  2. Relevant context
    Dissertation proposals should provide a summary of the theoretical, social, and/or historical context that is relevant to the research question. Such context is likely to include a discussion of existing scholarly literature that is related to the proposed research. For many topics, a description of the historical context or other social factors surrounding a case will be appropriate. Overall, the proposal should aim to situate the research topic and motivate its importance within a broad sociological frame.
  3. Existing literature
    There are many ways to engage directly with existing literature in a dissertation. A proposal might describe existing theoretical approaches that the student plans to re-engage using a specific case or set of cases. Alternatively, the proposed research may involve an intervention in a particular body of scholarly work, aiming to falsify previous findings or interrogate a theoretical frame. Regardless of the form, dissertation research typically engages deeply with a focused area of the literature (more directly than described in the “relevant context” section above), and the proposal should describe this literature. This section should also clearly identify and state how the proposed research would add to our understanding of the research questions beyond what we already know from the most relevant and up-to-date thinking and research on this question.
  4. Data and methods
    Proposals should include a clear statement of the data (e.g. type, scope, sampling approach, sample details, means of collection, draft interview guide) and the methods of analysis that students plan to use in their dissertation. A thorough proposal will contain a realistic assessment of the feasibility of the data collection and analysis and will demonstrate that the student has considered the possibility of unforeseen difficulties with data collection and analysis.
  5. Outline
    Proposals should include a preliminary outline of the thesis.
  6. Timeline
    Proposals should include an anticipated timeline of the steps necessary to complete the dissertation. The content of the timeline will depend on the details of the proposed research but will typically incorporate rough completion dates for data gathering, data analysis, reading and incorporating supporting literature, and chapter drafts.
  7. Length
    There are no rigid limits set on the length of a dissertation proposal; the final length should be the result of conversation between students and their supervisor(s)/committee. As a loose guideline, students may aim for 20–40 double-spaced pages (excluding reference lists and appendices), but students are encouraged to discuss the specific expectations for their proposal with their supervisor and committee.

Proposal Defense

The completed proposal should be distributed to all committee members at least three weeks prior to the scheduled defense. There is no set format for the defense, but committees typically ask that the student give a brief presentation (about 15 minutes) of the proposal before opening discussion to questions and comments from the committee itself. The student will then be asked to leave the room in order for the committee to deliberate. In addition to assessing the passability of the proposal, the committee may consider whether any revisions are warranted and may recommend future steps. If the committee agrees to approve the proposal, the PhD Proposal Approval Committee form  must be signed immediately following the defense by all committee members and returned to the Graduate Program Coordinator. Note that the student must register for the course “SOCI 702: PhD Proposal Approval” during the term that the proposal is to be defended.




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.'

The oral defense committee for the PhD thesis traditionally is comprised of five members please refer to the GPS website: GPS's guidelines for doctoral oral defense.

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.

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