- PhD Programs – Residency, Time to Degree and Prerequisites
- PhD Programs – Course Requirements
- Comprehensive Exam
- 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 both within (e.g., University of Chicago; University of Western Ontario) 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 session, leaves of absence, withdrawal, plagiarism and cheating) by Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS). Students should consult the GPS website and the university calendar for elaboration.
Residence and Time to Degree
How long it will take a student to obtain their PhD degree depends significantly on previous background and success in developing a dissertation topic and building their academic publication record. 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 students must be registered in ‘additional session’ until all program requirements are met. Whether in residence or not, regular contact should be maintained between a student, his/her supervisor and 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 580: Social Research Design and Practice
- SOCI 504 Quantitative Methods 1
- 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.
All PhD students are required to take the first class on this list (SOCI 580: Social Research Design & Practice) during their first year in the program, regardless of whether they took a similar class in the past. Students who did not take the equivalent of one or more of the remaining 3 classes will be required – once admitted to the PhD program – to take the missing course(s) during the first year of the program. Students who already took an equivalent class for one of these 3 courses may request the Graduate Program Director for an exemption, though such exemptions are not guaranteed and will be decided on a case-to-case basis.
Reading and Research Courses
A student may register for one independent reading and research course as part of their 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 professor overseeing the course and returned to the Graduate Program Coordinator.
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.
Taking Courses - at Other Universities
Students may take a graduate course at another university 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 interest in universities located outside Quebec should confer with the Graduate Program Coordinator as to the current procedures for authorizing such exchanges.
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.
Comprehensive Exam - Preparation and Sub-Fields
Students are required to be examined in two substantive areas in a single exam taken over five days. The Comprehensive Exam in sociology provides an opportunity for students to read broadly in two core sub-fields within the discipline and demonstrate their competence in each sub-field. Preparation necessary to pass the exam is substantial, usually requiring several months of intensive study. As part of their preparation, students are strongly encouraged to work on their academic writing skills. The Writing Center offers a number of courses that can help develop these skills (https://www.mcgill.ca/graphos/courses). In addition, students are encouraged to seek detailed feedback on written work submitted in courses.
In consultation with their Supervisor, students select two of the following ten sub-fields to take their Comprehensive Exam: 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.
In preparing for the exam, students draw on one reading list from each of the two sub-fields. The examinations are prepared by each sub-fields’s exam committee. The reading lists will consist of approximately 20 books and 40 articles/chapters (or their equivalents) from each sub-field for a combined total of 40 books and 80 articles. Students should contact sub-field chairs (see table below) for copies of sub-field reading lists. Students may also contact the Graduate Program Coordinator for reading lists and copies of past exams. Note that students must inform both the Graduate Program Coordinator and sub-committee chairs of their intention to to take the comprehensive exam in the sub-field within two months of the expected exam date.
Comprehensive Exam - Exam Sub-Field Members
Development and Social Change
Deviance and Social Control
Nationalism, Ethnicity/Race and International Migration
Work, Labor Markets and the Economy
poulami.roychowdhury [at] mcgill.ca (Poulami Roychowdhury) (Chair)
jan.doering [at] mcgill.ca (Jan Doering)
thomas.soehl [at] mcgill.ca (Thomas Soehl) (Chair)
axel.vandenberg [at] mcgill.ca (Axel van den Berg) (Chair, Fall Term)
michael.smith [at] mcgill.ca (Michael Smith) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)
amelie.quesnelvallee [at] mcgill.ca (Amélie Quesnel-Vallée) (Chair, Fall Term)
aniruddha.das [at] mcgill.ca (Bobby Das) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)
Sex and Gender
Sociology of Knowledge
axel.vandenberg [at] mcgill.ca (Axel van den Berg )(Chair, Fall Term)
barry.eidlin [at] mcgill.ca (Barry Eidlin)
shelley.clark [at] mcgill.ca (Shelley Clark) (Chair)
Céline Le Bourdais
Amélie Quesnel-Vallee (Leave Winter 2021)
elaine.weiner [at] mcgill.ca (Elaine Weiner) (Chair)
axel.vandenberg [at] mcgill.ca (Axel van den Berg) (Chair, Fall Term)
michael.smith [at] mcgill.ca (Michael Smith) (Chair, Winter & Summer Terms)
peter.mcmahan [at] mcgill.ca (Peter McMahan )(Chair)
Comprehensive Exam - Timing
Comprehensive exams will be offered each year during the last week of August. Students must take the comprehensive exam no later than August of their PhD3 year. Under certain circumstances, students may be granted an extension to delay the exam. Such requests must be submitted to the GPD/GPC along with formal justification for a delay. The Graduate Committee will review and approve all such requests. Students who do not receive an extension must take the exam as scheduled. Students who do not take the exam by August of their PhD3 year without an approved extension from the Graduate Committee may be placed on probationary standing.
Comprehensive Exam - Format
The format of the examination is a five-day, open-book, written examination. The examination must be taken over five consecutive days. Students will receive the exam at 9am on Monday and return their answers by 5PM on Friday. The exam may be written in either French or English. It will consist of four questions (two questions from each sub-field). Answers to the four questions will be limited to between 30 and 40 pages in length, double-spaced (roughly 7-10 pages per answer). Completed exams should be emailed to the Graduate Program Coordinator (GPC).
Comprehensive Exam – Committee Composition
The Comprehensive Examination Committee consists of four members: two members from each sub-field. The Chair of each sub-field included in the examination will assign two faculty members within the sub-field to serve on the committee as an Examiner. Sub-field Chairs collaborate with the Examiners to write exam questions.
Comprehensive Exam -Assessment
Exams are assessed on a pass/fail basis. Passing an 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 in each sub-field such that s/he could design and teach a course in the sub-field.
After students submit their comprehensive exam, the Comprehensive Exam Committee members will evaluate the answers. The outcome of the comprehensive exam should be conveyed to the student within four weeks after submission. The committee must assign an examination one of the following two marks:
- Pass the examination if it is deemed satisfactory in both sub-fields.
- Fail the examination if the committee deems it in any way unsatisfactory.
In instances where the examination committee has deemed an exam unsatisfactory, retakes must occur on or before the first week of January of a student’s PhD 4 year. The form and content of the re-examination are at the discretion of the exam committee. If the committee deems a rewritten exam insufficient, or should the student fail to retake the exam on or before January of their PhD 4 year, the student will receive a grade of F for the comprehensive 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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Proposals should include a preliminary outline of the thesis.
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.
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.
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 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 program requirements and timelines: https://www.mcgill.ca/sociology/grad/phd
- PhD proposal approval committee form
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.