In the first two years of the program, students develop an area of interest and learn how to ask interesting research questions and develop analytic designs to investigate them. By the end of the first year, their projects are launched; by the end of the second, they have produced a publishable paper and earned their M.A.s. During the third year, students complete their formal course work, apply for candidacy to the PhD program, and take their comprehensive exams. In the fourth and fifth years, students develop a dissertation proposal, which they present to their committees for advice and feedback, and work on their dissertation. Throughout the training process, students are also actively engaged in writing papers for publications and making preparations for going on the job market.
The Department works to update the Graduate Handbook each year. The follow degree requirements are for the 2019 Cohort and are subject to change for the upcoming 2020 Cohort.
Required for M.A. candidates are two seminars in social theory, chosen from among the following:
Theories of Society I
Theories of Society II
Additionally, three methods and statistics courses (plus labs) are required for the M.A.:
Sociological Research Methods
Statistical Methods for Social Research
Statistical Methods for Non-experimental Research
Statistical Laboratory (fall and spring)
All students in the M.A. program are also required to take Sociology 500, a one-credit Introduction to Graduate Study in Sociology.
In addition to the above requirements, students also need to complete 5 3-credit seminars, 2 of which need to be in Sociology. Moreover, The Graduate School requires that M.A. candidates complete six thesis credits (SOC 600).
Writing for Publication
Teaching Workshop (1 credit)
Elective Seminars in Sociology (15 credits, 9 of which need to be in Sociology)
A candidacy examination is required by the Graduate School for all students aspiring to enter a Ph.D. program at Penn State. The purpose of this evaluation is to assess the student’s potential to successfully complete a high-quality Ph.D. program. In the Department of Sociology, the Ph.D. candidacy examination is conducted by the Sociology graduate committee. The evaluation is based on a dossier prepared by the student and should contain transcripts, faculty evaluations supplied by the graduate officer, the M.A. thesis, and a plan of doctoral study supplied by the student. In addition, the student must provide a written release allowing the Graduate Committee to examine all violations of academic integrity that have been filed with the Academic Integrity Office during his or her term of graduate study at Penn State.
The candidate’s Ph.D. studies are conducted under the supervision of a Ph.D. committee. The committee is composed of at least four members of the graduate faculty, at least one of whom must be from outside the Sociology department or represent a different disciplinary perspective (based on scholarly work or field in which Ph.D. was received). The committee must include faculty members having recognized expertise in the major and minor areas of specialization selected by the student, as well as expertise in general social theory, research methods, and statistics. One faculty member is designated chair of the Ph.D. committee; ordinarily this person also serves as general advisor and director of the dissertation. Students are strongly encouraged to choose a committee chair as early as possible. For more information regarding committee formation, click on the following link:
GCAC-602 – Ph.D. Committee Formation, Composition, and Review – Research Doctorate
After obtaining the consent of the faculty selected for the committee, which requires their signatures on a committee appointment form, the student submits the names of those committee members to the graduate officer, together with a rationale for each selection. If approved, the proposed committee members will be submitted for final approval to the Graduate School.
A comprehensive examination will be administered by the student’s Ph.D. committee. Candidates are required by the Graduate School to have a minimum grade-point average of 3.00 for work done at Penn State at the time of the comprehensive examination, and they must be registered as full-time students for the semester in which the examination is taken. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee is required for passing. The purpose of the comprehensive examination in sociology is to insure competency in the earlier-described major and minor areas of specialization. At the discretion of the faculty committee, examination content, while focusing on the major and minor areas of specialization, may incorporate aspects of general social theory, research methods, and statistics. The comprehensive examination consists of written and oral segments. The written comprehensive will be a closed-book examination administered in four three-hour sessions, normally morning and afternoon sessions on two consecutive days. At the discretion of the committee, up to one extra hour per session may be given to students who are not native speakers of English. The comprehensive examination is based on a reading list distributed to and approved by all members of the Ph.D. supervisory committee at least one month prior to the date of the written portion of the exam.
The oral portion of the comprehensive examination is a scheduled meeting of the candidate with the candidate’s faculty committee. Normally, the oral part of the exam occurs two to three weeks after the written exam. The oral exam is an occasion for feedback and discussion of the student’s written examination performance. The oral portion of the comprehensive examination must be scheduled two weeks in advance with the Graduate School. For more information regarding comprehensive examinations, refer to the following policy:
GCAC-606 Comprehensive Examination – Research Doctorate
Students who entered the Penn State Graduate Program in Sociology with a B.A. are advised to take the comprehensive examination prior to the beginning of the fall semester of their fourth year, and certainly should have passed the examination by the end of the fall semester of their fourth year. Those entering the program with an M.A. are advised to take the comprehensive examination before the fall semester of their third year, and certainly should have passed the examination by the end of the fall semester of their third year. Students who fail the comprehensive examination may repeat it once, so long as the time limits specified in the preceding sentences are not exceeded.
The student’s dissertation research is conducted under the supervision of the Ph.D. committee. An early meeting of the Ph.D. committee should be held to give informal consideration to the dissertation plan and to make recommendations for course work, as may be appropriate. A formal defense of the dissertation is scheduled by the Sociology graduate officer with the Graduate School upon receipt of written notification from the Ph.D. committee chair that the committee judges the dissertation to be satisfactory for a defense. Three weeks’ notice is required by the Graduate School. The deadline for holding the defense is ten weeks before commencement. The student must be registered as a full-time degree student for the semester in which the final oral examination is taken. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee is required for passing. For more information regarding final oral examinations, refer to the following link: