The PhD Program

The PhD program in sociology is designed to prepare the student for a career in sociology that combines both research and teaching in one or more areas of the discipline. A broad general knowledge of sociological theory and research methodology is required of all students. In addition, students should develop a strong specialty area and establish a research program in that area.

It is expected that students learn the skills necessary to produce valuable research and present its results. Typically this is done by developing a close working relationship with one or more faculty members and co-authoring research papers with them. In this way the student begins as an apprentice and finishes with a substantial research record. The goals of this apprenticeship include presenting papers at professional meetings, submitting papers to professional journals, and participating in the preparation of grant proposals for research funding.

The requirements in the right column are viewed as the milestones in terms of which student progress is evaluated. If accomplished in timely fashion, the student will merit continued funding. In the final two years the student is expected to gain experience teaching at the university level.

    Year        Term     Milestones
1 Fall Coursework:
Classical Theory (SOCL 7121), Methods (SOCL 7211), Statistics I (SOCL 7201), and Pro-seminar (SOCL 7903), for a total of 10 credit hours

Statistics II (SOCL 7203) and two Electives,* for a total of 9 credit hours

Thesis/Empirical Paper:

  1. Establish committee of three members;
  2. Determine whether an empirical research paper or MA thesis will be written;
  3. Determine the content of the paper or thesis.
2 Fall

A minimum of 9 credit hours

Thesis/Empirical Paper:
Work on thesis/empirical research paper


9 credit hours of coursework (6 credit hours of SOCL 8900 for the empirical research paper or 6 credit hours of SOCL 8000 for the MA thesis)

Thesis/Empirical Paper:
Complete and defend thesis/empirical research paper

3 Fall

9 credit hours of coursework

General Exam:

  1. Establish a General Examination Committee of three members (see section below);
  2. Determine whether the general exam will be a standard exam or an review paper (see section below);
  3. Determine content of exam or review paper (see section below).

Pro-seminar (7903) and remaining coursework

General Exam:
Take and defend general exam

4 Fall Dissertation: Complete dissertation proposal
Spring Dissertation: Write dissertation
5 Fall Dissertation: Write dissertation
Spring Dissertation: Defend dissertation

* Although not required for MA degrees, SOCL 7213 Specialized Topics in Social Science Methods (6 credits) and SOCL 7131 Contemporary Social Theory (3 credits) are required for PhD degrees and is recommended that these courses be completed early in the program.

Admission to the PhD Program

On completion of the thesis/empirical research paper, a MA committee will assign a mark of Fail, Terminal Pass (Pass with a terminal MA degree), or Pass Plus (Pass with automatic admission to the PhD program). Students who pass with Terminal Pass cannot pursue further studies toward a PhD in Sociology from this department even if they had been admitted as “doctoral students” (who have the LSU Degree Code of PSOCL).

Students may be permitted to transfer credits at the graduate level from another institution. The maximum number of transfer credits depends upon each student’s situation. Also, students who received a master’s degree at another institution may request for exemption from the empirical research paper or MA thesis requirement after their first two semesters in the program. The student’s committee will review the student’s request (and have meeting with the student, if necessary) and notify the graduate director of their decision in writing. If approved, the student is exempt from the empirical research paper or MA thesis and awarded 6 hours of Research in Sociology (SOCL 8900) or MA Thesis (SOCL 8000).

Annual Reports

Graduate students, at the request of the graduate director, will submit an annual report summarizing their academic activities during the past year.

General Examination

Prior to writing a dissertation, each PhD student must take and pass a general examination. The objective of the general exam is to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of the literature in a student’s declared areas of expertise. Students are eligible to write and defend their general exam in the semester they are completing their final course requirements (excluding dissertation credits) or at a later date. A general exam may be taken sooner if their committee allows an exception. The general exam is a committee-driven process. Subject matter and exam structure are determined between students and their chair/committee members, within the parameters outlined below.

Preparing for the general exam starts with selecting a dissertation chair and committee (see below for committee requirements). Together with their chair and committee, each student develops and finalizes a reading list. Because the general exam enables PhD students to gain expertise in broad areas of sociology, the reading list should be much broader in coverage than references for their dissertation. In consultation with their committee, the student selects two or more substantive areas of sociological research for the exam, such as “Work” and “Family” or “Deviance” and “Mental Health.” The American Sociological Association’s list of current sections can be helpful in choosing substantive areas, but is not an exhaustive list of the options available.

The general exam is based on this reading list and includes a written component and an oral defense. In consultation with their committee, the student may select one of two formats for the general exam’s writing component, as outlined below: 1) a written examination OR 2) a review paper. Each option requires an oral defense, typically administered two weeks after the written exam is completed or review paper is submitted to the committee for assessment.

Written Examination

For written examinations, students begin by selecting a target date for the exam and defense. With their chair and committee members, students create a reading list (see above) that organizes their exam preparation. After their reading list is finalized and approved, students should take approximately 3-5 months to study and complete the written exam and oral defense. The written exam can be: a) open- or closed-book and administered on campus, taking a maximum of eight hours (held during one day or two consecutive days) or b) open-book and take-home, taking multiple days (maximum of one week). Committee members will consider the difficulty of each procedure when assessing performance. Example questions are available here.

Review Paper

With the approval of their chair and committee, a student can replace the written examination with a review paper. This paper is a critical review of the literature in the substantive areas of sociology their reading list covers. Once the reading list is approved by the committee, it operates as a working bibliography for the review paper. It is assumed that additional sources will be discovered in the course of writing and that those sources will be added to the list and cited in the paper. In terms of content, the paper should present and analyze the development of concepts, theory, methodology, and substantive issues in the selected substantive areas. It should both analyze and synthesize the literature(s) covered. The concluding section of the paper should: a) summarize major points made in the paper; b) provide evidence of the author’s unique perspective on the areas and their projections of the direction(s) new research in the areas might proceed. Students should take approximately 3-5 months from the time their initial reading list is approved by the committee to complete the review paper and oral defense.

After a reading list is finalized and a time/date is chosen for the oral defense, the student submits the Doctoral Degree Request for Doctoral Examination and Degree Audit form. Every student must consult the Director of Graduate Studies before turning in the form to avoid errors. The form must be submitted at least three weeks prior to the date of the General Exam’s oral defense. After the form is submitted, the Graduate School will choose a Dean’s Representative and will notify the committee chair so they can provide that person a copy of the written exam or review paper prior to the oral defense. If a committee member cannot be physically present and is going to participate remotely, students should review the guidelines for remote participation and, if eligible, should submit a Request for Remote Participation in Graduate Committees form at the same time as the Examination Request and Degree Audit form. 

At the General Exam oral defense, the committee chair or graduate secretary prepares the exam results form, which is signed and submitted to the Graduate School after the oral exam is complete. The oral defense often starts with the student delivering a short discussion of their exam answers or review paper. The bulk of the oral defense involves the student answering questions about their exam answers or review paper. Provided that the committee tells them beforehand, students may be asked about questions on the exam that they chose not to answer or readings from the list that they did not include in their paper. Students should meet with their committee chair to clarify oral exam expectations. Once the oral defense is completed, the committee assigns a pass/retake grade. After a retake, a pass/fail grade is given. If a student receives a retake for the review paper option, they may be directed to take the written exam, as described above.

Committee for the General Examination and/or Dissertation

The student's PhD Committee is composed of a minimum of three graduate faculty members from sociology department and the Dean's Representative (designated by the Graduate School upon General Exam application). The student may substitute one of them for a graduate faculty member from another department, if it is decided appropriate by the committee chair and approved by the departmental chair or graduate advisor. At least two of the three committee members (other than the Dean's Representative) have to be a full graduate faculty (i.e., rank of associate or full professor). If the student declares an official minor, a faculty member in the minor field must be included in the committee (in addition to the two sociology faculty members).

Dissertation Proposal

Before a PhD student begins the dissertation research, approval of a proposal by the dissertation committee is required. The student should submit the dissertation proposal to each of the committee members at least two weeks prior to a scheduled meeting with the committee. Members of the committee may approve the proposal, suggest changes in the proposal, or reject the proposal. After the committee has approved the proposal, one copy with an approval sheet signed by all committee members must be placed in the student's file. The proposal defense must be done at least one semester before the final oral exam on the dissertation. Any major changes in the research design must be approved by all committee members.

The proposal should generally include the following items:

  1.  Approval sheet and title page
  2. Subject of the dissertation
  3. Significance
  4. Preliminary review of the literature
  5. Conceptual statement of the problem--the hypotheses to be tested or empirical relationships to be examined with conceptual model (if appropriate).
  6. Research procedure:
    1. Operationalization of concepts;
    2. Sampling design;
    3. Analytical techniques;
    4. Dummy tables
  7. Timetable, including: when data are to be collected, when analysis and writing will be done, and target date for completion
  8. General bibliography (ASR Style)

Dissertation Defense

To graduate with a PhD degree, the student must submit the following two documents to the Graduate School:

  1. Application for Degree
  2. Request for Doctoral Examination

Go to the Enrolled Student Forms page for required forms.

They must be submitted by the deadline (mid- to late January for Spring semester, mid- to late August for Fall semester, or early May to early June for Summer term). In addition, the doctoral exam must be scheduled at least three weeks after the Request is submitted. The dissertation itself must be distributed to all committee members (including a Dean's Representative assigned by the Graduate School) at least two weeks prior to the final examination. This committee should be composed of the same faculty members that approved the dissertation proposal, though this rule recognizes exceptions.

The final doctoral examination is an oral defense. At the dissertation defense, the committee chair or the graduate secretary has to prepare the Exam Results Form and Doctoral Examination and Dissertation Report. The committee may render one of three decisions regarding the outcome of the exam:

  • Passed: The candidate is recommended for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology;
  • Failed: The student is not recommended for the continuance of study toward the degree;
  • Probationary Continuance: The candidate is required to remedy certain deficiencies in knowledge and/or to do further work on the dissertation. At least one semester must elapse before the granting of the second examination. The outcome of the second examination is restricted to Pass or Fail.

The Exam Report needs to be submitted by mid-April or mid-November for the degree to be awarded at the end of the semester. Consult the Graduate School calendar to determine the latest possible date to file in order to graduate in a particular semester.