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The PhD in Sociology is designed to attract students who wish to develop a broad base of sociological knowledge and conduct original research. The degree equips students to embark on both academic careers in leading institutions of higher education and careers in applied research settings. The PhD program boasts a wide array of curricular strengths and diverse methodological offerings, all of which draw upon the department’s emphasis on the study of social inequalities along lines of race, class, and gender. Faculty expertise ranges widely from domestic U.S. concerns to issues that affect groups, regions, and societies on a global scale.

The PhD program is organized around four key areas of specialization:

In addition to the graduate courses offered in the areas of specialization, the program offers a strong foundation in both theory (classical and contemporary) and methods (quantitative and qualitative). Reflecting the program’s distinctive emphasis on social inequalities, students are required to select a core elective in this field, choosing from a list of approved courses maintained by the department. As students complete their core requirements, they also work closely with individual faculty members to advance their work within one of the department’s standing areas of specialization. Students also have the right to petition to construct their own areas of specialization (pending departmental approval) and have completed area examinations in a host of subfields. Among these are environmental justice, political economy of global capitalism, theoretical criminology, feminist theory, political sociology, social psychology, sociology of violence, and immigration, among many others.

The Sociology PhD program admits relatively small numbers of graduate students each year, which affords students the opportunity to work closely with the faculty and fellow graduate students. Our faculty and graduate students work together in a number of interdisciplinary research projects, programs, and centers, including the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute; NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks; the Institute for Health Equity and Social Justice Research; the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict; the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy; the Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative; the Institute on Race and Justice; and the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program. Many of the faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology are affiliated with other programs and departments on campus, including environmental studies; Africana studies; international affairs, criminal justice; and the law school. To ensure that PhD students become not only effective researchers and writers but also successful instructors, we offer teacher-training with the aim of instilling a skill-set that prospective academic employers find desirable. Students have numerous opportunities to participate in funded research opportunities, housed at research centers or with individual faculty members, frequently leading to conference papers and published articles. In addition, the department and affiliated centers often host national and international conferences, further enhancing educational opportunities for our graduate students. The department also offers a set of workshops on academic writing, teaching, grant writing, media relations, and other professional development skills.


Students interested in the PhD apply directly to that program. Students admitted without a master’s degree earn the MA in sociology en route once PhD course work is completed. Please note that all applicants for the doctoral program are required to submit a writing sample that should consist of written materials that demonstrate their capacity for scholarship at the doctoral level. (Copies of several course or term papers or a copy of a master’s thesis or paper are appropriate.)

Theory Examination

Students entering the graduate program must take a theory qualifying examination at the conclusion of their first year of study during the spring semester. The theory qualifying examination is a standard exam taken by all students in the same cohort. The exam is graded on a pass/fail basis. Students who fail the examination may take it a second time but will not be allowed to enroll for course work beyond the 30-semester-hour MA requirement or their first year of PhD residence (whichever case applies) until successfully completing the qualifying exam. Students who fail the examination on their second attempt will be asked to leave the program. In the latter case, a student may petition the graduate committee for a review of the student’s record and performance in the program.

Course Requirements

Students entering with a bachelor’s degree complete 60 semester hours, the Theory Examination, two Field Statements and Dissertation. Students entering with a Master’s degree complete a minimum of 40 semester hours beyond the Master’s degree,  the Theory Examination, two Field Statements and Dissertation.

Degree Candidacy

To enter into degree candidacy, the student must have earned a Master of Arts degree or its departmental semester-hour equivalent, passed the qualifying examination, both field statements, established a graduate committee of three faculty members from the sociology department, and successfully defend their dissertation proposal.