The PhD in Sociology

The PhD in Sociology is a program designed to last six years. It consists of three years of course work and another semester for accreditation (qualifying portfolio and defense) prior to the dissertation. The minimum residence for the PhD is three years. Apprenticeship in teaching is an integral part of the program and funded doctoral students normally serve as Teaching Fellows (TFs). There is no foreign language requirement for the PhD.


Students entering the PhD program in sociology are expected to complete six semesters of the program's Approaches to Sociological Research pro-seminar (SOC 300a), as well as fourteen additional full-credit courses. At least six of these fourteen courses must be formal graduate seminars (courses numbered 200 or higher) taken in the Brandeis Sociology Department. One of those six seminars must be in social theory and one must be in research methods. Four additional courses must be completed within the Brandeis Sociology Department, either as graduate seminars, independent readings (SOC 230a/b), advanced joint undergraduate/graduate seminars, or upper-division (numbered 100-199) courses. The four remaining courses can be taken as the student chooses, including graduate courses at other Boston-area universities, in consultation with her or his advisor.

Of the six required formal graduate seminars (courses numbered 200 or higher) that must be taken in the Brandeis Sociology Department, a minimum of four must be graduate seminars offered as formal seminars by the Sociology Department at Brandeis. Two of the six may be transferred in, with the approval of the Graduate Committee, based on Master's level coursework completed before matriculating at Brandeis. One of the six may be completed as a joint seminar at Brandeis if, and only if, a student has not completed Master's level courses, prior to matriculating at Brandeis, which she or he wishes to transfer for credit at Brandeis. In no cases may a student complete fewer than four graduate seminars (courses numbered 200 or higher) offered by the Sociology Department at Brandeis and receive a Brandeis PhD.

The Approaches to Sociological Research pro-seminar (SOC 300a) is a two-credit course designed to help students transition from being consumers to producers of sociological knowledge with the support of peers and faculty. It includes guidance on researching and writing papers for publication. Credit for the sixth semester of the pro-seminar is dependent on a student writing a single-authored publishable research paper, and submitting it to a peer-reviewed academic journal. This requirement can be completed any time before the end of the student's sixth semester in the program.

A student's initial program of study is arranged in consultation with the graduate student's advisor. Consideration will be given to graduate work done elsewhere, but formal transfer credit is assigned only after the successful completion of the first year of study. More information about requesting transfer credit is below.

Qualifying Portfolio and Defense (QPD)

The Qualifying Portfolio and Defense (QPD) is the Brandeis Sociology Department's equivalent of qualifying/comprehensive examinations. The system encourages doctoral students to design their own programs of study, supervised by three different Brandeis Sociology Department faculty members. The purposes of the QPD system are:

  • To guide students toward demonstrated competence in three different areas in sociology, as defined by the American Sociological Association (ASA). These areas should not have substantial overlap with one another.

  • To certify (accredit) student competence, as determined during a defense meeting of the student and all three committee members.

  • To encourage students to develop ideas for the dissertation. Successful completion of the QPD process precedes the drafting and defense of a dissertation proposal.

Step 1: Preparing for the QPD

QPD work often builds upon courses that students have taken in the department, so students might consider potential QPD areas as they make decisions about courses in their first years of the program. Once students have identified a potential qualifying area, they are encouraged to take related courses (if they have not done so already). If related courses are not available, students may take one or more independent reading courses to gain an introduction to or conduct more focused study in the area of interest. Readings done for a regular or independent study course frequently become part of the QPD reading list. When putting together a reading list, students are encouraged to consult subject area lists available on the Shared Graduate Student Latte site, syllabi sets from Brandeis or other universities, and other sources.

Step 2: Formation of the QPD Committee

Forming a QPD Committee is the student's responsibility. The student identifies three areas of study, and for each one, asks a Sociology Department faculty member to supervise it. Students should approach those faculty members whom students believe can best advance their work in a given area. The possibility of serving on a student's QPD Committee can be broached by visiting a faculty member during office hours and having a conversation about the student's academic interests and prior work in the area. Once a faculty member agrees to be on the Committee, the student and Committee member should negotiate a plan, or contract, which typically includes an agreed upon set of reading and writing assignments.

A student may form a QPD Committee at any time before April 1 of the second year of his or her residency. By then, two areas must be defined, and two corresponding faculty members must have agreed to serve. The student must designate one as chair, who then becomes the student's principal advisor. The third area and corresponding faculty member must be designated by December 1 of the student's third year of residency. At both points, the student submits a petition to the Graduate Committee, which lists the names of designated faculty members and areas of study for approval. With this petition, the chair of the QPD Committee becomes the student's formal advisor. Thereafter, both students and faculty members may request justifiable changes in the composition of the QPD Committee by written petition to the Graduate Committee. That petition must be approved by the Graduate Committee before a Qualifying Defense meeting can be scheduled.

Step 3: The Qualifying Portfolio

The Qualifying Portfolio consists of a dossier in each area of specialization, assembled by the student, and with contents jointly determined by the student and supervising faculty member. Dossiers typically include some combination of the following: reading lists, annotated bibliographies, reviews of the literature, research papers, research proposals, citation analyses, response papers, course syllabi, and statements synthesizing the three areas of specialization. The Portfolio may include any other materials the QPD Committee deems significant.

Step 4: The Defense Meeting

The Qualifying Portfolio Defense meeting should be completed by December 1 of the student's fourth year, at the latest, by which point all course requirements must have been fulfilled. When QPD committee members have determined that the student has satisfactorily completed the pre-approved program, the Chair convenes a 6 defense meeting. The student must provide all three committee members with a complete portfolio at least two weeks before the meeting, which is publicly announced by the Department Administrator. The defense meeting is an oral qualifying examination with primary emphasis on the student's three areas of specialization. Meetings typically begin with the student giving a short (10 minute) presentation on his or her work before answering questions from the faculty. Committee members meet first with the student and then convene privately to determine the outcome. The student shall receive one of three grades - No Pass, Conditional Pass (meaning that specified further work is needed), or Pass. This grade will be noted on the QPD Completion Form, available on the Shared Latte site, which must be signed by all committee members and deposited with the Department Graduate Administrator immediately after the defense. The final accreditation recommendation should be made known to the student, who has the right to appeal directly to the Graduate Committee should this recommendation be unfavorable.

Please note: Students in the joint PhD in Social Policy and Sociology program are subject to slightly different rules, as reviewed on the joint PhD page.

From QPD to Dissertation

After accreditation by a student's Qualifying Portfolio and Defense Committee, three formal steps remain: (1) approval of the dissertation prospectus, (2) approval of the dissertation, and (3) successful defense of the dissertation.

Step 1: Approval of the Dissertation Prospectus and Advancement to Candidacy

Following the Qualifying Portfolio Defense meeting and by May 1 in the student's fourth year, a Dissertation Prospectus Committee must be approved by the Graduate Committee and the dissertation prospectus must be completed and approved. The Dissertation Prospectus Committee guides the student in preparing the prospectus. The committee should include three currently active members of the Sociology Department faculty, one designated by the student as chair, who becomes the student's official advisor. Each student is responsible for forming a Dissertation Prospectus Committee--that is, securing agreement from each member and then petitioning the Graduate Committee for approval. The Dissertation Prospectus Committee then determines when the prospectus is ready to be defended.

The dissertation prospectus elaborates a student's dissertation topic and explains the research the student plans to undertake. It should clearly state the research question, situate this question in a review of relevant literature, and describe the methods that will be used to answer the question. The prospectus should also provide a tentative timeline for completing the project. It should be no longer than 15 to 20 pages, including references. If the proposed research involves data collection with human subjects, the student must also seek approval from the Brandeis Committee for Protection of Human Subjects (BCPHS) by the date of the scheduled defense. Examples of dissertation proposals are available on the shared Graduate Student Latte site.

When the Committee determines that the proposal is ready, a dissertation prospectus defense is scheduled. The defense is open to the public and must be announced at least two weeks in advance within the Sociology Department, by which point the student must post a copy of the prospectus on the section of the shared Latte site titled, Dissertation Prospectus for Defense. The proposal defense meeting typically begins with the student giving a short (10 minute) presentation on his or her work before answering questions from the faculty. After the defense, the Dissertation Prospectus Committee meets in private to decide on one of three grades - No Pass, Conditional Pass (meaning that specified further work is needed), or Pass. This grade will be noted on the Dissertation Prospectus Defense Report (available on the shared Latte site), which must be signed by all Committee members and deposited with the department Graduate Administrator. After a student's prospectus 7 has been passed, a completed PhD Degree Audit Checklist Update Form must be submitted to the Registrar. At this point, the student has advanced to candidacy.

Step 2: Approval of the Dissertation

After approval of the prospectus, the Dissertation Prospectus Committee automatically becomes the student's Dissertation Committee with the chair as the student's official advisor. Thereafter, the student may petition the Graduate Committee to change the membership of the Dissertation Committee, although approval is not usually granted when the dissertation is close to completion. Between approval of the prospectus and submission of a completed dissertation, the official link between the Department and student will be the chair of the Dissertation Committee, who serves as the student's dissertation advisor and provides periodic reports of progress to the Graduate Committee in addition to the student's annual end of year evaluation.

Final composition of the Dissertation Committee must include three members of the Sociology Department faculty and an outside reader, chosen with the advice of the Dissertation Committee members and approved by the Graduate Committee and the Dean of the Graduate School. Approval must be secured before a defense can be scheduled. To obtain approval for an outsider reader, the student submits a petition to the Graduate Committee at least one month before the dissertation defense. The outside reader should hold a PhD and have an academic affiliation outside Brandeis. At least two weeks before the dissertation defense, the student must submit to the Graduate School the Dissertation Examining Committee (DEC) form (available on the shared Latte site), which is signed by the Sociology Department DGS.

The Dissertation Committee, including the outside reader, has sole responsibility for approving the dissertation. Committee members will have one month to read a complete draft, comment on it, and require revisions. Once all Committee members agree that the dissertation is ready to defend, the candidate should schedule the dissertation defense. The defense must be scheduled with at least two weeks' notice at a time all committee members can attend.

Step 3: Defense of the Dissertation

At least two weeks before the defense, a copy of the dissertation must be made available for review by members of the faculty. This can be done either by placing a print copy in the Sociology Department office, or by placing an electronic copy on the shared Latte site. The defense is open to the public and must be announced at least two weeks in advance within the Sociology Department. The student should issue a request to the Sociology Department Administrator to make this announcement at least one week prior to when the announcement is to be distributed, and at this time should also inform the Department Administrator whether the dissertation will be made available in print or electronic form.

The dissertation defense must include all members of the Dissertation Committee, together with the outside reader. If the outside reader is not able to be physically present, university rules allow her or him to be included by videoconference (note that conference calls by telephone are not acceptable). The chair of the Committee chairs the defense, which normally involves a presentation by the candidate outlining the research process and summarizing findings followed by questions posed first by Committee members and then by others present. After the defense, the Committee meets in private to decide whether the dissertation is or is not acceptable and what revisions, if any, will be required for final acceptance.

Before the defense, the student must pay the dissertation filing fee and prepare forms for submission to the Graduate School, in its prescribed format. The student then has the forms signed by members of the Committee and submits them to the Graduate School. All of these forms are available on the shared Latte page and/or at the web addresses listed below. When the dissertation is complete, with all revisions approved, the candidate 8 must submit the final copy to the Graduate School, in accordance with deadlines posted in the academic calendar. Students in the final stages of preparation should also obtain an application for the PhD degree from the Graduate School and inform themselves of the final dates by which all requirements must be completed. Students should also obtain detailed instructions for the final format of the dissertation from the Graduate School.

Information on Filing the Dissertation

1. Apply to graduate with the online Graduate Degree Application Form

Applications will NOT be accepted after the deadlines listed here. Once a deadline has passed the student will need to make an application for the next application period. PhD degree applicants will be charged a dissertation fee (approximately $235) within a week of submitting the degree application. A new application form is necessary if the student does not complete all requirements for the degree by the dates listed; however the fee is a one-time payment.

Application Deadlines:

  • November 1 to graduate in February

  • March 1 to graduate in May

  • June 22 to graduate in August

2. Submit Dissertation Examining Committee (DEC) Form Two Weeks before your Defense.

Student Instructions:

  • Student completes the DEC form, which states the proposed title of dissertation, defense date, time and location, and names of defense committee members.

  • The form must be signed by the Graduate Program Chair (Sociology Department Director of Graduate Studies).

  • Student makes one copy for personal records and one copy for department records.

  • Student delivers signed form to the GSAS Office (Kutz Hall, 2nd floor), at least two weeks before defense date.

  • Form will then be approved and signed by Dean of GSAS. GSAS will send a signed copy to department office for file.

Dissertation Defense Deadlines:

  • December 8, 2017 for February 2018 completion

  • March 29, 2018 for May 2018 completion

  • July 27, 2018 for August 2018 completion

3. Forms for your Dissertation Defense

Bring your Dissertation Defense form and signature page to your defense (sample template of Signature Page)

Student Instructions:

  • The Dissertation Defense form should be signed by your Committee at the defense and returned to the Registrar's Office.

  • The student makes one copy for personal records and one copy for department records.

  • Once you have provided the necessary information this form should also be signed by your Committee. The Signature page form is a blank template that needs personalization by your Committee at the end of your defense. GSAS (NOT the student) will secure the signature of the Dean of Arts and Sciences.

  • The signed, completed Signature page form needs to be personally delivered to GSAS. This signed form will be held at GSAS.

  • An unsigned Signature Page should be included in the prefatory pages of the final, ready-for-publication dissertation.

If revisions are requested, complete the Report on the PhD Revisions form.

Please note: minor revisions require only the signature of the Committee chair; substantive revisions require the signature of each Committee member.

  • Submit the Revisions form after your Committee has accepted the revised dissertation.

  • Deliver the Revisions form to the Registrar's Office.

  • Make a copy for the Sociology Department.

  • Keep a copy for your records.

4. Submit your dissertation

Publishing Options: 'TR' (Traditional Publishing) restrictions and/or embargo on dissertation access is available through TR option; 'OA' (Open Access Publishing) no restrictions available to researcher (author must pay an additional fee for Open Access). See TR or OA publishing.

Dissertation Submission Deadlines:

  • January 17, 2018 (4 p.m.) for February 2018 degree

  • April 19, 2018 (4 p.m.) for May 2018 degree

  • August 9, 2018 (4 p.m.) for August 2018 degree

5. Final Paperwork

  • GSAS will send you the link to its Exit Survey once your DEC form is submitted. Please complete the GSAS Exit Survey and Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) by your Dissertation Submission Deadline.

  • Print the Survey of Earned Doctorates and turn in the hard copy to Meghan Peck, GSAS. The SED is conducted by NORC, University of Chicago and collected for NSF, NIH, USED, NEH, USDA, and NASA.

Information on Teaching

The Sociology Department supports a culture where teaching is highly valued, and it aims to make the teaching experience of graduate students significant to their overall professional development. Because teaching is a collaborative activity, professors and their assigned TFs should meet as soon as assignments are firmly made to agree upon TF responsibilities over the course of the semester. These responsibilities may include attending lectures, facilitating discussion sections, grading papers and exams, holding office hours, mentoring and advising Peer Teaching Assistants (undergraduates), and, more generally, meeting with the professor to discuss course content, organization, and pedagogy.

Doctoral students in Sociology receiving stipends from the Department are required to serve regularly as Teaching Fellows (TFs) during their first four years. For all Sociology PhD students:

  • Students will not TF in the first semester in the program.

  • Students will TF during their next 6 semesters in the program.

  • Students will RF during their 8th semester.

  • Note also that, in all cases, no more than one semester of UWS instruction can count toward the required 6 semesters of departmental TF work. Any student who intends to teach in the UWS program in lieu of a departmental TF assignment should submit a petition prior to the end of classes during the previous semester. The Graduate Committee will attempt to meet these requests but cannot guarantee that they will be met.

Research Fellow Semester

During the semester in which they are not acting as a TF (normally in semester 8, as described above), students will work as a research fellow with a Sociology Department faculty member. If students prefer and faculty are available, they can fulfill this research fellowship in the summer immediately following that semester. The research fellowship involves a 10 hour/week commitment to a semester-long, collaborative student-faculty research project. The intention of this project is to expose students to the research process and help them acquire research skills, as well as to aid them in the creation of new sociological knowledge.

Before the RF semester begins, students should be in conversation with their advisor and the faculty member they wish to RF with, and will write a petition to the Graduate Committee by the first Wednesday in November prior to the start of the RF semester. As part of the petition, students will submit a one-page description of the intended project, which includes a rough timeline outlining how the semester will be spent, and specifies what the final goal of the project is. The faculty member who will be supervising the RF semester must sign off on this proposal. Following the RF semester, students will submit to the Graduate Committee a two-page report on what was accomplished during this semester, including successes and challenges encountered. Students will also submit a shorter mid-semester progress report, due by the second Monday in March, outlining what they have accomplished so far.

All TF and RF requirements must be completed by the end of a student's 8th semester in the program. The 9th and 10th semesters are intended to be free from teaching and research assistantships to enable students to work full time on their dissertations.