Department of Sociology

Joint Doctoral Program

Students attentively taking notes

Students can apply to the joint degree program leading to the PhD in Social Policy and Sociology only after having completed at least one year of PhD study at The Heller School for Social Policy and Management or in the Department of Sociology's PhD program. The joint program combines nine courses in sociology (at least one of which must be in sociology theory) with nine Heller School courses (including research methods). 

Students complete the sociology qualifying process in two areas of specialization (instead of the usual three), and after completing a comprehensive paper that is a required part of the Heller School PhD curriculum. The dissertation committee has two faculty members from the Department of Sociology, two faculty members from the Heller School and one outside reader.

See the Registrar's pages regarding PhD requirements and learning goals

Why Brandeis?

Our department has a long tradition of connecting normative questions of democracy and social justice to critical social thought and qualitative research methods. In addition to expertise in ethnographic, interview, comparative and historical methods, we are committed to excellence in the qualitative analysis of institutional change.

Because our program is small, you will develop close and stimulating relationships with both faculty and peers. And you will benefit from all the hallmarks of a Brandeis education: dedicated mentoring by internationally recognized scholars, intellectual diversity, career support and the wealth of academic and cultural resources Boston offers.

See recent PhD recipients, dissertations, and positions and our PhDs on the job market.

The Joint PhD in Sociology and Social Policy

The PhD in Social Policy and Sociology is a joint degree of the Department of Sociology and the Heller School for Social Policy and Management. It is available to students only after completion of at least one year of graduate study in either the Heller School or the Department of Sociology's PhD program. To apply, student should submit their application by April 1. Applications require a letter of support from the Director of the home department. If the student is accepted by the complementary department (admission is not guaranteed) the following procedures apply.

There is a three-year residency for the joint degree. Students pursuing this joint degree are required to take a total of 18 courses, 9 in Sociology and 9 in Heller with requirements as follows:

Heller courses

  1. HS 508a, Theory of Social Policy and Change
  2. HS 401b, Research Methods
  3. HS 510a, Applied Design and Analysis
  4. HS 404b, Stats/Regression Analysis (including applications lab)
  5. HS 403b, Qualitative Research
  6. Heller course from approved list of PhD courses
  7. Heller course from an approved list of PhD courses
  8. Heller course from an approved list of PhD courses
  9. Heller course from an approved list of PhD courses
  10. Dissertation Seminar (non credit) (2 semesters)

Sociology Courses

Students are expected to complete a minimum of eight Sociology courses, comprising at least four Brandeis Sociology graduate seminars (courses numbered 200 or higher), plus the Approaches to Sociological Research pro-seminar. Students must participate in Soc 300a, Approaches to Sociological Research during each semester they are completing coursework following matriculation into the Joint Degree program. At least one of the Sociology courses must be in theory.


Each student must complete a "comprehensive paper" as required in The Heller School

PhD curriculum. In Sociology, students must show competence in two substantive areas following the Sociology Qualifying Portfolio and Defense (QPD) requirements described on pp. 4-6. QPD Committee membership and chair must be approved by the Sociology Graduate Committee (by petition) by December 1 of the student's third year in the joint degree program. The QPD Committee meeting must be completed by December 1 of the student's fourth year in the joint degree program.

Dissertation and Defense

Step 1

Approval of the Dissertation Prospectus and Advancement to Candidacy A dissertation prospectus should be submitted to a Dissertation Committee soon after the Comprehensive examination and QPD processes are completed. The Dissertation Committee should consist of five members—two Brandeis faculty members each from the Sociology Department and the Heller School (one designated as chair) and one outside reader. Students must submit paperwork for committee, proposal hearing, and defense 12 approvals to both programs following each program's respective procedures. The following procedures outline Sociology rules only; the student should also consult the Heller School guidelines at to be sure that both programs' expectations are being met.

Each student is responsible for forming a Dissertation Committee--that is, securing agreement from each member and then petitioning the Graduate Committee for approval. If a student selects a Heller School faculty member as Dissertation Committee chair, the student's QPD chair will continue as the student's official Sociology Department advisor, and official link between the

Department and student, unless the student petitions for a change. The dissertation prospectus elaborates a student's dissertation topic and explains the research the student plan 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. 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 Dissertation 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; 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. At least two weeks in advance of the defense, 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 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 Sociology Department Administrator. After a student's prospectus 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

The joint PhD dissertation may be accepted by the Sociology Department and the Heller School upon the recommendation of the Dissertation Committee. 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, which is a public final oral examination. The defense must be scheduled at a time all Committee members can attend. 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.

After the dissertation and defense are approved, a report signed by the Dissertation Examining Committee (available on the Shared Latte Site) certifying the candidate's successful performance on the oral exam is submitted to the University Registrar and to The Heller School Office of Student Records. Please see the 13 instructions under PhD in Sociology above regarding the process for filing the dissertation. The forms required from Heller can be obtained from Cheryl Sweeney, Program Manager of the Heller PhD program.