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Graduate Study

Graduate Studies in Sociology at BU

Graduate studies in sociology at Boston University include both a master’s and a PhD program. Building on core knowledge in social theory and in research methods, students specialize in various fields within sociology, pursuing original research that contributes to the field and laying a foundation for careers in research, teaching, and applied sociology.

The interests of our students reach from Boston to around the world.  Recent dissertations and current work have explored such topics as the cultural significance of Fenway Park; the post-war coping practices of Cambodian widows; the effects of race and class on women’s experience of domestic violence; networks and attainment among Latinas in Boston’s public housing units; the social determinants of technological innovations at research and development laboratories; well-being among American and Soviet-born Jewish elders; the role of evangelicalism in the changing economic and political situations of El Salvador and South Africa; altruism in Argentina; and AIDS among youth in Malawi.

The PhD program emphasizes core knowledge and theory as well as rigor and innovation in research. The research and teaching interests of the faculty facilitate diverse research agendas for students. 

Learning Outcomes

Our graduate programs in sociology train future scholars in the fundamental skills of the discipline of sociology. Students will acquire advanced knowledge of sociological theory and research in their chosen areas of specialization within the discipline in order to make a significant and original contribution to the field and disseminate sociological knowledge through publication in scholarly venues and teaching in institutions of higher education.

Learning Goals:

  • Produce and defend an original significant contribution to sociological knowledge
  • Demonstrate mastery of subject material (including general sociological and subfield knowledge)
  • Be able to conduct scholarly activities in a professional and ethical manner
  • Be able to teach the discipline at the undergraduate level (PhD only)

Master of Arts

The master’s program requires eight courses, including ones in theory and in research methods.  Students also research and write a master’s thesis. The master’s degree normally requires one-and-a-half to two years of full-time study.

A detailed description of requirements can to be found in the Graduate Student Handbook.

Doctor of Philosophy

The PhD program requires study in two substantive areas, in addition to general competence in theory and methods and in accordance with the following requirements, progress markers, and completion timetable

A. PhD Requirements:

  1. Course Requirements: 5 core courses and 44 additional credits in elective courses as specified in the Handbook.*
  2. Qualifying Requirements (Critical Essay, Research Paper or  Comprehensive Oral Examinations): Before submission of their Dissertation Prospectus, candidates must demonstrate mastery of two existing subfields in the discipline by meet two qualifying requirements.  Students may choose from one of the following options for each subfield: a Critical Essay which demonstrates intellectual mastery of the ideas and existing research in one subfield, a Take-Home Exam which demonstrates intellectual mastery of the ideas and existing research in one subfield, or a Research Paper which demonstrates the ability to conduct an original research project in a subfield and write up the results in a paper suitable for submission to a scholarly journal. Subfields and an Examining Committee of three faculty members will be identified in consultation with the student’s advisor and with the approval of the Graduate Programs Committee. After the Examining Committee has approved evidence of completion of each qualifying requirement, a date is set for the comprehensive oral exam. The oral examination will primarily cover the fields in the two qualifying requirements, but it may also cover other substantive, methodological, or theoretical material from the student’s coursework. After the Oral Examination, students should arrange to present their Research Paper in a formal academic setting, as approved by the reader for that subfield. Students should see the Handbook for more information. Also see the checklist of requirements.
  3. Dissertation Prospectus: The prospectus should identify the question to be addressed and the relevant theoretical and research literature from which the dissertation will build. It should then outline the research methods and plan for the study (including an estimated timetable) and provide a focused bibliography.
  4. Dissertation and Oral Defense: With the prospectus approved, the student may engage fully upon the dissertation research. The dissertation is to be a scholarly and original contribution, written entirely by the student, and advancing knowledge in the field. The completed Dissertation must be defended in an oral examination.
  5. Please see the following link for Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Qualifying Exams

*Transfer Credits: Students may petition the Graduate Programs Committee to transfer credits for any of the above, but whether the credits are accepted is up to the GPC. Only up to 32 credits may be transferred. Credits used towards undergraduate degrees are not accepted.

B. Satisfactory Academic Progress

All students must maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress in order to remain in the program. The following achievements are required to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress:

  • Maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Have no more than two failing grades (lower than B- or an incomplete grade older than 12 months).
  • Adherence to timetable given below.

C. Timetable

All requirements for the doctorate, including dissertation, must be completed within seven years (exceptions require a petition to GRS). A leave of absence of up to two semesters is permitted for appropriate cause, but the leave period counts towards the seven-year time limit. The following is the timetable for completion of requirements (deviation from this timetable must be approved by the Graduate Programs Committee).

  • By End of Second Year: Completion of all course requirements (a)
  • By End of Third Year: Completion of Qualifying Requirements, Oral Defense, and Dissertation Prospectus (b)

(a) the exception is if students wish to register for Directed Study over the summer before their Third Year and fall during their Third Year as part of their Qualifying Requirements: then they should finish all but 8 credits of their course requirements by the end of their second year

(b) students should work on their Qualifying Requirements as part of their second year coursework; they should complete one of them (Research paper or Critical Essay) by or over the summer before their third year; they should complete the other in the fall of their third year and complete their dissertation prospectus over the winter and summer semesters of their third year