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Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Earning a Ph.D. from the Department of Sociology at Vanderbilt requires demonstration of mastery of the following knowledge and skills:

  • Disciplinary knowledge
  • Application and presentation of disciplinary knowledge
  • Research design
  • Ability to conduct original independent research

Students will demonstrate their mastery through coursework, completion of a master’s thesis, two special area examinations, a qualifying examination, and completion of a dissertation. Below is a summary of the requirements; further details can be found on the Graduate Program Guide page.

Coursework Requirements

  • 72 total credit hours required for Ph.D.
  • Classical Sociological Theory
  • Contemporary Sociological Theory
  • Sociological Inquiry: Intro to Research Methods
  • Multivariate Analysis I
  • Multivariate Analysis II
  • 3-credit teaching workshop
  • Workshop on Sociological Criticism
  • 33 hours of elective course work
  • 18 credit hours of Pre-Dissertation (S8999) and Dissertation (S9999) research

Master’s Thesis

The MA thesis is an opportunity to demonstrate the ability to apply disciplinary knowledge (theory and methods) to empirical research in sociology and to present the results of this application as an academic article.

Special Area Examinations

Special Area Exams (SAE) allow students to demonstrate knowledge and mastery of the theoretical, methodological, and empirical foundations of two sub-fields in the discipline of sociology. The specific sub-fields are chosen by each student, and their knowledge is demonstrated in essay form and evaluated by faculty experts in the chosen fields.

Qualifying Examination

After completion of the second Special Area Examination, the student prepares a dissertation proposal and orally defends it in front of their dissertation committee. The dissertation proposal is an opportunity for students to demonstrate the ability to conceptualize, design, and plan independent, systematic inquiry that will result in a significant contribution to knowledge.


The final requirement of the Ph.D. is successful oral defense of a dissertation in front of the students’ dissertation committee. The dissertation is where students demonstrate the ability to conduct and present original independent research.


SOC 6301 Classical Theory and SOC 6302 Contemporary Theory: These courses give students a foundation in the classic works of the discipline and in recent developments in social theory. The two courses will be offered sequentially every other year.

SOC6310 Sociological Inquiry: introduction to research methods, including theory construction, sociological reasoning, study design, and specific research techniques. This course will be offered at least every other fall semester.

SOC 6311 Multivariate Analysis I and SOC 6312 Multivariate Analysis II: These courses provide students with a firm foundation in statistical analysis, with special attention to the general linear model and the use of computer-based statistical programs. Students will take these courses in the fall and spring semesters of their first year in the program.

SOC 7500 Workshop on Sociological Criticism: an intensive introduction to peer review for publication, using materials from journal submissions to editorial correspondence. This course will be offered at least every other spring semester.

SOC 7600 Quantitative Methods Workshop: introduces students to specific quantitative research methods including, but not limited to: survey construction, event history analysis, categorical analysis, and time series analysis. This course will be offered at least every other year.

SOC 7700 Qualitative Methods Workshop: introduces students to specific qualitative research methods including, but not limited to: comparative historical methods, ethnographic methods, and cultural analysis. This course will be offered at least every other year.

SOC 8329-8359 Survey Seminars: These courses introduce students to a particular field of sociology and require them to write on aspects of that field. The seminars cover the major areas in sociology as they are represented at Vanderbilt and facilitate students’ ability to accumulate broad knowledge in a range of sociological literatures. At least four of these classes will be offered each year.

SOC 9361-9371 Special Topic Seminars: These courses provide the opportunity for students and faculty to focus on substantive topics, rather than broad fields of research.

SOC 9888-9889 Directed Studies Courses: tutorial relationships one or more students arrange with an individual faculty member; students may earn only up to 3 credits of directed study in a semester. Students must file a Request for Directed Studies with the Graduate School ( In the form, students must indicate the final products of the requested Directed Studies courses.

SOC 7400 Teaching Workshop: an introduction to all aspects of effective teaching and to the techniques of oral presentation. For those students who lack demonstrated proficiency in teaching, the Workshop is a prerequisite of teaching at Vanderbilt. This course is taken Pass/Fail and is offered every other year.