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The Duke University Department of Sociology is committed to maintaining its PhD program at the highest level of quality, and entrance into our program is highly competitive. To those who are accepted and enroll at Duke, we offer an intensive program of study, a supportive research environment, and the opportunity to learn the craft of scholarship from Duke's productive and diverse faculty. Our placements of recent PhDs in excellent jobs within academia and elsewhere is for us a source of pride and professional satisfaction.

The Sociology Department at Duke University believes in fostering an inclusive environment where differences are respected, valued and integrated into every facet of the graduate experience. Through our commitment to diversity, we hope to create an atmosphere conducive to high quality education and research that supports the broad spectrum of differences of our students, faculty and staff. 

The Department of Sociology offers a challenging and rigorous program of study and research training leading to the PhD degree. Although graduate students headed for the PhD receive a Master’s degree at an appropriate point in their graduate careers here, our program of study is organized primarily for PhD candidates.

The Duke Sociology Department has designed a rigorous graduate program to prepare students for successful careers in academia and in related fields that demand advanced research and teaching skills. The following materials, together with the University's Graduate Bulletin, should answer most of the questions students usually raise. You should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) if you are in doubt about how the statements made here or in the Bulletin pertain to you. Each student is responsible for knowing and meeting the requirements of the Department and the Graduate School.

The program has four basic requirements:

1. Coursework

  • 6 core courses (2 theory, 2 statistics, 2 research methods)
  • 2 methods electives (in qualitative or quantitative methods)
  • 7 electives (including up to 4 half courses)

2. Professional Development

  • First-year professionalization seminar
  • Second-year empirical paper seminar
  • Participation in department colloquium
  • Participation in department workshops
  • Research collaboration with faculty
  • Teaching experience

3. Exams and Milestones

  • Completion of first-year essay exam
  • Certification in two specialty areas
  • Preliminary Exam (i.e., dissertation proposal defense)

4. Dissertation


Students in the Sociology PhD program must complete their coursework before taking the Preliminary Exam (i.e., defending their dissertation proposals) at the end of the third year of study. Students may continue to take courses after defending their proposals, but course requirements must be complete by that time.

Duke offers two types of courses: regular (3-credit) courses and half (1.5 credit) courses. Unless otherwise specified, course requirements can be fulfilled by either type of course.


First-year students take 6 required courses in their first year of study: 2 courses on theory, 2 courses on statistics, and two courses on research methods. All are regular 3-credit courses. Students are also required to attend a statistics "boot camp" the week before classes begin their first semester.


Students must complete 2 methods electives and 7 additional electives. Methods electives can cover any empirical method, ranging from network analysis to topic modeling to in-depth interviewing. Half-courses may be used to fulfill this requirement. Students who wish to use non-departmental courses to fulfill this requirement should check with the DGS in advance to make sure that the course qualifies as a methods elective.

The 7 other elective courses may be taken in any substantive or methodological area. No more than 4 half-courses may be used to fulfill this requirement. Two upper-division undergraduate courses from outside Sociology may be counted as well.

In all, students must take at least 5 of their 9 elective courses from Duke Sociology. 


Students who have completed a graduate degree in sociology at another university may petition the DGS to substitute up to three previous courses in place of non-departmental electives. Substitution for core courses is not usually permitted and requires the permission of the DGS and the instructor of the course in question.


All required coursework -- 6 core courses and 9 electives -- must be completed by the end of Spring semester of the third year of study. Students are free to take courses after that, but all 15 required courses must be completed by that time.


The program has six primary mechanisms for professional development: the proseminar, the second-year empirical paper course, the departmental colloquium, departmental workshops, informal research collaboration with faculty, and formal teaching experience.


First-year students take a two-semester (ungraded) course on professional development led by the DGS. This course will introduce students to contemporary debates, academic writing, other aspects of the field as a whole, and various aspects of professionalization.


In the second year, students take a two-semester course that guides them through writing their first full empirical paper. (This course does not count toward the course requirements listed above.) The goal is to prepare a paper (about 8,000 to 10,000 words long) that will be suitable for submission to an academic journal.


A key element of departmental life is the (almost) weekly Jensen speaker series. Students are expected to attend these talks as well as other departmental talks (e.g., job talks) as a key element of their professional socialization. Students are encouraged to attend talks in other affiliated units such as DNAC, DuPRI, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and other campus speaker series.


Much of the life of the department goes on in the various departmental workshops. Students are strongly encouraged to begin participating in a workshop early in the program and no later than the beginning of the second year of study.


A great deal of professional development happens in the course of research collaborations with faculty. There is no formal mechanism to coordinate or monitor student collaboration with faculty, but our most successful students often co-author with faculty as part of their training. Students are encouraged to approach faculty members with research ideas rather than waiting to be asked to collaborate.


Most students will have the opportunity to work as a Teaching Assistant for some part of their time in the program. In addition to this experience, we encourage all students to teach their own course at least once after completing their Preliminary Exam (see below). 


In addition to their coursework and professional development, students are required to complete three milestones before beginning their dissertation work: the first-year essay exam, qualification in two specialty areas, and the Preliminary Exam (i.e., dissertation proposal defense). 


At the end of the first year, students will choose two works from a list of the most influential books and articles in sociology. They will then use these works as a basis for two essays that investigate the influence of that work on sociological research. Both essays are due on the first day of the Fall semester of the second year of study and will be graded by the faculty member who added that work to the list. Both works cannot be sponsored by the same faculty member.


Before proposing a dissertation project, students must qualify in two specialty areas. The process of qualification is as follows:

  1. Late in the Spring of year 2, each student identifies two faculty members (examiners) and, with each, defines an area of qualification (e.g., networks, race, social psychology)
  2. Each examiner determines what the student needs to do to become qualified in that area. This can include any combination of reading a list of works, writing an essay, taking an exam, passing one or more courses, participating regularly in a workshop, or anything else as determined by the examiner. 
  3. Each student registers the names of the examiners and the areas by the last day of graduate courses in the Spring semester of year 2.
  4. The Graduate Policy Committee reviews this information and approves the combination of examiners and areas. Any concerns must be discussed with the student and examiner(s) before the last day of the Spring semester.
  5. Starting in the summer after year 2 and continuing until approximately March of year 3, the student fulfills whatever requirements have been agreed upon with both examiners.
  6. When these requirements are complete, the examiners sign the certification form.
  7. No later than one week before the preliminary exam (i.e., dissertation proposal defense) the student submits the signed certification form to the DGSA.


The Preliminary Exam marks the transition from PhD student to PhD candidate ("ABD" status). In our department, the Preliminary Exam consists solely of a defense of the dissertation proposal. This proposal should describe the dissertation plans of the student at a level of detail sufficient to permit an evaluation of both the merit and feasibility of the proposed research. The statement should be no longer than twenty double-spaced typewritten pages. The student's Preliminary Exam committee makes the ultimate decision as to the acceptability of the proposal.

The Preliminary Exam committee consists of at least four faculty members, at least three of whom must be from Duke Sociology. As required by the Graduate School, the committee must also contain a "Minor Area Representative," a faculty member who is not from a student's specialty area. Committees must be formed and registered with the DGSA by the end of the first semester of the third year of study. The Preliminary Exam must be completed before the Graduate School deadline in the Spring of a student's third year in the program.

The MA degree is normally given in conjunction with the Preliminary Exam. Students who want to receive the MA degree must apply for graduation before the appropriate deadline. Students who want to pursue another MA degree at Duke should NOT apply to graduate with an MA in Sociology. Duke only awards one MA degree en route to the PhD. Additional MA degrees require the payment of tuition.


The culminating requirement of the PhD program is the dissertation. The dissertation is evaluated by a Dissertation Committee which is usually, but not necessarily, the same committee that conducted the Preliminary Exam. As with the Preliminary Exam, a Minor Area Representative is required. Any committee changes should be registered with the DGSA as soon as possible.

The dissertation can be of any style that is acceptable to the committee, including "book style" and "article style." These days, most dissertations are "article style," and comprise two to three standalone papers of 8,000 - 12,000 words each. Typically, students can (and should) use published or accepted single-authored papers as part of their dissertation. 

The dissertation should be defended by the deadline set by the Graduate School. Because of Graduate School requirements, we can only guarantee students funding for the first 5 years but in practice we always fund students in good standing for 6 years if they need the extra year. Only in extraordinary circumstances is it possible to receive funding for a 7th year. See the financial aid page for more information.

  • Only the GRE general test is required, not the subject test. The Ph.D. program does not accept, nor will it review, the GRE subject test or the GMAT in lieu of the GRE general test for admissions purposes.
  • Applicants should upload unofficial copies of transcripts.  Official, paper copies of transcripts will be requested if the applicant is offered admission.  Applicants should provide official copies of GRE and TOEFL scores. If transcripts are in a language other than English, they must be accompanied by an official, certified translation, which most universities and/or embassies provide.
  • Writing samples are required for application submission. We strongly encourage students to submit a 10-20 page writing sample (1.5 MB limit). This is generally a seminar paper written for a Sociology class. If you have been out of school and have written/co-written and/or published/co-published an article, you may submit that article, too.
  • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)


Full tuition, fees, and a stipend are guaranteed to all students for their first 5 years of study provided that they are in residence and making good progress toward the degree. Nearly all students who desire to extend their studies for a 6th year are allowed to do so with full funding. Funding for a 7th year is generally not available.

Stipend support takes the form of some combination of fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships. All students receive at least one year of non-service fellowship support from the Department. Additional fellowship support can come from competitive Graduate School fellowships or from an outside funding agency such as the National Science Foundation. Research assistantships are funded by external grants to faculty members.

In addition to tuition, fees, and stipend support, the Department and Graduate School provide travel support for students to present papers at professional conferences. Each year, the Department also holds an internal competition to fund student research. In 2013-14, for example, we gave away $12,000 to PhD students to conduct their own research.

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