PhD in Sociology

photo of a graduate student participating in a group discussion

The PhD program, offered on a full– and part–time basis, is intended to develop research and teaching scholars who can accomplish major, independent research projects, who are able to advance the substantive and theoretical debates in the discipline through professional discourse and publication, and who are able to teach the basic perspectives in the discipline and at least two more specialized fields at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Duration of the PhD Program

All requirements for the PhD must be completed within six years of first registering as a doctoral student. During this period, continuous registration at York must be maintained.

Part–time study does not entitle students to extra time. Part–time doctoral study is feasible only if the student can collect data for the dissertation as part of their job, or if the student can switch to full–time study for a year or two.

A reasonable rate of progress for a full-time doctoral student who can study throughout the summer terms would be roughly:

Years I:completion of all workshop and course requirements;
decide on a dissertation area and select a supervisory committee
Years II completion of comprehensive field requirements
Year III:Write and submit dissertation proposal
Year IV:Research and write dissertation

If a student has not finished at the end of their sixth year (18th term), they will have to withdraw from the program and seek reinstatement when they have completed all outstanding work and have an examinable dissertation. In exceptional circumstances, an extension may be granted, and the student will be required to register as a part–time student. Such an extension requires formal approval by the Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and is not granted routinely. Students need the support of their committee supervisor and the Graduate Program Director. In addition, students must write a petition outlining why they have been unable to finish within the normal time period and submit a detailed work plan for finishing the dissertation within the requested extension period.

Degree Requirements

Candidates for the PhD degree must fulfil the following requirements:  (i) program workshop; (ii) course work; (iii) comprehensives; (iv) dissertation proposal; (v) dissertation,

The Workshop Requirement

The program organizes a weekly three–hour workshop in the fall (.pdf) and winter (.pdf) terms for graduate students. The workshops take place on Mondays at 11:30 in the Sociology Common Room (2101 Vari Hall). The purpose of the series is to provide students with an orientation to sociology, particularly focusing on the way the discipline is conceptualized and practiced in our program and in the field. A range of intellectual and professional sessions are offered over the course of the year. While some sessions are specifically designed for MA students and others for PhD students, workshops have the same objectives for all students: to showcase faculty and student research, to provide a forum for intellectual exchange, to promote a strong sense of collegiality and engender a sense of community among members of the program.

Attendance is required at a minimum of twelve 3–hour weekly workshop sessions, normally within the first year of study. Ideally, this requirement should be met within the first year of study since it is structured to help students move through the program. While this is the formal requirement, students are encouraged to attend all research–related workshops offered by the program.

Please note that there are no workshops scheduled in the summer term.

Course Requirements

Four full courses, or the equivalent, including a full course in theory and a full course in methods.

Courses which meet the theory requirement are: 6130; 6132; 6133; 6160; 6170; 6180; 6190; 6192; 6195; 6196; 6197; 6200, 6201; 6202; 6810; 6894.

Courses which meet the methods requirement are: 6060; 6086; 6090; 6095;  6096; 6112; 6120; 6121; 6150.

The program is only able to offer a select number of theory and methods courses during any academic year. As a result, not all of the courses which meet the theory and methods requirements will be available for you to enrol.

The Director may determine whether the methods and theory requirements have been met elsewhere.  In these cases, students are still required to complete four full courses, or the equivalent, however, they can replace our theory and methods requirements with elective courses.

All courses are chosen from those offered at the 6000-level. With the Director's permission students may take the equivalent of one full reading course (Sociology 6900)(.pdf) and/or the equivalent of one full course in another graduate program.

Supervisory Committee

At the core of a student’s program is the formation of a three–person graduate faculty supervisory committee. This committee is a way to establish and maintain close contact with faculty members who share similar orientation and interests. While the committee is particularly important when working on the dissertation, if it is in place early enough, the members can also act as academic advisors. Within the general parameters of program requirements, the supervisory committee is largely responsible for advising students on a course of study appropriate to their interests, assessing their work and progress, and for professional mentoring.

The specific composition of the supervisory committee is in the student’s own hands, subject to the Director's approval and general Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations which specify the categories of membership which must be filled. Briefly stated:

The PhD supervisory committee MUST consist of a minimum of three members from the Faculty of Graduate Studies, at least two of whom must be from sociology. The principal supervisor must be from sociology. In exceptional circumstances, the third, or an additional, member who does not have an appointment to the Faculty of Graduate Studies may be included, but this requires prior approval by the Dean.

Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations state  that PhD students must have a supervisor in place no later than their fifth term of study. Doctoral supervisory committees must be formed no later than the student’s eighth term of study. Students who do not meet these deadlines will be unable to register unless the supervisor and/or supervisory committee has been approved.

Students must submit a completed supervisor and supervisory committee approval form to the program office in order for their supervisor and supervisory committee to be formally approved.

The York Sociology Graduate Association, with help from the program members, has developed some guidelines (.pdf) to assist you in both choosing and meeting potential committee members.

Comprehensive Requirements

In addition to coursework, students must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge in two fields.


The comprehensive exams mark the divide between course work and the dissertation. The student is expected to demonstrate a broad and synthetic knowledge of the comprehensive area, including the major theoretical approaches and, in substantive areas, the broad findings of empirical research, their limitations and new directions. However, comprehensive knowledge is not the same as the exhaustive knowledge of a specialist in a field. A student’s comprehensives can help define the dissertation project, by providing broad background, but they should not be conceived as a part of the dissertation, which is necessarily much more specialized. Students have three options for completing their comprehensive requirements that are described in detail below. The program’s comprehensive areas are major fields of sociology in which there is faculty expertise and regular graduate teaching. The program maintains a list of the comprehensive areas, along with the names of available faculty in each area.

Because it is not sensible to codify every aspect of the exams in formal requirements, the program office maintains a “tip sheet” to help facilitate the process.


Each comprehensive is guided and examined by a three-person committee, all of whom must hold an appointment in Faculty of Graduate Studies.  At least two of the committee members, including the supervisor/chair of the comprehensive committee,  must be appointed to the Graduate Program in Sociology with at least one of these members having declared themselves an expert in the comprehensive field being examined (see list of pre–approved comprehensive fields) (.pdf). Although it is not a requirement, the program encourages overlap in the faculty membership on students’ two comprehensive exam committees and their dissertation committee. Each comprehensive exam is to be completed in one term, aligned with the fall, winter or summer terms of the academic calendar. Due dates for different aspects of the comprehensive requirements will be available annually and must be followed. The due dates do not preclude the student and committee agreeing on a shorter time frame. Normally, the student’s first comprehensive will be in her fourth term of study and both comprehensive requirements should be completed no later than the sixth term of full-time study. The comprehensive requirements must be completed before the dissertation proposal is approved. To ensure timely completion, students should organize the comprehensive committee for their first exam about two months prior to the end of their last course (see the tip sheet for more suggestions).


The dates in the table below are final deadlines. The committee, in consultation with the student, has the flexibility to make arrangements for earlier submission of the written work and examination.

Term I
Fall 2017
Term II
Winter 2018
Term III
Summer 2017
Paper Option
Term Start*Sept. 1Jan. 1May 1
Last Date for List of Readings & “Form” Specifying Comp Committee submitted to Program OfficeSept. 15Jan. 16May 15
Last Date to Submit Written Work **Dec. 5Apr. 5Aug. 5
Last Date for Oral & Adjudication ***Dec. 19Apr. 19Aug. 19
Last Date for Specified RevisionsJan. 2Apr. 30Aug. 31
Course Outline Option
Term Start *Sept. 1Jan. 1May 1
Last Date for List of Readings & “Form” Specifying Comp Committee submitted to Program OfficeSept. 15Jan. 16May 15
Last Date to Submit Written Work **Dec. 5April 5Aug. 5
Last Date for Oral & Adjudication ***Dec. 19Apr. 19Aug. 19
Last Date for Specified RevisionsJan. 2Apr. 30Aug. 31
Take–home Exam Option
Term Start *Sept. 1Jan. 1May 1
Last Date to Submit List of Readings, Rationale & “Form” Specifying Comp Committee submitted to Program OfficeSept. 15Jan. 16May 15
List of Potential Questions to be received by CommitteeSept. 15Jan. 16May 15
Last Date for Take-Home Exam questions to be received by studentNov. 28Mar. 29July 29
Last Date to Submit Written Answers (based on 7 days to write) Dec. 5Apr. 5Aug. 5
Last Date for Oral & Adjudication ***Dec. 19Apr. 19Aug. 19

Options and Content

There are three distinct routes students can take to complete a comprehensive requirement: (1) completing a paper; (2) designing a course outline accompanied by the final lecture; and (3) a take-home exam to be completed over a seven-day period. Option 2 (course outline and lecture) can ONLY be used for completing one of the comprehensives. All three options follow the same timeline and all require the preparation of, and committee agreement with, a reading list equivalent to about 25 medium-sized books, with articles counting for about one-fifth of a book. Normally, the readings will consist mainly of foundational works in the area and broad contemporary scholarship. Up to one-quarter of the readings may be a more specialized area of particular interest to the student. To assist with the preparation of the reading list, the program office maintains reading lists from previous exams. The committee evaluates the written work and meets to examine the student in an oral discussion. Usually, the student will make a brief presentation, to be followed by questions from the committee. The committee’s evaluation of the comprehensive exam includes both the written component and the oral discussion.

Paper Option

The written comprehensive paper option is intended to be a review of the research in the comprehensive area you have chosen. The paper (7,500 to 10,000 words, excluding references) must demonstrate a broad, comprehensive understanding of the area, provide an accurate synthesis of key debates, and include a critical assessment of these debates. Consider questions such as the following in the paper (these will also be helpful in guiding your reading):

· How do you define the area and what are the problems/issues addressed by the area?

· What is the intellectual context/climate of the area? Has there been a major paradigm shift in the area? What is the general current direction of the area?

· What are the main themes, debates, or issues expressed in the literature?

· How do different theoretical and/or methodological approaches in the area take up these themes, debates or issues?

· For more empirically-based areas: What are the major findings? What is your assessment of empirical knowledge in the area? What empirical research would move the area forward?

· How do you position yourself in relation to the intellectual debates in the area and why?

· What are the current limitations/gaps of the area?

Course Outline and Final Lecture Option

NOTE: This option may be used to complete only one of the two comprehensives.

This option for completing the comprehensive requirement entails the preparation of a course outline and a final lecture. The course should be pitched to the third or fourth year undergraduate level. The course outline must include

· a detailed academic rationale for the organization of the course, providing broad coverage of the area;

· specific topics for 24 two-hour lectures – including lecture topic titles and 3 to 5 bulletin points on each topic indicating the main objectives or themes of the lecture;

· a rationale for the selection of topics;

· readings to accompany each session, typically 2 to 4 essays or book chapters. Often, the challenge is finding insightful readings accessible to undergraduates.

In addition, the student writes a final lecture (approximately 8000 words in length) that identifies the broad character and development of the area, major theoretical approaches, empirical findings where appropriate, and directions the area can take to advance theoretically and empirically. It is appropriate for the student to express her judgments, but the main emphasis is on demonstrating comprehensive knowledge of the area. The lecture should be pitched to undergraduates and is not the same as the advanced synthesis expected for the paper option.

A unique challenge of this option is to convey comprehensive knowledge at a level appropriate to advanced undergraduate students, without oversimplifying the ideas or findings. The readings and lecture topics should be appropriate for undergraduates, and there too the concern is to provide deep and insightful readings that are also accessible to students at that level.

Preparing a course outline provides an opportunity to think through comprehensiveness in a pedagogical context. This could be useful in preparing the student to teach in the area. In addition to the requirements above, designing a university course usually involves additional materials, such as topics for tutorial sessions and assignments. With the agreement of her committee, these may be included in the comprehensive, but they are not required.

Take-Home Exam Option

The take-home exam is comprised of two questions. Students will respond to these questions in 3000-4000 words, each, over the course of one week (7 days). The questions will be designed to elicit responses that reflect an understanding of the major debates in the area and provide the student with an opportunity to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the area.

By the specified deadline, students will submit to the program office: a reading list; a 300-500-word rationale for the list; and 3-5 exam questions, all of which will be developed by the student in consultation with their comprehensive supervisor and committee members. As with the paper option outlined above, here too students are encouraged to consider questions such as the following:

· How do you define the area and what are the problems/issues addressed by the area?

· What is the intellectual context/climate of the area? Has there been a major paradigm shift in the area? What is the general current direction of the area?

· What are the main themes, debates, or issues expressed in the literature?

· How do different theoretical and/or methodological approaches in the area take up these themes, debates or issues?

· For more empirically-based areas: What are the major findings? What is your assessment of empirical knowledge in the area? What empirical research would move the area forward?

· How do you position yourself in relation to the intellectual debates in the area and why?

· What are the current limitations/gaps of the area?

For the exam, the committee will assign two questions, based on the issues covered by the questions developed in conjunction with the student.  The committee will assess the responses, hold an oral discussion, and make an evaluation by the advertised deadline.

Evaluation of the Comprehensives

It is the responsibility of the student’s comprehensive exam committee to organize the evaluation of the student’s work. In each area, a student must demonstrate competence through her written work. Assessment of the written work is to be completed in the context of an oral discussion of the area between the student and her entire comprehensive exam committee. This will include a presentation by the student, followed by questions.

For the paper option and the course outline and final lecture option, the committee’s decision will be either: “pass”; “pass with the submission of acceptable revisions” (to be submitted within 10 days of the exam) or “fail”. As well as being feasible within the 10 days, the committee must be able to specify the revisions in a small number of points. Decisions of the committee are by majority vote. In the case of failure, the committee supervisor will provide the student with feedback and guidance. The student should aim to be re-examined in the area, by the original committee members, in the next academic term.

For the take-home exam option, the decision will be either “pass” or “fail”. In the case of failure for the take-home exam option, the student should be re-examined, by the original committee members, at the next scheduled exam date. The reexamination should be based on the original list of 3-5 questions.

An area requirement is considered passed if no more than one member of the committee casts a negative vote. Two failures on the same exam will require the student to withdraw from the Program.

When the student has passed the oral exam, they must submit  the following to the graduate program office:

(i) Comprehensive Exam Approval Form (.pdf)
(ii)  Hard copy of the comprehensive

The Appeals Process

An appeal can be made on the basis of serious medical or compassionate reasons. The appeal must be submitted electronically to the Program Office and cc’d to the student’s comprehensive exam committee, within 3 working days of the missed comprehensive exam deadline [to submit written work] and must include a written rationale for not meeting the deadline and a revised date for completion. The appeal will be heard by the Graduate Program Awards and Appeals Committee and a decision will be rendered within one week of receipt of the appeal. The granting of an appeal does not affect already established deadlines for subsequent comprehensive exams.

Unless an appeal has been granted, a comprehensive exam will be deemed as “fail” if the oral exam is not successfully completed within the required time period – that is, by the “Last Date for Oral and Adjudication”.”


Dissertation Proposal

Students must develop an acceptable dissertation proposal. When this has been approved by the supervisory committee, the following must be submitted to the graduate program office:

(i) Dissertation Proposal Form (TD1)
(ii) FGS Human Participants Research Form (TD2)
(iii) Appendix B: Informed Consent Checklist for Researchers (TD3)
(iv) Appendix F: Statement of Relationship Between Proposal and an Existing HPRC-Approved Project (TD4), if necessary
(v)TCPS Tutorial Certificate
(vi) Informed Consent Document
(vii) Hard copy of the proposal

Dissertation proposals must be approved by Faculty of Graduate Studies at least six months prior to the defense date.

Proposals written by former students may be consulted, but not borrowed, in the program office.


Carry out research project and report the results in appropriate dissertation format (

The Oral Examination

Students must pass an oral examination on the subject of the dissertation and related questions. When the dissertation is judged examinable by the supervisory committee, a dissertation defense must be set up by the supervisory committee. At least 25 business days prior to the oral exam date, all paperwork for the defense must be deposited in the program office. The paperwork includes:

(i) A "recommendation for oral examination" form signed by your committee members, or with e-mails attached confirming that your dissertation  is defendable. The form must also include the title of your dissertation, the confirmed date and time of the defense, as well as the names of all examining committee members. Once deposited in the graduate program office, students will be unable to change the title of their dissertation. The examining committee consists of:

  1. The Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies or her/his representative, who will be at arm's length from the supervision of the dissertation, and who will serve as Chair of the examining committee;
  2. One external examiner, from outside York University, at arm's length from the dissertation;
  3. One graduate faculty member at arm's length from the dissertation, and normally from outside the program;
  4. Two graduate faculty members from the supervisory committee, or one member from the supervisory committee and one graduate faculty member from the program.

(ii) Three hard copies of the dissertation, without the acknowledgement section. These copies will be distributed by the program office to the arm's length examiner, the external examiner and the dean's representative. The student is responsible for providing each of their supervisory committee members with a hard copy. Members of CUPE 3903 - Unit 1, past and present, are eligible for up to a $400 refund for photocopying costs. Please keep all photocopy receipts and submit them to Faculty of Graduate Studies after the defense.

(iii) Your CV

(iv) External examiner's pre-approval form (.pdf); this form is required if the external examiner's incurred expenses will exceed $350; prior-approval from the Faculty of Graduate Studies is required before an invitation can be extended to the external examiner.

v) A pdf of your thesis, without the acknowledgement section.

(vi) Apply to graduate through the convocation website.

There are important deadlines to be observed if you intend to graduate in February, June or October. THEY WILL NOT BE WAIVED.

Dissertations written by former students may be consulted, but not removed from the Common Room (2101 Vari Hall).

After the Dissertation Defense

The dissertation oral examination requirement is met if one of the following situations exists:

(i) if the committee accepts the dissertation with no revisions; or

(ii) if the committee accepts the dissertation with specific revisions

If revisions are required, these must be completed and approved by both the supervisor and the chair of the examining committee. Once approved, your supervisor and the chair must fill out a "revisions approved memorandum" form confirming that the revisions have been completed, or they may each send an e-mail to the Thesis Coordinator confirming the same.

Once the Thesis Coordinator has received confirmation of your approved revisions, she'll send you an invitation to complete an Electronic Thesis record and upload your dissertation as a PDF along with any supplementary files you may have. Be sure that you have followed the proper dissertation formatting guidelines prior to uploading your document. The Thesis Coordinator will review, approve or return your document(s) if there any problems (e.g. formatting). Please note that it takes twenty-four  hours from the time in which the the Thesis Coordinator sends you an invitation for you to be able to access the portal to upload your Thesis.

When the Thesis Coordinator has confirmed that they've approved your submission, they'll send confirmation of this to the graduate program office. The date on which the Thesis Coordinator confirms approval of your document is the date on which your PhD is officially completed. Students must remain registered in the program until this confirmation is received.

The graduate program office will then process your name for convocation.

Approximately two months prior to the convocation ceremony, you should visit the convocation website and RSVP for the ceremony. Their website will also inform you about all facets of convocation.

Upon conferral of your degree, your dissertation will be deposited in the Institutional Repository (YorkSpace) and will be available for harvest by Library and Archives Canada.

Language and Cognate Requirement

Depending on the candidate’s qualifications and intended research, demonstrated competency in a foreign language and/or demonstrated competency in a technical skill, such as statistics, may be required at the discretion of a student’s supervisory committee.