Sociology MA Program
Providing a solid foundation in sociology theories and methods, the MA program can open doors to a variety of occupations and serve as a strong complement to professional or academic training in other fields. MA degree holders may be hired to teach sociology at the community college level or to serve as part-time lecturers at four-year institutions. International faculty and graduate students form a close-knit and supportive community centered on common research interests.
MA Student Learning Outcomes
Having attained an MA degree in Sociology, students will be able to:
- Demonstrate understanding of a broad range of sociological theories and research methods.
- Demonstrate the ability to design a research project to address a sociological problem or issue of theoretical interest.
- Apply principles to protect human subjects in the design of sociological research.
- Demonstrate the ability to carry out an independent research project to collect and analyze research data.
- Demonstrate the ability to interpret research results in relation to sociological theory.
- Demonstrate clear and effective verbal and written communication skills.
MA Example Progress
The following sequence represents a typical way, but not the only way, in which MA program requirements can be satisfied within two years. In general, it is highly recommended that the Theory, Methods, and Statistics courses be taken by the end of a studentʻs first year, as well as any Substantive courses that are directly relevant to the intended thesis topic. Thesis proposals should be completed in the third semester at the latest so that sufficient time remains for thesis writing.
Year 1, Semester 1
- Theory course
- Methods course
- Substantive course
Year 1, Semester 2
- Statistics course
- Substantive course
- Substantive course
- Form Thesis Committee
Year 2, Semester 1
- Substantive course
- SOC 700: Thesis Research
- Thesis Proposal
Year 2, Semester 2
- Substantive course
- SOC 700: Thesis Research
- Thesis Defense
The course requirement for the Plan A MA program comprises the following:
- One Theory course (3 credits)
- One Methods course (3 credits)
- One Statistics course (3 credits)
- Five more Substantive courses (15 credits)
- SOC 700: Thesis Research (6 credits)
Plan B coursework is generally similar to Plan A, but as there is no thesis, two semesters of SOC 700: Thesis Research is not required. Instead, Plan B students must take one additional 600-level course in Theory, Methods, or Statistics, as well as three credits of SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research.
- While an undergraduate degree in sociology is not required in applying to the graduate program, any student who does not have previous training in sociological theory and cannot otherwise demonstrate competence in the subject, as determined by the graduate chair, must take SOC 321: Survey of Sociological Theory before taking a theory course at a higher level.
- Theory, Methods, and Statistics courses must be at the 400 level or higher.
- Of the 15 credits of Substantive courses, at least four courses (12 credits) must be at the 600 level or higher.
- All courses must be passed at the B level or above to count towards the degree.
- MA students who are planning to transfer to the PhD program should take all their courses at the 600 level or higher to prepare themselves for PhD coursework.
- Transfer of credits from other universities is generally not allowed for the MA, though the department will support petitions for transfer of up to two post-bachelor unclassified courses at UH Mānoa that fit the program coursework.
Plan A and Plan B Programs
The MA program offers both a Plan A (thesis) and Plan B (non-thesis) option. All students are admitted into the Plan A (thesis) MA program. Plan A is designed for students who wish to acquire academically-oriented graduate-level sociology training. While Plan A can be a terminal degree, students who perform at a high level, and whose thesis demonstrates their ability to do doctoral level research and writing, may petition to enter the doctoral program at the end of their MA program.
Plan B (non-thesis) is intended to be a terminal degree for students who have no intention of transferring into the PhD program, but who have an interest in using sociological skills in an applied setting. Students write an applied research report under the supervision of a guidance committee.
By the end of the first semester, students should decide whether they are pursuing a Plan A or Plan B. It is generally easier to transfer from Plan A to Plan B than it is in the other direction, so students should follow the Plan A requirements if there is any chance they would like to pursue this option. If a student is planning to pursue a Plan B, they simply need to submit a memo to that effect to the department.
The department may encourage students to enter the Plan B program in two situations:
- Plan A students who the committee has determined will be unable to complete an acceptable thesis within the time available for the degree program.
- Plan A students who have failed the qualifying review two times.
Upon entry into the MA program, students are assigned a temporary advisor from the department faculty, based on the student’s experience and interests. It is the student’s responsibility to make an appointment to see the advisor and discuss what courses the student should take.
A student’s formal advisor is the faculty member who has the largest role in advising a student academically. The formal advisor is initially a student’s temporary advisor and becomes their committee chair after the committee has formed.
The formal advisor is responsible for reporting on a student’s academic progress to the department during the annual review of graduate students and is sometimes called upon to write memos to the graduate chair, as specified elsewhere in department rules and procedures.
By the end of the first semester, students must submit to their formal advisor a written course plan for the remaining semesters in the program, as well as a short description of possible topics for a thesis.
- If the formal advisor finds the plan realistic, they should inform the student and send a memo to graduate chair to this effect.
- If the formal advisor finds the plan unrealistic, they should recommend modifications, and the student must resubmit the plan for approval.
Immediately following approval of their plan, students should fill out the top part of the Master's Plan A Form I - Pre-Candidacy Progress (from Graduate Division) and provide this to the department.
Plan A - Thesis
By the end of the second semester, students should form a thesis committee, which is subject to Graduate Division Committee Composition & Potential Members requirements. The committee typically has three members with the majority from within the Department of Sociology. The chair must be faculty or affiliate faculty with the department. The thesis committee takes over responsibility for the student’s academic supervision from the temporary advisor. Students must complete the MA Committee (Three-Member Committee) Form (from the Department of Sociology) and provide it to the department
The student develops a thesis proposal with guidance from the thesis committee. The proposal should introduce the research topic, briefly review the relevant literature, and outline the methods that will be used for the thesis. It should also contain a timetable for completion. Thesis research that involves human subjects in any way requires approval from the University’s Human Studies Program before the research begins. Hence, where applicable, the proposal should include plans for obtaining human subjects certification. The proposal is approved only when the committee by consensus believes that the thesis has intellectual promise for the field of sociology, can feasibly be completed in a timely fashion, and is consistent with professional ethical norms. Students are encouraged to aim to have their thesis proposals approved by the end of their second semester in the program.
Once the committee has approved, students should fill out the top portion of the Master's Plan A Form II - Advance to Candidacy form (from Graduate Division), obtain approval signatures from all members of their committee, and submit it to the department. If applicable, students must also obtain human subjects certification and include it with the form.
SOC 700: Thesis Research, for which six credits are required, can only be taken when a student has formed a thesis committee and has received approval for their thesis proposal, though under some circumstances SOC 699: Directed Reading and Research may be substituted. Once students have completed SOC 700 and all other MA course requirements, they are eligible to enroll in the special section SOC 700F, which allows students who must maintain full-time enrollment to do so while only enrolled for a single credit. To do so, students should complete Master's Petition to Enroll in GRAD 700F form (from Graduate Division) and submit it to the department.
Students write the MA thesis under the supervision of the thesis committee, and they are responsible for keeping the chair of the committee apprised of its status. An MA thesis should be an original intellectual work with clear writing and organization and have substantial sociological content. It should be written in the style of an extended academic journal article, but should generally be substantially longer than a typical journal article. The thesis must be prepared in accordance with the Style and Policy Manual for Theses and Dissertations (from Graduate Division). The thesis is approved only if the thesis committee feels that it is satisfactory by such standards, and the student has passed an oral defense of the thesis. Though the Graduate Division year limit for students in the MA program is the same as it is for PhD students, MA students are encouraged to complete their thesis by the end of their fourth semester.
Once the committee believes that the thesis is close to completion, an oral defense should be scheduled. The defense can be open to the public, but this is not required. Students should bring to the defense the Master's Plan A Form III - Thesis Evaluation form (from Graduate Division) with the top portion filled out. Students may also bring the Master's Plan A Form IV - Thesis Submission form (from Graduate Division) in case the committee feels the thesis can be submitted without further revision.
There are strict Graduate Division oral defense guidelines. Among other things, all committee members must attend the defense unless use of a proxy has been granted through a Master's Petition for Remote Committee Participation form (from Graduate Division) or by the graduate chair. The use of a proxy is discouraged except when there are no other feasible alternatives.
The structure of the oral defense is flexible, but it should include questions from the committee asking students to elaborate on the content of the thesis as well as defend it again any perceived weaknesses. After questioning is over, the student is asked to leave the room. The committee then makes separate decisions on the defense and written thesis.
The result of the defense is either a pass or fail, while the decision on the thesis is to accept as is or demand further specified revisions. The defense should be passed if the committee feels that the thesis is already acceptable, or is confident that the candidate will be able to carry out all necessary revisions without further examination. An attempt should be made to reach a consensus on this issue.
The student is invited back into the room and informed of the result and recommendations. In any case, committee members (and any proxy) who are present sign the Master's Plan A Form III - Thesis Evaluation form (from Graduate Division), indicating their individual judgment on the defense, and arrangements are made to obtain the signature of any member participating remotely. In case of a failure, the student may write a memo to the graduate studies committee requesting a second and final defense. In case of a successful defense, the completed Form III should be submitted without delay by the student to the department.
If the decision is to accept the thesis as is, the committee members sign Form IV, which is then submitted by the student to the department. If revisions are demanded, then members of the committee may at their individual discretion sign conditionally, which means that they entrust the form to the committee chair for safekeeping until the student is deemed by all to have completed the required revisions.
MA students should be aware that the deadline for submitting a thesis is typically about a month prior to the end of the semester. It is possible to petition for an extension of this deadline until as late as the end of the semester, though this should not be seen as the default option. To make such a petition, the student should write a request addressed to Graduate Division, noting when they have or will have their oral examination, but submit the request for filing and approval by the graduate chair.
Plan B - Research Report
By the end of the second semester, students should form a research report committee, using the MA Committee (Three-Member Committee) Form (from the Department of Sociology). The committee should have three or more members, the majority of which should be from the Department of Sociology, with one member serving as the chair.
In their final semester in the program, students should enroll in SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research under their committee chair. While taking this course, students should write a professional-quality research report analyzing a real-world social problem specific to a particular community or organizational setting, using the knowledge gained from their sociology coursework. The topic should be determined by mutual agreement between the student and the committee chair. The report should summarize the nature of the problem, and propose a solution from a sociological perspective. When the committee chair deems that the report draft is ready, it is presented to the entire committee, who may either approve or suggest further revisions. The requirements for the final report are met when the committee by consensus approves it. The committee chair then reports to the graduate chair that the student has passed.
Transferring to the PhD Program
Students in the Plan A program may apply to transfer into the PhD program. To be considered, students should have completed the bulk of their required coursework and a draft of their thesis so that the graduate committee can use these to evaluate their readiness to enroll in the PhD program. Students must supply the following by October 15 (for Spring transfer) and April 15 (for Fall transfer):
- Statement of Purpose describing goals and plans for a PhD degree (approximately 500 words).
- Current unofficial UH transcript (printout is acceptable).
- Draft of the thesis, and optionally any other written materials reflecting on their ability to do PhD level work.
- Letters of recommendation from the committee chair and at least one other committee member addressing the student’s progress towards MA completion and suitability for doctorate study. Additional letters may be included.
Decisions on transfers will be made by vote of the graduate studies committee. If a favorable decision has been made, under most circumstances, students should complete their MA program before transferring to the PhD program. Prior to MA completion, students should complete a Petition for Admission to a Doctorate in Same Discipline form (from Graduate Division) and provide this to the department. Students must also meet all the Graduate Division requirements associated with the transfer. If for some reason it is necessary to transfer prior to completion of the MA, students should discuss this with the graduate chair, as permission may be granted to complete the MA while in the PhD program. Only Plan A students can apply for a transfer.
It is a matter of federal law that most university research involving human subjects must go through an approval process to ensure safe and ethical treatment. The Human Studies Program (HSP) of the Office of Research Compliance is the University of Hawaiʻi organization that monitors and enforces compliance with such mandates. All graduate students should become familiar with the documentation available on the HSP site, as well as the American Sociological Association Code of Ethics. Students should also be familiar more generally with Graduate Division rules for research and publication. Any research that could later be published or presented in a conference or other public forum, which includes most graduate student research, should receive HSP approval or exemption prior to collection of any data that involves direct or indirect interaction with human subjects. Failure to obtain approval may cause the university to prohibit a student from publishing or presenting data arising from such research. If still unsure after reading the HSP rules, the student should consult with the faculty member(s) for whom they are preparing the research. If still in doubt, prior HSP approval should be sought. For many kinds of relatively non-intrusive research the approval process is fairly simple, and may involve issuance of an exemption certificate by the HSP.