Sociology PhD Program
The PhD program is designed to give students systematic exposure to qualitative and quantitative theories and methods of social research. The program is unique in its faculty expertise and research on the sociology of Hawaiʻi, Asia, and the Pacific and four additional key focus areas. Program graduates hold teaching, research, and administrative positions in public and private agencies and research organizations throughout the world. PhD holders are qualified to work as professors in colleges and universities.
Having attained a PhD degree in Sociology, students will be able to:
- Demonstrate understanding of a broad range of sociological theories and be able to apply them to frame a research problem and to conduct a research project.
- Demonstrate understanding of a range of quantitative and qualitative methods for conducting sociological research.
- Apply principles to protect human subjects in a sociological research project.
- Acquire a professional level of knowledge in selected subfields of sociology in order to be equipped to teach courses on the subject and to develop research projects that will advance the field in the particular area.
- Demonstrate the ability to carry out a research project that will contribute new knowledge to the field using appropriate quantitative and/or qualitative methods.
- Demonstrate ability to analyze research data and to write clearly and effectively for a professional academic audience
- Demonstrate the ability to present research findings clearly and effectively in a professional setting, such as a classroom or academic conference.
This sequence represents one possible plan which will satisfy PhD program requirements in six years. The Graduate Division time limit for completion of the degree is seven years. Substantive courses listed here are at the 600 level or higher, as are the additional methods or statistics courses. Candidates who come in without coursework in theory and/or statistics may take longer to complete coursework. Time for preparation of a dissertation will depend in part on the nature of the topic and research methodology.
Year 1, Semester 1
- SOC 605/L: Statistics for Regression Analysis
- SOC 611: Classical Sociological Theory
- Substantive Course
Year 1, Semester 2
- SOC 606: Research Methods and Design
- SOC 612: Contemporary Sociological Theory
- Substantive Course
Year 2, Semester 1
- Additional Methods or Statistics Course
- Substantive Course
- SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research
- Form Guidance Committee
Year 2, Semester 2
- Substantive Course
- Qualifying Review
Year 3, Semester 1
- Substantive Course
- Form Dissertation Committee
- Comprehensive Exam Reading List
Year 3, Semester 2
- SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research
- Comprehensive Examination
Year 4, Semester 1
- SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research
- Dissertation Proposal Defense
Year 4, Semester 2
- SOC 800: Dissertation Research
Year 5, Semester 1
- SOC 800: Dissertation Research
Year 5, Semester 2
- SOC 800: Dissertation Research
Year 6, Semester 1
- SOC 800: Dissertation Research
Year 6, Semester 2
- SOC 800: Dissertation Research
- Dissertation Defense
When students enter the PhD program they 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 to discuss courses, the formation of a guidance committee, and taking the qualifying review. The temporary advisor serves in this capacity until the student forms a guidance committee.
A graduate student’s formal advisor is the faculty member who has the largest role in advising a student academically. For PhD students, the formal advisor is, in sequence, their temporary advisor, guidance committee chair, then dissertation committee chair.
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 on behalf of the student.
Phase I coursework consists of basic training in theory, methods, and research en route to the qualifying review. Students must complete at least 30 credits of coursework as follows:
- SOC 605/L: Intermediate Statistics (4 credits)
- SOC 606: Research Methods and Design (3 credits)
- SOC 611: Classical Sociological Theory (3 credits)
- SOC 612: Contemporary Sociology Theory (3 credits)
- One additional Methods or Statistics course at the 600-level or above (3 credits)
- Four substantive courses at the 600-level or above (12 credits)
- SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research (3 credits)
Phase II coursework consists of advanced training in areas of concentration en route to a dissertation. Students must complete one additional Substantive course (3 credits) at the 600 level or above.
- All courses must be passed at the B level or above to count towards the degree.
- Five Substantive courses in total are required for Phases I and II.
- It is typical and recommended that PhD students take more courses than required in order to obtain a broader academic background and knowledge.
If an entering student’s transcripts do not show evidence of appropriate coursework in sociological theory and/or statistics, as determined by the graduate chair, then the student needs to demonstrate preparation in the deficient subjects before proceeding to the corresponding graduate-level courses. Passing SOC 321: Sociological Theory or SOC 476/L: Statistics with a grade B or higher will be seen as sufficient to demonstrate preparation for SOC 611/612 or 605, respectively. Alternative methods for demonstrating competence may be deemed sufficient at the discretion of the graduate chair. For students without previous methods coursework, SOC 300: Principles of Sociological Inquiry is useful but not required as preparation for SOC 606.
Students with previous graduate-level coursework at other universities may bypass the required Theory, Methods, or Statistics courses upon written confirmation from the graduate chair on course equivalency. Students who have taken post-bachelor unclassified courses at UH Mānoa do not need to take these courses. In either case, however, the bypassed courses must be replaced by another department course in the Theory, Methods, or Statistics category, unless the student obtains written approval from the graduate chair.
As part of the course requirements, students must take SOC 699: Directed Reading/Research to prepare an academic article-length paper, typically in their third semester. This paper can, but is not required to be, the source of one of the papers for the qualifying review. The faculty member with whom the student takes SOC 699 must be one of the members of the student’s guidance committee, and the topic and format of the paper must be approved by the faculty member in advance. The purpose of this requirement is to acquaint students with independent research and to help prepare them for their qualifying review. For papers involving the collection of data from other people, it is highly recommended that, with the advice of the faculty member, students obtain prior human subjects approval from the university’s Human Studies Program. This ensures that use of the data on a later dissertation, conference paper, and/or publication does not violate university and federal guidelines.
By the third enrolled semester in the PhD program, a student must form a guidance committee of three or more faculty members (usually three), with one member designated as the committee chair. The committee takes over primary responsibility for academic counseling from the student’s temporary advisor. It can but does not need to include the temporary advisor as a member. The guidance committee usually forms the core of the student’s later dissertation committee, hence its members should typically be university graduate faculty, and the chair should be a regular or affiliate faculty member of the Department of Sociology. One member (other than the chair) from outside the department is permitted, but an outside member is not required until the dissertation committee stage.
Students are strongly advised to exercise great care and forethought in selecting committee members. Students should attempt, as much as possible, to include faculty with expertise in each scholarly subject they want to pursue, and who possess the ability to provide professional counseling and mentoring relevant to their aspirations.
The guidance committee is not officially established until the student has obtained the signatures of all members on the QR Guidance Committee (Three-Member Committee) Form (from the Department of Sociology) and has submitted it to the department, so this should be done promptly. If at some later point a student wishes to change the composition of the committee, they must submit a new form with the signatures of all members of the revised committee.
Students are required to pass the qualifying review (QR) to move on to Phase II of the program. Students are required to take the QR by the fifth semester of enrollment in the program at the latest. The QR will test whether a student has met the following criteria at a sufficient level for graduate-level work in sociology:
- understanding and creating theoretical and methodological material at the graduate level
- thinking analytically at the graduate level
- writing effectively at the graduate level
For the QR, one paper, completed while the student has been in the PhD program, is submitted for evaluation to the student’s PhD guidance committee. Students should discuss candidate QR papers with their committee chair at least a full semester before the beginning of the semester in which they plan to take the QR. The chair will provide feedback on which paper is most suitable, whether it is ready for QR submission, and, if not, what improvements should be made before it is submitted to the rest of the guidance committee. Based upon this feedback, the chair and student will come to an agreement on the semester, at latest the fifth semester of enrollment, for submission. By the end of the fifth week of this selected semester, a final draft of the QR paper will be submitted by the student to all the members of their guidance committee. A student will be judged to have passed the QR exam if and only if a majority of the members of the guidance committee, including the chair, deem the student to have met the above criteria. If not, the committee can choose to defer the decision to later in the same semester pending an updated final draft based on a concrete set of specified revisions. However, if the paper is not deemed passable by the committee by the end of the same semester, the student will fail their first attempt at the QR exam.
Students who pass the QR may be admitted to candidacy in the doctoral program. Students must prepare the Doctorate Form I - Pre-Candidacy Progress (from Graduate Division) and submit it to the department in order for this to occur.
Students who have passed the QR and have completed their Phase I course requirements are eligible to receive an MA en route to Doctorate, unless they already have an MA in sociology. The MA en route is recorded on the transcript as an MA in sociology. Once the student is eligible to receive the MA en route and the graduate chair has submitted that information to Graduate Division, the student must apply directly to Graduate Division to graduate en route and pay a small graduation fee.
Students who fail the QR on their first try are allowed to retake it one more time in the enrolled semester subsequent to the one in which they first took the exam. They may submit the same or a different paper for the second review, based on advice from their guidance committee. For this second try, a student will be judged to have passed if and only if a majority of the members of the guidance committee, including the chair, deem the student to have met the above QR criteria. As with the first try, the committee can choose to defer a decision pending concrete specified revisions, though only up to the end of the semester. Students who fail the QR a second time are administratively dropped from the PhD program.
However, such students, as well as students who choose not to attempt a second try, are eligible for a terminal MA Plan B degree from the department provided they have completed their Phase I course requirements and a majority of their guidance committee, including the chair, deems that they have written a paper that provides evidence of MA-level skills in theory and methods, analysis, and writing. This paper will serve as their Plan B culminating experience, and will typically be the student’s prospective QR paper. If they wish to complete the Plan B, they should immediately inform their committee of this. If the paper is approved by the committee at the aforementioned MA level, the student should expeditiously carry out Graduate Division guidelines (Graduation Checklist for Master Plan B) for graduation with the Plan B MA. Under these specific circumstances, completed Phase I coursework will be seen as sufficient, and no additional Plan B capstone course is required. However, if the student needs to register for one additional semester in order to meet University graduation deadlines, they may take one unit of SOC 699 under their committee chair while the Plan B process is completed.
After entering Phase II of the program, a student forms a dissertation committee, subject to all Graduate Division requirements. The dissertation committee replaces the guidance committee as the student’s main source of academic supervision. Members of a student’s guidance committee may serve on the dissertation committee as well, but this is not required. Attention should be paid to finding members with expertise in specific areas that the student expects to cover in their dissertation. The dissertation committee typically has five members (the Graduate Division minimum), and it is recommended that additional members be included only if they provide expertise missing in the rest of the committee.
In order for the committee to be formally established, students must obtain the department Doctoral Dissertation Committee (Five-Member Committee) Form (from the Department of Sociology), acquire signatures from each committee member, and turn the form in promptly to the department. A student who wishes to subsequently modify the composition of their dissertation committee must submit a new form with signatures of all members of the modified committee, as well as the Doctoral Petition to Revise Dissertation Committee (from the Graduate Division).
After the dissertation committee has been formed, the student is allowed to move to the comprehensive examination stage. The comprehensive exam is a week-long take-home essay examination on two fields of sociology, followed by an oral examination before the dissertation committee. The student selects the two fields for the exam, subject to approval by the committee. The fields should be selected to define broad areas of sociological specialization and to provide sufficient background for the student’s planned dissertation research. The fields should also align with the expertise of the dissertation committee sufficiently so that the committee is in a position to very competently judge the student’s mastery of the fields.
Once the fields are approved, the student prepares a bibliography for each field, and submits them to the committee members for review and approval. Each bibliography must provide a complete overview of the main theories, debates, and findings in its field and include the field’s most influential works. A field bibliography will therefore be significantly longer than the reading list for a typical advanced graduate-level seminar. When a field has widely accepted and well-defined subfields, each major subfield should be represented and the bibliography divided accordingly into sections. The student is responsible for reading and being familiar with each work listed in the bibliography, so the list should not be so long that this is not feasible.
Upon approval of the bibliographies, a date and time for commencement of the exam writing period (typically on a Monday) is agreed upon by the student and committee, with sufficient lead time to allow the student to gain familiarity with the readings in the bibliographies. This date can be rescheduled by a similar agreement if it later turns out to be unworkable.
At least three weeks before the written exam is scheduled, the committee chair solicits essay questions from each of the committee members, and writes one or more questions as well. The questions should together provide a thorough and rigorous test of the student’s knowledge of and ability to analyze the set of readings. They should focus on the two fields and not require knowledge of material outside the bibliographies, beyond what would be expected of any student in good standing at a similar stage in the PhD program. The chair may specify to members the fields and subfields for which each should ask questions, in order to ensure full coverage of the readings. The chair can request revision or replacement of questions.
All the questions, including the chair’s own, are assembled into an examination. The exam should require the student to write essays in response to three or four questions, with possible latitude for choice. The questions are submitted to the department at least one week prior to the scheduled start date for the exam. The graduate chair then reviews them and can either approve or request changes. Although the graduate chair and committee should make every effort to come to an agreement on the questions in time for the scheduled start date, if this is not possible the start date can be rescheduled.
The student receives the exam from their committee chair on the designated date and time and has until the same time exactly one week later to answer the questions and return the completed exam to the committee chair. Both the exam delivery and exam submission should be simultaneously copied to the department as evidence that the deadlines have been met. Students may consult existing written sources, but may not receive assistance from anyone in preparing their answers. Essay length should be enough to state a clear argument and provide convincing evidence from the readings. Typically, this is 2500 words or more per essay. When the exams are returned to the department, they are distributed to the committee members.
An oral exam is scheduled approximately two weeks after the end of the written exam, by which time the committee members should have read all the answers. The oral exam is an extension, but not repetition, of the student’s written exam. Hence it should focus primarily on having the student clarify, elaborate, and extend their written answers to the exam questions. The committee may probe perceived weakness in logic or evidence in the answers, and ask the student to defend them. It may also ask the student to discuss the implications of the ideas expressed in their answers for related theoretical and empirical debates in the two fields. It is permitted to extend the exam over more than one meeting if sufficient time is not available to complete the oral exam to the satisfaction of the committee.
When the oral exam is completed, the student is asked to leave the room while the committee evaluates the exam. The committee may reach a consensus to issue a pass, fail, or conditional pass for the combined written and oral exam. In the case of a conditional pass, the committee should specify necessary and sufficient remedial actions that must be taken, as well as a deadline for fulfilling these conditions. If a consensus cannot be reached, a majority decision is made on whether to pass or fail the student. The student is then invited back in and informed of the committee’s decision. If the student has passed or conditionally passed the comprehensive exam, it is typical for the committee to use the final part of the meeting to briefly discuss the student’s dissertation topic and schedule for writing a dissertation proposal.
Subsequently, the committee chair fills out the Evaluation Sheet for Comprehensive Exam form (from the Department of Sociology), provided by the student, including any requirements applied to a conditional pass. In case of a conditional pass, the chair must also submit a second memo informing the graduate chair whether the student has met the conditions specified by the deadline. A student who fails to meet the conditions by the deadline is judged to have failed the exam unless the committee by consensus agrees to extend it prior to its expiration.
Should the student fail the comprehensive examination, they may take it a second time, in which case they should follow a similar procedure as with the first exam to schedule the date and time for the written and oral portions. A second failure means that the student is dropped from the PhD program.
After successful completion of the comprehensive examination, a student proceeds to the dissertation proposal stage. A dissertation proposal must provide enough information to show that the student’s dissertation has major intellectual promise for the field of sociology, can feasibly be completed in a timely fashion, and is consistent with professional ethical norms. The proposal must introduce the research topic, review the relevant literature, and outline the methods that will be used for the dissertation. It must also contain a proposed chapter outline and timetable for completion. Proposal must include plans for obtaining human subjects approval for data collection from the Human Studies Program. The length of the proposal can vary, but it should be sufficient to provide the committee with enough information to make a decision with confidence. A student’s proposal must be evaluated and approved by a consensus of the dissertation committee before they can move to the dissertation stage.
After approval from the committee, a student must complete the top portion of the Doctorate Form II - Advance to Candidacy form (from Graduate Division), obtain approval signatures from all members of their committee, and submit this to the department. Students must also obtain human subjects certification and submit this certification along with the Form II. Completion of these requirements makes the student eligible to register for SOC 800: Dissertation Research, which allows students who must maintain full-time enrollment to do so while only enrolled for a single credit.
A dissertation should not be approved until the dissertation committee believes that it makes a major original scholarly contribution to the field of sociology and brings credit to the student, the department, the university, and the committee members whose signatures appear on its cover page. While the lengths of dissertations can vary, they should be comparable in length to a typical scholarly book in the field of sociology. A student must also pass an oral defense of the dissertation. Graduate Division has a seven-year limit on a student’s time to PhD, so each student is encouraged to aim to complete their dissertation well in advance of this limit, thus allowing for additional time in case of unexpected obstacles.
Initial examination of dissertation chapter drafts should be undertaken by the chair, with other committee members brought in as needed for expertise. Once the chair believes that the complete draft is reasonably close to being ready, it is submitted to the entire committee, who indicate whether they believe the student is ready for an oral defense or if further major revisions are needed.
At this point or earlier, students should be informed by the committee chair whether it is possible that they may graduate the following semester so that they can begin making arrangements. Students should confirm that they will likely complete all degree requirements by deadlines specified in the academic calendar and review Graduate Division graduation policies. An application for graduation and appropriate fees must then be submitted.
Once the entire committee feels they know when the dissertation is likely to be ready, a date and time for the oral defense should immediately be scheduled by mutual agreement, well in advance. The defense is open to the public, and the committee chair should submit an announcement according to Graduate Division Final Defense requirements.
The student should bring to the oral defense Doctorate Form III - Dissertation Evaluation form (from Graduate Division) with the top portion filled out. Students may also bring the Doctorate Form IV - Dissertation Submission form (from Graduate Division) in case the committee feels the dissertation 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 Doctoral 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 oral defense begins with a 15-20 minute presentation by the student of the dissertation’s main points, aimed at a general social science audience that is not familiar with the dissertation. Each committee member then has the student respond to questions about the dissertation, following a format designated by the chair. Questions should focus primarily on summarizing or elaborating on the content of the dissertation, as well as defending against any perceived weaknesses. Efforts should be made to couch questions and answers in a manner that is appropriate for a public forum. After the committee members have completed their questions, the floor is opened for questions or comments from the audience, until there are no more questions or the time allocated for the defense (which must be at minimum one hour, and typically longer) is running out. 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 dissertation is to accept as is or demand further specified revisions. The defense should be passed if the committee feels that the dissertation 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 Doctorate Form III - Dissertation 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 dissertation as is, the committee members sign Form IV, which is given to the student, who promptly submits it to the department. If revisions are demanded, then members of the committee may at their individual discretion sign conditionally, which means that they entrust Form IV to the committee chair for safekeeping until the student is deemed by all to have completed the required revisions.
PhD students should be aware that the deadline for submitting a dissertation 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 petition, with a support letter from their committee chair, addressed to Graduate Division. The petition should note when they had or will have their oral examination and provide a timeline for completion of the written dissertation. The petition should be submitted to the department as a support letter from the graduate chair is also required. In case the student is unable to complete all graduation requirements as expected, they must register and re-file an application in any subsequent semester they plan to graduate.
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.