Exams and Milestones Requirement

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). 

First-Year Essay Exam

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.

Area Qualification

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.

Preliminary Exam

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. The following rules apply:

  1. The proposal must describe the dissertation plans of the student at a level of detail sufficient to permit the Preliminary Exam Committee to evaluate the merit and feasibility of the proposed research.
    • Merit means that the project is engaging appropriately with one or more existing research literatures and that the project will make an innovative and intellectually significant contribution to knowledge.
    • Feasibility means that the analytical plan will make it possible to make the intended contribution.
  2. The proposal must be no longer than 4000 words, excluding figures, tables, and references. Proposals exceeding this length will not be approved by the department.
  3. The document must propose either a book-style dissertation or an article-style dissertation. Most dissertations are now article style.
    • Book-style dissertations generally investigate the same research question (or set of questions) over the course of 5-6 chapters. Book-style dissertations are normally the work of the dissertation author alone.
    • Article-style dissertations normally comprise three related papers, all of which must have the student as the first or sole author. A proposal that includes co-authored work must be accompanied by a signed statement from the co-authors that the co-authored portion will primarily be the work of the dissertation author. (Such a statement will also be required at the dissertation defense.)
  4. Proposals are generally organized into the following sections: background, specific aims or hypotheses, significance of the proposed research, data and methods, expected results, expected impact on the field. For article-style proposals, these sections will ordinarily be repeated separately for each proposed paper after a general introduction.
  5. If the proposed dissertation includes a paper that has already been completed, the contribution of this paper should be summarized in the proposal following the structure above and the paper itself should be included as an appendix (not included in the word count). If this paper is co-authored, it must be accompanied by a signed statement of the co-authors as outlined above.
  6. Subject to the rules above, the students Preliminary Exam committee makes the ultimate decision as to the acceptability of the proposal. For this reason, students should consult regularly with their committee during the development of the proposal.
  7. Should the student fail the defense, the student may apply, with the consent of the examining committee, the DGS, and the Associate Dean of the Graduate School, for a second examination to be taken no sooner than three months and no later than six months after the date of the first. The original examining committee must conduct the second examination.

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