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 Ph.D. student to Ph.D. 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 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.