In September of each year, students are expected to develop a plan with the graduate chair indicating how and when they will meet the requirements of their program. This plan includes timing for all course work and other requirements. While the graduate chair has the formal role of establishing the student's program of study, students are encouraged to speak to various faculty members for advice on courses and on their program.


PhD candidates are normally required to take 8 courses, including:

  • Four required courses: Sociology 9002 (Classical Sociological Theory), Sociology 9003 (Research Methods), Sociology 9005 (Contemporary Social Theory), and Sociology 9007 (Multivariate Statistical Analysis).
  • PLUS a minimum of four additional courses beyond the theory and methods requirements, at least two of which will be related to the student's two chosen areas of specialization. Students are required to complete at least one course in each chosen area of specialization before writing a comprehensive exam in that area (subject to availability). It should be noted that specific courses can often serve for more than one area of specialization. Students must consult the graduate chair to make a final determination of the requirements.
  • Students normally take 3 courses each term (Fall, Winter).
  • Students may take up to two courses from other departments. Students in collaborative programs should consult the respective web pages to determine required courses for the specialization (see side bar for links).
  • In exceptional circumstances, permission to take a reading course may be granted at the discretion of the graduate chair. Exceptional circumstances may include that there is no course being offered in the student's area of study (broadly, rather than narrowly considered) in a given year (not a given term) or that a student wishes to take additional courses beyond those that are required. Normally, students will be permitted to take a maximum of one reading course.
  • Note: A candidate’s course load may be reduced (by a maximum of two) in a case where 9002, 9003, 9005, 9007 or equivalent has been taken previously. For example, a student who has taken one of these courses (or its equivalent) previously may have the required number of courses reduced to a minimum of seven; a student who has taken two of these courses (or its equivalent) previously may have the required number of courses reduced to a minimum of six. To request a waiver of 9002, 9003, 9005, or 9007, provide the graduate chair with a copy of the outline for the course you have taken previously. Your outline will be reviewed by the instructor of the course in question and your request is subject to his/her approval.

Research Apprenticeship

The Research Apprenticeship Milestone (formerly Sociology 9689) consists of roughly 60 to 100 hours spent working closely with a faculty member on a research project (either paid work on a grant-funded project or an unpaid research collaboration) and is designed to mentor students in the research process and provide hands-on research skills in preparation for dissertation work. This Milestone should be completed during the first or second year of the program.

Research Apprenticeship Form

Comprehensive Examinations


Candidates are required to pass two comprehensive examinations, normally within the first two years of study. Comprehensive examinations require students to demonstrate a broad understanding of the literature and debates within two substantive areas. The comprehensive examination process provides students with the opportunity to immerse themselves in literatures that will inform their dissertation work. Further, they help students with the degree-level learning outcomes, including those related to depth and breadth of knowledge, communication skills, research and scholarship, and professional capacity. Reading for the comprehensive examinations allows students to engage with a field in greater depth (and breadth) than ordinary coursework. It provides an opportunity for students to demonstrate an ability to understand and critically evaluate current research and scholarship within sociology and their area of specialization. The process helps to develop an ability to present and discuss ideas clearly and articulately and engage in scholarly discussion and debate. In addition, the comprehensive exams provide the opportunity for doctoral students to develop transferable skills. For students who work in academia post-degree the comprehensive exams foster intellectual independence and are ideal training for teaching and research. For students who will work in non-academic settings (as well as those in academic settings), the comprehensive examinations provide skills in working with large amounts of complex information, synthesizing, analyzing, and identifying gaps and solutions – ideal skills for a variety of jobs.


Comprehensive exams may be written in the following 5 core areas, which align with the department’s strengths in research and graduate teaching:

  • Aging and the Life Course
  • Health and Health Inequality
  • Inequality, Power, and Social Regulation
  • Social Demography
  • Work, Occupations, and Professions

Comprehensive exams may also be written in:

  • Migration and Ethnic Relations (for students enrolled in the MER Collaborative Specialization)
  • Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction (for students enrolled in the TJ Collaborative Specialization)

Core Sociology faculty in these areas from which committee members are typically drawn include:

Sociology faculty for each research area
Aging and the Life Course Davies, Margolis, Shuey, Willson, Zajacova
Health and Health Inequality Adams, Davies, Margolis, Shuey, Willson, Zajacova
Inequality, Power, and Social Regulation Adams, Andersen, Calnitsky, Denice, Holm, Huey, Lehmann, Schaffer, Waite
Social Demography Abada, Choi, Haan, Margolis
Work, Occupations, and Professions Andersen, Adams, Lehmann, Shuey, Waite
Migration and Ethnic Relations (collaborative program members only) Abada, Choi, Haan

Reading lists:

The appropriate examination committee will distribute a reading list not later than four months preceding a given examination. Each area has an associated core reading list that is reviewed annually by the faculty members who make up the research area. Past reading lists may be viewed in OWL (SOCGRADS INFO site, under Resources).

In the 5 core research areas (Aging and the Life Course; Health and Health Inequality; Inequality, Power, and Social Regulation; Social Demography; Work, Occupations, and Professions), the core list represents a portion of the readings and will be followed by supplemental readings (representing a more specialized area of study and comprising up to ¼ of the reading list OR the comparable expansion of the core list). Each student must consult with the graduate chair to determine whether a specialized area will be declared. When there is a specialized area, the composition of the comp committee may be altered (usually by one member) in accordance with a student’s specialized area and the student is encouraged to indicate to the designated committee member any readings that they think are pivotal to their area of interest and should be included as part of the ¼.


The comprehensive examination typically takes the form of a three-day take-home examination; however some areas are offered as a closed-book sit-down examination typically 6 hours in length. The precise nature of the format to be employed will be at the discretion of the comprehensive examining committee.


Examination committees develop and evaluate the examinations and are composed of a Chair and at least two other members of faculty nominated by the graduate chair. The committee decision is based on a majority vote.

The exams are viewed as a test of competency in the area. Passing an area exam requires: 1) a coherent, concise and accurate synthesis and discussion of relevant literature that reflects specificity and depth and 2) the display of an intelligent and critical perspective on pertinent readings in response to a given exam question (and which explicitly addresses all parts of the question asked). Committee members need to see that the student comprehends the key issues and can think coherently about them. The objective of the exams is for students to master a body of knowledge in order to develop and demonstrate an ability to integrate key readings in an area (show connections and points of contrast), to think analytically about them, and to understand and engage in central debates in the field. Answers must do more than summarize the arguments of all who have written on a given topic. They must utilize the works contained in the reading list to make an argument that is directly relevant to the question being asked. Students are asked to be critical when appropriate. Again, the goal is not simply to summarize the works read, but to harness others’ arguments to make a point. A good comprehensive examination answer demonstrates not only comprehensive knowledge of a field, but understanding of the key issues and debates, and generally, the ability to think critically about these issues and debates.

Exam answers, including answers to fulfill a conditional pass, will be subject to submission for textual similarity review to the commercial plagiarism detection software under license to the University for the detection of plagiarism.

Students can receive either a pass, pass with distinction (those who demonstrate both competence and excellence), conditional pass, or fail. Exams with one failing answer in the presence of an otherwise passable exam can be awarded a “conditional pass”. Students who receive a conditional pass will be given one opportunity to rewrite the failed question in the form of a written essay of no longer than 15 pages, to be submitted to the committee within two weeks of the exam decision.

Students who fail an examination will be given a written explanation, and they may seek further information and advice from Committee members. Students who fail an examination may appeal the decision in accordance with the department’s appeal procedures. Make-up examinations for those who have failed must be written during the next exam sitting. Students who fail an examination for a second time will normally be asked to withdraw from the program.

Relationship with coursework:

Students should think about their potential comprehensive exam areas upon entering the doctoral program and plan their coursework accordingly. Courses related to each of the comprehensive exam areas are typically taught every year, and students are expected to take these courses as partial preparation for a comprehensive exam. The intention is that the comprehensive examinations build upon the knowledge base established in the coursework.

The linkages between coursework, comps, and the dissertation are as follows. Coursework exposes students to a variety of research areas, and they may choose to write comprehensive examinations in two of the areas in which they wish to acquire further depth and breadth. The comprehensive examinations expose students to key debates within a particular field of sociological study and helps identify areas requiring further analysis, which in turn informs the dissertation proposal and thesis research.


Ideally, the comprehensive examinations follow the completion of course work, and are to be written in the second year of the program, before the completion of the dissertation proposal.

Comprehensive examinations will be written on (or, in the case of a three-day take-home exam, beginning on) the second Tuesday of February and October. Students must declare their intention to write, and the area in which they plan to write, at least six months prior to the proposed writing date (students will receive an email reminder prior to the declaration deadline). Those who declare their intention by the respective deadline will be provided with a reading list at least four months prior to the proposed writing date. Those who do not declare their intention (exam date and area in which they plan to write) by the respective deadline (see table, below) must wait for the next writing date.

Summary of timing
Proposed writing date
(second Tues of month)      
Deadline for student
declare intention
(and area)
Reading list to be provided   
to student by
October April 1 second Tuesday of June
February August 1 second Tuesday of October

*An additional date available is June (second Tuesday).  Students need to declare by December 1 and will be approved on a case-by-case basis*



  • Students must declare their intention to take a comprehensive exam in accordance with the timeline above.
  • At least four months prior to the examination the graduate program assistant will email the approved reading list, studying/writing tips, and information regarding procedures, to the student(s).
  • With the exception of medical emergencies, students must inform the Graduate Chair in writing if they have decided to postpone taking an exam at least 3 weeks prior to the date of the exam or the exam will be considered a fail.

Comprehensive Exam Studying/Writing Tips


  • Faculty members in each comprehensive exam area will be asked to review the core reading list annually and determine which 3 members will serve on the committee for the exam sittings offered in that academic year (June, October, February).
  • The Graduate Committee will monitor core reading lists annually to enhance consistency.
  • The Chair of the committee will email a confirmation of the format and length of the exam to the student(s), the other committee members, and the graduate program assistant.
  • The Chair of the committee will be responsible for setting questions and grading the examination in consultation with the other committee members.
  • The Chair of the committee will inform the Graduate Chair, in writing, regarding the results of the examination for each student and the Graduate Chair will inform each student, in writing, as to the adjudication of the examination.
  • Students will normally receive this written notification within three weeks of the examination.
  • All correspondence concerning the comprehensive examinations should go through the graduate program assistant so that an appropriate record is made and kept on file.


  • Students should think about their potential comprehensive exam areas early in their doctoral program and plan their coursework accordingly. Courses related to each of the comprehensive exam areas are typically taught every year, and students are expected to take these courses as partial preparation for a comprehensive exam.
  • Students receive the reading list a minimum of four months before the exam.
  • Preparation necessary to pass the exam is substantial and usually requires months of intensive study.
  • Students are encouraged to talk to the examination committee members about their expectations for the examination and ask questions about the literature they are reading.
  • Students are also encouraged to review old examinations in the area (available from the graduate program assistant).

Year 1 - Dissertation Supervisor

By the end of the first year of study, the student must have chosen a supervisor. To serve as a PhD supervisor, the faculty member must be a member of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) and be approved to supervise PhD dissertations.  That faculty member must also be a member of the main campus Sociology Department at Western.  Click here for the Finding A Supervisor web page. The student and the supervisor(s) complete Part A and the names of the supervisory committee of the Supervisory Committee Member and Proposal Milestone Report form and submit it to the graduate program assistant by the end of year 1.

SGPS Graduate Supervision Handbook

Year 2 - Supervisory Committee Member and Proposal Milestone

A doctoral Supervisory Committee consists of the supervisor and at least one supervisory committee member from our program. On rare occasions, a faculty member from outside the department can be a supervisory committee member (as a subject expert or due to the requirements of Collaborative specializations or as necessary for restricted data access). See the graduate chair for further information of this process.

The purpose of the dissertation proposal milestone is for the candidate to demonstrate the requisite theoretical and methodological background as well as the necessary writing skills to proceed to concentrated thesis work. The dissertation proposal provides an opportunity for the student to interact with their thesis supervisor and supervisory committee member in a focused way. The submission of the proposal represents a commitment by the student to pursue the thesis upon completion of the thesis proposal. Typically the proposal would be completed and approved in the summer (at the end of year 2) or the fall (beginning of year 3), following the completion of year 2 comprehensive exams.

PhD students are required to complete the proposal under the supervision of the faculty member selected to be the thesis supervisor. The proposal requires:

1) The selection of a supervisory committee member. The expectation is that the supervisory committee member will serve as a "reader," providing feedback beginning at the proposal stage and throughout the writing process, and will read the thesis in its entirety before preliminary submission. A supervisory committee member must be a member of SGPS with at least non-core limited membership status (see the graduate program assistant for further details).

2) Approval of the proposal by both the supervisor and the supervisory committee member.

3) An informal oral presentation of the approved proposal to which faculty and students are invited to attend. Presentations are held twice a year, in March and November. Dates for 2022-2023 year are set for November 11, 2022 and March 10, 2023.

4) Completion of the Part B of the Supervisory Committee Member and Proposal Milestone Report.

Points to consider:

  • Please consult the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Guidelines which provide details such as what should be included and questions to consider in the preparation of your proposal. A proposal typically provides key background literature, methods/methodology, and expected contributions. Further, the candidate must clearly describe the plan of study - what will be done, how, and when.
  • Format - The content and structure of the proposal should be developed in consultation with the supervisor before writing. Clearly identify one of the two SGPS approved formats i) monograph or ii) integrated-article. If the dissertation will be integrated-article format, the student needs to clearly identify each of the manuscripts along with the individual problems, questions, and methods involved with each. See Dissertation Format, below, for further details.
  • Ethics Approval - Students planning to conduct research involving human participants (e.g., survey, participant observation, interviews) need to obtain Ethics approval from the University's Non-medical Research Ethics Board. This is not a simple process and, since from start to finish the Ethics process could take up to 3 months, the student and supervisor need to plan accordingly.
  • In order for completion of the proposal milestone to be recorded, the signed Dissertation Proposal Report must be submitted.

Helpful link: Research Data Centre

Dissertation Format

Students may submit their dissertation in either monograph or integrated-article format. Listed below are components required in the main body of the thesis. Students should consult Section 8.3 of the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies' (SGPS) Thesis Regulation Guide for a complete list of components and formatting details. PhD Dissertations in Sociology typically range from 150-250 pages, but should not be shorter than 100 pages excluding appendices. 

Following SGPS guidelines, it is expected that a thesis following an integrated article format will include the following components in the body of the thesis:

An introductory chapter that introduces and establishes the relevance of the broader dissertation topic that is addressed by the separate articles; A literature review chapter that sets the broader theoretical, conceptual, and methodological context for the separate articles to follow; A minimum of three articles; A concluding chapter that relates the separate articles to each other and integrates and discusses the findings within the context of the broader field of study; A separate bibliography should be included at the end of each chapter and article.

Further, following the SGPS guidelines, it is expected that a thesis following a monograph format will usually include the following components in the body of the thesis:

An introductory chapter that introduces and establishes the relevance of the broader dissertation topic; A literature review chapter that sets the broader theoretical, conceptual, and methodological context for the dissertation; A methodology chapter that describes the analyses conducted; One or more results chapters; A concluding chapter that discusses the findings within the context of the broader field of study; A bibliography.

Thesis Examination

The examination committee typically consists of a chair (determined by SGPS), two examiners from sociology (one of which can be the Supervisory Committee Member), a university examiner (i.e., someone from outside sociology who was not on the supervisory committee), and an external examiner (arms-length, almost always from another university). All examiners must be arms-length from the student and supervisor and must not have been a collaborator on the thesis research. The student and supervisory are encouraged to consider diversity of representation on the committee (e.g., gender) when choosing from a pool of qualified examiners. Note that the university examiner is meant to bring an interdisciplinary perspective to the examination; thus, scholars from a sociology department at one of Western’s affiliate colleges are not usually acceptable. Please confer with the Graduate Chair if you have questions regarding the suitability of a potential examiner.

The student should not be in contact with the university or external examiners. For this reason, the supervisor, not the student, should contact university and external examiners to determine whether they are willing to be an examiner and their availability. Once a date has been determined, provide a completed Doctoral Exam Request Form signed by both the supervisor and student to Graduate Program Coordinator. The Graduate Chair will then request that an exam be scheduled. Please remember that final approval of the Examination Committee is by SGPS.

Doctoral Exam Request Form
SGPS Thesis Guide and Forms

Graduate Professional Seminar

The Professional Seminar Series is designed to introduce students to aspects of the professional life of the Sociologist. Our purpose is to add to students' professional training in practical ways that will help them successfully compete for both academic and non-academic positions, adjust to academic life in new departments, and be productive scholars that secure tenure. The seminar series is a required Milestone for PhD candidates. 

PROSEM SCHEDULE for Winter 2021 


Summary of Requirements

Summary of PhD Degree Requirements
Minimum number of credit courses 6 half-courses
Mandatory courses* 9002, 9003, 9005, 9007
plus 4 other courses including 2 in specialization
Other requirements

Research apprenticeship
Thesis proposal
Two comprehensive exams
PhD professional seminar

Maximum Registration Period
(Completion Deadline
/Time Limit)
For students who have entered the program after completion of their MA: 6 calendar years from initial registration in PhD program

For students who have transferred from MA to PhD without completion of their MA: 7 calendar years from initial registration in MA program

*Any of Soc. 9002, 9003, 9005, or 9007 may be waived if they or their equivalent have been taken previously. The requirement for a total of 6 half-courses still remains, however.

Additional Courses and Professional Involvement

While the MA and PhD programs define a minimum number of courses, students may take more than the minimum, possibly in other areas or possibly as audits. Students are also encouraged to take part in the various colloquia and professional occasions that occur in the Department, in the University, and in professional associations.

OWN your Future is Western's doctoral professional development program offered by SGPS in collaboration with various units across campus.

Professional Development