PhD in applied sociology Degree Requirements

The Department of Sociology offers a PhD in applied sociology, which is focused on training professional researchers at the highest level to follow the discipline's focus on bringing scientific understandings to the study of social issues and problems - and to meet the growing demand for applied sociologists who are qualified to address directly the problems facing not only Kentucky, but our nation and the world.


After a full slate of coursework in the first two years, students take their comprehensive exams before writing their dissertation. Students in the program must take a total of 36-37* credit hours, six hours of which are spent focused on the dissertation.  (*Students who have taken SOC 604 Proseminar in Sociology-MA are not required to take SOC 704.)




Year 1

SOC 704 Proseminar in Sociology-PhD (if not taken in UofL's MA sociology program)

SOC 735 Classical Theory or SOC 738 Contemporary Theory (courses will rotate each year; for Fall, 2024:  SOC 735)

SOC 691 Topical Seminar (topic will focus on a social institution and vary; for Fall, 2024: SOC 691 The Cost of Poverty)

SOC 665 Sociology of GenderSOC 675 Social Inequality & Stratification, or SOC 685 Race and Ethnicity (courses will rotate each year; for Fall, 2024:  SOC 665)    

SOC 710 Statistics II

SOC 740 Social Policy or SOC 691 Topical Seminar (courses will rotate each year; seminar topic will vary; For Spring, 2025: SOC 740)

SOC 790 Independent Study OR an outside elective*

*By semester's end, student receives comprehensive exam reading lists

(SOC 706 Exam Prep) for GTAs, if needed)

Year 2

SOC 715 Statistics III

SOC 735 Classical Theory or SOC 738 Contemporary Theory (courses rotates each year; For Fall, 2025:  SOC 738)

SOC 665 Sociology of GenderSOC 675 Social Inequality & Stratification, or SOC 685 Race and Ethnicity (courses will rotate each year; for Fall, 2025:  SOC 685)  

SOC 740 Social Policy or SOC 691 Topical Seminar (courses will rotate each year; seminar topic will vary; for Spring, 2026:  SOC 691)

SOC 795 Dissertation Research (6 hours)

 *By semester's end, student takes comprehensive exams

Doctoral Candidacy

Year 3

Doctoral Candidacy 

Student defends dissertation proposal by semester's end 

Doctoral Candidacy (each semester/summer until dissertation defended)




*Upon approval from the graduate advisor, students may choose to take one outside elective in either their first fall or first spring semester.  No electives may be taken without the prior approval of the Graduate Advisor.

Students interested in pursuing a graduate certificate in health care ethics may be able to use one of the health care ethics required courses for their independent study or elective taken during the first year of the program.  Students interested in earning this certificate should consult with Dr. Jonetta Weber, Graduate Advisor in Sociology, to determine how best to incorporate the certificate into the student's doctoral program.

Comprehensive Exams

The purpose of the comprehensive exam is for students to demonstrate understanding and critical analysis of a major and a minor area of literature. In their comprehensive exam answers, students are expected to name multiple scholars from exam reading lists and clearly discuss scholars' theoretical, empirical, and/or methodological contributions to the literature. In their answers, students should also demonstrate the ability to critically assess the literature on their list, comparing and contrasting the contributions of scholars on the reading list while responding to exam questions.

Students will determine their major and minor areas by the end of their first or second semester.  The major areas in which students have taken recent exams include:  intersectionality, leisure/sport/recreation. medical sociology, public policy, quantitative methodology, and race and ethnicity; however, these areas may change from year to year depending on the availability of sociology faculty to oversee comprehensive exams in these areas.   

A student’s comprehensive exam committee will be comprised of three faculty in sociology, two of whom will write the major exam questions and one of whom will write the minor exam question. (However, the second major exam committee member may be from another department at UofL (subject to approval by the Director of Graduate Studies and the exam committee chair).)  Selection of faculty must be based on a mutual agreement between the student and the faculty – and, as noted above, will depend on faculty availability and expertise.  (A student whose minor area of interest is not on the most recent exam areas offered by the department may petition the Director of Graduate Studies for permission to take a comprehensive exam in that minor area if there is a faculty member willing and able to serve as an exam committee member and write a question in that area.)  The reading lists for the major and the minor will be prepared by each individual committee and will vary in length and content depending on the composition of the committee. (The minor reading list will be shorter in length than the one for the major, and the minor exam question will be less comprehensive in nature.) 

Full-time students admitted in the fall semester will take their exams by the end of their second spring (or summer) semester, while full-time students admitted in the spring semester will take their exams during the second summer or third fall semester.  Students will be tested in their major and minor areas during three four-hour sessions (two sessions for the major and one for the minor) within six business days in a secure setting on campus without the aid of books, notes, or any other materials. Students will not be permitted to see their questions until they begin taking the exam for that session, and students must answer each question on the day it is given.  

Within a period of no less than one week and no more than two weeks following the student’s last written exam, the student will meet with their exam committee for an oral exam of at least two hours (and no more than three hours), during which the student will respond to questions presented by committee members about the written exam essays.  For successful completion of the comprehensive exams, all committee members must agree that the student passes.  Students who fail the oral defense will be given a second opportunity to defend by the end of the following semester; however, failure to pass the second oral defense or defend by the end of the following semester after the failed attempt will result in dismissal from the program.

NOTE:  Students may not take comprehensive exams if they have (a) any courses in which they have earned B- or below, or (b) any incomplete or deferred grades remaining in course work.  Also, full-time students who begin the program in the fall semester and who do not take their exams either by the end of their second summer will be placed on academic probation.  Students who do not take their exams by the end of the following semester will be dismissed from the program.  Part-time students are expected to take their exams in a timely manner, dependent on their individual timelines, and in consultation with the Graduate Advisor.


Upon successful completion of the oral comprehensive exam, students will enter the dissertation phase and be expected to write and defend a dissertation proposal before their dissertation committee by the end of the first fall/spring semester following their exams.  The proposal will include a summary of research literature on the topic to be researched, the ways in which the proposed research is expected to expand upon the literature in meaningful ways, an explanation of the theoretical framework and relevant concepts that will, or is likely to, inform the data analysis, the data collection methods to be used, and the source of the data to be analyzed.  Students must present in their proposals a sound methodological and/or theoretical argument explaining how the proposed research will address gaps in the literature and why a case study method is an appropriate approach.  Successful completion of the proposal defense signals to the student that their committee approves their plans, at which time the student can seek IRB approval, as needed, and begin collecting/procuring data for their dissertation.

Dissertation committees must include four graduate faculty, three of whom must be in the Department of Sociology (and the committee chair must be from Sociology) and one from another UofL department (or another university).

The final dissertation will include the elements required in the research proposal, as well as a section of findings, analysis and discussion of the findings, and summary and conclusion – and will be defended before the student’s dissertation committee and, possibly, other sociology faculty and graduate students.  Ultimately, a final copy of the student’s dissertation must be submitted to the Graduate School for publication in the UofL’s institutional repository, ThinkIR.

NOTE:  Failure to meet the dissertation proposal defense deadline will result in the student being placed on academic probation in the subsequent semester. Failure to defend the proposal by the end of the subsequent semester will result in the student being dismissed from the program.  Also, failure to make progress each semester/summer on the dissertation will result in academic probation and, potentially, dismissal.


Students must earn a minimum grade of B+ in all core and B in all elective or independent study courses (with the exception of two courses in which they may earn a B in a core and/or B- in an elective/independent study course) to remain in the program.  A third course in which a minimum grade is not earned must be repeated and may be repeated only once.  Any student failing to earn the minimum grade in the repeated course and/or needing to repeat a second course, as mandated by the guidelines above, will be dismissed from the program.  (Per the Graduate School’s policy, when a student repeats a course, their GPA will be calculated on the basis of the last grade earned, although the original grade will remain on the transcript.)