The General Examination is normally taken in the third year, but can be taken as early as the end of the second year if all prerequisites have been fulfilled. It includes both a written and an oral component. Several options for the written component are available, including a “short” (6 hour) closed book exam and a “long” (32 hour) open book exam. An oral exam may also be substituted for the written exam. In cases where the timing and content of the second paper will benefit preparation for the dissertation, students will be permitted to complete the second paper after taking the three area exams. The paper must be completed no later than the end of the third year of enrollment. The Graduate School will not be notified that the student has completed the General Examination until the paper and all other requirements have been completed.
Upon completion of the General Examination, students turn their full attention to writing a dissertation. Students are encouraged to begin thinking about dissertation topics during the first year of graduate study, and to focus their readings and major papers as ways of doing background work relevant to the dissertation. They should submit a dissertation proposal for approval by the department faculty, normally by the middle of the third year. The dissertation committee chair will call a meeting of the committee members and the student to discuss and approve the dissertation proposal. The student then notifies the Graduate Secretary who informs the department faculty that the proposal will be available for inspection and comments for ten days. Unless faculty ask for revisions, the proposal is considered accepted at the end of that period. The proposal (normally a document of approximately 20 pages) includes a statement of the problem to be studied, an explanation of its theoretical relevance to sociology, a survey of pertinent literature, a tentative statement of the main thesis or hypotheses, and a discussion of the data and methods to be employed. Copies of sample dissertation proposals are available. A number of dissertation fellowships and special funding opportunities are available to students who have made good progress on the dissertation by the end of their third year of study. A final oral examination (given by a least two members of the dissertation committee and two other members of the department faculty) is the last requirement for the achievement of the degree.