Graduate Studies Guide: PhD in Sociology or Anthropology

PhD programs in sociology and anthropology offer students a comprehensive foundation in social theory in each discipline, substantive courses in areas of research interest, and rigorous training in research methodologies, a particular strength of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at SFU. The programs are designed to facilitate and support completion of the PhD within six (6) academic years (18 terms).

Years 1 and 2 (terms 1-6) are devoted to completion of coursework, qualifying examinations, and dissertation prospectus development and defence. Years 3 to 6 (terms 7-18) are spent conducting research and completing the dissertation. Graduates are well prepared to pursue academic careers, and/or to take professional positions in public, private and non-profit sectors.

Supervisory Committee

Students form a supervisory committee during their first two terms of study. The supervisory committee consists of a supervisor and at least one committee member. For PhD students, both the supervisor and at least one committee member must be research faculty (tenured or tenure-track) within the Department of Sociology & Anthropology. The supervisor must be in the same discipline as the one in which the student is pursuing the PhD. The supervisory committee may include additional members from in or outside the department. Students select additional committee members in consultation with their supervisor. Committee composition may change over the course of the student’s program. As with everything else, there is a form to add members to the committee or to alter its composition.

Before the end of the first year of study, each student must submit two documents to the Program Assistant:

  1. Approval of Supervisory Committee
  2. Graduate Plan of Study

Degree Requirements

The minimum requirements for the degree are:

  • Completion of the required and elective coursework (3 required and 2 electives, 26 credit hours);
  • Successful completion of two qualifying examinations;
  • Preparation and public defence of a dissertation prospectus; and
  • Completion and defence a dissertation of approximately 250-300 pages, inclusive of bibliographies, appendices, and tables.

The dissertation is defended at a public defence and examined by the student’s faculty supervisory committee, a university Examiner who is a faculty member at Simon Fraser University, and an External Examiner who is a faculty member at another academic institution. The External Examiners are selected and invited by the student’s supervisor. Supervisors should note that as of Spring 2019, there is a new, more generous program to cover the travel expenses of External Examiners than existed previously.

PhD Courses

Students must complete a minimum of five (5) courses (26 units):

  • One term-long professional development Graduate Seminar (SA 840) to be taken in the Fall term of Year 1 (2 units, S/U)
  • Two term-long elective courses, normally done in Fall and Spring terms of Year 1 (graded)
  • SA 897: PhD Qualifying Examination course, normally two terms culminating in QE Exam and PhD Prospectus defence (6 units, S/U)
  • SA 899: PhD Thesis (10 units, In Progress or Complete)

Elective courses (2 required) should be chosen in consultation with the student’s supervisor and be appropriate to the anticipated dissertation research and the student’s discipline.

Electives, including Directed Readings may be selected from graduate-level courses offered within the Sociology and Anthropology department, other SFU departments or another BC university that is a signatory to the Western Dean's Agreement. Approval is required from the student’s supervisor and from the Graduate Program Chair for courses in other SFU department (complete the Course Add/Drop Form). Elective courses taken outside of the department must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee and included in the student’s Graduate Plan of Study.

A course at another university through the Western Dean’s Agreement requires signatures from the student’s supervisor, the Graduate Program Chair, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies at SFU, and the department in which the student wishes to take the course. This process should be started at least six (6) weeks before the course begins. Please see the Graduate Program Chair or the Program Assistant for assistance.

  • SA 815-4 Theories of Latin American Development (4 units, graded)
  • SA 835-4 Social and Political Change in Latin America (4 units, graded)
  • SA 850-5 Selected Topics in Social Theory (5 units, graded)
  • SA 853-5 Readings in Sociology I* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 854-5 Readings in Sociology II* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 856-5 Qualitative Sociological Research Methods** (5 units, graded)
  • SA 870-5 Theories in Anthropology (5 units, graded)
  • SA 871-5 Readings in Anthropology I* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 872-5 Readings in Anthropology II* (5 units, graded)
  • SA 875-5 Ethnographic Methodology: Social/Cultural Anthropology** (5 units, graded)
  • SA 886-5 Selected Problems in Social Analysis (5 units, graded)
  • SA 887-5 Special Topics in Sociology/Anthropology (5 units, graded)

* The specific requirements for any Directed Readings course are to be developed in consultation with the student's supervisor and documented on a Directed Readings template. Provide the completed form to Program Assistant to enroll in a DR course.

**During the 2020/21 academic year, the required courses SA 856 and SA 875 for Sociology and Anthropology MA students will be taught together.

All graded courses must be completed before enrolling in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination). Supervisory committees may, at their discretion, require additional courses to be completed.

Course work deferrals should be seen as exceptional, and requests should be made only with accompanying medical certificates or with obvious grounds for consideration.

PhD Qualifying Examination

Doctoral students are required to complete a two-part examination on theory and methodology related to their proposed dissertation topic. The objective of SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination) is to provide a framework and process for students and supervisors to facilitate students’ satisfactory preparation for qualifying examinations and to complete qualifying examinations required for admission to doctoral candidacy. A broad critical knowledge of the relevant literature by the student should be seen as sufficient preparation to undertake the qualifying examination.

Following a successful qualifying exam, the student prepares and defends their PhD dissertation prospectus.

See below for a more complete explanation of the QE and prospectus defence procedures.

PhD Dissertation Research and Defence

Following successful defence of the prospectus, the student begins dissertation research. In nearly all cases, SA students are required to apply for and obtain clearance from the Office of Research Ethics before they undertake data collection. It is the student’s responsibility to determine whether ethics approval is required (review the Checklist for Graduate Students).

Students should remain in regular conversation with their supervisor and committee throughout their data collection, analysis, and writing phases.

The PhD culminates with a public defence of the dissertation during which the student’s supervisory committee, a qualified External Examiner, and a University Examiner will examine the thesis. The Examining Committee will recommend one of the following outcomes:

    i.    Passed: As submitted OR Conditional upon revisions;
    ii.   Decision Deferred: Decision to be made upon revisions OR Formal re-examination needed; 
    iii.  Failed: Student is required to withdraw from the University.

A detailed timeline and instructions for scheduling a dissertation defence may be found here. Dissertations are normally 250-300 pages in length, inclusive of bibliographies, appendices, and tables. At the discretion of the supervisory committee, the maximum number of pages may be increased, generally only to facilitate the inclusion of large appendices and tables.

Following a successful defence, the student completes any required revisions and submits the approved dissertation and signed approval pages to the SFU Library. Specific instructions for formatting and submitting the dissertation are provided by the Library.

Qualifying Examination (QE) Process

Required process and recommended time frame

QE Preparation, Phase 1

Summer Term, Year 1:

In the term prior to enrollment in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination), the student, in discussion and negotiation with the supervisory committee, must prepare an outline of topics to be addressed through the QE process . The QE outline is normally completed during the spring term of Year 1 for initial enrollment in SA 897 in the summer term of Year 1.

To enroll in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination) in summer term of Year 1, the student and supervisory committee must agree upon the details of a Qualifying Examination outline aimed at providing a solid foundation in the areas of literature that the student will be examined on. This QE outline forms the basis for the term's work. In addition to the agreed-upon literature, the committee may require the student to produce short papers, annotated bibliographies, or bibliographic essays on specific questions that may constitute elements of the QE outline. The goal of the QE course requirement is to facilitate student progress towards examination readiness, recognizing individual situations.

At the end of the first term of enrollment in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination), the student, supervisor, and supervisory committee will submit a brief progress report to the Graduate Program Chair, via the Program Assistant, indicating whether goals set out in the QE course outline have been achieved or renegotiated.

QE Preparation, Phase 2

Fall Term, Year 2

The student prepares a four-page QE course overview or research statement that reflects the work to be completed in Phase 2. In addition to the research statement, the student provides a proposed examination bibliography of approximately 40-70 titles. This QE outline must be submitted to the Graduate Program Chair, via the Program Assistant, for re-enrollment in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination), before the end of the second week of the term. The supervisory committee members may then request additions to the bibliography. A final bibliography, agreed upon by student and supervisory committee members, should be completed by the end of the first month of the second term of enrollment in SA 897 (PhD Qualifying Examination).

By October 15 (assuming a Fall QE exam), the supervisor invites a member of SA or another SFU department to serve as the external member of the QE examination committee. Once the external member has been confirmed, the supervisor provides this information by email to the Graduate Program Chair and Program Assistant. Any subsequent changes to the QE examination committee must be approved by the Graduate Program Chair through a written request. This request should include a rationale for changing the composition of the QE examination committee.

The external committee member may add titles (books and articles) to the bibliography proposed by the student and previously agreed to by the student’s supervisory committee up to a maximum total of 600 additional pages. The additional titles must be provided by November 1 for Fall completion of the QE so the student has ample time to read and digest new material before the examination. The remaining supervisory committee members may not add any additional titles to a student’s bibliography after the external member has joined the QE examination committee.

The student will submit a revised research statement and bibliography to the QE examination committee by November 15 for Fall completion of the QE. This literature and statement will form the basis for the Qualifying Examination.

Students who intend to complete the QE in the Fall term should plan on undertaking the written exam in early December.

Qualifying Examination

The examination will consist of one or two questions determined collectively by the QE examination committee, and based on the final revised research statement and bibliography. The questions are to be answered in essay form and submitted within 10 days of receiving the questions. The supervisor will provide the Program Assistant with the exam questions and the Program Assistant will send the questions to the student via email at an agreed upon time and date. The student’s obligations regarding employment and family responsibilities should be taken into account in determining the timing of the examination.

The student should produce one or two essays (as determined by the QE examination committee) totalling 40 to 50 double-spaced pages, exclusive of bibliography, appendices, and tables. QE essays should use a recognized citation style.

The student will email the essays to the Program Assistant and the QE examination committee 10 full days later. The student is also required to submit a hard copy of the exam to the Program Assistant as soon as possible.

The QE examination committee will confer and agree (majority decision required) on an evaluation within 10 days of receipt of the exam. Possible results are:

    1.  Pass
    2.  Require oral defence before determining pass or fail evaluation; or
    3.  Fail.

The student’s supervisor will inform the Graduate Program Chair of the outcome of the evaluation, and the Graduate Program Chair will then inform the student of the outcome of the exam. Normally, the supervisor will collate any committee comments in writing and provide these to the student.

In the event of a “fail” evaluation, the QE examination committee must provide the student and the Graduate Program Chair with written reasons for their decision.

Should a student fail the first examination they may retake the exam only ONCE. In this event, the preparation process must be renegotiated and a revised QE Course Outline submitted.

Dissertation Prospectus

A dissertation prospectus should present a proposal for original doctoral research that is of intellectual rigour, and can be completed within the timeframe of the degree. The 15-page double-spaced prospectus (exclusive of abstract, notes, appendices, and bibliography) situates the project within the relevant literature, fields, and theoretical frameworks. It also identifies the research methodology and methods to be employed.

The dissertation prospectus should contain:

    i.   A precise definition of the topic;
    ii.  A demonstration of a critical awareness of pertinent literature;
    iii. Argumentation concerning the perceived significance of the topic in relation to existing knowledge and/or theory in the area; and
    iv. Explanation and defence of the research methods and general methodology to be employed.

The dissertation prospectus is prepared in consultation with the student’s supervisory committee. The supervisor has the responsibility of informing the Graduate Program Chair in writing of the intent of the student to proceed to a defence.

Prospectus Defence

Once the supervisory committee ascertains that the prospectus is ready for defence, they appoint an examiner, who is an SFU faculty member. The examiner may be the same SFU faculty member with relevant expertise who served as the examiner for the Qualifying Examination as long as they are not a member of the student’s supervisory committee and do not have a close relationship to the student or to the student’s research project. This examiner may be asked to join the committee after the prospectus defence.

The dissertation prospectus defence is a public defence open to students and faculty wishing to attend. It must be scheduled and announced at least two weeks in advance of the defence. The defence is chaired by the Graduate Program Chair (or delegate). The examination committee shall consist of the student’s supervisory committee, together with the examiner. Two weeks prior to the defence, five copies of the dissertation prospectus must be given to the Program Assistant for distribution to the examination committee; one copy will be available in the department and archived in the student’s departmental file.

Please note: The student should contact their supervisor regarding the binding preferences of the committee. If the committee does not want their copies to be bound, the student needs to bind only the copy for the examiner.

The prospectus defence is done in the spirit of constructive dialogue and criticism in order to prepare the student to undertake dissertation research. It is assumed that the selection of a research topic, conceptualization and focusing of the research problem, situating it within a theoretical framework, and identifying the appropriate methodological perspective and tools are processes a graduate student goes through in close consultation with members of their supervisory committee. The prospectus is thus a document that emerges from this interactive-consultative process. Defence of the prospectus should not, therefore, be seen as an adversarial situation. It is, instead, a continuation of the collaborative process, culminating in a formal, documented stage in which the student proceeds to research data collection, analysis, and writing.

On the basis of the written prospectus and its oral defense, the examination committee may recommend to the Graduate Program Chair in the Thesis Prospectus Examination Report one of the following possibilities:

    1.  That the student proceeds to undertaken thesis research;
    2.  That the student revises the thesis prospectus as specified by the examination committee and then proceeds to thesis research (minor     
          revisions to be approved by the supervisor only);
    3.  That the student be required to undertake major revisions (whole committee to review or a second oral defence). Further coursework
          may also be recommended;
    4.  That the student is required to take further courses or other remedial measures with a view to writing and re-submitting a revised
          proposal for another defence. The committee will specify exactly which remedial steps must be undertaken. 

In the event that the thesis prospectus defence results in 2, 3, or 4, a plan of successful completion must be submitted to the Graduate Program Chair.

A student has only one opportunity to resubmit the prospectus to their examination committee. Failure to pass the prospectus defence upon resubmission will result in a request to withdraw from the program.

Students, who propose to undertake either the qualifying examination or the dissertation prospectus defense should, in the first instance, consult with their supervisory committee. It is the responsibility of the supervisory committee to set the process of examination and/or prospectus defence in motion as outlined above.

Time Limits and Timeline for PhD Degree Completion

Our program is designed to facilitate completing the PhD within six (6) years or 18 academic terms. The time limit for students in a doctoral program to complete all of the requirements is 18 terms (or six years) from the start of the program. Students who have not successfully defended and filed their thesis at the end of 18 terms must apply for an extension in order to continue in the program.

For exceptions, the student should consult the Graduate General Regulations section 1.12.1 Time Limit for Program Completion.

Unless on an approved leave of absence, students are required to remain continuously enrolled.

Students are expected to complete their graded courses during their first two years of enrollment. PhD students should aim to complete their qualifying examination and defend the dissertation prospectus by the end of their fourth term in the program, and no later than their sixth term.

Our purpose for stipulating these timelines in this program of study is to facilitate a timely completion. Timely completion requires a realistic combination of commitment, capacity, and responsibility on the part of both students and supervising faculty. Supervisory committees and students should meet at least twice during each term (once at the beginning and once at the end) to monitor their programs and to encourage dissertation development. These meetings may take place by in person or by telephone, email or video-conference as long as the goal of close collaboration and communication is achieved to the satisfaction of supervising faculty and student.

The Graduate Program Committee strongly suggests that students and their supervisory committees discuss mutual expectations regarding deadlines and respective responsibilities, frankly and concretely, at the earliest possible opportunity. The Graduate Program Committee requires that these agreements be set out in writing and signed by all parties.

Please complete a Graduate Plan of Study by March 1 of Year 1 and refer to Section 4 below for more detailed information about committee composition and thesis topic.

Please note:

Effective September 1, 2016 (Fall term) Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies amended the regulations governing the time for program completion, extensions, reactivation, and readmission. This new policy applies to all students who began the PhD in Fall 2016 or subsequent terms. Students who entered the program prior to Fall 2016, please contact the Program Assistant.

Timeline for PhD Milestones

Recommended timeline for qualifying exam and prospectus defence

Phase 1: Spring Term, Year 1

  1. Student completes the QE Outline with their supervisor and committee members and submits it to the Program Assistant. 
  2. At the end of the term, the supervisor submits a brief progress report to the Program Assistant, indicating whether the goals set out in the QE Outline have been achieved or renegotiated. 

Phase 2: Summer Term, Year 1

  1. Prior to enrolling in SA 897, the student prepares a four-page (double-spaced) research statement and bibliography, in consultation with supervisory committee, and submits a copy to the Program Assistant.
  2. At the end of the term, the supervisor submits a brief progress report to the Program Assistant, indicating whether the goals set out in the QE Outline have been achieved or renegotiated.

Phase 2: Fall & Spring Terms, Year 2

  • Prior to re-enrolling in SA 897, the student re-submits the research statement and bibliography with any revisions to the Program Assistant. 
  • By September 31: A finalized bibliography should be made including the supervisory committee’s additions. 
  • By October 15: The supervisor arranges for an external committee member (from SA or another SFU department) and confirms their participation with the Program Assistant. 
  • By November 1: The external committee member may add titles to the bibliography for a maximum total of 600 additional pages. 
  • By November 15: The student submits a finalized research statement and bibliography to their supervisory committee and the Program Assistant. 
  • Mid-late November: The supervisor informs the Program Assistant of the QE start date and provides them with the QE questions for distribution via email on the start date. 
  • Early-Mid December: The student writes the QE. 
  • Spring Term: Assuming that the student has passed the QE, they use the Spring term to draft their dissertation prospectus. 
  • End of Spring Term: Public defence of dissertation prospectus. Following a successful defence, the student submits their ethics application (if required) and may begin thesis research.