Qualifying Examinations

Normally, all required course work should be completed before students complete their qualifying examination. Students are required to successfully complete a qualifying examination (normally completed in Semesters 3 & 4, but not later than Semester 5). The Sociology PhD QE consists of two components (written and oral) both of which are guided by a contextual statement and reading list. The qualifying examination covers sociological theory, the student's substantive field of specialization and student’s research area. Upon completing all required courses and the QE satisfactorily, the student will be deemed to have met the departmental standards and will become a candidate for the PhD degree.

QE Format (revised as of Fall 2018 Calendar)

In consultation with their QE committee, each student prepares a document (Contextual Statement & Reading List) that sets up the parameters for their QE. Students must pass the written take-home component to proceed to the oral component. Students must pass both components (oral and written) to pass the QE. Each component is explained in more detail below. A checklist of responsibilities and timelines is provided in Appendix III.

The QE Reading List will consist of a total of 100 units to be read by the student:

  • Sociological Theory (40 units from core sociological theory list)
  • Area of Specialization (40 units from core specialization field list)
  • Student Research Area (20 units to be developed by student & QE committee)

A Unit is defined as an article, a book chapter or 50 pages in a book (care should be taken to balance the depth and breadth with the student’s ability to critically synthesize each unit in their proposed list). Up to 3 units outside each core readings list may be proposed by the student/QE committee. It is the student’s responsibility to ensure that readings outside the core readings lists are appropriately identified as such.

Tip: When a book is more than 1 unit, it is helpful to the QE committee to indicate the total number of units with the reference (e.g., 156 pages text, so 3 units, or 75 pages text, so 1.5 units).

Core reading lists are living documents. Lists were reviewed by the SOC Graduate Program Committee in Winter 2019 and hereafter will be reviewed every 2-3 years. Core QE readings lists will be available on the department website once finalised.

Core (i.e., Sociological Theory and Specialization Field) reading lists will be made available by mid to end of April, with some of these readings accessible to the QE cohort and their committee members via ARES. Given the extent of references on our Core reading lists not all references will be available on ARES (Library’s Course E-Reserve System). Priority for inclusion is based on the following order:

  1. Journal Articles
  2. E-Books
  3. Single Book Chapters (that are less than 10% of a book)
  4. Books that were used by most of the prior QE cohort (these will be placed on a 3 day course reserve loan. NOTE: late fees are $20/day.

The following will be added to ARES, after submission of the approved contextual statement/reading lists:

  1. Additional books used by multiple students within the current QE cohort not captured in the above.

  2. Books that are only used by one student that are only available at other libraries will only be added on a case-by-case basis. So feel free to seek out your own copies.

1.5-2 single spaced pages consisting of 3 paragraphs: one related to each grouping (i.e., Sociological Theory, Specialisation Field, and Research Area) followed by the approved Reading List for all 3 areas. The contextual statement is intended to provide the rationale for the selected reading list and an overview of the key question(s) the student intends to address within each set of readings. It must be clear to which reading list each selected reading pertains.

By the middle of May, students are expected to provide a draft reading list (pulled from core theory and specialization lists plus proposed 10 readings related to the Student’s Research Area) and corresponding contextual statement paragraphs to their Advisor. The Advisor adds/removes readings, suggests changes and sends the document to the QE committee members (for comments and additional 10 readings related to the Student Research Area). Within two days of receipt of additional readings noted above, the student submits to Advisor/committee the entire approved QE reading list with compiled 1.5-2 single-spaced page contextual statement. The final approved document should be available to student by end of May (Semester 3).

Within the first week of June, the Advisor forwards a copy to Graduate Program Assistant for student's file along with the completed QE "Contextual Statement and Reading List" Approval Form. [Please ensure that have all agreed to subsequent due dates on the form, so that everyone can plan their Fall semesters accordingly.

Student are expected to read, synthesize, and critically evaluate the readings from the middle of April until the end of August (Semester 3) in preparation for the written and oral components.

The QE committee develops 6 questions for the student to answer as part of their take home examination.

  • Written: Student answers 4 of the 6 questions in writing (Note that there will be at least one question from each reading list and that no more than one question may encompass multiple lists). 4000 words maximum per answer.
  • On the agreed upon date (in the first week of Sept by 9am), students will receive from their QE committee 6 take-home examination questions (2 related to sociological theory; 2 related to their specialisation field; 1 related to the research area and 1 that cuts across the research area and at least one of the core reading lists). Students will be required to respond to at least 1 question from each grouping (sociological theory, specialisation field, and research area) along with another question from any of the groupings.
  • Required Formatting: All responses must be saved in one document, with the question at the beginning of each response and a reference list at the end of each response.
  • Written component submitted to the QE committee via email by student by 4pm on the agreed upon date within the first week of October (date is 4 weeks after questions provided, Semester 4).
  • The QE student will be expected to participate in a Practice QE Oral ProSem session in October prior to the oral component of their QE.

  • The student will proceed to the oral defence only if the written component is deemed defensible (Note: Students are given 1 week to prepare, if outcome 1, and 2 weeks to prepare, if outcome 2. Note: These outcomes are explained in more detail on pages 16-17).
  • Note the oral component should be scheduled no later than the first week of November, Semester 4).

The student will begin the oral defense with a 15-20 minute oral presentation. Use this time as an opportunity to do any of the following:

  • Build on your written responses
  • Address gaps in your written responses
  • Demonstrate how your thinking has changed since your written responses (REM: ~month between submission and oral)
  • Briefly cover one or both questions for which you did not provide a written response

Tip: Avoid only providing a summary of your written responses (as your audience is comprised of only your QE committee).

Following the presentation, there will be 2-3 rounds of questions. In oral defense, the student may be asked about written responses, the 2 questions not responded to, and anything else from the reading lists. The question order will begin with the members of the committee not on the advisory committee, then the advisory committee member, followed by the advisor.

Within one week following a successful QE oral examination, the advisor will provide the student with a written compilation of the committee’s feedback, highlighting the student’s strengths and areas for improvement related to each of the learning outcomes associated with the QE. A copy of this feedback must also be copied to the Graduate Program Assistant, for placement in the student’s file.

Qualifying Examination Committee

The examining committee for the qualifying examination consists of five members as follows:

  • The Sociology Graduate Coordinator serves as chair of the examination committee except when this person is also a member of the examining committee. In this event, the chair will designate another member of the Sociology Graduate Committee to chair the examination.
  • Two members, normally of the regular or associated graduate faculty, who are NOT members of the advisory committee.
  • Two members of the advisory committee.

Normally, at least one of the qualifying examination committee members listed above must be from outside the department in which the student is registered. That person may be a member of the PhD advisory committee.

In addition, if the student has co-advisors, typically only one of them serves on the QE committee.

Students in collaboration with their advisor/advisory committee are expected to establish their QE committee (including QE Chair) by the middle of April. Advisor must submit the completed (including required signatures) "Qualifying Examination Committee Appointment Form" to the Graduate Program Assistant by the middle of April.

QE Committee members are expected to:

  • Review all material and forms in a timely manner

  • Provide input to the contextual statement and reading lists

  • Schedule time for required components (including providing questions, assessing written component, meeting to discuss written component, oral defense, etc.)

  • Propose 2 relevant questions for the take-home component (excluding Advisor)

  • Assess the student’s written and oral components based on the 4 QE learning outcomes and provide oral and written feedback (including general feedback during the QE, and specific feedback post-QE)

  • Maintain confidentiality of deliberations (regarding both written and oral components)

  • Provide feedback on the QE process to the QE Chair/Graduate Coordinator

Assessment of Qualifying Examinations

The purpose of the qualifying examination is to assess students’ knowledge of the relevant subject matter and their ability to critically analyze, integrate and evaluate theoretical, methodological and substantive knowledge, and to assess their preparedness to undertake research for the PhD dissertation and to develop an analysis of their research findings. As such, students are expected to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the foundations of sociological theories and demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the broad literature in the field as well as theoretical and methodological approaches relevant to that specific field.

Written and oral defenses add rigour and demonstrate different and complementary skill sets, and the opportunity to demonstrate capacity across the 4 QE learning outcomes. Thus, students will be assessed on the following skills in relation to the corresponding QE Learning Outcomes noted in bullet form:

  • Critical Analysis
    • Critically analyze historical, global and/or local interconnections.
  • Epistemological and Ontological Interrogation
    • Interrogate the epistemological and ontological assumptions that underlie diverse foundational and contemporary theoretical perspectives and debates.
  • Draw Theoretical Implications
    • Demonstrate an understanding of theoretical pluralism.
  • Effective Communication to Scholarly Audience
    • Create and mobilize knowledge in clear written and oral forms for a scholarly audience.

As a qualifying examination, consideration is to be given not only (1) to the student's knowledge of the subject matter and ability to integrate the material derived from his or her studies, but also (2) to the student's ability and promise in research. The examining committee, therefore, will receive from the advisory committee a written evaluation of the quality of the student's research performance to date and of the student's potential as a researcher prior to the oral deliberations. The examining committee will determine the relative importance to be given to these two major components of the qualifying examination.

The students will be deemed to have passed the qualifying examination if not more than one member of the examining committee votes negatively on each component of the QE. An abstention will be regarded as a negative vote. The results of the qualifying examination will be reported to the Assistant Vice-President of Graduate Studies. The report will record the decision as satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Within our department, there are 3 possible outcomes to the written component:

Outcome 1: Passed Written Component-Proceed to the oral component

The QE committee agrees that at least 3 of the 4 written answers are defensible and all four Learning Outcomes have been demonstrated to a satisfactory level and hence the student may proceed to the oral component. The student is given one week to prepare for their oral component.

Outcome 2: Written Component Conditional Pass- Proceed to oral component with feedback

The QE committee agrees that at least 2 of the 4 written answers are defensible but are divided on at least two of the responses and/or assessed at least one of the four Learning Outcomes as not demonstrated to a satisfactory level. The student is therefore given general written feedback about key areas that they need to address in a satisfactory manner during the oral component. The student is given 2 weeks to prepare for their oral component.

Outcome 3: Failed Written Component- Rewrite due to quality of work issues

If a student submits more than 2 written answers that the QE committee deems to be not defensible, then the student has to resubmit 2-3 written answers (students are given 1 week per re-written response). Committee must relay this decision (via QE Chair) within 3 weeks of QE submission) to both student and OGPS.

Oral defense (provided defensible rewritten answers) is to be scheduled no later than the first week of January (Semester 5).

If the student passes on their first written component, but fails on the first oral exam, they will redo the oral exam within 3 weeks of the failure (before end of first week of Dec, Semester 4). QE Chair must relay this decision to student and OGPS

  • Clear written communication to student from committee on quality issues is required (through QE Chair)

Note: Fails automatically constitute "unsatisfactory" on Graduate Student Progress Report unless the student passes their second attempt within the same semester.

If the student fails any 2 attempts (e.g., both written OR one written and one oral OR both oral), the QE Chair will submit a formal Required to Withdraw (RTW) recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies via OGPS.