The Maryland Sociology Graduate Program has been making some exciting changes to graduate program requirements in the last year. In addition to writing a 2nd Year Paper rather than a Master’s Thesis, pre-candidacy students now have the option to construct an alternative specialty exam, as well as take an additional research methods course in lieu of an advanced statistics course. A dissertation proposal timeline has also been established to help expedite students’ time to degree. I briefly describe each of these four changes below.
#1) 2nd Year Paper: Rather than writing a Master’s Thesis supervised by a multi-person committee, students write a 2nd Year Paper supervised by one faculty member advisor and one faculty member reader. Although students are not required to give an oral defense of their 2nd Year Paper, the final paper, intended to be in the form and style of a peer-reviewed journal article, must meet the approval of the student’s advisor and reader. Final approved 2nd Year Papers are due to the graduate office by the beginning of April each academic year. From a student’s perspective, transitioning from a Thesis to a 2nd Year Paper model has two major advantages: a) it likely expedites time to completion; and b) the final product may lead to a student’s first publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Last year (AY 2008-2009) was the first year that students completed 2nd year papers.
#2) Alternative Specialty Exam: As of fall 2009, graduate students now have the option to construct an alternative specialty exam – allowing students to draw on faculty members’ areas of expertise – in order to satisfy one of the two comprehensive examination requirements. Students may only sit for one alternative exam – the second exam requirement must be satisfied by taking the standard two-day written exam in an established specialty area. The alternative specialty exam option is designed for students whose specialty interests do not fit within one of the eight currently established specialty areas. Therefore, the alternative exam cannot have the same label of one of the sub-specialty areas; for example, since group processes is a sub-area of social psychology, an alternative exam focusing on group processes will not be approved. Students electing to take an alternative exam must solicit three faculty members whose research interests align with the student’s sub-specialty. The student and faculty committee then cooperatively define the substantive coverage for the exam, as well as design the format the exam will take. Examples of exam formats include, but are not limited to, a take-home exam or a research proposal incorporating an extensive literature review. They must be completed prior to the beginning of the student’s fourth year. The alternative exam is NOT a requirement. Students may still elect to take both comprehensive examinations in established specialty areas under the standard system.
#3) Methods Requirement: In response to a student-led petition submitted to the graduate office in May 2009, the graduate program has revised its statistics and methods requirements for graduate students. Prior to the 2009-2010 academic year, graduate students were required to take SOCY601, SOCY602, and an advanced statistics course, as well as two courses in research methodology. As of August 2009, graduate students may now replace their advanced statistics requirement with an additional research methodology course upon approval from the student’s advisor. This change was motivated primarily by a desire among students whose research is more qualitatively-oriented to receive additional training in qualitative research methods. Once again, this is NOT a requirement. Students, particularly students whose research is quantitatively-oriented, may still elect to take the advanced statistics requirement as laid out in the original requirements.
#4) In an effort to speed up time to degree, the department passed an expectation that students will defend their dissertation proposal by the end of the school year following the year that they pass their comprehensive exams. For example, if students take and pass their comprehensive exams in the fall semester of 2009 and/or spring semester 2010, they are expected to defend their dissertation proposals by the end of the spring semester of 2011.
Kathleen Denny is a second year PhD student.