Comprehensive Examination Policy

Date: September 15, 2007 Final Version
Ph.D. Comprehensives Policy
Motion approved at Nov 27 2006 Faculty meeting
Committee Members: Sandy Welsh,  Scott Schieman, Ann Mullen, John Myles Ronit Dinovitzer, Paul Armstrong and Rochelle Cote
A new policy for Ph.D. comprehensives should state a core set of goals. The proposal below is organized around a set of inter-related principles:
  1. a Ph.D. comprehensive is understood to be an examination of broad expertise in an area, not specific background for a research agenda;
  2. a Ph.D. comprehensive implies to the examining committee a responsibility for exposure to a broad spectrum of materials in an area, to facilitate both the generality of research conducted in that area and preparation for future teaching;
  3. there should be equality of demand and experience for students across areas;
  4. there should be a fair distribution of work loads across faculty in each of the eleven areas;
  5. there should be standard mechanisms by which reading lists are updated yearly; and 6) features of the policy are inter-dependent, implying that changes to one will require changes to other features as well.
The movement to the new comprehensive exam system is linked to changes in the graduate curriculum.  In particular, the designated areas are required to offer a core course in their area  at least once every two years.  This allows Ph.D. students to have regular access to courses that can help them prepare for their comprehensive exams.  Students are encouraged to take their exam in the term following completion of a course in that area.

In the proposal below, the notion of a standing committee giving a single examination on scheduled dates follows from the existence of a standardized reading list. If such a list does not exist, then collective committees, examination times, and examinations are not possible.

Given this is a new way to do comprehensive exams, there is the need to revisit how things are working.  This new system should start with a three year term, during which the Department will revisit it and make necessary changes based on experiences with it.

General Requirements for Students
[Please note: these are not new.  These are things that are not changing in terms of structure] Ph.D. students must complete two comprehensive exams in two different areas.  The areas of exams are outlined below.  Students must complete both exams by the end of their 3rd year in the Ph.D. program according to SGS regulations.   Students may choose to do either a 5 day take-home exam or a 4 hour sit-down exam.  Students must answer 3 questions for each examination.

Areas of Comprehensive Exams
  • Comprehensives will be offered in a fourteen areas of department specialization, which includes Immigration and Ethnicity;  Health / Mental Health;  Networks and Community;  Crime and Socio-Legal Studies;  Gender and Family (see below); Stratification, Work, and Labour Markets;  Political Sociology; Sociology of Culture; Social Policy; Life Course and Aging; Urban Sociology; Social Demography; Sociological Theory; and Research Methods.
  • Core courses will be offered every other year in the seven areas of Immigration and Ethnicity;  Health / Mental Health;  Networks and Community;  Crime and Socio-Legal Studies;  Gender and Family (see below);  Stratification, Work, and Labour Markets; and Political Sociology.  The required courses of Theory and Methods will be offered yearly.
  • Specific comprehensives in the specific areas of Gender or Family will be allowed as due course.  When this area was created during the 2004 Stepping Up planning process, it was created with the understanding that these were two distinct areas that warranted separate comprehensive exams.  To clarify, exams will be in either Gender or Family, not Gender and Family.  A student could take both a Gender exam and a Family exam to fulfill the requirement of two comprehensive exams in distinct areas.
  • Areas of comprehensive exams may change over time. Requests to supplement or change the currently offered areas must come from a group of at least 4 faculty in a new or developing area. These requests will be considered by the Executive Committee and brought to the Faculty for approval.
  • No comprehensives in other areas will be offered by the department.
Appointment of Comprehensive Exam Committees
  • In each comprehensive exam area, the Associate Graduate Chair with the approval of the Chair of the Graduate Department and in consultation with area faculty will appoint a standing committee of three faculty members each year, normally for a two year term. It is assumed that there will be rotation of faculty in each area on the standing comp committee areas.
  • For areas in which there is a core or required course, the faculty member teaching a core or required course in the area in the past 2 years will normally be one of the faculty on the committee.
  • Each year, the Graduate Office will post the names of Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam committee members on the website.
  • For the first year that this comprehensive exam system is implemented, one person will be appointed for three years, one person for two years and the third for one year.  After this, faculty will normally be appointed for two year terms.
  • If a committee member cannot fulfill her/his complete term due to an unplanned research or other leave that comes up during their term, the committee member must notify the chair of area committee and the Associate Graduate  Chair as soon as possible.  A new committee member will be appointed to complete remaining time of the term.  The Associate Graduate Chair will make the appointment in consultation with the area and with the approval of the Chair of the Graduate Department.
Responsibilities of Area Comprehensive Exam Committees
  • Each committee will designate a chair of the area examination committee.  The chair will  notify the Associate Graduate Chair that s/he is chair for that year.  The chair will be responsible for ensuring her/his area updates the reading list by March 1st  of that year (see below), is responsible for ensuring the exam committee meets with each student (either individually or in groups) at least once before students take their exam (see below) and is responsible for ensuring the exam committee marks the exam in the designated time frame (see below).
  • The area committee of three faculty will set the examination questions in each area each year for each scheduled date, given that students have applied to take the comprehensive on a specific date.   The committee must submit questions to the Graduate Office one week prior to the examination date (if there are students taking the exam in their area).
  • In terms of structure of the examination questions, it is recommended that there be three sections A, B, C.  Each section should have two questions from which the student will choose one to answer.  Sections A and B will usually have broader theoretical, substantive, and methodological questions.  Section C may have questions that apply a bit more specifically to a student’s interest.  For example, a student may be asked to apply general theoretical issues in the field to an area of their interest.  Or a student may be asked to place their interest within the larger issues/questions/debates in the field.
  • Comprehensive exam committees are responsible for making themselves available to meet with and for maintaining contact with students taking comprehensives in a given year.  Committees must be available to meet as a whole with students taking the examination at least once prior to the exam.
Reading Lists
  • Area reading lists are developed by all faculty in each area, not just exam committee members.
  • Reading lists must be organized according to modules for subfield areas with books, chapters or articles related to that topic listed underneath.  Reading lists are not to be an alphabetical ordered list of books.
  • For the seven major areas plus theory and methods, there will be a core plus supplemental readings for each module decided on by March 1st each year. Faculty supply both the core and supplemental readings.  This reading list will be submitted to the Graduate Program committee and approved by March 31st each year.  Supplemental reading lists for each module contain 3-4 readings.
  • There will be a minimum of 150 and a maximum of 200 readings in each list, in article units. A book will count as five articles if it involves over 200 pages of assigned reading, as three articles if between 100-200 pages of assigned reading, and one article if less than 100 pages of assigned reading. Chapters and articles are considered equal. Any reading list with at least 20 books may have an upper limit of 240 readings.
  • Students will read all of the core readings in each module.  They must choose two modules where they will complete the supplemental readings.  The core readings plus two modules of supplemental readings constitute the entire reading the student completes. Students should not expect a question based solely on their supplemental readings.  Rather these readings will add to their knowledge of specific subareas.
  • Students wishing to take a comprehensive in the following year may apply to the standing committee before March 1st each year to suggest changes and additions to the current reading list.  These changes will apply to all students taking the comprehensive the following year. It is assumed that these suggestions speak to new directions in the area in general, or missing components of the current reading list.
  • Reading lists will be posted on the Sociology Departmental Website.  Students will access the reading lists in this way.
Dates for taking Comprehensive Exams
  • There will be three dates each year on which comprehensives are held: one date will be set in early September, one in late June, and one in January.
  • Students must notify the Graduate Office eight weeks prior to the exam date that they will be taking the exam.
  • In the case of a student failing their first comprehensive exam, the area exam committee, in consultation with the Graduate Office, has some discretion for setting a date to retake the exam.
Marking the Comprehensive Exam
  • Exams will be graded according to the current system as either a “pass” or “fail”.
  • Comprehensive exam committees must submit their assessment of the exam to the Graduate Office within 4 weeks of the date of the exam.  The chair of each exam committee is responsible for ensuring this takes place.
  • Before handing in assessments to the Graduate Office, committee members should have a discussion of their individual assessments.  This should occur especially in the case of split decisions and/or decisions to fail a student.
  • The chair of the comprehensive exam committee will write a summary of the comments to be given to the student.
  • If a student fails the first take of the exam, the student may take the exam a second time.  The student must take the exam in the same area and within one year of the date of the first exam.
  • If the student fails the exam the second time, current rules and regulations apply, including the student’s right to appeal to the Standing Committee overseeing appeals and the department’s right to  recommend to SGS that the student no longer be eligible to continue in the Ph.D. program.