PhD Curriculum

Learn more about the graduate courses available in the Development Sociology PhD program: 

Core Courses

These course recommendations exist for several reasons. First, in a rapidly changing and interdisciplinary field such as Development Sociology, there still remains a need for graduate degree holders to have some common core of training. Second, students with this basic theoretical and methodological background are at a competitive advantage in the current job market, both academic and non-academic. Third, given that the Field sometimes admits graduate students without sociological theory and methodology training, such students will particularly benefit from taking this core before going on for a PhD. Equivalent core courses may be substituted from Cornell or elsewhere, with permission of your special committee chair. Graduate fields at Cornell, including Development Sociology, have no mandatory course work requirements nor credit hours to be earned, and courses can be taken within any school or department at Cornell. However, the Field of Development Sociology has a set of four core courses which are highly recommended to all students. They should be completed within the first year for all MS/PhD students, regardless of when the MS is completed.

The four Core Courses are:

  • Classical Sociological Theory
  • Sociological Theories of Development
  • Quantitative Methods
  • Qualitative Methods

It is important that all students entering Development Sociology take these courses in a similar sequence in order to maximize the cohort effect of learning similar subjects within a similar group of people. This may not always be possible, but is strongly encouraged by the Field.

Since course offerings vary from year to year, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies to help plan your schedule.

We feel that all graduate students should enter the program with or otherwise take at least one entry-level statistical method such as Statistics for the Social Sciences course offered through Cornell's Industrial and Labor Relations School (ILRST 5100) or Statistical Methods offered through Biometry (BTRY 6010) (other equivalents exist). The former is offered both Fall and Spring semesters; the latter in Fall and Summer. We are aware that this prescription, both in content and timing, is challenging, especially for students with little previous theory and methods in sociology. The advantage of this demanding first-year plan is that you will have considerable freedom in your second year to tackle your Master’s thesis and be well prepared from a course-standpoint to accomplish it. 


The graduate program in Development Sociology is noted for its ability to provide training that is tailored to the research interests of each individual student while simultaneously ensuring a sound grounding in sociology. Graduate students, in conjunction with their Special Committee, craft a program of study that draws from all across the university. The core courses provide a sociological foundation from which to pursue this course of inquiry. Overall, the graduate program is organized into three concentrations:

Focuses on theoretical, methodological and applied aspects of population and development in both developing countries and the United States from a social demography perspective emphasis on links between population, food and environmental sustainability, fertility, and population movements. 

Core Members:

Emphasis on environmental equity and rural sustainability, social carrying capacity and the nexus between poverty and resource allocation, access and use, and devolution of power and responsibility. 

Core Members:

Affiliate Members:

  • Combines themes of political and economic sociology, within macro- and micro-comparative and historical approaches
  • Emphasizes general training in the social change and development area to enhance students' credentials for general sociology programs
  • Views development as less the analysis of the Third World, and more the analysis of global and local processes with broad variation.

Core Members: 

Affiliate Members:

Special Committee

The special committee consists of two or more faculty chosen to guide the student’s work in specific subject matter areas. Members assist in course selection, thesis and PhD preparation, and examine the student in "A" and "B" exams. Members of special committees serve on a mutually agreed upon basis. Students may elect to change members of their special committee, and faculty may also resign from a special committee.

  • Must be a faculty member of the Field of Development Sociology
  • Must represent one of the three major concentrations currently offered by the Field

Other members of a graduate student's special committee guide the student's training in minor subject areas.

  • Two members required: the chairperson and a minor member
  • The minor can be offered by the Field of Development Sociology or by another field

Choosing an "internal minor" (namely, Development Sociology or Methods of Social Research) tends to be most advantageous for students with little advanced preparation in Development Sociology.

  • Three committee members required
  • The third member must represent either a concentration from another field or a concentration in Development Sociology other than that represented by the Chair. 

Within Development Sociology, some graduate students are "internationally oriented" while others focus on the United States or Canada. Still others pursue a domestic/international orientation and select their courses and committee members accordingly. 

2-year timeline for MS degree

  • Settle in
  • Start taking core courses
  • Attend department meetings
  • Attend department seminars
  • Attend listening sessions with Department Chair and DGS
  • Attend luncheons with DGS and GFA
  • Attend “Meet and Greets” with department faculty
  • Think about who will be on your Special Committee (talk with faculty!)
  • Join department committees as the graduate student representative
  • Begin Researching external fellowship opportunities for the following year
  • Finish taking core courses
  • Must form Special Committee (at least two members for Master's)
  • Start thinking about a Master’s thesis topic
  • Continue attending department meetings, seminars, listening sessions, etc.
  • Apply for department/Cornell/external funding for the summer and the following year
  • Select a Master’s thesis topic with your Special Committee and start researching it
  • Start taking major and minor area courses
  • Continue socialization within department and with your outside research area(s)
  • Apply for external fellowships to fund field research next year
  • Continuing taking major and minor area courses
  • Continue with in-depth research and begin writing your Master’s thesis
  • Continue socialization within department and with your outside research area(s)
  • Apply for department/Cornell funding for the summer and the following year (if you are not doing field research)
  • Start discussing a date for your Master’s thesis defense with your Special Committee
  • Finish writing thesis and sit for defense!
  • Submit thesis for degree conferral

In order to get a PhD in the field, a student will:

  • complete an acceptable Master's degree
  • be granted change of status to the PhD program
    • The committee chair must write a letter of support
    • Core course requirements are completed
    • Field faculty will vote to admit student to the PhD program
    • Student adds a third member to the special committee
  • pass the Admission to Candidacy Examination (the A exam)
    • covers all of the student’s program up to that point
    • usually consists of written answers to take-home questions from each committee member and an oral examination of several hours
    • doctoral dissertation topic has been decided
    • have planning in place for dissertation fieldwork            
  • write and defend a doctoral dissertation (the B exam)
  • present research in a department seminar

Additionally, the student must complete six "residence units." Practically speaking, this means at least six semesters of satisfactory work, two of which may be done at the Master's level and some of which may be accrued during fieldwork.