1. Standards and Expectations

A qualifying paper (QP) is a piece of original research (empirical or theoretical) that is ideally the first step toward a publication.  A QP, particularly the first QP, is part of the learning process about how to conduct original research that contributes to the discipline.  Many QPs ultimately become published journal articles or components of a larger product (e.g., dissertation or book).

a. Qualifying Paper Proposal - Before beginning a qualifying paper, students must write a short (typically about 5 page) proposal.  The proposal should: specify the research question; discuss the potential contribution of the work to sociology relative to past research; and provide a timeline of the proposed work.  For empirical QPs, the proposal additionally describes the data to be collected or analyzed and the proposed method of analysis.  QPs using quantitative secondary data analysis should include a discussion (or table) describing the proposed dependent, independent, and control variables.  The QP proposal should be submitted to your reading committee (see information on committee structure in section VI.2) for feedback and revision before scheduling a QP sign-on meeting (see information on QP sign-on meeting in section VI.3.a).

b. Content of the Qualifying Paper - A qualifying paper should be similar to a single journal article in the scope of the research question (i.e., well focused and delimited), data, and findings as well as in its length.  As such, a QP is typically 20-30 pages long plus any references, endnotes, tables, and appendices (as relevant).  Each paper should demonstrate a careful and thorough consideration of a sociological problem and clearly articulate the contribution of the research to the discipline.  One of the qualifying papers may be theoretical but at least one QP must be empirical.  QPs can use any substantive and/or methodological approach (e.g., analysis of survey data, textual analysis, interviews, field work).  As such, they vary in style and structure.  (Note that if your project involves research with human subjects, you must get IRB approval before collecting any data.  See section XII.1 below.)  We encourage you to take the Writing Seminar as a course when you are working to complete your first QP because this facilitates the development and completion of the qualifying paper.   To ensure breadth and proficiency in more than a single sub-area of sociology, the two qualifying papers must focus on topics that are significantly different from one another.  The committee structure (see section VI.2) helps ensure that the foci of the QPs are distinct.

2. Committee Structure

Each committee has a lead reader and two secondary readers.  The lead readers for the two qualifying papers must be different.  In addition, the two QP committees may have only a one-reader overlap. Thus, the two qualifying paper committees together include five or six different faculty members per graduate student.  This structure encourages intellectual and methodological breadth, and ensures that each student interacts intellectually with multiple faculty members.  Committee members may include regular sociology faculty and one affiliated graduate faculty member in sociology.

3. Sign-On & Sign-Off Meetings 

a.  Sign-On Meeting – Upon approval of the QP committee members, the student schedules a meeting with the committee to discuss the content and direction of the project.  This meeting lasts approximately one hour.  During the meeting, committee members and the student should discuss and agree upon the research question and conceptual framing of the project as well as the data and methods (when relevant).  The committee members and the student should also agree to a written timeline for the proposed work and for communication between the student and committee members (e.g., a progress report every month or two, monthly meeting with the lead reader, etc.).  Upon successful completion of the sign-on meeting, the committee members and the Graduate Director sign the QPI/QPII proposal form.  This form should be submitted to the sociology graduate administrator.

At the end of the QP sign-on meeting, the committee members should discuss the division of labor and work plan for supervising the student (e.g., work closely with the primary reader before distributing to other committee members, send all drafts to all committee members simultaneously, etc.).

b.  Sign-Off Meeting – Upon approval of the QP committee members, the student schedules a final sign-off meeting with the committee.  This meeting is scheduled only after the student has completed and revised the qualifying paper in consultation with the committee members.  (The process of writing a qualifying paper typically involves multiple drafts and recurrent interaction with your committee members as agreed upon in the sign-on meeting).  During the meeting, the student briefly presents the key results and conclusions of the research (about five minutes).  The student and committee members discuss whether there are remaining issues to be addressed before the committee agrees to “sign off” on the paper, and discuss strategies for moving the paper toward publication or inclusion in future work (e.g., dissertation).  Upon successful completion of the meeting, the committee members and the Graduate Director sign the Qualifying Paper Evaluation form as well as the MA or PhD Candidacy form.  These forms should be submitted to the sociology graduate administrator.

4. Students Entering with an M.A./M.S. from another Program

The department does not accept a prior Master’s thesis in lieu of one of our qualifying papers.  A student entering the Rutgers graduate program in sociology with an M.A. or M.S. who wrote a thesis may, however, use his/her thesis as the basis for one qualifying paper.  To do so, the student assembles a three-reader committee (see section VI.2) that reads the thesis and provides feedback on the steps required to make the work into a qualifying paper that meets departmental standards.  The conditions may range from minor to more substantial revisions in content, approach, style, methods, etc.  All restrictions on committee membership noted in section VI.2 apply.

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