Doctor of Philosophy in Social Science

The PhD in Social Science prepares students who wish to pursue a career in academia, policy research or consultancy related to the affairs of society, polity, or economy, broadly conceived. As with MPhil students, PhD students are assigned a thesis advisor and provided with a postgraduate studentship that carries with it the responsibilities of teaching/research assistance. Typically, students may choose to specialize either in the field of Political Economy, which covers areas of specialization in politics, economics, regional geography, international relations, or Social Relations and its attendant specialization in the disciplines of sociology, psychology, anthropology, and demography. To ensure that our PhD graduates have strong research skills, students are required to take the following four compulsory methodology courses regardless of their field of specialization.

Program Requirements

a) Students are required to take 27 credits of coursework, of which 12 must be from the following research methodology courses:

SOSC 5090 Quantitative Methods for Social Science Research
SOSC 5110 Social Science Research Design and Methods
SOSC 5170 Qualitative Research Methods
SOSC 5340 Econometric Approaches to Social Science Research
SOSC 5500 Computational Social Science
SOSC 5800 Causal Inference in Social Sciences
SOSC 5810 Introduction of Social Network


Subject to the approval of the supervisors and the PG Coordinator, PhD students may also take other advanced statistics or econometrics courses not specified in the list to meet the methodology course requirements.

For the remaining 15 credits, at least 9 credits have to be taken as taught courses and 6 credits among courses designated by the PG Committee as relating to the students’ major field of studies.

b) Students are required to complete and pass PDEV 6770D Professional Development in Humanities and Social Science. The 1 credit earned from PDEV 6770D cannot be counted toward the credit requirements. HKUST MPhil graduates in Social Science who have taken and passed this course before may be exempted from this requirement, subject to prior approval from the Division Head and PG Coordinator.

c) Complete and pass PDEV 6800D Introduction to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (for full-time student cohorts starting from Fall 2019/20).

d) Complete and pass SOSC6400 Research Postgraduate Students Seminar (for student cohorts starting from Fall 2019/20). The 1 credit earned from PDEV 6770D cannot be counted toward the credit requirements. HKUST MPhil graduates in Social Science who have taken and passed this course before may be exempted from this requirement, subject to prior approval from the Division Head and PG Coordinator.

Students admitted to the PhD (SOSC) program are allowed to transfer a maximum of 27 credits taken in their MPhil program offered by the Division of Social Science. In addition, students whose native language is not English, and do not have a TOEFL score of over 600 (paper-based total) or 250 (computer-based total) or 100 (internet-based total), or an IELTS score of 6.5 or above, or a score of 4 or above in “HKDSE English Language”, they are required to take a course on English writing offered by the Center for Language Education.

PhD Qualifying Examination

By the end of the third semester students are expected to nominate a supervisor in one of the areas of specialization listed above, and prepare for the qualifying examination in the chosen specialization under the guidance of the thesis supervisor. To qualify for doctoral status, students must pass the qualifying examination in their chosen field of specialization before the end of their fifth semester.

The examination assumes a four-hour written exam, which consists of two questions in each of the following three sections: a) general theories; b) research developments; and c) research methodologies. The examinee is required to answer one question from each of these three sections, to be graded by the student’s thesis committee, which also is responsible for composing the exam questions.

Possible grades include Excellent, Good, Pass, or Failure

The Doctoral Thesis

PhD Thesis Supervision Committee
The PhD thesis is conducted under the supervision of a thesis committee composed of at least three faculty members, one of whom would be designated the thesis supervisor and concurrently also the committee chair. At least one member is required to have the experience of successfully supervised one doctoral student. One member of this committee can be drawn from outside the Division.

PhD Thesis Prospectus Defense
The PhD candidate is required to present and defend a thesis prospectus within one semester after passing the qualifying examination. The thesis prospectus is a substantial research document that should clearly demonstrate the candidate’s ability to identify a significant research question, to be competently aware of the literature pertinent to the proposed research question, and to propose a detailed plan for advancing progress in the proposed area of research.

The prospectus must be provided to members of the thesis supervision committee at least two weeks before the scheduled date of the prospectus defense. The candidate is required to defend her prospectus in a two-hour session before members of the committee. The committee either recommends an unconditional approval or requests the candidate to further revise her prospectus with specific recommendations within a specified time period, after which the committee will decide, on evidence of the revisions submitted by the candidate whether or not the prospectus will be approved.

PhD Thesis Examination Committee
When a candidate is ready to submit her thesis for the degree examination, the Division will propose to elect a five-member thesis examination committee and present it to the Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science for approval. One committee member must be a faculty member from outside of the candidate’s department, whereas the other must be from outside the university. Membership on the thesis examination committee must be presented to the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School for approval at least six weeks prior to the scheduled oral examination date.



“The SOSC programs not only provide systematic quantitative and qualitative research training, but also a friendly, collegial environment in which to communicate with and learn from one another across social science disciplines.”

SHENG Zhiming
PhD in Social Science