January 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 1

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New PhD Program at the
University of Louisville
Focuses on Applied Sociology

Patricia Gagne, Graduate Coordinator, and Cynthia Negrey, Department Chair

The first cohort of PhD students in the Department of Sociology at the University of Louisville began their studies in the fall of 2010. The program prepares PhD students to conduct research in applied settings as well as more traditional academic careers, an unusual twist among doctoral programs in sociology.


Building upon master’s-level training in classical theory, methods, and statistics, PhD sociology students at the University of Louisville are required to take a proseminar that orients them to the department and professional work in the discipline, theoretically-oriented courses in contemporary theory and fundamental assumptions of sociology, as well as qualitative methods, advanced multivariate modeling, social policy, program evaluation and policy analysis, and electives in one or more substantive areas. After course work is completed in the first two years of the program (full-time), students are required to undertake a one-semester internship in a local setting by which students obtain applied research experience. Among this first cohort, students anticipate internships with a prison pre-release program, a school district office, a GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender) organization, and a police department. These are only a few examples of the possibilities. After completing the applied research internship, students defend the research report about their internship before an academic committee and then present it to the client organization.

The department’s goal is to maximize graduates’ versatility in methods training as well as applied or academic career pursuits. Subsequent to the internship, students take comprehensive exams in three areas—methods, theory, and a substantive specialty area—and then enter candidacy to write and defend the dissertation. The dissertation may be based on data gathered during the internship project or on other data.

Supporting the Community

The applied focus of the PhD program in sociology at the University of Louisville was one of its main selling points in gaining support among upper administrators. It is consistent with the university’s recently established Signature Partnership Initiative (SPI) and its mission of community engagement. The SPI provides a framework for collaborative, interdisciplinary scholarship and outreach in the Louisville metro area. In particular, the SPI engages corporate and business leaders, public sector officials, community leaders, and the university in a focused effort to improve the quality of life of residents in West Louisville, an area populated disproportionately by low-income African-Americans.

In addition to internship and data collection opportunities associated with this West Louisville focus, there are numerous other opportunities for community engagement in the Louisville area. Louisville is situated in a county (Jefferson) with a population of almost 700,000. The area experienced deindustrialization, but the major employer today, UPS, has been the driving force in a transition over the last two decades to a regional economy based on distribution. Although West Louisville has been hit hard by foreclosures, the housing bubble inflated less in the region more generally compared to the nation, and the housing crisis has been less severe.

While African-Americans are the largest racial/ethnic minority, the Louisville area has become increasingly diverse over the last two decades, with immigrants of predominately Asian and Hispanic heritage concentrated in "the South End."

The University of Louisville Medical School is located at the downtown campus, where the Sociology Department is located. A couple members of the Sociology faculty have specialties in medical sociology and health disparities. Other faculty specialties are in criminology, education, environmental, gender, race and ethnicity, sexualities, social movements, and work. In addition to qualitative and quantitative methods, students at Louisville can study visual sociological techniques.

The Urban Studies Institute on the Belknap Campus is home to the State Data Center, both rich sources of data and collaborative opportunities for those with interests in demography, urban sociology, and welfare, additional areas of faculty specialization. Louisville is near the Census Bureau National Processing Center in Jeffersonville, IN.

For more information about the new PhD program in the Sociology Department at the University of Louisville or about financial support, contact Patricia Gagne, Graduate Coordinator, or Jonetta Weber, Director of Academic Services. logosmall

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