Development Sociology Ph.D. (Ithaca)

Field of Study

Development Studies

Program Description

Our doctoral program in Development Studies focuses on ‘development,’ a central and contested concept that gained prominence after World War II, which implies progressive change towards improving economies and people’s well-being while conserving nature at local, regional, and global scales. Faculty and graduate students in the field of Development Studies study processes of social, cultural, ecological, economic, and political change, and the historical and contemporary forces that shape those dynamics. They also study the organizations and actors that engage in development-related processes and the practices, knowledge, and forms of expertise they bring to bear on their work.

An interdisciplinary field, Development Studies draws from a wide range of disciplines, including sociology, economics, political science, human geography, anthropology, history, Indigenous and postcolonial studies, and the natural and technical sciences. Our doctoral students study in a range of contexts, some working directly with communities around the globe, others exploring large data sets or studying institutions as they seek to understand the complexities behind development and its impacts on people and the planet.

The program offers preparation for research, for the application of social sciences in government positions, the non-profit sector, consulting, and think tanks, and for college teaching in development studies and related fields.

For the Ph.D. degree, students are expected to demonstrate (1) a thorough knowledge of social theory in development studies, with special emphasis on theories in their major concentration, (2) knowledge of previous and current research pertinent to the concentration, and (3) knowledge of multiple research methods, including qualitative and quantitative, with special emphasis on research design, data collection, and analytical techniques relevant to study in the concentration.

Students are admitted into the Ph.D. program. If they do not have a M.S. degree in Development Studies or a related discipline, they will complete a qualifying paper or M.S. thesis as part of their training.

Research and study opportunities
Faculty in the field rely on a wide range of domestic and international funding to support research and graduate students. Graduate students also successfully apply for a wide range of internal and external grants for their fieldwork, such as the Wenner Gren fellowship, National Science Foundation and Fulbright fellowships.
Students and faculty members are actively conducting research around the globe, both in the United States and elsewhere. Although some doctoral dissertations are based on field-collected data, other candidates rely on rich secondary-data resources, working closely with the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER) and the various libraries on campus.

Faculty members also participate in other fields such as Natural Resources, City and Regional Planning, Anthropology, Crop and Soil Sciences, in the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and in the area studies programs for Africa, Latin America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Several of those programs have supported dissertation research overseas. The department is also home to the Polson Institute for Global Development, which funds assorted working group research initiatives in the U.S. and abroad.

Contact Information


Mann Library B75
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY  14853

Concentrations by Subject

  • development sociology (minor)
  • methods of social research (minor)
  • population and development
  • rural and environmental sociology
  • state, economy, and society


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Application Requirements and Deadlines

Application Deadlines:

Fall, Dec. 1; no spring admission

Requirements Summary:

Learning Outcomes

Students in the field of Development Studies engage in theoretical and applied research, teaching, and outreach on the causes, dynamics, and consequences of social, cultural, political and economic change.

The program offers preparation for academic careers in development studies, sociology, rural sociology, geography and related fields, and for applied careers in development studies, including development work in the United States and other countries.

For the Ph.D. degree, students are expected to demonstrate (1) a thorough knowledge of social theory, with special emphasis on theories in their academic concentrations, (2) comprehensive knowledge of the body of work that is pertinent to their concentrations, and (3) knowledge of multiple research methods, with special emphasis on research design, data collection, and analytical techniques used in the discipline.

Learning Goals

By the time you graduate from our program, you should be able to analyze the world as a social scientist with expertise in development studies. This means that you will be able to synthesize a range of social science and related technical knowledge and apply it to today’s problems. You should be able to think critically and independently and generate research that makes a substantial contribution to the field.  We offer courses that foster foundational skills in both theory and method, and we provide courses that teach specialized skills in sub-areas that are central to Development Studies.  You should be able to use what you learn here to enter a career in academia, in the public or private sector, or in development practice.

Students in our field must be able to convey the results of their research in writing and through their spoken abilities. You will be given ample opportunity to prepare your research for presentation in coursework and eventually at conferences. It will be important to organize material for a clear and concise presentation and to adhere to time guidelines. When you are ready to present your work at professional meetings, we will encourage an in-house public presentation first, so that you can receive constructive feedback on the substance or your work and your presentation style.

It is critical that Development Studies scholars be aware of and able to adhere to ethical guidelines regarding the conduct and dissemination of their research, whether the research is an individual project or a collaborative one. Students in our program must take part in Institutional Review Board (IRB) training and any research involving human subjects must receive IRB approval before it is begun.

A candidate for a Ph.D. in Development Studies is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in theory and method and to be able to make original and significant contributions to the field upon completion of her/his degree. 

Proficiencies that are required to be demonstrated by the candidate:

Make an original and substantial contribution to the discipline through the following:

  • Demonstrate your understanding of the field of knowledge in our discipline
  • Be able to identify new research opportunities 
  • Be able to identify an important research question
  • Think critically and creatively
  • Synthesize knowledge and apply in important innovative research 

Acquire and communicate advanced research skills

  • Synthesize existing knowledge
  • Master existing quantitative and qualitative research methods 
  • Master oral and written communication skills for conveying information clearly and effectively

A commitment to advancing scholarship

  • Gain and maintain familiarity with core knowledge and advances in the field