Department of Demography

PhD Oral (Qualifying) Exams

Students in the Ph.D. program must pass an oral qualifying examination before they can be advanced to candidacy. Students are responsible for making all arrangements for the exam including: 1) filling out the necessary paperwork with help from the Graduate Assistant at least 3 weeks in advance of your expected exam date, 2) forming an examination committee (see below) with the advice and consent of the Graduate Advisor and/or other faculty members, 3) scheduling a date and time for the exam that is agreeable to all committee members, and 4) preparing reading lists for the two specialized sections of the exam (see below), which must be approved by the Graduate Advisor. 5) providing copies of the final reading lists, plus the two designated "showpiece" articles, to all committee members at least two weeks before the exam.


The examination committee must have four members. Students should choose committee members to achieve an appropriate balance in light of their chosen areas of specialization (see below). Two members of the examination committee must be regular faculty of the Department of Demography (Hammel, Johnson-Hanks, Lee, Wachter, and Wilmoth). One of these individuals should be designated as chair of the orals committee, although note that the chair of the orals committee cannot also serve as chair of the studentīs dissertation committee.

The third "inside member" can be either a regular or an affiliated faculty of the Department. (For a current list of affiliated faculty, please refer to the description of the Demography program in the General Catalog.) Professors from other departments on the Berkeley campus who are not formally designated as affiliates of the Department may serve as the third inside member with approval from the Graduate Advisor. Visiting professors or faculty from other campuses may serve as an inside member with approval of the Graduate Dean.

One member of the committee must be from outside the Department. Graduate Division guidelines require that the designated "outside member" must belong to the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate. In other words, the outside member must be regular faculty in another department on the Berkeley campus. Exceptions to this rule are not possible.

Affiliated faculty of the Department of Demography may serve as either the third inside member, or as the sole outside member of the examination committee. Sociology/Demography students should refer to the program description for further details on selection of oral exam committees specific to their program.


Students are tested in three subject areas, which must include General Demography plus two specialized fields chosen by the student in consultation with the Graduate Advisor. There can be considerable flexibility in the choice of the areas of specialization, but they must not duplicate field exams or other requirements for degrees being earned in other departments. Typical choices include: Fertility, Mortality, Mathematical Demography, Economic Demography, Anthropological Demography, Migration, Historical Demography, Family/Kinship, etc.


Reading lists should be prepared by the student for the specialized areas. These lists should be comparable in scope and length to a one-semester course syllabus on the topic. If the student has attended a specialized course on the topic, s/he may wish to use the syllabus for that course as the basis for assembling the reading list, though usually with some modifications to reflect his/her own interests. Each reading list should be organized into sections based on thematic content. Students should consult with the exam committee members who are most knowledgeable in each specialized area and then obtain final approval of their reading lists from the Graduate Advisor at least one month prior to the exam.

Each of the two specialized reading lists must contain one article (or chapter, if appropriate) that is designated as a "showpiece." The article chosen for this purpose should have analytical depth and be regarded as a major contribution to the broader subject area. Students should be familiar with all aspects (theory, data, methods, policy implications, etc.) of these articles and be prepared to discuss them in detail.


Students should think about three aspects of preparation for this examination. First, the General Demography section is a test of "what every young demographer should know and be able to explain clearly." Sample questions include: "What is a synthetic cohort?," "What is the range of TFRs observed for national populations in the world today?," "What is the demographic transition?," "What are stable and stationary populations?," etc. Clarity of presentation is especially important in this section of the exam.

Second, the two specialized sections of the exam are a test of whether the student could prepare to teach a graduate-level semester course on either of these topics. Students will be asked to demonstrate a broad and detailed knowledge of their chosen areas, although they are not expected to prepare full lectures on specific subjects for sake of the orals exam. Students may also be asked to comment on possibilities for further research in their specialized areas; for example, they could be asked to respond to a question like, "What open questions remain in this area?"

Third, the two showpiece articles are a test of whether the student can give an in-depth evaluation of a specific piece of scholarly research. The student should demonstrate not only a thorough knowledge of the authorīs methods, arguments, and findings, but also an ability to analyze the general problem considered in the article and to propose alternative approaches.