Skip to main content

PhD Program

Students and faculty in the Program are committed to working toward deeper understanding of scientific knowledge in its full cultural and historical context. The Program offers students an opportunity to integrate the perspectives developed within the anthropology of science, communication of science, history of science, sociology of science, and philosophy of science, while receiving a thorough training at the professional level in one of those disciplines.

For further information, download the 2021-2022 Graduate Student Handbook (PDF). 

Outline of Study

Students enrolled in the Program choose one of the five disciplines -- Anthropology, Communication, History, Philosophy, or Sociology -- for their major field of specialist studies, and are required to complete minor field requirements in the others. The core of the Program, however, is a sequence of courses in Science Studies, led by faculty from all five participating Departments.

The academic year at UC San Diego runs from mid-September to mid-June. Formal teaching is given in three "quarters," each ten weeks in length.

Science Studies students, like other graduate students at UC San Diego, generally spend their first two or three years taking courses for credit. Most graduate courses in Science Studies take the form of small group seminars or independent study under the guidance of a faculty member. Most courses are graded primarily on the basis of written papers or essays, which may entail substantial reading and research. Not uncommon, such papers become the basis for chapters of the student's dissertation, or for articles that are later submitted for publication.

Students are normally expected to take three courses per quarter, or a total (spread over at least two years) of eighteen courses. Precise specifications of required courses differ among the Departments participating in the Science Studies Program; details are given in the respective Departments' guides to graduate study. In addition to those taken for credit, students may audit further courses (i.e. participate without being examined or graded). After completing coursework and other departmental requirements, the student prepares a Dissertation Prospectus in consultation with his or her advisor, setting out a description and justification of the proposed research, and an outline of its argument and presentation. The student is then examined orally on the prospectus, by a doctoral committee consisting of faculty from the student's "home" and other departments. Once the prospectus has been approved, the student is formally advanced to candidacy, and can work full-time on the research (insofar as other commitments allow). When the dissertation is completed, it is examined by the doctoral committee, which recommends whether the Ph.D. degree should be awarded.


The Program faculty recommend that students in Science Studies, whichever their "home" Department, should have first-hand experience of scientific practice as part of their graduate studies. Internships might include a period of work in a scientific laboratory, a science museum or archive, participation in scientific fieldwork or an expedition, working at a preservation laboratory, hospital, regulatory agency, etc. A report from the internship is part of the basis for grading and evaluation in the program. Program faculty mentors assist students by helping them plan their internships and by using their contacts in scientific departments at UC San Diego or elsewhere. Students are encouraged to contact the program director or relevant faculty for details.

Students who, before enrolling in the Program, have had substantial practical experience in some aspects of scientific work may apply for a waiver of the requirement to undertake an internship, but will still be required to write a report reflecting on that earlier experience.

Language Requirements

All students enrolled in the Program are encouraged to equip themselves with linguistic skills sufficient to ensure that their choice of topics for research is not adversely restricted to those in which all the relevant literature is in English. For many students in Science Studies this will entail having, or acquiring, a reading knowledge of at least one language other than English.

Students enrolled in the Departments of Communication and History are required to demonstrate a basic reading competence in one language other than English, before advancing to candidacy; details about how this may be fulfilled are given in the Department al Graduate Handbook. The choice of language must be approved by the student's advisor, and must be clearly relevant to the prospective field of research. Students whose native language fulfills that condition may apply for the language requirement to be waived. Conversely, a student's advisor may set a requirement of more than one language other than English, if the proposed field of the dissertation makes that desirable.

Students enrolled in the Department of Philosophy are required to demonstrate reading proficiency in either German, French, Latin or Classical Greek. Competence in a second language may be required if, in the judgment of the student's advisor, the proposed dissertation topic makes that desirable. The language requirement must be met before the student can advance to candidacy.