PhD Program in Anthropology

PhD Program in Anthropology

The PhD program in anthropology is designed to provide a relatively broad background in the field with a primary emphasis on sociocultural anthropology. Major foci are in history and anthropology, symbolic systems, economic anthropology, medical anthropology, complex societies, and development. Geographic strengths are greatest in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian studies. Those students particularly interested in development studies can also pursue a PhD with a concentration in this field.

Prerequisites and Admissions Test

Applicants should have obtained the BA or MA degree in anthropology or show evidence of equivalent preparation in social science subjects. The Department also requires an official record of the results of the Graduate Record Examination General Test. The application process itself is administered by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, which sets the University requirements, fees, and deadlines.

Course Requirements

In the first stage of the program, candidates are expected to prepare themselves in general anthropological research methods and theories, as well as develop competence in their specific area (or areas) of specialization. This is accomplished by means of coursework, reading, and directed research during the period of residence. The University requires that students entering with a bachelor’s degree must successfully complete at least 16 graduate semester courses for the PhD degree. (Those students who enter the program with a qualifying master’s degree must successfully complete 9 graduate semester courses for the PhD degree.) All PhD students must take three semesters of the departmental proseminar (AN 703, 704, and 705) and a course in research methods.

In addition to these core requirements, students specializing in sociocultural anthropology must take at least two anthropology courses in social or cultural theory, and one anthropology course focusing on the ethnography of a specific geographical region outside their area. Students specializing in biological anthropology must take at least three of the 500-level courses offered by the department in that area.

To ensure a well-rounded education in general anthropology, the programs of students specializing in biological anthropology must include at least one course in each of the following areas: anthropology of language, and archaeology. Similarly, sociocultural anthropology students must take one course in each of the following areas: linguistics, and the archaeology or history of research area. Students with adequate previous training in any of these areas may petition the Graduate Committee for exemption from the relevant parts of this distributional requirement. The remaining coursework should be chosen in consultation with the student’s academic advisor to create a coherent program of study that may include courses from other departments.

Remaining Courses

The remaining courses should be chosen to produce a coherent program of study suited to the student’s research and career objectives. It may consist of specific courses (including ones in other disciplines), sub-fields, techniques, methods or “schools” of anthropology.

Students admitted as post-MA PhD candidates are expected to meet the same requirements as all other candidates (other than the eight courses, which they will have already completed). If they have not previously received training in the required areas, they will have to do so either by taking courses in addition to the eight required for the degree or by sitting for an examination in the sub-field. Students may petition to count specific graduate-level courses in these areas toward those required for the degree if they are directly related to their overall plan of study.

Language Requirement

Before taking the comprehensive examination, all students must demonstrate mastery of a scholarly language (other than English) that is relevant to their proposed area of research.  If the only such language is English, any other major foreign language can meet the requirement.  Students undertaking social or cultural fieldwork are expected to master the local language of their field site; this may be the same as the scholarly language in some cases.  Mastery is normally indicated by the successful completion of three years of college language study or its equivalent.  More may be required depending on the specific language.

During the first term of enrollment, students should give the Director of Graduate Studies a plan for meeting this requirement.  Students must apply to the Director of Graduate Studies for the final approval of this requirement.

PhD Qualifying Examination and Thesis Prospectus

Each student must pass a written and an oral PhD qualifying examination given by members of the advisory committee. The examination covers (1) general anthropological method and theory, (2) a subdisciplinary topic, and (3) at least one geographical area outside the United States for sociocultural anthropologists, or research specialization for biological anthropologists. The purpose of the examination is to determine whether a student will be recommended to continue working toward the PhD degree. Following successful completion of the oral comprehensive/qualifying examination, the student is expected to prepare a proposal defining the research problem for the PhD dissertation. This should be submitted no later than one semester after passing the qualifying examination. The proposal will include a statement of the theory, research methods, or techniques to be employed, and the significance of the research. Written under the guidance of the advisory committee, the prospectus will be presented orally to the PhD advisory committee. All members of the faculty and the graduate student body are encouraged to attend these presentations. Normally, dissertation research begins immediately after the examination of the proposal and continues for at least one calendar year.


Departmental approval of the dissertation proposal is obtained through successful presentation as outlined above. Two members of the faculty will supervise the candidate as she/he prepares the dissertation. The goal is a dissertation that makes an original contribution to knowledge, presented clearly, precisely, and in good literary style.

Final Oral Examination

Upon completion of the dissertation, each candidate will present a final oral examination before a committee of five members of the Department. The examination is based primarily on the dissertation and related problems in the field of specialization.

View our PhD Student Handbook.

View our Unofficial Grad Student Guide.

View the Graduate Student Organization’s Survival Guide