Comprehensive Examination

When all the required coursework has been completed, and the Supervisory Committee is satisfied that the student is fully prepared, the student may prepare for the Comprehensive Examination. The purpose of the exam is to test the student’s grasp of major themes and research findings within the discipline of anthropology and ability to communicate their understanding clearly both orally and in writing. Fieldwork for the dissertation cannot be undertaken until the examination is passed.

Most students complete their Comprehensive Examination within two years and are admitted to candidacy. The Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (FoGS) requires any student who has not been admitted to candidacy within a period of three years from the date of initial registration to withdraw from the program. Extensions may be permitted by the Dean of Graduate Studies under exceptional circumstances.

Preparation for Comprehensives

By January of their second year, students will have (in consultation and with the approval of their committee):

  1. Identified three areas of expertise: two topical or theoretical areas (typically one more general sub-field of anthropology (e.g. political anthropology), one particular area of specialization and one ethnographic area in which the student will be examined).
  2. Submitted a schedule for completion of the comprehensive examination.
  3. Prepared three thematically organized annotated bibliographies in consultation with their committee. The bibliographies should reflect the significant works in the subfields in which the student plans to work and should provide a foundation for research and teaching in the subfields. Two should focus on subfields relevant to the student’s area of interest; the third should focus on the appropriate geographic or ethnographic region in which the student plans to carry out research. Each bibliography is limited to 30 items and can be no longer than 15 pages (single-spaced), 12 pt, 1″ margins. They must be approved by the student’s supervisory committee. The bibliographies are public statements that are kept on file in the Graduate Office for consultation by other graduate students and faculty.
  4. Submit a dissertation research proposal (maximum length 25 pages), 12 pt. A copy of the proposal must be submitted to the Graduate Office upon completion of the Comprehensive Examination. Students are encouraged to consult proposals on file while composing their own.

A research proposal should include the following features:

(a) Clear statement of the thesis;
(b) Discussion which includes the intended contributions of the research to scholarship and the public including, where relevant, community of study);
(c) Information on how the research will be done including: feasibility in terms of time requirements, access to data, etc.; outline of research methods to be used; identification of ethical issues and means of addressing them. (Students will normally submit a request for research ethics approval after their comprehensive exam.)

The Comprehensive Examination

Once the committee members are satisfied that the annotated bibliographies and the proposal are ready for examination, the supervisor contacts the Chair of the AGSC to arrange for the Comprehensive Examination. The supervisor may suggest possible examiners, but the Examining Committee as a whole must be approved by the AGSC. Examinations must be completed no later than three months prior to the FoGS deadline and must take place during one of the two examination periods:

  1. Spring- March/April/May during their second year
  2. Fall- October/November- final opportunity during their third year in the program

Advisors of students who are unable to complete their examinations during these periods may petition the AGSC for an extension or to hold the exam in another month. In any case, students must complete their exams before the end of the third year.

Structure of the Examination

Written Comprehensive

The written portion of the exam is based upon the annotated bibliographies prepared by the student.

  1. In the written portion of the comprehensive examination a student will demonstrate expertise in two areas of specialization relevant to their sub-field plus an ethnographic area.
  2. The examiners will be members of the student’s supervisory committee, two additional members (normally) of the Department, and the chair, who is a member of the AGSC. Copies of the annotated bibliographies and proposal must be provided to the examiners and the chair. At least two weeks lead time must be provided for examiners to review the documentation.
  3. Questions (usually two) will be set by the student’s supervisory committee and the AGSC appointed examiners. The student’s supervisor is responsible for coordinating the drafting and revision of questions. A completed set of questions will be sent to the chair, who is responsible for scheduling the examination.
  4. The written comprehensive will be an essay-style examination. The examination will be written in the department during the course of one working day. Students will only be permitted to refer to hard copies of their proposal and the three annotated bibliographies as memory aids.
  5. After reading the essays, the examination committee will decide to 1) pass the student on the written portion of the comprehensive exam and advance the student to the University oral defense of the proposal, 2) require the student to write a supplemental paper(s), or 3) fail the student. Supplemental paper(s) will be read by the full examining committee. (Effective as of September 1, 2011.)
  6. A student must pass (or provisionally pass) all portions of the written part of the comprehensive before the committee advances them to the oral portion of the examination.

Oral Presentations

Once a student has passed the written examination, the oral examination will follow within two weeks (10 working days). The same examination committee will conduct the oral examination. Other members of the department (faculty and students) are encouraged to attend. The student will make a presentation of their proposed research for a maximum of 20 minutes. There may be two rounds of questions focusing on the methods and design of the proposed research. Each round of questions proceeds in the following order:  examiners, then members of the supervisory committee ending with the student’s supervisor. The AGSC Chair at his or her discretion may ask one or two questions at the end of the final round. Upon completion of the questions, the candidate is asked to leave the room while the committee deliberates. The student is invited back into the room and informed by the AGSC Chair of the committee’s decision once it has been made.

The examining committee will decide to:

(a) Advance the student to candidacy,
(b) Request revisions to the research proposal, or
(c) Fail the student.

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon successful completion of coursework, residency, the Comprehensive Examination, and the submission of an acceptable proposal, the AGSC will request the Head of the Department to recommend to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies that the student be advanced to candidacy no later than three years after commencing their PhD studies.

Page updated May 21, 2014.