PhD Program

The PhD program provides students with the opportunity to structure a course of study towards specific intellectual and practical interests. Students extend their knowledge of domains of anthropological theory and current research that are appropriate to these interests. PhD students design and carry out a major research project that forms the basis of their dissertation. The PhD degree proceeds in two stages. A student first gains full standing as a doctoral candidate within the Department by completing the following requirements:

  • 24 months residency,
  • 18 credits of coursework,
  • an acceptable research proposal, and
  • satisfactory performance in a comprehensive examination (which must be completed in the first three years of the program).

The comprehensive examination takes place in two parts:

  1. a three part, one-day written exam, and
  2. a two hour oral exam that takes place within two weeks of the written exam.

Once they have attained candidacy, students then proceed with research (often based in part upon fieldwork) and preparation of a PhD dissertation under the direction of the Supervisory Committee. The candidate completes the degree upon successfully defending their dissertation in the University examination. Students are expected to attain their degrees within six years.

PhD Application Requirements

Admission to the PhD is open to candidates with an MA in anthropology, although we may in special circumstances admit students with a master’s degree in a related subject. In all cases, students applying for the PhD should possess substantive previous training at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels in anthropology. Admission to the PhD program is by application and requires an evaluation of the applicant’s previous work and capacity to pursue and complete original research. Students completing their MA at UBC must also formally apply in order to be considered for the PhD program. See the application requirements for a PhD in anthropology on the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies website.

PhD applicants must possess or be close to completing a MA in anthropology. They are also expected to have had undergraduate preparation equivalent to that of the UBC major in anthropology (see Academic Qualifications – MA Program). Outstanding candidates who are missing one or more requirements may be required to take such courses as a condition of entry or as part of the program of study. Acceptance into the PhD program is conditional on completion of all outstanding MA work, including coursework and thesis.

The PhD in anthropology requires a major research project (normally involving fieldwork) and writing a dissertation. We thus seek applicants with developed intellectual interests and abilities and a strong commitment to their area of study. Applicants should outline their proposed dissertation research in their statement of intent in clear non-technical language and provide a sample of written work (if possible) that demonstrates preparation for PhD level research. We invite applications from students whose interests fall within the current interests of the Department. If applicants have questions about the match between their interests and the department, they should contact the Anthropology Graduate Secretary. Please indicate which faculty members you wish to work most closely with and contact them ahead of applying to discuss your program and their availability.

Applicants to both the MA and PhD programs should bear in mind that the Department receives far more applications than it can accommodate each year. We consider applications in terms of available faculty and resources. Inevitably, some excellent students are turned down. It is in applicants’ best interest to consider applying to several graduate schools.

Chair of Supervisory Committee (Supervisor)

As soon as possible after admission to the program, and before the end of the first term, each student must select with mutual agreement a Chair (Supervisor) whose competencies are appropriate to the intended field of study. The Chair would normally be an Associate or Full Professor of Anthropology. Under special circumstances, the AGSC can petition to allow an Assistant Professor to act as a student’s supervisor. FACULTY ARE NOT ALLOWED TO CHAIR MORE THAN SEVEN GRADUATE COMMITTEES (MA and PhD). It is in your interest to consult with faculty early about supervision and to consider alternate supervisors. Faculty must indicate in writing on the student’s program record that they have accepted a position as Supervisor.

Students must consult with their Supervisor no later than the first week of September concerning their first year program (especially course selections and forming a committee).

Supervisory Committee

As soon as possible, at least two additional faculty members with competencies appropriate to the proposed field of study should be invited by the student to form, together with the Chair, the student’s Supervisory Committee. The Committee may include one or more members from outside the Department. Supervisory Committee members may be changed with the agreement of the Chair and other members of the Committee. Students are advised to seek replacements for members who take leaves of absence. A Chair must be replaced, by an acting Chair or permanently, while on leave. All changes to the Supervisory Committee should be communicated to the AGSC via forms available in the Graduate Office.

Changes in membership of the Supervisory Committee may not be made within a period of three months prior to the scheduled date of the Departmental examination without showing due cause to the AGSC, and are not permitted after the Department dissertation examination.

Graduate Program Record

As soon as possible after admission to the program, and no later than the end of the first term of study, the student must meet with their Supervisory Committee to complete the Graduate Program Record (or available from the Graduate Secretary). In addition to biographical information and details of work done prior to admission to the PhD program, it will include details of the proposed course of study i.e., course numbers, titles, credit values, and names of instructors). Once completed, the Record form must be submitted to the AGSC for review and approval.

The Graduate Program Record is a permanent guide and record of progress in which courses, grades, information on the dissertation, leaves, and other pertinent information is entered. It is kept in the student’s file and on computer (in database form). The student and the Supervisory Committee must review the record at least once a year (in April) and preferably more often. Significant alterations in an approved program — including changes in coursework, dissertation topic, and committee membership as well as leaves — must be reported to the AGSC for approval before being recorded in the Graduate Program Record.


PhD students must take at least 18 credits of coursework. This normally includes Anthropology 506 (the pro-seminar) and ANTH 500 (History of Anthropological Thought), unless the student has already taken these courses. Students who have taken an equivalent course to ANTH 500 at the MA level at a different university may apply to the AGSC to be released from the requirement. Students may also be required as a condition of admission to take other courses to gain mastery of core subjects in the discipline. Up to 12 credits may be taken in the form of supervised reading courses where appropriate graduate seminars are not available and upon the agreement of instructors. The 18 credits of core courses will normally be in anthropology at the graduate level. The Supervisory Committee may require additional coursework, beyond 18 credits, including courses at the undergraduate level, in order to prepare students for research in their chosen field.