PhD Program

Structure a course of study towards your specific intellectual and practical interests in the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program at UBC Anthropology.

The PhD in Anthropology at UBC Vancouver is based upon a combination of residency, coursework, a comprehensive examination and dissertation, and is expected to be completed within six years.


PhD Degree Requirements

A student first gains full standing as a doctoral candidate within the Department by completing the following requirements:

  • 24 months residency
  • Minimum 18 credits of coursework
  • A research proposal approved by the supervisory committee
  • Satisfactory performance in the comprehensive examination

Coursework requirements for the PhD

The minimum 18 credits of coursework normally includes:

  • ANTH 506 (the pro-seminar) (3 credits)
  • ANTH 500 (History of Anthropological Thought), (6 credits)
  • An advanced methodology course in the appropriate area (ANTH 516, 517, or 518) (3 credits)
  • Two additional courses (6 credits)

If students have previously completed these courses, they should consult with their supervisor to determine an alternative course. Students who have taken an equivalent course to ANTH 500 at the MA level at a different university may apply to the Anthropology Graduate Students Committee (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.

All doctoral students are required to complete a comprehensive examination successfully. After passing the comprehensive examination and defending the research proposal, the students reach candidacy.

Once they have attained candidacy, students are “ABD” (so have completed all degree requirements but the dissertation). They then undertake a substantive independent research project normally based in large part on field research which forms the basis of their dissertation. The candidate completes the degree upon successfully defending their dissertation in the University doctoral defence.

The major requirement for the PhD is completion of a research dissertation meeting UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies requirements.

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 (available from the Graduate and Undergraduate Program Coordinator).

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 Graduate Program Record form must be submitted to the Anthropology Graduate Studies Committee (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. 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.

UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies allows leaves for personal, or medical reasons. Graduate students may also receive parental leave for the birth or adoption of a child. Leave requests must be submitted by the Graduate Advisor and reviewed by the Dean of UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.


PhD Dissertation

The PhD dissertation is intended to be an original and significant contribution to knowledge. In most cases, it entails original research involving fieldwork in the form of ethnographic studies, archaeological excavation and analysis, or archival research.

Supervisory Committees supervise and bear ultimate responsibility for approving research carried out by PhD candidates. It is critically important that PhD candidates keep their Supervisory Committees well informed of their research activities.


Evaluation of Progress

Students must meet with their Supervisory Committee at least once each term. The Supervisory Committee and course instructors prepare a brief student evaluation in December and a detailed evaluation in April to submit to the Anthropology Graduate Studies Committee (AGSC). If in the considered opinion of the Supervisory Committee and the AGSC, a student does not make satisfactory progress, they may be required by the Department to withdraw. The AGSC notifies students and their Supervisory Committee of their status in the program each May.

Unless the circumstances are exceptional, a student who has not received a degree at the end of six winter sessions will be required to withdraw.

Extensions can only be granted by UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies which must be petitioned by the AGSC on behalf of a student.

The Anthropology Standing Committee will review the file of any graduate student in the PhD program who receives a grade below 75% (“B”) in either the graduate seminar the History of Anthropological Thought (ANTH 500) or in one of the graduate methods courses (ANTH 516, 517, or 518).


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. UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies 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 UBC Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies under exceptional circumstances.

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 subfield 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 font, 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 double-spaced pages, excluding references), 12 pt font. A copy of the proposal must be submitted to the Graduate and Undergraduate Program Coordinator’s 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:

  • Clear statement of the thesis
  • Discussion which includes the intended contributions of the research to scholarship and the public including, where relevant, community of study)
  • 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.)

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 two possible examiners from the Department of Anthropology, but the Examining Committee as a whole must be approved by the AGSC Chair. The supervisor is in charge of contacting the potential examiners. Examinations must be completed no later than three months prior to the G+PS 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 students’ 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.

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 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.
  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.

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 30 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. At their discretion the Chair 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. Once the committee’s decision is made the student is invited back into the room and informed by the Chair of the committee’s decision.

The examining committee will decide to:

(a) Advance the student to candidacy,

(b) Request revisions to the research proposal, or

(c) Fail the student.

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.

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