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. A new comprehensive examination guideline has been approved in Spring 2023.

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 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).

Doctoral Comprehensive Examination

To demonstrate their comprehensive knowledge, students will prepare three sets of annotated bibliographies that engage with broad theoretical topics, an ethnographic area, or other topics appropriate for their subdiscipline. The reading lists will be developed by the student in consultation with their PhD committee, and each set will contain 30 sources with no more than 15 pages of annotations.

Under the supervision of their committee and based on their readings and annotations, students will proceed to write, within one month, two bibliographic essays of up to 25 pages each that identify the major contributions to two of the theoretical topics or ethnographic areas that they have studied. These written essays will be similar to those in the Annual Review of Anthropology in delineating current developments and main themes of research (including not only a critical analysis of existing literature, but also a discussion of emerging directions, gaps and opportunities). The student and the committee should agree on the target submission date. Conditional upon timely submission, the committee will aim to determine within 10 business days whether each essay is a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’.” Once approved by the supervisory committee, the written essays are not subject to further examination.

In consultation with their supervisory committee, students will prepare a research proposal of no more than 25 pages. The research proposal will summarize work on this topic, the significance of the proposed research, and will clearly describe how the work will be carried out. Once all the recommended revisions to the proposal have been completed, the student’s supervisory committee will recommend that the student proceed to a defence of their research proposal.

The student’s supervisory committee approves the readings, annotations, bibliographic essays and research proposal as completed (along with the research proposal), before recommending that the student proceed to the defence of their research proposal. (The supervisor must submit a memo to the AGSC chair and cc: the Graduate Program Coordinator to affirm this recommendation.) 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 format of the PhD proposal defence is similar to a dissertation defence. The Anthropology Graduate Studies Committee appoints two examiners with relevant expertise in the student’s area of research, as well as an examination chair. At the defence, the student gives a 20 to 30-minute presentation on their proposed research without reading from their proposal. The examiners then ask two rounds of questions about the proposed research. The examination chair may also ask for questions from the audience at the end of the first round of questions. After the second round of questions the student and audience leave the room while the examining committee deliberates. The examination is evaluated both on the strength of the written proposal and the strength of the student’s presentation. The committee may: (1) decide to pass the research proposal without revisions; (2) ask for minor or major revisions either under the supervision of the student’s committee or under the supervision of the entire examining committee; or (3) fail the student on the examination. The examination chair may cast a deciding vote if the committee is divided in their assessment. If a student fails their examination, they may revise their research proposal and schedule a second examination, which would be their final opportunity. Students who successfully complete the defence of their research proposal will be advanced to candidacy and are approved to begin their dissertation research, subject to ethical review approval if relevant.

These new provisions for the comprehensive exam process in Anthropology will go into effect as of March 1, 2023. Students who began their PhD studies in 2022 or earlier have the option of taking a written comprehensive examination under the previous provisions if they so choose.

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