PhD Program

Program Overview

The PhD in Anthropology is designed to be four years in duration.

Candidates must successfully complete six primary tasks:

  1. required courses;
  2. second language competency;
  3. three comprehensive exams;
  4. approval of thesis research proposal;
  5. fieldwork; and
  6. PhD thesis.


1. Coursework

Graduate-level courses in anthropology are taught as seminars, rarely exceeding ten students. This provides ample opportunity for faculty-student interaction. They are meant to broaden and deepen the candidates knowledge of the discipline and to assist them in beginning to focus on their thesis research. Depending on one level of background preparation, full-time PhD students are normally required to complete four courses during the first two semesters of the program.

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2. Second Language Exam

It is expected that students will pass a reading comprehension exam before the end of their second year, which demonstrates that they have a working knowledge of a second language in which there is a substantial body of literature in Social and/or Cultural Anthropology. The successful completion of an approved university level course in a second language is generally taken as a substitute for the reading comprehension exam.

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3. Comprehensive Exams

Guidelines for Comprehensive Exams

Comprehensive exams normally include one exam on a particular field of anthropological theory; one on the student’s regional specialization; and one on the student’s topical specialization. Each will take the form of a written essay based on a reading list that will be compiled by the student in consultation with their comprehensive examination committee. Preliminary reading lists must be submitted for approval in May of the student’s first year. These are followed by final reading lists in November of the student’s second year and final exam papers in February of the second year.

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4. Thesis Research Proposal

Guidelines for Graduate Research Proposals

Within two months of completion of the comprehensive exams, students must submit a research proposal to the supervisory committee for approval.

The objectives of the thesis proposal are several: to present and justify the selection of a thesis topic; to demonstrate the candidate's familiarity with relevant bodies of literature; to discuss the theoretical, methodological and ethical implications of data collection; and to outline a research schedule and budgetary considerations.

Once the proposal has been approved by the supervisor and thesis committee, a copy of the proposal is submitted to the Head of the Department of Anthropology.

Students must obtain written approval from the university's Interdisciplinary Committee on Ethics in Human Research (ICEHR) before their research commences.

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5. Fieldwork

During the third and/or fourth years of the program, students are expected to carry out an extended period of ethnographic fieldwork. It is also expected that some part of this period will also be spent carrying out additional library and archival research in support of the project.

The fieldwork process provides an opportunity for the student to develop professional research skills and work on topics that have the potential to make a valuable contribution to the field of Anthropology and to the broader research community.

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6. The PhD Thesis

The remaining time will be devoted to analyzing ethnographic data and writing the PhD thesis. Theses will vary in format and internal organization, depending upon the precise topic under review. However, the Department expects theses to be of a reasonable length, topically focused, stylistically consistent, lucidly written, and logically argued. Students should look at previous theses from Memorial and elsewhere as examples of what is expected.

The thesis should be completed within one to two years following the completion of fieldwork. In order to ensure that this goal is achieved, students should develop a timetable of work with their supervisor(s). While the program has a two-year residency requirement, it is strongly recommended that all candidates continue to reside in St. John's until their theses are completed, with the exception of time spent in the field.

Once the thesis has been submitted for review, students must successfully pass an oral defense. More information about thesis submission and defense procedures can be obtained from the Memorial University School of Graduate Studies Web Site.

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Departmental Seminar Series

All PhD students are strongly encouraged to attend, and contribute to, all department seminars. These seminars are invaluable opportunities to learn (a) about the variety of topics being investigated in Anthropology, and (b) how professional academics exchange ideas in a collegial forum. Presentation of a seminar to the department is not mandatory for PhD students, but some have used the seminar series to share their work with others and to get feedback from faculty and fellow grad students.