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Questions about these requirements? See the contact info at the bottom of the page. 

The First Two Years


Most students complete their required coursework during the first two years. All coursework should be completed no later than the end of the third year.

Each student’s program of study must receive the approval of their advisor(s) or, for first-year students, of their advisory committee. The Director of Graduate Studies, Program Director, or Department Chair may sign a plan of study when the advisor is absent.

Students must maintain an overall grade average of B+.

No grade of “Incomplete” can be used to fulfill any departmental requirement.

In exceptional circumstances, PhD students in anthropology may submit a petition to the DGS to receive credit for up to two courses (eight credits) taken outside Harvard University or prior to beginning the PhD program at Harvard. Petitions may be submitted only after the successful completion of eight courses (32 credits) in the PhD program. Petitions must provide a clear rationale for the request, syllabi and written work submitted for the courses, and a letter of approval from the student’s primary advisor. Course credit cannot be used to opt out of required departmental courses.


The course of study in archaeology requires a minimum of 16 four-credit courses, at least 12 of which must be in anthropology. The 12 required four-credit courses include Anthropology 2250: Contemporary Issues in Archaeology; Anthropology 2070: Archaeological Theory; One course designated as a “Thematic” course; One course designated as a “Regional” course; Anthropology 3070: Professionalization in Archaeology; and Anthropology 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology (two credit), as well as 11 additional four-credit courses in archaeology, anthropology, or other fields chosen in consultation with the primary advisor(s) and advisory committee. Required courses must be passed with a grade of B or better. 

The expectation is that the student will be able to complete the program in six years. Beyond the 10th year of registered graduate study, or upon completion of the Dissertation Completion Fellowship year, students are required to withdraw if they have not successfully completed all requirements for the PhD degree. 

Social Anthropology

The course of study in social anthropology requires a minimum of 16 four-credit courses, at least 12 of which must be in anthropology. The 12 required four-credit courses include Genealogies of Social Anthropology at Harvard (Anthropology 2900), Theories of the Social (Anthropology 2910), Anthropological Research Methods (Anthropology 3628), and Research Design/Proposal Writing, and a two-credit course, Anthropology 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology. Four-credit courses on the ethnography of one’s area of specialization and in one of the program’s Foundational Disciplinary Electives are strongly recommended; a four-credit course in archaeology is also recommended but not required. First-year students must attain at least a B+ in each of the proseminars.

Language Requirements

Where appropriate, candidates whose native language is not English may petition the faculty to accept their native language or English as fulfillment of a language requirement.


Prior to admission to doctoral candidacy (i.e., before defending the dissertation prospectus), all PhD students in archaeology must meet the program requirement of demonstrating proficiency in one relevant modern field or scholarly language other than English that is approved by the student’s prospectus committee. This requirement can be met by taking a University administered placement exam (placing into the third year or above) by completing with a grade of B+ or better the fourth term of a language sequence at Harvard, or by ad hoc arrangement in consultation with the primary student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. There are no exemptions to or substitutions (e.g., a programming language or other specialized skill) for this general requirement. In addition, the candidate must attain proficiency in a second scholarly or field language, or in a laboratory/technical skill (e.g., GIS analysis, GPR, ZooMS, stable isotope analysis, R statistical language, etc.). The election of one among these options shall be made following consultation by the student with their advisor(s).  

Ordinarily, technical skill proficiency in a laboratory skill can be demonstrated through completion of ANTHRO 2061, or an intensive method-focused course, or successful completion of a directed reading/practical course on the topic with a qualified Harvard faculty member. Completion of undergraduate-level or introductory coursework or workshops do not fulfill this requirement; accumulated informal or unsupervised work cannot be used to fulfill this requirement. Formal evaluation on laboratory skills may be required. 

Proficiency in language(s) and/or a laboratory/technical skill must be demonstrated before the dissertation prospectus examination is taken.

Social Anthropology

Prior to admission to doctoral candidacy (i.e., before beginning field research), all PhD students in social anthropology must meet the departmental requirement of demonstrating competence in a language other than English. The requirement can be met by taking a University administered placement exam (placing into the third year or above), by completing with a grade of B+ or better the fourth term of a language sequence at Harvard, or by ad hoc arrangement in consultation with the primary student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. There are no exemptions to or substitutions (e.g., a programming language or other specialized skill) for this general requirement. 

Social anthropology PhD candidates are also required to demonstrate competence in the languages they will require for ethnographic research. When it is impossible to learn a field language at Harvard, the candidate must make the arrangements necessary to do so elsewhere. The field language requirement is fulfilled when approved by the student's advisor. In special circumstances, candidates may fulfill this requirement by taking a course in linguistic anthropology or another appropriate methodology. The student's primary advisor will identify the specific language requirements appropriate for the student's dissertation research. 

During the first year, students must submit a plan to the Graduate Program Office indicating how they expect to fulfill the language requirements. In all cases, students are strongly encouraged to achieve competence in at least two languages other than their native language. 


  • Incompletes are granted at the discretion of course instructors. However, first-year graduate students are not permitted to receive a grade of incomplete in any of their coursework, including courses taken in other departments
  • Incompletes must be completed during the next term following that in which the incomplete was taken. 
  • Students normally may not request incompletes from instructors who are going on leave during the following academic term. 
  • Students who are non-resident (traveling scholars or those on leave) are subject to the same deadlines as resident students (i.e., incompletes must be completed during the term following that in which the incomplete was taken); otherwise, students must petition the Harvard Griffin GSAS Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for more time to complete the work. 
  • Students normally may not take more than one incomplete in a term. 
  • A prolonged record of incompletes will jeopardize a student’s chances of obtaining teaching fellowships and financial awards in the department. 
  • All incompletes must be completed prior to admission to doctoral candidacy.

Master of Arts (AM)

Non-Terminal AM

Students may apply for a non-terminal AM degree (a.k.a. masters in passing) en route to the PhD degree. Normally, this application is made after a student has passed the general examinations and fulfilled coursework requirements, except for elective courses. Archaeology PhD students may apply for the non-terminal AM after passing the general examination (including the qualifying paper) and eight four-credit courses. Social anthropology PhD students must pass the general examination and 12 required four-credit courses before applying for the non-terminal AM. A thesis is not required for the non-terminal AM degree in anthropology. Students who do not attain the PhD may be awarded a terminal AM degree when appropriate.

Terminal AM in Medical Anthropology

Only one terminal AM degree is offered in medical anthropology. Preference for admission to this program is given to students and practitioners in the health professions.

  • The terminal AM in medical anthropology requires eight four-credit courses, including Genealogies of Social Anthropology at Harvard (A2900), an ethnography course, and three courses in medical anthropology. Only one course may be included that is outside of social anthropology.
  • A thesis is required for the AM in medical anthropology. The thesis must be read and accepted by two department members.
  • All courses taken for the AM (non-terminal and medical anthropology) must be passed with a minimum grade of B+.
  • Language requirements are waived for the AM in medical anthropology.
  • A minimum of one year in residence is required for the AM in medical anthropology.


  • Graduate students are expected to teach during their careers at Harvard.
  • First-time teaching fellows must participate in at least one Bok Center Teaching Conference.
  • Second-year graduate students enroll in Anthropology 3636: Pedagogy in Anthropology before teaching in the third year. 
  • Ordinarily, only graduate students who have completed field work may apply to teach the Junior/Senior Tutorials in Social Anthropology.
  • Students in their third and fourth years who have elected priority status have priority for teaching fellowship appointments.


  • Upon admission, students are assigned a faculty advisor or advisors based upon compatibility of research interests. Following the general examination, in preparation for the prospectus defense, students continue to have the flexibility of changing the composition of their advising committees to best reflect the intellectual foci of their proposed projects. 
  • The progress of each student will be assessed annually by the faculty. Students are required to submit an individual development plan each year. Failure to submit an individual development plan will result in a student being notified in writing that they are making unsatisfactory progress. 
  • Students may contact the graduate program administrator to address any questions and/or issues relating to the advising process.


Upon admission, students are assigned a committee normally consisting of three archaeology faculty members; two of whom are designated preliminary joint supervisors, based upon compatibility of research interests. Following the general examination, in preparation for the prospectus defense, students continue to have the flexibility of changing the composition of their advising committee to best reflect the intellectual foci of their proposed projects. 

The student shall meet with their advisor(s) on a regular basis—at minimum, the beginning, middle, and end of each term of residence. Once per semester during each of the first two years of residence, including before or during the first week of classes in the fall term.

Social Anthropology

Upon admission to the PhD program in social anthropology, each student is assigned a primary advisor and a secondary advisor, based on a preliminary assessment of mutual interests. After the first year, in consultation with faculty, the student may select a permanent advisor, either the person to whom they were assigned when they entered or another faculty member whose interests more closely match those of the student.

In the absence of faculty advisors/advisors on leave, students should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). A new advisor may be appointed by the DGS on the initiative of either the student or the advisor at any time in the course of study. If the DGS is the advisor being changed, the director of the social anthropology program will step in to oversee the process.

Students should schedule meetings with their advisor(s) at least once per term—more often is very strongly encouraged—to discuss their programs and to work out a plan of study. Students should also keep their advisors informed about their progress while in the field.

Dissertation Committees

Dissertation committees consist of at least three members. Archaeology and social anthropology dissertation committees must include at least two members from the respective program. Students in both programs may include readers on their committees who are from other departments or universities, subject to faculty approval.

See specific program sections below for additional information regarding the dissertation committee.

General Examinations


General Exams and Qualifying Paper

A broad, comparative approach to graduate education is one of the most distinctive and valued attributes of the archaeology program of Harvard’s Department of Anthropology. To preserve this signature feature of the program while at the same time promoting publication of work early in a student’s graduate career, the archaeology PhD program includes a three-part general examination consisting of a written examination, an oral examination, and a qualifying paper. 

The written portion of the general examination is “closed book” and conducted over an agreed-upon period of time during one working day, with that time being flexible depending on the particular circumstances of each student. The one-hour oral examination for each student is ordinarily scheduled to take place one week after the written general examination and is attended by all archaeology faculty in residence. Students are strongly encouraged to review the content of their written exam and to be prepared to answer questions related to that exam in addition to any other questions that the faculty may ask. 

Both the written and oral portions of the general examination normally take place in January before the beginning of the spring term. In preparation for the exam, students are strongly encouraged to review the past 15 years of general examinations given by the program, although starting in 2023 the general exam questions will be explicitly related to content covered in courses taken by the student.

The primary focus of the general examination essay questions will be broad and comparative. These questions will draw explicitly on two of the four required courses that incoming students take during their first three semesters of course work—Anthropology 2070: Archaeological Theory;  Anthropology 2250: Contemporary Issues in Archaeology—as well as material covered in other courses taken by the student. Theory and epistemology will be topics for essays in the general examination as will questions comparing aspects of archaeology of societies from different parts of the world and different time periods. Students are expected to tie together the content of courses and demonstrate a broad and critical understanding of the core issues in archaeology.

A qualifying paper is required to be submitted before the end of the fourth term of classes. This paper is intended to evaluate student writing abilities prior to their focus on dissertation research, with the goal of giving our students the opportunity to hone their writing skills to a professional level. The topic of the qualifying paper will be developed by the student in consultation with the student’s Pre-Prospectus Advisory Committee.  That committee will generally be composed of the three members of the faculty who were assigned to the student at the beginning of the first term. 

In those cases in which a student has already completed a master’s thesis or published a peer-reviewed paper in a journal, that student ordinarily will be allowed to submit that work in fulfillment of the qualifying paper requirement so long as the student is the sole author and submits all of the peer reviews along with the thesis/published paper. An exception may be made for cases in which additional authors are listed on the paper as a courtesy.

The entire archaeology faculty will review the qualifying paper upon submission. If changes are required after the faculty review, they are to be submitted before the summer’s end to the pre-prospectus Advisory Committee. Ordinarily, the “outside member” of that three-person committee will take charge of evaluating the consensus as to whether the work “passes” as a qualifying paper. If a resubmission is required, this three-person committee will consider and evaluate the resubmission as above.

Social Anthropology

Normally, at the end of their first year, the student will form a Qualifying Examination Committee consisting of at least three faculty members (one of whom may be from outside the department). After completing the qualifying examination in the fall of the third year, students will form a Dissertation Prospectus Committee. Students may choose to keep the same members from their Qualifying Examination Committee or choose new members. 

The qualifying examination has four parts, including three sets of written documents and an oral examination. Each of these is discussed in more detail below. 

  • Part 1: Reading Lists 
  • Part 2: Qualifying Examination Essays 
  • Part 3: Research Plan Overview 
  • Part 4: Qualifying Examination Oral Defense 



In consultation with their Qualifying Examination Committee, students will develop reading lists that pertain directly to their research interests. Ordinarily, at least one will be regionally focused and the others thematically or theoretically focused.  

These lists are not meant to be comprehensive overviews of fields of research. Nor are they meant to be uniform or standardized. Instead, they should be organized around the student’s particular research concerns and created to serve the student’s unique scholarly objectives. Each list should have a title and contain a brief paragraph explaining the composition of the list and its justification in terms of the relationship between the scholarship and the student’s proposed project. 

One way for students to proceed is to first boil down their research interests to one page, and then ask themselves: what literatures—regional, theoretical, and/or analytical—do they need to master in order to successfully carry out this project? Reading lists should focus on contemporary work but anchor it in older traditions.  

The composition and framing of reading lists are expected to evolve as students read more widely and deeply. Students submit their final lists when they are prepared to receive essay prompts from the committee and schedule the oral defense, ordinarily in their third year and no later than the fall term of their fourth year. 


The reading lists serve important goals, which students should keep in mind as they create their lists. The most fundamental, of course, is to ground the student’s PhD research. These lists will serve as the basis for the field essays, the prospectus and, later, the dissertation itself. At the heart of every good dissertation will be carefully constructed reading lists. The reading lists will also serve as a vehicle by which students can begin identifying the fields of intellectual endeavor in which they will claim expertise and by which they will define themselves intellectually. Many students will eventually teach in these subfields; creating the reading lists will serve as an exercise in constructing meaningful sets of readings from which they can later draw in developing syllabi for their own courses. 


No more than 200 entries total.


Guidelines and Aims: 
Upon receiving the final lists from the student, the Qualifying Examination Committee generates five essay questions for the student. The student selects two questions and responds in the form of two essays, each not exceeding 15 pages double-spaced (30 pages total). The student has seven days from receipt of the questions to submit the essays.  

Length and Timeline: 
The maximum length for each qualifying essay is 15 pages, double-spaced. Students have seven days to submit the essays.   


Guidelines and Aims: 
The research plan overview is a brief, synthetic statement that brings together the two field essays and explains the student’s research purpose to the committee. It might be thought of as a preliminary sketch of the student’s planned dissertation research. This document will be presented at the General Examination Oral Defense along with the reading lists and field essays. 

No more than two to three pages.


The Graduate Program Administrator will maintain a file for every social anthropology graduate student. Students are responsible for submitting their reading lists, qualifying essays, and research plan overview to the administrator for inclusion in their file. 

When all the documents required for the General Examination Oral Defense are available in the file, the Graduate Program Administrator, in consultation with the student and committee, will schedule the oral defense, which is ordinarily held one week following submission of the two essays. The Graduate Program Administrator will distribute the full set of documents to the student’s Qualifying Examination Committee. 

Due Dates for General Exam Requirements

Ordinarily, students complete the qualifying examination in their G3 year and no later than the fall term of the G4 year.


All students are required to take Genealogies of Social Anthropology at Harvard (A2900) in the fall term of their G1 year. They should take Theories of the Social (A2910) or Methods (A3628) during the spring of their G1 or G2 years (these two courses alternate every spring). Successful completion of the methods course is a prerequisite for enrolling in the compulsory Research Design/Proposal Writing course (A3626), which should be taken during the fall of the G3 year, or while they are writing grant proposals for funding. 

Following the oral defense portion of the qualifying exam, students turn to the prospectus. The prospectus is normally written and defended by the end of the G3 year and before embarking on the extended period of field research. 



  • Genealogies of Social Anthropology at Harvard (A2900) required 
  • Three additional courses


  • Anthropological Research Methods (A3628) or Theories of the Social (A2910) required (alternating biennially) 
  • Three additional courses
  • Form General Examination Committee in consultation with advisor


  • First summer pre-dissertation research and/or language study


  • Establish fields of intellectual endeavor and create reading lists
  • Four courses; students are encouraged to take relevant courses or do one to two independent studies over the course of their G2 year to prepare general examination fields and write the field essays


  • Anthropological Research Methods (Anthropology 3628) or Theories of the Social (A2910) required (alternating biennially)
  • Pedagogy in Anthropology (A3636) 
  • Four additional courses; if they have not already taken one to two relevant courses or independent studies to prepare  qualifying examination reading lists, they can do so this semester 


  • Second summer pre-dissertation research
  • Start actively working on a grant proposal to prepare for the Research Design/Proposal Writing course in the fall


  • Schedule the qualifying examination 
  • Research Design/Proposal Writing course (A3626) required 
  • Form Dissertation Committee  
  • Teaching 
  • Grant proposals for funding due
  • Begin writing prospectus


  • More grant proposals
  • Teaching
  • Submit prospectus and schedule defense
  • Present prospectus research in annual Spring Anthropology Prospectus Symposium 

The Dissertation Prospectus


The dissertation prospectus should normally be written and defended in the third year, and must be defended no later than the end of the seventh enrolled semester. A dissertation topic is developed through consultations between the student, the principal advisor(s), and other appropriate scholars. The dissertation prospectus consists of a proposal that describes the question/hypothesis to be investigated in the dissertation, the methods that will be employed to address that question/hypothesis, and the plan of research on which the dissertation will be based. It should include a statement of the problem(s) and topic(s) to be addressed and should relate to how the student intends to address them. The prospectus normally should be no longer than 20 double-spaced typewritten pages of text and should include relevant visual and bibliographic materials and details on possible funding sources. With the approval of the student’s advisor, the prospectus may be produced in the form of a proposal to the National Science Foundation for a doctoral dissertation improvement grant (DDIG).

The student must circulate the prospectus to the archaeology program faculty at least two weeks before the prospectus examination. The examining committee shall consist of at least three members: the student’s advisor(s), one other member of the archaeology faculty, and a third member who may come from outside of the anthropology department or outside of Harvard University.  The chair of the examining committee must be a member of the archaeology program and is ordinarily one of the student’s advisor(s). 

The dissertation prospectus examination shall take the form of a defense before the student’s advisory committee. All archaeology program faculty are invited to attend the examination. Only committee members decide whether the defense is successful. Following the defense, the final version of the prospectus should be circulated for comment and approval to the prospectus examination committee (or to the dissertation committee, should said committee have been constituted by that time) at least two weeks before being placed on file with the department’s graduate program administrator.

Students ordinarily may not apply for outside funding for dissertation field research until they have successfully defended their prospectus. Any application to a funding source outside of Harvard University for either fieldwork or other research funding for dissertation research must be approved by the student’s advisor(s), and it is expected that students shall first submit all research proposals to their advisor(s) for approval.

Upon successful defense of the prospectus, all students are required to present their prospectus projects in the Spring Anthropology Prospectus Symposium normally held annually in early May. 

Following the eighth term, students must normally submit at least one draft chapter of the dissertation to their Dissertation Committee annually in order to maintain good standing in the program. 

Social Anthropology

All candidates must, in consultation with their advisors, select a dissertation topic and describe their proposed doctoral research in a prospectus. The prospectus should (1) give a concise statement of the problem to be addressed in the dissertation or of the hypotheses it proposes to test, (2) provide a literature review that draws on their reading lists and field essays, (3) provide a clear research design, and (4) address the project with appropriate research methods. The prospectus will normally be written in G3 year after the general examination and in tandem with the Research Design/Proposal Writing course.

The candidate will discuss and defend the prospectus before their dissertation committee. The prospectus defense should take place prior to the beginning of dissertation fieldwork. Completion of the human subjects compliance forms and approval of them by Harvard’s Institutional Review Board must be completed before dissertation fieldwork can begin (see the IRB website).

No more than 25-30 double-spaced pages, exclusive of the bibliography and any figures.

Upon successful defense of the prospectus, all students are required to present their prospectus projects in the Spring Anthropology Prospectus Symposium normally held annually in early May. 

The Dissertation and Defense

All anthropology PhD candidates must pass a PhD dissertation defense.

A complete draft of the dissertation must be received by all members of the dissertation committee at least one month prior to the dissertation defense, which must be passed at least one month before the dissertation is due at the Registrar’s Office. The candidate may have to advance this due date for readers outside the Boston area.

PhD dissertation manuscripts must conform to the requirements outlined in Dissertations. Failure to meet deadlines for completion of the dissertation may constitute grounds for dismissal from the program. Students may apply for readmission to the graduate program through the Harvard Kenneth C. Griffin Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Readmitted students may be required to retake the special examination in archaeology or the general examination in social anthropology.


The dissertation committee is composed of at least three members, two of whom must be members of the Harvard Anthropology Department faculty. The chair of the committee must be a member of the archaeology program faculty. Normally the prospectus examination committee and the dissertation committee are composed of the same individuals, although it may be appropriate that substitutions or additions be made. A complete draft of the dissertation must be received by all members of the dissertation committee at least six weeks before the proposed dissertation defense date and must be approved by the committee at least one month before the dissertation defense date.  A draft of the dissertation must be made available to other members of the department at least two weeks before the dissertation defense. The dissertation must be successfully defended no less than one month before the registrar’s due date. The text of the dissertation, exclusive of charts, figures, references cited, and appendices, ordinarily may not exceed 300 typewritten double-spaced pages.

The dissertation ordinarily must be: (1) assessed by the dissertation committee at least one and a half month before the dissertation is due at the Registrar’s Office; (2) formally defended in a closed meeting (private defense) with the dissertation committee and other interested faculty members approximately one month before the Registrar’s due date; and (3) presented orally to a general audience, including other faculty members (public presentation) as soon as possible after a successful private defense. After successful completion of the above assessments and after the incorporation of any required revisions, signatures of the committee members must be obtained on the dissertation acceptance certificate, which is submitted with the dissertation to the Registrar’s Office. Note that the above timetables are estimates. The candidate should discuss timetables with the chair of the PhD committee. 

Dissertations are submitted electronically. The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in Dissertations. Students are expected to submit a complete draft of the dissertation by the end of the sixth year of graduate study and, ordinarily, the dissertation must be approved by the end of the eighth year of graduate study or the student will be required to withdraw (see above).

Social Anthropology

The PhD dissertation should normally be between 300 and 400 double-spaced pages in length. Given that most reputable academic publishers will not consider unrevised dissertations for publication, students are encouraged to anticipate revision by aiming to stay at or below this optimal length. Any student expecting to defend a dissertation of more than 450 pages should petition for the prior agreement of the faculty, which will base its decision on the student’s research committee’s evaluation and other relevant information.

The dissertation committee will review the dissertation and decide when it is ready for defense. The doctorate will be awarded when the candidate passes a public defense. The final copy of the dissertation should be in committee members’ hands one month before the scheduled defense.

Dissertations are now submitted electronically. The final manuscript of the dissertation must conform to the requirements described in Dissertations.

The public defense lasts approximately two hours. It begins with a short (15–20 minute) presentation by the candidate. Committee members then question the candidate. A more general discussion with other social anthropology faculty, graduate students, and other attendees follows.

Normally, a complete draft of the dissertation must be submitted within five years after entering the program (exclusive of the time required to complete fieldwork). Students entering their seventh year (exclusive of the time required to complete fieldwork) must submit a letter to the faculty requesting an extension of this time limit.

Contact Info

Anthropology Website

Monique Rivera 
Graduate Program Administrator 
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