1. University of Virginia
  2. Arts & Sciences

PhD and MA Program Description

The PhD Curriculum

We have designed a PhD program that encourages an intense engagement with the historical, theoretical, and ethnographic literature of the student's chosen sub-discipline as well as a broad familiarity with, and conversation across, the three sub-disciplines represented in the Department. While the program is rigorous,it is also streamlined and flexibly shaped to the particular needs and goals of each student.

A PhD in Anthropology at the University of Virginia requires 48 credit hours of course work plus 18 credit hours of “non-topical” or dissertation research. Most graduate courses run for a single semester and count for 3 credit hours. Full-time graduate students generally take three or four courses a semester and can complete all PhD course work within two and a half or three years. Students who enter with an MA degree will usually be able to transfer up to 24 credit hours of graduate course credit towards this total. PhD graduates must demonstrate either “Competence” in two languages other than English, or “Mastery” in one. We expect students to be doing dissertation research, usually away from the University, by the beginning of their fourth year. Although most of our students take courses full-time, we are willing to work with part-time students who wish to schedule a reduced load of course work. In order to earn the PhD degree, students must complete two Critical Reading Essays, successfully defend a dissertation proposal, and write and defend a dissertation based on original research.

For more information, please see the Anthropology Graduate Student Handbook.

Required Courses

  • ANTH 7010 and 7020 “History of Anthropological Theory I and II”
  • Subfield distribution requirement: one course each will be required in the subfields of Archaeology, Linguistic Anthropology, and Socio-Cultural Anthropology, to be taken over three years at a pace of at least one per year (including the student’s own subfield!). These courses should be chosen in consultation with the Graduate Committee in the first year and in the fall of the second year, and with the student’s committee thereafter. For Linguistic Anthropology, ANTH 7400 is expected, but other options will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Students who enter the program with a previous MA in Anthropology may have one subfield requirement waived on the basis of graduate coursework done elsewhere.

Additional Recommended Core Courses

  • Methods courses by subfield, ideally to be taken in the second or third year
  • ANTH 7030 (Ethnographic Analysis)
  • ANTH 7060 Proposal Workshop is recommended in the third year to guide students in writing their Department dissertation proposal and grants.

Elective courses

Students’ remaining courses should be electives and independent study (“Directed Readings”) courses that advance their expertise and ability to plan and conduct research in their specific topical and geographical research areas. These courses should be chosen in consultation with the Graduate Committee in the first year and in the fall of the second year, and with the student’s committee thereafter. During spring of the first year and throughout the second year, it is expected that a significant portion of the student’s coursework will be focused on preparing the Critical Reading Essays (described below).



First Year Portf​olio

During the first year of study, each student will prepare a First Year Portfolio consisting of:

  • one-page cover letter, summarizing the student’s research interests and requesting continuation in either the MA or PhD track. Students requesting continuation for the PhD should present their plans for next year’s Critical Reading Essays, including a tentative plan for the scope of topics, the names of faculty readers, and a timetable for completion. Students requesting continuation for the MA only should indicate plans for writing either the Critical Reading Essays or the MA Thesis (see below).
  • three course papers (each 5+ pages), unrevised, from three UVA classes, student-selected to showcase the substantiveness and quality of the student’s coursework during the year.

Portfolios should be submitted in electronic form to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), who will make them available to the Department faculty by posting on a Collab site. They will be read initially by the DGS or other members of the Graduate Committee. Where the quality of a portfolio is in doubt, the whole Department faculty will be asked to read it. The faculty will use the portfolio, along with the student’s performance in courses, as a basis for discussion at the May faculty meetings, evaluating the student’s progress.

Second Language Requirement

Before the end of the first year, we also expect that students will have documented a minimum of “Competence” in one language other than English.



Critical Reading Essays

PhD track students will prepare two Critical Reading Essays (each approximately 8,000 words plus bibliography) that should be written in conjunction with formal courses or independent study courses (“Directed Readings”). These reading essays will be read by the student’s committee, and by the DGS at the Committee Chair's request. Where the quality of the work is in doubt, the essays will be shared with the wider faculty.

One essay is due on or before December 6th of the student’s second year in the program, and the other on or before April 28 of the second year. The essays should be posted on a Collab site for all faculty to access. The faculty will use the two reading review essays, with the student’s performance in courses, as a basis for discussion at the May meetings, evaluating the student’s progress and deciding whether to grant the student (a) the MA degree and (b) PhD candidacy, allowing continuation towards the PhD.

The two essays should be written over the course of the student’s first and second years in the program and include one thematic field and one geographical field. Each essay should be a critical review of the “state of the field” in an area of scholarly literature that the student defines in consultation with his or her committee and other faculty. Ideally, this will be an area of literature to which the student’s dissertation research will contribute. However, it is understood that research plans often change with increased knowledge of the literature, so it is not crucial that students “get it right” in their choice of focus in these essays. What is important is building and demonstrating skill in the definition and mastery of bodies of literature.

Students should build up the bibliographies for their essays in course work and through their reading and writing for the essays themselves; and recent volumes of appropriate journals should be surveyed for relevant articles and reviewed books. While it may be helpful in beginning the process to solicit reading recommendations and syllabi, we would urge students not to overly emphasize the compilation and negotiation of “reading lists” as an end in itself.

More than a string of summaries or annotated bibliography, the Critical Reading Essays should digest the field’s literature, synthesizing its major points of departure, major findings, and major debates. The essays should identify recurring difficulties in the field, newly emergent concerns, and the most promising directions for new research.

Summer Language Training and Preliminary Research

Each year the Department of Anthropology and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) Dean’s Office make available funding for students in the PhD track to do summer language training and preliminary research. Students are generally expected to apply for internal UVA summer research and language training awards during their first and second years. Applications for these awards will be solicited early in the spring semester of each year.



Proposal and Grants

  • The Proposal Workshop (ANTH 7060), ordinarily taken in the third year, will guide students in writing their department Dissertation Proposals and external research grant applications.
  • Each student is expected to defend the Department Dissertation Proposal (also called the research prospectus) in committee by the end of April in their third year. An extension to the fourth year may be granted upon request, on a case-by-case basis.
  • In addition, all students will make a public presentation of their doctoral projects at a Third Year Symposium. This AAA-style panel, with 15-minute presentations and a limited time for questions and answers, will not be an evaluated exercise but an opportunity for students to get feedback about their projects from the whole Department community in the midst of grant writing.
  • Students whose research involves human subjects are required to gain approval from the University of Virginia Institutional Review Board for the Social and Behavioral Sciences (IRB-SBS) prior to starting the research. An annual IRB Tutorial session guides students in preparing and submitting their IRB Protocols.

Research and Dissertation Years

  • Doctoral research
  • Documentation of Competence in a Third Language or Mastery in the Second Language, if this has not already been achieved
  • Dissertation writing
    • Dissertation writing groups
    • Dissertation year fellowship applications
    • Presentation of chapter drafts in subfield workshops
  • Professionalization and job seeking
    • Job seekers workshop
    • Postdoctoral fellowship and job applications
    • Conference presentations
    • Publication of book reviews and journal articles
  • Dissertation defense (attended by fellow students and department faculty)


The MA Curriculum

A stand-alone Masters in Anthropology from the University of Virginia requires 24 credits of graded coursework.  Most graduate courses run for a single semester and count for 3 credit hours. Full-time graduate students generally take three (sometimes four) courses per semester. Graduate courses from other institutions cannot be transferred for credit towards the University of Virginia MA degree.

UVA undergraduates have the opportunity to apply for the 4+1 BA/MA Program in Anthropology in their third or fourth year of undergraduate study.

Incoming MA and PhD students take ANTH 7010 (History of Anthropological Theory) together.  MA students must also satisfy a subfield distribution requirement and demonstrate “competency” in a second language.  The distribution requirement involves taking at least one course in two of the three different subfields (archaeological, linguistic, and socio-cultural anthropology).

In addition to coursework requirements, students in the MA track must complete one of the following:

  • A Critical Review Essay evaluated by the student’s MA Director plus a second faculty reader.  This Critical Review Essay follows the same guidelines used by 2nd-Year PhD students for their Critical Review Essays.  MA students may choose to write either the topical or regional essay.
  • A comprehensive examination evaluated by the student’s MA Director plus a second faculty reader.

It is possible to pursue the stand-alone MA on a full-time or part-time basis.  Full-time students in the MA track are expected to complete all coursework and other requirements for their degrees by the end of their second year.