Yale University Department of Anthropology

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    Yale Universityhttp://www.yale.edu

Introduction to Graduate Studies at Yale

The purpose of the Graduate Program in Anthropology at Yale is the development of creative scholars and scientists who will teach or otherwise apply their knowledge and skills within one or more of the traditionally recognized fields of anthropology. This goal may be realized, we believe, by encouraging and stimulating students to do original and creative research as early as possible in their careers. To ensure the attainment of these goals, the Department admits only a small number of graduate students each year and assists each one to develop and follow a flexible program designed to meet his or her own needs.

Before contacting the Anthropology Department regarding the application process, we ask due to the high volume of queries that we receive that you first check the GSAS admissions web page, particularly the Common Questions/FAQ webpage which contains valuable information regarding the GRE, TOEFL, and other issues.

Other Key websites

GRE test scheduling and information

TOEFL test scheduling and information

Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Map and Directory of Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Writing Samples

Graduate applicants are encouraged, but not required to provide one writing sample at the time they prepare their online application.  Please limit your sample to no more than 40 pages, double spaced.

For more information regarding the Graduate Program, please contact Gordon Wong.

Click here to begin the online application process to the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Scienceshttp://www.yale.edu/graduateschool/admissions/application.html

The following is a general outline of the Department of Anthropology's Graduate Program. For the most updated and complete description of the program, including university and non-university fellowship resources, please download a copy of the Anthropology Department's Handbook.

Table of Contents

  1. 1.Faculty Advisory Committees

  2. 2.Subfields of Anthropology

  3. 3.Archaeology

  4. 4.Biological Anthropology

  5. 5.Sociocultural Anthropology

  6. 6.Joint Ph.D. programs

  7. 7.Requirements for the Ph.D.

  8. 8.Courses

  9. 9.Languages

  10. 10.Statistics/Quantitative Methods

  11. 11.Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

  12. 12.MA and M.Phil. Degrees

  13. 13.Preparing and Defending the Dissertation Prospectus

  14. 14.The Dissertation

Faculty Advisory Committees

In consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies and subject to the approval of the Department faculty, each student forms an advisory committee of three faculty members by the end of the first semester in residence. This committee may, when appropriate to the student's interests, include Yale faculty from outside the Department of Anthropology. One member of the anthropology faculty is designated chair of the committee and principal adviser to the student.

The advisory committee's functions are to assist the student to formulate and carry out a broad scholarly program of study and research toward the Ph.D. and to evaluate the student's progress up to the point of the commencement of dissertation research. Each student meets with his or her advisory committee at least once each semester and may meet with the chair (or any other member of the faculty) whenever mutually convenient or necessary. As the time approaches for the student to take the written and oral Ph.D. qualifying examinations (normally toward the end of the fourth semester of full-time graduate study), the student and committee members decide on one or two additional examiners and so recommend to the Department for approval. The additional examiners may include persons from outside the Department or even the University, although they will normally be persons already familiar with the student's work. Following the oral examination and a thorough review of the student's progress since admission, the examining committee recommends whether or not the student should be permitted to undertake dissertation research.

Because the scholarly and research interests of most students are readily identifiable as centering in one of the four conventionally recognized subfields of anthropology -- social or cultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, biological anthropology, and archaeology -- the Department has found it administratively convenient to formulate guidelines for study within each of those subfields. It is recognized, however, that the boundaries of these subfields are to some degree conventional and do overlap and fluctuate, and that significant scholarly and scientific work often requires that they be transcended. Thus, students whose scholarly, scientific, and career goals span two or more of these subfields, and for that matter topics and skills in other sciences or humanities, may, with the assistance of their advisory committees, plan and pursue other broadly defined programs of study and research.

Subfields of Anthropology

Because the scholarly and research interests of most students are readily identifiable as centering in one of the four conventionally recognized subfields of anthropology -- archaeology, linguistic anthropology, physical anthropology, and sociocultural anthropology -- the Department formulates guidelines for study within each of these subfields. It is recognized, however, that the boundaries of these subfields are to some degree conventional and do overlap and fluctuate, and that significant scholarly and scientific work often requires that they be transcended.


Archaeology and prehistory are represented by a core group of full-time faculty within Anthropology and by supporting faculty in other departments such as Classics, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, History of Art, and Geology and Geophysics. Specialties include areal foci on Mesoamerica and South America, the Near East, China, and Africa; the origins of agriculture; the development of complex societies; and ethnoarchaeology. The Department has laboratory facilities for archaeological research, as well as access to major collections held by the Peabody Museum. Training is available also in methods of faunal analysis, ceramic analysis, archaeometallurgy, satellite image analysis and GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

Biological Anthropology

The focus on the biological anthropology program is the evolution of humans and other primates, including the study of morphology, ecology and behavior. It draws additional strength from the other subfields of anthropology, especially archaeology and ecological anthropology. Outside anthropology, the program has close and long-standing links to the Departments of Genetics, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Geology, Surgery, and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. The Department has also collaborated with the Departments of Mechanical Engineering, Orthopedics and Rehabilitation, Psychology, and Neurobiology. Facilities include computers, a dry lab with diverse fossil cast collections, and a dissection lab. Please visit the Yale Biological Anthropology Laboratories (YBAL), Yale Molecular Anthropology Laboratory, Yale Mammalian Evolutionary Morphology Laboratory, and the Yale Reproductive Ecology Laboratory websites for further information. The Peabody Museum of Natural History also offers extensive collections and resources.  

Sociocultural Anthropology

Many of the Department's faculty offer course work and research supervision on topics in sociocultural anthropology, as do several other members of the University faculty located in other departments and schools. Areas especially well represented include East Asia (China and Japan), Southeast Asia, Latin America (including the Caribbean), Sub-Saharan Africa, Insular Pacific, and Afro-American cultures. Several members of the faculty are especially conversant with and sympathetic to political-economic-historical perspectives and approaches, and to analyses of social change and relations between cultural and political economy. Complementing that, several others share a common interest in symbolic and semiotic analyses. The former have many formal and informal relations with other segments of the social sciences, the latter with other segments of the humanities, at Yale. Gender is also another common interest shared by many faculty members.

Linguistic anthropology has also been a major component of the Department since its inception, and some degree of sophistication in the subject is, we hold, essential to most work in most other subfields of anthropology. Therefore, students in general, and especially those concentrating in sociocultural anthropology, are strongly urged to take advantage of the resources that this branch of the Department has to offer. Specialties of faculty members in the Department focusing on linguistic anthropology include areal foci on South and Southeast Asia; the relevance of language and linguistics to sociocultural description; the ethnographic study of conversation, literacy, gender, and affect; ethnoscience; semiotics; sociolinguistic change; and bilingualism. Faculty in the Departments of Linguistics, East Asian Languages and Literatures, Southeast Asian Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, African Studies, and in the University's various other language and literature departments and programs teach and supervise research in related topics. The Anthropology Department has its own language laboratory for teaching and research.

Combined Ph.D. Programs

In conjunction with African American Studies and the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, graduate students may also propose to craft a combined Ph.D. program in Anthropology.  Applicants interested in a joint degree program should note this in their online application.  Since degree and application requirements can vary between combined programs, applicants are encouraged to contact potential advisors in each program/school of interest prior to applying.  As with the standard Anthropology graduate program, no terminal M.A.s are offered as joint degree programs.

  1. Combined Anthro/Forestry & Environmental Science Ph.D. program
  2.   [document forthcoming] Combined Anthro/African American Studies Ph.D. program

For up-to-date and detailed information on combined programs, click here and select ‘Anthropology’.

Requirements for the Ph.D.

To qualify for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D., each student must:

complete sixteen term courses, at least two of them with a grade of Honors (=A) and maintain an average grade of High Pass (=B); show proficiency in a language determined by the student's committee and show competency in statistics/quantitative methods, again, determined by the student's committee; and take and pass both written and oral qualifying examinations.

Normally, these requirements must be satisfied by the end of the second year of full-time study, though adjustments may be made when deemed necessary and prudent by the student's advisory committee and subject to approval by the Department faculty. Entering students who have already done a year or more of graduate work in anthropology at another university may petition the Department through their advisory committees for appropriate reductions in course requirements. They may, as a corollary, be expected to take their qualifying examinations before the end of the second year of full-time study.

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination and being permitted to continue on to dissertation research, the student may petition for the Master's of Philosophy (M.Phil.) degree. Formal admission to candidacy requires, in addition, submission and acceptance of a dissertation prospectus, which must be submitted before the end of the second semester after the qualifying examinations or the end of the third year of graduate study, whichever comes first. Finally, award of the Ph.D. itself requires submission and acceptance by the faculty of a dissertation.


The Department offers about 25 term courses for graduate students each year. (Yale has two terms per academic year.) Most graduate courses are conducted as seminars and typically have small enrollments. Student interests and needs that are not met by available formal graduate course offerings in anthropology may be met by enrollment in an appropriate graduate course in another department, or in an undergraduate course if one is available (and with the instructor 's consent), or by registering for a Directed Readings or Directed Research course under the supervision of a faculty member, either in anthropology or another graduate department. Indeed, graduate students in anthropology are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the offerings, facilities, and faculties of other departments and schools within the University.

Because students enter the Ph.D. program with varied backgrounds, experiences, and previous training, none of the four subfield programs includes any courses that all students concentrating in them are required to take. Even so, each of those programs does include certain courses that are for various reasons strongly recommended, even to persons with extensive background in the subfield.

Languages and Statistics/Quantitative Methods

Anthropology is an international discipline. Our field-based research is conducted in a wide range of local languages and dialects, and our scholarship is routinely published in numerous languages. We therefore believe it is of utmost importance that the students we train be able to converse with and read the publications of their colleagues in some language in addition to English. Additionally, of course, dissertation research frequently requires facility in one or several local languages and/or dialects, for which proficiency must often be gained and demonstrated in advance.

We much prefer that students enter the doctoral program already equipped with foreign language skills, and in our admissions decisions we note carefully whether the applicant already has at least the basic foreign language skills relevant to the program of study and research he or she is proposing. For example, an applicant intending to concentrate on China, Japan, or Francophone Africa, but not exhibiting proficiency in Chinese, Japanese, or French, would be at a serious disadvantage in relation to other applicants.

Because of the diversity of our students' training program, the Department does not have a general foreign language requirement, either for admission or for admission to Ph.D. candidacy. Rather, each student's advisory committee must determine the necessary level and nature of foreign language proficiency (including scholarly languages and languages to be used in field research) to be met by the student, as well as any required competencies in statistics and other quantitative or qualitative methods. Advisory committees will stipulate such requirements in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies at the earliest possible stage of the student's program of study for approval by the DGS and the Department faculty. Such committee stipulations should specify exactly when and how it will be determined that the student has or has not met the requirements.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

Passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination is but one of the requirements determining whether or not the student has successfully completed the first phase of the graduate program and should be recommended for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. The examination is "closed book." The written component is normally in two parts, one covering the general field of the student's special anthropological interests (archaeology-prehistory, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, or some approved combination thereof), the other focuses on the topic and general area of the student's proposed dissertation research. The purpose of the exam is to assist the faculty in assessing the student's progress toward becoming an anthropological scholar since his or her admission to the Ph.D. program. It assists also in determining the extent to which the student has acquired the skills needed to enter the research or Ph.D. phase of graduate study.

The qualifying examination is made up and administered by the student's advisory committee plus one or two other faculty members chosen by the faculty on the recommendation of the student's advisory committee. When appropriate, the committee may invite an examiner from outside the Department or the University. The qualifying exam is both written (four hours each for two consecutive days) and oral (two hours). The written exams are set on the last Thursday and Friday mornings in March; the oral exams follow in the next two weeks. Other arrangements may be made for students who are accelerating their progress to the Ph.D. phase of the program or, in exceptional instances, for other reasons.

Again, the purpose of the qualifying examination is to help the faculty to assess the student's scholarly progress since entering the program at Yale, and it is only one of the means whereby that assessment is made. Although a high quality of performance is expected and demanded of all students, each written and oral examination is tailored to that student's interests, goals, and previous studies at Yale. There is no fixed syllabus or course of study for the contents of which all students are held equally responsible. Because students come to study in the Department with diverse backgrounds and degrees of preparation, and because we normally allow only two years of full-time study before the qualifying exams must be taken, students come variously prepared to the examination experience and are expected to perform variously in the course of it. Therefore, advancement to the dissertation research phase of the Ph.D. program depends on faculty evaluation of the totality of the student's performance and progress, and not on examination performance alone. For that reason, a student whose performance on the qualifying exams is judged unsatisfactory is not permitted to retake the examinations.

MA and M.Phil. Degrees

The MA degree is intended only for students not continuing in the Ph.D. program. No anthropology student may petition for both the MA and the M.Phil. degree. The MA requirements include (1) completion of one full year of graduate study with an average grade of High Pass or better and (2) work of quality judged appropriate by the Department for the award of the degree, subject to review by the relevant Graduate School Committee on Degrees. In reviewing an application for this degree, the Department pays special attention to the quality of written papers submitted by the applicant in course work.

The academic requirements for the M.Phil. Degree are the same as for the Ph.D. except for submission of a prospectus and the writing of a dissertation.

Preparing and Defending the Dissertation Prospectus

Admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. requires the preparation of a detailed prospectus for original dissertation research.  The prospectus should be completed during the semester following the qualifying exams, but no later than the end of the student’s third year. It should be approved by the Department faculty before its final meeting of the spring term. 

A student may not initiate fieldwork or other research for the dissertation until the prospectus has been approved by the Department faculty and the student has been advanced to candidacy.

The prospectus should be prepared in consultation with the student’s dissertation supervisor and at least two other scholars (one of whom must be a regular member of the Department faculty). These scholars shall constitute the prospectus defense committee, to which the student must present a written version of about 2000-2500 words, prepared in a format appropriate to the subfield. The committee will convene an oral examination and discussion of that prospectus with the student. The committee may require revisions of this prospectus and additional defense meetings before giving final endorsement.

After the student has successfully defended the prospectus, the cover page must be signed by the committee and submitted to the DGS at least one week prior to the faculty meeting in which it is to be considered (which shall be no later than the penultimate spring term faculty meeting).

When the prospectus is presented to the faculty, the DGS will make copies of the prospectus available for consideration and the student’s supervisor will summarize the committee’s evaluation of the proposed research.  Faculty approval of the prospectus is by majority vote.  Failing an affirmative vote, the prospectus will be referred back to the student and the student’s committee for further work.

The prospectus should represent the student's best judgment and intentions about his/her proposed dissertation research. It is in the nature of our discipline that conditions and opportunities may change in the course of the actual research. The student is free to make necessary adjustments and changes to the design, in consultation with his/her supervisor.  However, if these alterations are substantial enough in topic and/or method, the student may be required to write and present another prospectus to conform to Graduate School regulations. 

The Dissertation

The Ph.D. dissertation is normally based on fieldwork or laboratory research, although in special circumstances the department does approve projects on library or other kinds of documentary research. It is, in any event, expected to be an original and significant contribution to scholarship in the student's chosen field. The supervisor is chosen by the student in the course of preparation of the prospectus, and that choice is subject to approval by the faculty at the time of submission of the prospectus. This person need not be the chair of the student's advisory committee, or even a member of that committee. In any case two must be faculty at Yale. It is possible, and occasionally necessary for various reasons, formally to change one's dissertation supervisor.

Following completion of dissertation research, the student is expected to return to Yale and spend another year or more in residence while writing the dissertation.

The formal deadline set by the Graduate School for completion of all requirements for the Ph.D. is six years from matriculation, beyond which students are not permitted to register as such, without the recommendation of their departments and special permission from the Divisional Dean of the Graduate School. Informally, however, students who have not completed their dissertations within six years may remain affiliated with the Department and may continue to work with their supervisors on their dissertations. Over the past two decades, the average time to completion of the dissertation and award of the Ph.D. has been about seven and one-half years. The Graduate School and the Department regard that as excessive and are cooperating in extensive efforts to ensure that most students finish the Ph.D. program in six years or less.