Graduate Program in Sociocultural Anthropology

degree requirements

This page contains the departmental degree requirements for sociocultural graduate students. For information on the more general doctoral degree requirements of the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences, click here.

Washington University’s Department of Anthropology does not offer terminal MA degrees. The MA Degree may be obtained as part of a student’s progression through the doctoral program. All MA degree requirements are also requirements for doctoral candidacy whether the student actually receives the MA degree or not. Continuation to the Ph.D. requires being advanced to doctoral candidacy.

The entire faculty monitors graduate student progress and votes upon decisions regarding the student’s evaluation and fulfillment of requirements until a student advances to doctoral candidacy. The student’s committee recommends to the chair that a student be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. After advancement to candidacy, student progress is evaluated by the student’s committee, which will always consist of a minimum of three permanent members of the anthropology faculty. This committee has authority to set specific Ph.D. candidacy requirements for the student.

MA Degree Requirements

Required Courses:  Sociocultural graduate students are required to complete the following courses during the first two years of study:

  • 472 - Social Theory and Anthropology.  All students are required to take Anthropology 472 in the fall of their first year. Under special circumstances, this requirement may be delayed or waived by petitioning the entire departmental faculty.
  • 4123 - Argumentation through Ethnography
  • 5712 - Advanced Social Theory
  • 501- Methods/Proposal Writing.  All students are required to take Anthropology 501 in the Spring of their second year.  Under special circumstances, this requirement may be delayed or waived by petitioning the entire departmental faculty.

Two Subdisciplinary Course requirements:  All students must complete at least one course taught by a faculty member of the anthropology department in each of the two subdisciplines other than their own. Students with good cause to substitute prior extensive coursework in the subdiscipline, especially in the context of a Master’s degree at another university, for one or both of the other subdisciplinary requirements may petition the relevant subdisciplinary faculty to do so. The subdisciplinary requirements are generally completed in the first or second year.

Courses with Six Faculty:  All graduate students are required to have had courses with at least six different departmental faculty members. Team-taught courses may count for both faculty members. 

Credit Hours:  The department requires 36 credit hours with an average of B or better for the award of an MA degree.

Petition for the Award of the Masters Degree:  Once a student has completed all requirements for the MA degree, the student and his or her advisor submit a petition to the chair; the chair circulates the petition to the entire faculty and forwards it to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences. This petition should include documentation of satisfactory completion of all the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences requirements (including cumulative credits and grade point average) and the requirements listed above. Sample petitions are available in the academic coordinator’s office.

Additional Sociocultural Requirements for the First Three Years

Area Expertise:  All graduate students are required to complete elective coursework or independent reading on their regional area of expertise.

Second Year Paper: In the third semester students write a Second Year Paper comprising a general statement of their research direction and a critical review of key bodies of relevant literature.  The Paper typically comprises sections on two areas of social theory and one section on relevant research in the region where fieldwork is planned.  Section topics and readings are worked with committee members before the end of the second semester.  The Paper is submitted during the first week of December and the committee meets before December 15 to discuss the work and provide constructive critique.  (In cases of unsatisfactory progress, the department will adhere to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences guidelines on academic standing and probation.)  A final draft of the Paper is submitted by the start of the fourth semester. 

Language Proficiency:  All graduate students must demonstrate proficiency in the language(s) necessary for fieldwork, as relevant.

Research Ethics and Risk Assessment Workshop: Third year students participate in a Research Ethics and Risk Assessment Workshop in which they lead a discussion on potential risks to research subjects and self and other ethical issues that may arise in connection with the research setting, questions, and methodologies.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Student-Specific Requirements for Doctoral Candidacy:  Students may be asked by their committees to fulfill additional requirements, directly relevant to their doctoral dissertation research, prior to admission to candidacy. These may include specialized training outside of the Anthropology Department in other areas relevant to the student’s scholarly pursuits.  Students will be formally notified by their committees of such additional requirements.

Doctoral Proposal and Hearing:  All sociocultural graduate students are required to complete and receive approval of a Doctoral Proposal. This may take the form of one of the major external grant proposals (generally NSF, Wenner-Gren, or SSRC). Students should consult with their advisors at the start of the third year about the format of the proposal. By the end of the fifth semester, students should have held a proposal hearing before a faculty committee consisting of an advisor and at least two other permanent members of the anthropology faculty.

Petition for Admission to Doctoral Candidacy:  Once a student’s Doctoral Proposal has been successfully defended, and all other requirements set by the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences, subdiscipline, and the student’s committee have been met, the student and advisor should submit a petition to the chair for advancement to candidacy; the chair will then inform the entire faculty and forward the petition to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences. Petitions should be in the form of a memorandum explaining how all of the requirements were satisfied.  Sample petitions are available in the academic coordinator’s office.

Teaching Requirement: As part of the training and professionalization of graduate students in Anthropology, the Department requires all students to participate in a minimum of FIVE Mentored Teaching Experiences. For more information, please see the Department Requirement web page.

The Doctoral Dissertation:  The Doctoral Dissertation must constitute an integrated, coherent original work, whose parts are logically connected to each other. Normally, the Doctoral Dissertation consists of a sequence of integrated chapters that introduce the dissertation research, provide the background and the methods for the research, present and interpret the results, and then tie the various portions of the dissertation together in a concluding chapter, with appropriate citations. In this context, it may be appropriate for the dissertation to consist of research articles that have been written (and perhaps published) by the graduate student during the course of the doctoral research. Whether this dissertation format is appropriate for a given dissertation needs to be determined by the student and her/his doctoral committee by the beginning of the writing stage. Should it be deemed appropriate, it must have an introductory chapter that provides the theme and core questions of the dissertation research and that explains the relationship(s) between the constituent chapters and parts, and it must also have a concluding chapter that brings together the information and ideas expressed in the thesis, relates them to the introduction, and shows how they constitute a coherent whole. (See the “minimal requirements for dissertations” for the GSAS requirements regarding a dissertation that includes previously written materials.) Students are encouraged to meet early and regularly with their advisors and their dissertation committee after returning from the field.

Students are encouraged to seek external funding to support dissertation write-up. As the writing progresses, and in consultation with the advisor, the student should set a conditional target date for the oral defense of the dissertation. At least six weeks before this conditional target date, each member of the committee must be given a full draft of the dissertation. Each member of the committee will then have one month to determine whether or not the draft is ready for a defense. The conditional target date for the defense can only be confirmed and the defense scheduled after all committee members have approved the dissertation draft or specified changes that must be made prior to a defense.


Filing Notice of Title, Scope, and Procedure of Dissertation Form:  At the end of their fourth year of full-time study, the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences expects students to have completed all the Ph.D. requirements except for the dissertation. Students who cannot identify three faculty members who are willing to serve on their committee are not considered to be making satisfactory academic progress. Students are required to submit the Notice of Title, Scope, and Procedure of Dissertation form to the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences by the beginning of the fifth year of full-time enrollment in the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences. Students in the sociocultural graduate program are encouraged to file this form after obtaining approval of the Doctoral Proposal, generally in the third year.

Changing Academic Advisors and Committees:  Students may change advisors and committee members at any time in their graduate career by finding new faculty members willing to take on such duties and by informing the chair of the department in writing. Any faculty member who opposes such changes may raise objections with the department chair.

Evaluation of Students

First Year Evaluation of All Students:  At the end of each student’s first year in the program, the faculty will complete a formal evaluation of their progress and status in the program. This will be based upon the student’s performance in courses (including testimonials of faculty, grades, and written course evaluations), their writing skills, their ability to complete work in a timely fashion, and their potential for independent scholarly research. All students will be notified in writing of the conclusions of the faculty. These letters will, in most cases, take one of four forms.  Students who show good prospects for the Ph.D. program will be informed that they are making good progress in the program and are encouraged to continue. Students about whom there are some doubts as to their potential for the Ph.D. program will be advised that the second year is a critical training period for them to demonstrate that they will be able to perform at the Ph.D. level. In some cases, it is obvious at the end of the first year that a student will not be permitted to enter the doctoral program. Such students will be invited to remain in the program in the second year to complete an A.M. degree. In some cases, students may be notified that they are not invited to continue work toward the A.M. degree in the second year. The intent of this evaluation is to keep students as informed as possible of their current status in the program and thus reduce any ambiguity and anxiety regarding their performance. The faculty also believe that students’ best interests are served by knowing as early as possible about any academic difficulties.

Second Year Evaluation of All Students: Passing the second year evaluation is a Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences requirement for third year funding. The department also takes the opportunity at this time to assess each student’s performance at this point in their careers when they typically are making the shift from classroom student to researcher. The second year review involves discussion of each student in a faculty meeting, and a review of the student’s research interests. The student’s written work is reviewed by his/her advisor and proposal committee. Feedback about the review is provided to the student by the academic advisor.

Status of Students Whose Progress is Delayed: Students who are beyond the fourth semester and who have not yet received their A.M. degree, those beyond the sixth semester who have not been admitted to doctoral candidacy, and those beyond their seventh year since matriculation will be asked to document their recent progress toward their degree and their plans for the coming year. Students requesting formal leaves of absence will be asked to do so during these reviews. A faculty committee appointed by the chair and composed of members of each subdiscipline will review these proposals and make recommendations to the chair and the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences regarding leaves of absence and formal extensions of the four-year rule for completion of master’s degrees and seven-year rule for completion of the Ph.D. For further details on these time limits, please see the sections of the Office of Graduate Studies in Arts & Sciences website under "Leaves".