PhD in Anthropology: Biological Anthropology

Graduate students in Biological Anthropology acquire the PhD degree through mastery of a core curriculum and completion of advanced study and research in a chosen field of specialization. The curricular goal is to foster understanding of human Biological adaptation and its evolutionary basis through study of ecological, demographic, genetic, developmental, paleontological, and epidemiological dimensions of human adaptation. Comprehensive training in theory and topical research provides the base from which a student’s specialization can be developed under the direction of a supervisory committee.

During the first six quarters of enrollment, the student gains contact with faculty in the program and acquires the general competence and background necessary for advanced work through a series of required core courses. The comprehensive and general examinations follow this part of the program. The second part of the program involves research and completion of an acceptable dissertation project. Appropriate time for completion of the entire program is four to six years.


An applicant for admission to the graduate program must have a BA or BS degree. An undergraduate major in anthropology is helpful, but those who have not majored in anthropology are also encouraged to apply. In the review of an application, course work in the following areas is considered especially desirable as preparatory for advanced studies: biological anthropology, cultural anthropology, archaeology, biology and zoology, mathematics, and statistics.


An entering student is assigned an advisor from the biological anthropology faculty; the student should consult with this advisor each quarter concerning study plans. (The supervisory committee chairperson when named continues this role – see below.) The student's first year advisor may be different from the advisor for the Master's paper or PhD committee chair. Advisors often shift based on the changing interests of the student.

PhD Degree

Candidates for the PhD degree must:

  1. Satisfy the Graduate School's requirements (see the University of Washington Graduate School Bulletin).
  2. Complete the core curriculum.
  3. Pass the comprehensive examination.
  4. Complete a Master's paper.
  5. Submit an acceptable PhD dissertation proposal.
  6. Present a dissertation colloquium.
  7. Pass the general examination.
  8. Fulfill the teaching requirement.
  9. Submit an acceptable PhD dissertation, present a seminar based on the dissertation.
  10. Pass the final examination.


A student with a limited background in biological anthropology must complete, upon entry to the program:

BIO A 502 (6 credits) Preceptorial Reading in Biological Anthropology.

If, in the view of the advisor, a student has a limited background in other subfields of anthropology, the student must complete, as soon as possible, either or both of the following:

ANTH 500 (6 cr) Preceptorial Reading in Sociocultural Anthropology
ARCHY 501 (6 cr) Preceptorial Reading in Archaeology

The following courses constitute the core curriculum:

BIO A 450 (5 cr) Biodemography Seminar
BIO A 473 (5 cr) Biological Adaptability of Human Populations
BIO A 482 (5 cr) Human Population Genetics
BIO A 483 (5 cr) Human Genetics, Disease, and Culture
BIO A 486 (3 cr) Primate Socioecology
BIO A 520 (5 cr) Human Behavioral Ecology
BIO A 523 (5 cr) Social Networks and Health: Biocultural Prespectives
BIO A 569 (5 cr) Demographic Analysis
BIO A 591 (5 cr) Issues in Human Paleontology

A student is encouraged to take all of the core courses, and is required to take at least 5 core courses selected under the guidance of his or her faculty advisor.

In addition, the research design course is required:

BIO A 525 (5 cr) Biocultural Research Methods & Study Design

These courses provide a broad view of the theory, methods and research concerns of biological anthropology. They also provide students an opportunity to identify their primary research interests and those of the faculty. A student must complete the core courses with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0. A grade of less than 2.7 in any core course is unsatisfactory; normally, the student must repeat the course, but may, by petition to the biological anthropology faculty, seek to remedy the deficiency in another way.

Finally, each student must complete one of the following statistics sequences for a grade (or the equivalent as approved by the biological anthropology faculty):

  • BIOST 511, 512, and 513 
  • BIOST 517 and 518 
  • SOC 504, 505, and 506, or 
  • POL S 500, 501 and 503

Each student must satisfactorily complete all of the above courses before taking the comprehensive examination. Additional courses, relevant to particular research interests, should be chosen in consultation with the student's advisor.

Comprehensive (Written) Examination

This is an examination of the student's general knowledge of biological anthropology, as derived primarily from the contents of the core courses and as applied to current issues in the field. The examination consists of questions selected by the faculty and is designed to test a student's ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate theories, concepts and data. A student is expected to take this examination no later than the eighth quarter of enrollment in the Program in Biological Anthropology.

The faculty sets the dates of the examination. The exam comprises four questions and is scheduled for six hours. The complete examination may be taken once, and leads to one of three outcomes:

Pass, with the recommendation to proceed in the PhD program – awarded when the score on each question is 3.0 or above.

Conditional Pass – awarded when the answer to one or two questions are scored at or below 2.9. The condition is satisfied when the student demonstrates competence by successfully retaking the relevant portion(s) of the examination.

Failure – awarded when the answers to three or more questions are scored at or below 2.9. Students who fail this examination may not proceed toward the PhD although they may, provided the overall score on the comprehensive examination is at least 2.7, earn an MA by completing all requirements for that degree.

Master's Paper

Within one quarter of passing the Comprehensive Examination and before taking the General Examination, the student submits a Master’s paper in some area of special interest within biological anthropology. The topic and scope of the paper must be approved by the student's master's reading committee. The reading committee must consist of the student's advisor and at least one other biological anthropology faculty member. The paper may be a literature review that offers a critical synthesis of the material covered or an original research paper. (The scope of the Master’s paper is similar to articles in Evolutionary Anthropology.)    

The completed master’s paper will be graded on a scale of 1.0 to 4.0 by each member of the master's reading committee. A passing grade is earned when each score is 3.0 and above, a conditional pass is earned when one or two members give a score below 2.9. A student who passes conditionally will be required to revise and resubmit the paper for a grade.  A failing grade results when all graders give a score of 2.9 or lower. Students who receive a failing grade may not proceed toward the PhD; however, the paper will count toward the Master’s paper requirement if the average score is at least a 2.7.

An MA degree can be obtained upon successfully completing the comprehensive examination and the Master’s paper.

PhD Supervisory Committee

A student should designate a Supervisory Committee chairperson (usually, but not always the same person as their Master's advisor) by the time they submit their Master's paper and constitute a full committee within a quarter after acceptance of their Master's paper.  The Supervisory Committee shall consist of a chairperson chosen from the graduate faculty in Biological Anthropology, a Graduate School Representative (GSR) and from two to five other members. At least 50 percent of the full committee (excluding the GSR) must be from the Biological faculty. Because the core curriculum is considered minimum basic preparation for the discipline, a student should consult with their Supervisory Committees concerning additional preparation necessary for research in a specialized area.

Dissertation Proposal

After completing the Master’s paper, the student subsequently presents a formal written proposal of original research to the Supervisory Committee. The Supervisory committee may require the student to complete one or more literature reviews as part of developing the dissertation proposal. Where appropriate, the proposal should be prepared in a form suitable for submission to a funding agency (e.g. NSF DDIG, Wenner-Gren Foundation, or Leaky Foundation). 


Usually, before the general examination, the candidate presents an overview of the proposed dissertation research in a colloquium to which all members of the Department of Anthropology are invited. The colloquium is usually held within one quarter of passing the general examination.

General (Oral) Examination

A two-hour general examination focusing on the candidate's proposed area of research and its theoretical and methodological foundation is administered by the supervisory committee. The general examination should be taken within five quarters (of enrollment) of taking the comprehensive examination, and must be scheduled in advance with the Graduate School (via the Graduate Program Advisor in Anthropology). Upon successful completion of the general examination, the student is admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree.

Teaching Requirement

Before receiving the PhD degree, the candidate is expected to teach a course in anthropology with course design, content and preparation subject to the approval of a faculty member. The course must be evaluated by the students enrolled; the biological anthropology faculty must be apprised of the evaluation. In the event that such a teaching opportunity is not available, the student may, upon approval of the biological anthropology faculty, use experience as an instructor of courses in other departments or as a teaching assistant to meet this requirement.

Seminar and Final Examination

Following completion of research, the candidate prepares a dissertation which is submitted to the dissertation reading committee (see University of Washington Bulletin). On the recommendation of this committee, the candidate presents to the community a seminar based upon the dissertation, and then sits for the final examination (an oral defense of the dissertation required by the Graduate School and administered by the PhD supervisory committee).

Terminal Master's Program 

Candidates for the MA degree must:

Satisfy the Graduate School requirements for the MA degree (see the University of Washington Bulletin).

  1. Complete 4 of the 6 core courses, as well as the biostatistics series and research design course.
  2. Constitute an MA supervisory committee. The committee consists of at least two members and no more than four; the chair must be a member of the biological anthropology faculty, and at least one other member must belong to the graduate faculty in anthropology.
  3. Submit a formal research proposal to the supervisory committee. It is strongly recommended that the proposal be approved by the end of the fourth full-time academic quarter of residence.
  4. Complete nine credit hours at the 700-level and submit a thesis, if pursuing a thesis MA degree. Write a research paper and complete at least nine hours of coursework at the 600-level with a single faculty member, if pursuing a non-thesis MA degree.
  5. Pass a final examination administered by the student's supervisory committee (a grad school requirement).

A student who enters the program to earn an MA degree is expected to complete all requirements within six to nine academic quarters of full-time enrollment (or its equivalent).

A student admitted to the Master's program must apply for admission to the Doctoral program before pursuing a PhD degree.