PhD in Anthropology: Sociocultural Anthropology

Program Overview

Admission | MPH/PhD | Program Structure | Ethical Conduct

The graduate program in sociocultural anthropology is designed to train professional anthropologists to work in either academic or non-academic settings. Each student is expected to achieve high levels of competence in the theories and methods of the discipline through successful completion of a series of requirements, as outlined below.

PhD Degree

To obtain a PhD, the student must:

  1. Complete the first-year core curriculum, which includes core courses in sociocultural anthropology history and theory, with a minimum grade of 3.5 in each, and meet the requirements of the first-year portfolio evaluation.
  2. Complete the second-year sequence in ethnographic methods, and research design with a minimum grade of 3.5 in each.
  3. Complete a research competency paper that has passed review by the student's pre-Masters’ Supervisory Committee by the end of the eighth quarter of full-time work in the program, and completion of nine ANTH 600/700 credits in conjunction with this requirement. Upon completion of steps 1- 4 the student will obtain a Master of Arts (MA) in Anthropology: Sociocultural Anthropology.
  4. Demonstrate basic competence in a language other than the candidate's native language.
  5. Pass the General Exam.
  6. Make a formal presentation about the project at a dissertation colloquium.
  7. Conduct ethical and methodologically sound dissertation research.
  8. Acquire training and experience in teaching at the university level.
  9. Complete a PhD dissertation that is approved and signed by the supervisory committee.
  10. Pass an oral defense of the dissertation (also called the Final Exam).
  11. Satisfy all Graduate School requirements (see the UW Graduate School).


Sociocultural Anthropology is looking for graduate students whose research interests can be supported by our faculty expertise, and who show promise for success. We desire to build a more diverse field of sociocultural anthropology and are committed to recruiting students who could contribute to these efforts. We strongly suggest that prospective students review the profiles of current faculty for areas of common interest, and email prospective faculty mentors to discuss plans. Prospective graduate students must have completed a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree before enrollment, but this degree does not have to be in anthropology. During the process of earning the PhD, students will also earn a Master of Arts (MA) in Anthropology: Sociocultural Anthropology. 

Applicants are not required to submit GRE's. The next admission cycle for Sociocultural Anthropology will be for Autumn 2026 enrollment. Applications open on September 1st, 2025 and must be submitted by December 15, 2025. Applicants may apply for and be admitted for autumn quarter only. Offers of admission are usually mailed prior to the first of March. Those receiving offers of admission must respond by April 15. Please visit the Graduate School's Admission Requirements page for a complete list of requirements. Visit Anthropology's Graduate Admissions page for admission information specific to our department. Please visit Apply Now to submit your application. 

MPH/PhD Concurrent degree program

This concurrent degree program offers interdisciplinary curriculum in the fields of public health and anthropology. Students who complete this program will receive two degrees, a Master of Public Health (MPH) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Anthropology. Students will matriculate into one of four MPH tracks and complete either the Sociocultural OR Biological Anthropology PhD track programs. For more information about this option please visit MPH/PhD Program.

Statistics Concentration

Graduate student pursuing a PhD in anthropology may also consider completing a Statistics Concentration in Anthropology.

Ethical Conduct

Sociocultural students must demonstrate high standards of ethical behavior. Breaches of ethics and/or irresponsible behavior in any of the following areas (at any time in the program) will be considered evidence that the student should not remain in the program.

  • Ethical conduct in one’s academic life. Students are expected to strictly adhere to the university’s guidelines for ethical academic conduct, including its policies on plagiarism and integrity of research. Please see the university’s code of student conduct for a complete list. 
  • Ethical conduct as a researcher. Field research in anthropology requires sensitivity, honesty, and an awareness of the potential ethical hazards of studying the lives of others. Students are expected to adhere to the AAA and HSD guidelines for protecting human research subjects. This includes avoiding deceptive or covert research, behaving with consideration and respect toward one’s research participants and their communities, respecting the laws of the country in which a student conducts research, and taking responsibility–to the extent possible–for the uses to which the research is put.
  • Ethical conduct as a teacher. A University of Washington Faculty Senate resolution notes that teaching requires “respect for the dignity of others and their right to free speech,” “intellectual honesty,” and “a proper environment for learning.” As a member of the Department of Anthropology, each student is expected to adhere to these and other standards for ethical conduct, including those mentioned under personal ethics. 
  • Ethical conduct toward the discipline of anthropology. Students are expected to fulfill their obligations to funders and sponsors, and to conduct themselves in the field so that their behavior does not have negative consequences for researchers who come after them or for the reputation of anthropology as a discipline. It is also expected that when the time comes to seek employment as an anthropologist and to publish their work, that students will do so with integrity and intellectual honesty.

Program Structure & Standards for Evaluation

Advisor & Supervisory CommitteeFirst-Year Core Curriculum & EvaluationAnnual Evaluations | Second-Year Sequence |Demonstration of Research Competency | Basic Competence in a Foreign Language | General Exam | Dissertation Proposal & Colloquium | Teaching Experience | Dissertation | Oral Defense (Final Exam)

Advisor & Supervisory Committee

Upon entry, all first-year sociocultural graduate students are invited to select or be assigned a faculty advisor who will advise them until they determine which faculty member will serve as the chair for their Supervisory Committee. Students are allowed to invite their faculty advisor to become their Supervisory Committee Chair. The chair must be chosen no later than the end of the fourth quarter of full time work in the program. At the pre-Masters level, the Supervisory Committee need only consist of the committee chair and one other member of the sociocultural faculty. No official paperwork needs to be submitted to create a pre-masters Supervisory Committee. 

Please refer Policy 4.2: Supervisory Committee for Graduate Students for a complete list of Supervisory Committee composition requirements. Faculty become official members of the committee when (1) the student submits a completed form for establishing a PhD Supervisory Committee to the Graduate Program Assistant, and (2) the Graduate School responds by officially inviting all proposed committee members to serve as members of the supervisory committee. Sociocultural anthropology requires that a full PhD Supervisory Committee be in place before the end of the sixth quarter of full-time work in the program. At least three members of the Supervisory Committee will also serve on the PhD dissertation Reading Committee. Students should contact the Graduate Program Assistant if they would like to change the composition of their committee after it is officially established.

First-Year Core Curriculum & Evaluation

  1. Core Sequence in Anthropological Theory  

    All first-year students must enroll in a three-quarter sequence offered in fall, winter, and spring (ANTH 565, 566, 567; 5 credits per quarter), which is commonly referred to as the "core theory courses." This sequence consists of lectures, seminar discussion, student presentations, intensive reading of the professional literature, and writing papers. The courses in this sequence are taught in rotation by sociocultural faculty and are organized around intentionally broad topical themes, which may vary year to year.  The purpose of the core sequence is to introduce contemporary debates in the context of their history in the discipline. Core course grades are awarded as follows:                                                                                                                                                 
    4.0 - 3.9 Outstanding
    3.8 - 3.7 Very good
    3.6 Good
    3.5 Satisfactory
    <3.5 Unsatisfactory
  2. 400- or 500- level Sociocultural Anthropology Courses

    Students are required to complete four 400- or 500-level courses taught by four different members of the sociocultural faculty within the first two years and taken for a numeric grade. Students should expect to complete at least two such courses during the first year, and at least two more during the second year. This requirement is designed to ensure breadth of training in sociocultural anthropology, and to provide opportunities to establish relationships with faculty with whom they may eventually wish to work as dissertation advisor or supervisory committee members.
  3. First-Year Portfolio 

    Students are required to submit to the sociocultural faculty a "First-Year Portfolio" not later than the 8th week of spring quarter in their first year of graduate study in the program.The first-year portfolio will provide an overview of scholarly work accomplished during the first year of graduate study, and must include:
    • a brief self-assessment of the first year, and forward-looking plan of study
    • coursework completed during the first year, including at least one 15-20 page paper that examines some material (textual, ethnographic, historical, visual, etc) in terms of a current debate within anthropology, and sets forth an argument.  
    • evidence of teaching (if any)
    • evidence of conference participation or other professional activities (if any)
    • evidence of applications submitted for fellowships, grants or other opportunities (if any)

    Detailed guidelines for the portfolio and its evaluation will be provided to students at the start of fall quarter.

  4. First-Year Evaluation

    The sociocultural faculty as a whole will meet at the end of the first year to review each student's progress in the program. In order to continue to the second year of the program, students must successfully pass this first-year evaluation. Any student who does not meet these requirements will not be permitted to continue in the program. The core instructors should alert the student regarding potential problems as soon as possible in the first year so that the student is made aware of any deficiencies. The following criteria will be used to evaluate each student’s first-year performance:
    • The student has demonstrated careful and critical reading of course materials. They are able to state the major points of the reading and make effective connections with other course materials. In cases where the student has encountered difficulties with course content, they have sought out the instructor for recommendations for remedial reading or clarification.
    • The student has contributed effectively to class discussions. The student shows a willingness to engage with the course materials and is developing skills of good communication and citizenship in scholarly exchange. In cases where English is a second language or where there are other difficulties inhibiting participation, the student has communicated this to the core course instructors and sought recommendations to remedy the problem or has negotiated accommodations in redefining appropriate expectations.
    • The student has demonstrated the ability to write well or is making significant progress in developing good writing skills. In cases of writing difficulties, the student has pursued recommendations to remedy the problem.

Annual Evaluations

Once the student has passed the first-year evaluation, their progress through the program will be evaluated annually at the end of each academic year by the sociocultural faculty as a whole and the results of that evaluation will be communicated to the student in writing by the student’s committee chair.

Second-Year Sequence 

  1. Core Sequence in Ethnographic Methods and Research Design 

    During the second year in the program, all sociocultural students must complete the required seminar sequence in ethnographic methods (ANTH 550; 5 credits, autumn) and research design (ANTH 551; 5 credits, winter) and must obtain a minimum grade of 3.5 in each.  The purpose of this requirement is to help students develop the research and writing skills they will need in order to successfully complete a dissertation. Core course grades are awarded as follows: 

    4.0 - 3.9 Outstanding
    3.8 - 3.7 Very good
    3.6 Good
    3.5 Satisfactory
    <3.5 Unsatisfactory
  2. 400- or 500-level Sociocultural Anthropology Courses 

    Students are required to complete four 400- or 500-level courses taught by four different members of the sociocultural faculty within the first two years and taken for a numeric grade. Students should expect to complete at least two such courses during the first year, and at least two more during the second year. This requirement is designed to ensure breadth of training in sociocultural anthropology, and to provide opportunities to establish relationships with faculty with whom they may eventually wish to work as dissertation advisor or supervisory committee members.

Demonstration of Research Competency

Prior to the end of the eighth quarter of full-time work in the program, each student must have successfully completed a substantial research paper on a topic that is to be developed in discussions with their pre-masters Supervisory Committee and 9 credits of ANTH 600. The research competency paper must demonstrate the student’s ability to do original research, although it need not be fieldwork based. This requirement can also be met by successfully completing an MA thesis in anthropology, and 9 credits of ANTH 700. Students must submit a Master's Degree request (non-thesis) in MyGradPlease refer to the Procedural Steps to Degree page for details about how to submit requests in MyGrad. Once the Graduate Program Assistant is informed that the student has completed their Research Competency paper and fulfilled all related degree requirements, the request will be approved. A copy of the approved research competency paper should be sent to the Graduate Program Assistant. 

If an incoming student has earned an MA in anthropology (or a related discipline) within five years prior to the date of admission, they may petition for the MA thesis to be accepted in lieu of the research competency paper. Approval of such a petition is at the discretion of the student's pre-masters supervisory committee.

Research Competency Paper Details:

  1. It is expected that an RC paper should be the length of a publishable article. In other words, it should not be as long as many MA theses, but should be about 25-40 pages (double-spaced) in length
  2. The topic for research should be developed by the student in consultation with their pre-masters supervisory committee
  3. The RC paper must be evaluated through feedback and approved by a student’s pre-masters supervisory committee members.
  4. The RC paper does not need to be based on primary ethnographic research. Many RC papers are based on library research as a prologue to ethnographic research. Students are encouraged to use archival material, to the extent that it is available for access with the assistance of modest grant and/or graduate school travel funding
  5. An RC paper should be an attempt at a publishable article based on applying theory or concepts to data. Neither a literature review nor a research proposal may be used to meet the RC requirement. Students should strive to complete a product worthy of publication, however, publication of the RC paper is not a requirement.
  6. A student may opt to write a formal MA thesis rather than writing an RC paper. In such cases, students must adhere to all the guidelines set out by the Graduate School for eventual submission, including the completion of 9 credits of Anth 700. Submission information needed for completion of a thesis MA can be found here:

Basic Competence in a Foreign Language

Each student must demonstrate basic competence in a language other than their native language. By no later than the end of the fifth quarter of full-time work in the department or by two years after the date of entry into the program (whichever is sooner), each sociocultural graduate student, in consultation with their committee chair and other members of the supervisory committee, must formulate, justify, and submit to the Graduate Program Assistant, a plan for meeting this requirement. This plan should indicate (a) what the language is, (b) why it was picked, (c) how the student's competence will be determined, and (d) when the student is to complete this requirement.

General Exam

Students must establish a Supervisory Committee before completing their general exam. The general exam is the method used to determine whether or not advanced graduate students have the skills and knowledge necessary for undertaking original dissertation research in, and otherwise being a doctoral candidate in, sociocultural anthropology. There are two parts to this examination: (1) a written exam, which consists of either a timed examination (usually 6-8 hours long, but the exact length is to be decided by the supervisory committee in consultation with the graduate student) or a one week take-home exam, and (2) an oral examination. The examination is to emphasize the sociocultural theories, methods, and ethnographic knowledge that constitutes four areas of the student's primary areas of specialization established by mutual agreement of the student and their Supervisory Committee.

This exam must be attempted no later than the ninth quarter of full time work or no later than five years after the date of entry into the program (whichever is sooner) if the student is to remain in good standing. On the basis of the performance, the Supervisory Committee will recommend that the student be either:

  1. advanced to candidacy
  2. re-examined after a further period of study; or
  3. dropped from the Ph.D. program.

General Exam Details:

  1. Students must submit a Doctoral (General Exam) request in MyGrad prior to the exam. Please refer to the Procedural Steps to Degree page for details about how to submit requests in MyGrad.
  2. Students will develop reading lists around 4 topics negotiated with their Supervisory Committee. The reading lists will be further developed in consultation with the student’s Supervisory Committee, and will go through several drafts
  3. Final reading lists tend to be 2-3 pages of bibliography per topic. However, reading lists may be longer or shorter dependent upon individual factors.
  4. The format of the written exam (whether a 2 day-timed test or a take home exam) must be decided by the student in consultation with their Supervisory Committee at the beginning of the quarter in which the exam is to be taken.
  5. The written general exam must be completed at least one week prior to the oral portion of the exam.
  6. All members of the committee must be present (enough to make quorum) including the GSR.
  7. Written exams will consist of 1-3 questions per topic, with students required to answer 1 question per topic.
  8. Written answers will vary in length depending on whether the student opts to take the 2 day timed test, or the one week take home. Answers will likely be between 12 and 20 double-spaced pages including the bibliography.

The PhC is normally conferred once the student receives a Pass on their General Examination, and all department and UW Graduate School requirements are met. Once the Graduate Program Assistant is informed that the student has completed their General Examination and fulfilled all related degree requirements, the exam request will be approved.

Dissertation Proposal & Colloquium

Upon advancement to candidacy, each student in the PhD program in sociocultural anthropology must prepare, in consultation with their Supervisory Committee, an acceptable proposal for dissertation research. Usually dissertations are grounded in an extended period of field research. The proposal must follow human subjects protocols and pass review by the Human Subjects Review Committee.

At a time no later than two quarters after passing the General Exam, the student must make an oral presentation of the dissertation proposal at a sociocultural dissertation colloquium. In this context, in a format typical of panels at professional meetings, the student is to indicate the intent of the project and the methods to be used. 

Colloquium Guidelines

The student will speak for about 40 minutes, followed by about 40 minutes of discussion. It is important that the student presentation not run overtime to allow for discussion.

The student presentation should cover the following:

    • A statement of the research question

    • An introduction to the place of research (including some images if available)

    • A description of the research methods and how they address the question

    • A discussion of the special challenges that the student anticipates having to face in the field.

Teaching Experience

Before the final oral defense is scheduled, the candidate is required to have training and experience in teaching, preferably anthropology, at the post-secondary level. This experience and training can be gained in various ways, subject to the approval of the supervisory committee. These teaching efforts are to be formally evaluated by methods deemed appropriate by the student and their supervisory committee, which usually include student and/or peer evaluations.


Students must register for a minimum of 27 credits of Dissertation Writing (ANTH 800) over a period of at least three quarters.

The student must complete a dissertation based on primary research, which is judged by the Reading Committee Members to constitute a substantial and original contribution to anthropological knowledge. Once complete, the candidate must submit the dissertation to the Reading CommitteeFor information about how to submit a dissertation, visit the Dissertation Submission page and the Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs): Overview

Oral Defense (Final Exam)

Upon the recommendation of the Reading Committee, the candidate will schedule the final oral defense of the dissertation, covering any of the relevant issues raised in and by the dissertation.Students must submit a Doctoral (Final Exam) request in MyGrad prior to the examPlease refer to the Procedural Steps to Degree page for details about how to submit requests in MyGrad. The oral defense must be held within ten years of the date the student entered the graduate program in Anthropology at the University of Washington. Please visit the Final Examination: Dissertation Defense for details.

Please take note of any relevant deadlines on the Graduate student dates & deadlines and the Academic Calendar.

Please visit the Graduation Requirement page for a comprehensive list of University requirements.