Qualifying Examination - Social Anthropology

Normally, at the end of their first year, the student will form a Qualifying Examination Committee consisting of at least three faculty members (one of whom may be from outside the department). After completing the qualifying examination in the fall of the third year, students will form a Dissertation Prospectus Committee. Students may choose to keep the same members from their Qualifying Examination Committee or choose new members.

The Qualifying Examination has four parts, including three sets of written documents and an oral examination. Each of these is discussed in more detail below.

  1. Reading Lists
  2. Qualifying Examination Essays
  3. Research Plan Overview
  4. Qualifying Examination Oral Defense

Reading Lists


In consultation with their Qualifying Examination Committee, students will develop reading lists that pertain directly to their research interests. Ordinarily, at least one will be regionally focused, and the others thematically or theoretically focused.

These lists are not meant to be comprehensive overviews of fields of research. Nor are they meant to be uniform or standardized. Instead, they should be organized around the student’s particular research concerns and created to serve the student’s unique scholarly objectives. Each list should have a title and contain a brief paragraph explaining the composition of the list and its justification in terms of the relationship between the scholarship and the student’s proposed project.

One way for students to proceed is to first boil down their research interests to one page, and then ask themselves: what literatures, regional, theoretical, and/or analytical, do they need to master in order to successfully carry out this project? Reading lists should focus on contemporary work but anchor it in older traditions.

The composition and framing of reading lists are expected to evolve as students read more widely and deeply. Students submit their final lists when they are prepared to receive essay prompts from the committee and schedule the oral defense, ordinarily in their third year, and no later than the fall semester of their fourth year.


The reading lists serve important goals, which students should keep in mind as they create their lists. The most fundamental, of course, is to ground the student’s PhD research. These lists will serve as the basis for the field essays, the prospectus, and later, the dissertation itself. At the heart of every good dissertation will be carefully constructed reading lists. The reading lists will also serve as a vehicle by which students can begin identifying the fields of intellectual endeavor in which they will claim expertise and by which they will define themselves intellectually. Many students will eventually teach in these sub-fields; creating the reading lists will serve as an exercise in constructing meaningful sets of readings from which they can later draw in developing syllabi for their own courses.


No more than 200 entries total. 

Qualifying Examination Essays

Guidelines & Aims

Upon receiving the final lists from the student, the Qualifying Examination Committee generates 5 essay questions for the student. The student selects two 2 questions and respond in the form of two essays, each not exceeding 15 pages double-spaced (30 pages total). The student has 7 days from receipt of the questions to submit the essays.

Length & Timeline

The maximum length for each qualifying essay is 15 pages, double-spaced. Students have 7 days to submit the essays.

Research Plan Overview

Guidelines & Aims

The research plan overview is a brief, synthetic statement that brings together the two field essays and explains the student’s research purpose to the committee. It might be thought of as a preliminary sketch of the student’s planned dissertation research. This document will be presented at the general examination oral defense along with the reading lists and field essays.


No more than 2 to 3 pages.

Qualifying Examination Oral Defense

The Graduate Program Administrator will maintain a file or dossier for every Social Anthropology graduate student. Students are responsible for submitting their reading lists, qualifying essays, and research plan overview to the administrator for inclusion in their file.

When all the documents required for the General Examination Oral Defense are available in the file, the Graduate Program Administrator, in consultation with the student and committee, will schedule the Oral Defense. Two weeks before the defense is held, the Graduate Program Administrator will distribute the full set of documents to the student’s General Examination Committee.

Due Date for Qualifying Exam Requirement

Ordinarily, students complete the Qualifying Examination in their G3 year, and no later than the fall semester of the G4 year.