This page is designed to inform students about department, graduate school and university policies, procedures, requirements and regulations that are in place to earn a graduate degree at American University.
It is the student's responsibility to see that her/his program of study and academic file is complete and up-to-date at any given time. Current students' files are kept in the main Anthropology office and may be accessed by asking the administrative assistant to get the file. If a student has difficulty getting a faculty member to process a form or complete an evaluation, see the Graduate Program director or the Department Chair.
- Get to know and keep themselves up to date on program requirements. The department voted to terminate the Race, Gender, and Social Justice Concentration in 2013, so the only track now is the Cultural/Social Anthropology or Archaeology Concentration
- Become familiar with the university's Graduate Academic Regulations
- note schedules and deadlines for comprehensive exams, stages of dissertation preparation, etc.
- secure appropriate forms and submit them in a timely fashion to the correct University office
- make appropriate payments to the university upon completion of a stage of graduate work
It is the advisor's responsibility to be accessible to students and advise them well. Graduate advisors must know program requirements and become intimately familiar with the university's Graduate Academic Regulations. Where needed, advisors must fill out and process forms promptly and accurately. They must also verify that all appropriate paperwork is put into the student's academic file in the main office.
It is the faculty's responsibility to evaluate student work promptly and thoroughly, to make themselves accessible to students, and to provide frequent feedback and advice to students. All faculty who work with graduate students should familiarize themselves with program degree requirements and the Graduate Academic Regulations.
It is the Graduate Director's responsibility to insure that regulations are followed and, together with the Graduate Studies Committee, evaluate exceptional cases and recommend decisions to the Anthropology Council. Final graduate clearance is carried out by individual advisors and overseen by the Graduate Program Director.
Files and forms are kept in the main Anthropology office. Advisors are responsible for making sure that all materials generated in the course of study (e.g. copy of student's Program of Study, copy of thesis proposal or SRP form, copies of all other forms) are put into the student's file. Students should verify that their own files that are kept up to date. The files are found, alphabetically, in the filing cabinet marked "Graduate Files A -Z" in the main office. The department must have copies of everything for your file or you risk problems and hang-ups later on.
All graduate school and university forms needed to record progress through the graduate programs are available online on the AU web site. Most relevant forms are also available on the page marked Administration and Forms under Student Resources on the Department of Anthropology web page. Internal department forms are also available here. Many forms are also available in hard copy in the Department's main office. See the Administrative Assistant for help if you cannot find a form.
Students are assigned a faculty advisor upon admission. These assignments are considered "best matches" based on admissions material, but students may change advisors as their interests develop. If a student wants to change advisors, s/he should first contact the potential new advisor to get her/his agreement to serve as advisor. Faculty members are not required to serve as advisors to any particular student, so this agreement is vital. After a student has procured the agreement of a new advisor, the student should then inform the former advisor of the change. Advisors should be faculty from the Department of Anthropology.
The choice of an advisor is very important for a doctoral student. Since doctoral training is oriented around producing self-directed research in the form of a dissertation, the advisor ideally plays a strong mentoring role, not only for course choice, but also for choosing the dissertation topic, field site, and research methods, analyzing data, and producing the final dissertation. Advisors can also offer mentoring about occupational choices. Students are recommended to consider these issues carefully as they consider their choice of dissertation advisor. For many, the initial advisor does indeed prove to be the best match, but this is not always the case.
If a faculty member is going on leave, it is her/his responsibility to work with each advisee to arrange for another faculty member to serve as advisor during the absence. Advisors can provide information regarding internships, career development, courses outside the department (in the University and Consortium), field schools, conferences, grant applications, selection of committees for comprehensive exams and dissertations. Be sure to maintain a close relationship with your advisor!
Students' advice about advisors
To ensure good relations with your advisor, be persistent and clear about communications. Come to your advisor with plans and options. Sometimes pertinent information can be obtained from the department administrative assistant, department committee chairs, and more senior students.If you experience communication problems, talk to the Graduate Program Director, the department chair, or identify a professor to whom you can talk. More senior students often offer good advice, but they do not have authority to implement departmental actions. Please see a professor, the Graduate Program Director, or Department Chair if you have a serious problem.
Students may be admitted to the doctoral program directly after their BA or after receiving an MA degree. Students admitted from the BA usually take 3 years of full-time course work followed by work on their dissertation. Students admitted with an MA in anthropology generally take 2 years of full-time course work followed by work on their dissertation. Students with an MA in another discipline take between 2-3 years of full-time course work followed by work on their dissertation. The decision about required years of course work should be discussed between the student and her/his advisor in the first semester of the program, entered on the Program of Study Form, and approved by the Graduate Committee. Further information about PhD requirements can be found on the program Admissions & Requirements page.
Each student should fill out a program of study form with her/his advisor during the first semester of the graduate program. The decision of to require less than 3 years of full-time course work must be approved by the Graduate Director, who consults the Graduate Studies Committee. The Program of Study lays out planned coursework and other activities during the entire graduate program. This program should be revisited (and changed) as necessary, but students should consult with their advisors at least once a year. A copy of the program of study (and any updated versions) should be placed in the student's academic file in the main office.
Students register online for regular courses. Students cannot register until their advisors have authorized them to register (online). Students should consult their advisors about their planned schedule for the subsequent semester before requesting authorization to register. Professors may grant permissions and waivers online for specific courses; please contact individual professors if this is necessary.
For variable credit courses (e.g., independent studies, internships, Dissertation Preparation Workshop), students cannot register online. A variety of other forms exist for these courses.
Students signing up for ANTH 898 or ANTH 899 should use the Graduate Continuous Registration form.
For all other courses, including ANTH 897, where online registration is not possible or where additional signatures are required, students should use the Request for Registration Action form.
Generally, students are expected to complete the Ph.D. in Anthropology after 2-3 years of full-time course work or its equivalent and another 2-3 years to carry out research and write the doctoral dissertation. Doctoral students, whether full-time or part-time, are expected to complete all degree requirements in no more than 9 years after the date of first enrollment in the degree program.
Under compelling circumstance, doctoral students may apply for one-year extensions beyond the expected time to degree, for a maximum of three extensions. Students must petition the Graduate Program Director for each one-year extension. Petitions must include a timetable listing specific goals to be accomplished during the extension. Each extension must be approved by the Associate Dean of CAS and the Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Research. Additional extensions beyond three years will not be approved.
Extensions of candidacy are not automatic. The petition should be prepared thoughtfully and in sufficient detail to justify the additional year of study. Prepare the petition in close collaboration with your advisor. Refer questions to your advisor, the Graduate Studies committee, or the department chair.
All students must maintain their matriculation by registering for at least one credit hour every spring and fall semester through graduation. A course load of nine credit hours is considered "full-time." Full-time study is required for international students and most students with university financial aid awards. Since most doctoral students are funded, most are expected to be full-time students during their course work years.
Students who have finished course work may maintain full-time status by signing up for ANTH 898 (before they have defended their dissertation proposal) or ANTH 899 (after they have successfully defended their dissertation proposal and become Ph.D. candidates). ANTH 898 is a 1-9 credit course that can be repeated once and may be taken with or without regular coursework. Tuition is assessed at the 1 credit rate. ANTH 899 a 9 credit course, but tuition is assessed at the 1 credit rate. Both courses are graded SP/UP and allow students to maintain full-time status. See Graduate Continuing Enrollment form for more information. Students who are still pursuing course work and working on dissertation preparation should sign up for ANTH 897 Dissertation Preparation Workshop for the appropriate number of credit hours.
The department itself does not formally differentiate between full-time and part-time status. Unfunded students may move between full-time (3 courses/semester) and part-time (1-2 classes/semester) status as they wish, if they are not required to be full-time for other reasons. Students who attend school less than full-time may become responsible for paying back earlier school loans; please contact your loan provider or Financial Aid for further information.
As of September 2013, three comprehensive exams are required of PhD candidates, the last of which is the defense of the dissertation proposal. Students admitted before this date, including those admitted under Race, Gender, and Social Justice Concentration, should contact their advisors for further information about comprehensive examinations.
- Comp 1 ANTH 016 (Ethnographic Theory) OR ANTH 017 (Archaeological Theory)
- Comp 2 ANTH 020 Subfield of Specialization
- Comp 3 ANTH 021 Defense of Dissertation Proposal
Note that passage of each comprehensive exam (for MA or PhD) requires completion of the "Comprehensive Completion Form".
Once the candidate has successfully passed all three comprehensive exams and completed all course work, the candidate is officially a Ph.D. Candidate, or ABD (all-but dissertation). S/he may fill out the necessary forms to receive an MA in Anthropology if s/he does not already have that degree.
***When preparing bibliographies for comprehensive exams, first give them to your advisors. Once the advisor's advice is incorporated, get advice from other faculty.
***Oral exams begin with the student's brief introductory statement after which the committee asks questions, altogether lasting about 1.5 hours. Exam results are made known the same day.
***Generally, oral examinations will not be scheduled between June 1-August 31.
The first comprehensive exam is a serious critical literature review in which the student must synthesize and analyze a broad body of literature relevant to one's field of study. The body of literature that is the focus of this examination can vary widely; it should be decided by students in collaboration with their advisors before students begin drafting a required bibliography (see below). Students who know what they wish to research for their dissertation may concentrate on a related theme, but this is not a requirement of the first comp. Generally speaking, the body of literature should not be at the level of "Culture," "Urban Anthropology," or "Race and Anthropology," but at a greater level of specificity, such as "Neoliberalism and Quality of Life," "Homelessness and Race," or "Imperialism, Capitalism, and Displacement."
The literature review should identify and discuss major authors and works in the identified body of literature. The literature review should not simply discuss authors and works with which the student agrees. Students should approach all scholarly positions from a critical standpoint, analyzing the strengths and the weaknesses of each argument. Like all literature reviews, this comp is not an annotated bibliography. Instead, it must discuss the relation between and among authors and texts, identifying key debates and areas of contention.
The literature review should clearly identify the concepts central to the identified body of literature, with clear definitions of key concepts and terms. The literature review should discuss the lines of similarity and difference in the meaning of concepts by authors on various sides of the literature. The discussion should situate the meaning of relevant concepts in the historical development of anthropology. The literature review should also discuss the history of scholarship within the body of literature (i.e., the history of the production of knowledge in the literature).
This literature review is not a place to write in the first person or to explicitly discuss one's own opinions. Comp #1 is not a forum for proposing a new theory or for discussing one's own fieldwork plans. The strength of the student's analysis and overall writing in demonstrating a thorough command of the relevant literature is what determines a successful first comp.
Administration and timeline
Coordination of this examination is normally undertaken by the professors of the three foundation courses. During the fall semester, coordinators work with students to develop potential topics for their focus. Coordinators will offer a workshop on writing a compare and contrast essay. Finalization of topics will depend upon student interests; all students should work closely with advisors. Students should choose a second reader, in collaboration with their advisor as well. Both advisor and reader should be involved in student discussions about potential topic and bibliography. The second reader should be identified on the Comprehensive #1 Tracking Form.
During the Fall semester, students will identify a topic for their exam. They will develop a preliminary bibliography, which represents a number of different approaches to the issue identified. All students will provide a final topic identification and a draft bibliography to the advisor and second reader by December 1.
After this, the plan for students who enter the doctoral program with an M.A. in anthropology and those who come with a B.A. will diverge.
Students who come with an M.A. in Anthropology should provide a final bibliography to their advisor and second reader by January 30. Bibliographies should include and students, in their papers, should refer to primary sources, e.g., seminal articles, important books. Advisor and reader should approve quickly, e.g., in the following 2 weeks.
The due date for this exam for students who come with an M.A. in Anthropology is 4:30 p.m. on May 15 of the spring semester. The exam should be submitted online as a WORD document to the Department Administrative Assistant.
Students who come with a B.A. can take more time, because the department recognizes that some of them may have less familiarity with the anthropological literature. These students should consult regularly with their advisor and reader over the spring semester to develop an appropriate bibliography. Their final bibliography is due on March 20.
The due date for this exam for students who come with a B.A. in Anthropology is 4:30 p.m. on September 10 of the fall semester of their second year in the program. The exam should be submitted online as a WORD document to the Department Administrative Assistant.
If any due dates fall on the weekend, the examination is due on the Monday following the weekend at 4:30 p.m.
The examination should be typed doubled-spaced. It is limited to 20 pages of text plus bibliography. Bibliography should be prepared in a style of a professional journal in your sub-discipline.
Students should know that faculty will not be available to discuss essays over the summer.
Students who hand in late exams will be deemed to have failed the examination. Students who face truly exceptional circumstances and find they need to hand in the First Comprehensive Examination late should send a petition well in advance to the Graduate Studies Committee requesting an extension of the date;this petition should be supported by a letter from the Advisor.
The second doctoral comprehensive exam focuses on current issues and central debates that surround the student's research area and that provide theoretical and substantive context for dissertation research. The content of the exam is based on a bibliography compiled by each student and approved by her or his advisor at least one month before the exam is taken. In agreement with each student's advisor, the second comp is usually fulfilled by one of the three options:
- A take-home written essay that reviews the literature and scholarship within and outside anthropology relevant to research interests. This exam should synthesize a clearly defined segment of the anthropological literature to assist you in constructing a research problem for your dissertation. The review should problematize the literature you discuss. It should look for contradictions, debates, and different points of view, with the goal of discovering an issue, the resolution of which will address an outstanding question in the discipline of anthropology. This literature review should not simply summarize the literature, but should synthesize multiple works, with an eye toward understanding what is not known as well as what is known.
The exam should have a clear and well defined focus. The problem should be clearly stated and all important terms clearly defined. Do not choose a topic that is too broad or that simply considers literature that has already been well-studied. Identify a focus that will lead you toward the kind of research question that can be researched as a doctoral project. The exam should identify a set of literature relevant to your interests, accurately render the arguments presented in the literature chosen, and clarify the underlying assumptions of the literature discussed. It should present relevant and convincing evidence to support the points made.
The exam should show clearly that you have understood the literature;it should also illustrate an understanding of its importance to you. Thus, the exam should be written primarily in ordinary English, without excessive jargon. Quotations should be used to support arguments, rather than to substitute for them.
Students should attend to quality of written language as well as the quality of argument. Writing should be clear, effective, and show accurate use of technical terminology. Citations should be complete, using the appropriate citation formation for publication in the student's subfield. When documenting specific points, page numbers should be included. The bibliography, also in the citation formation appropriate for the subfield, should include all in-text citations. Students should proofread the exam carefully, paying close attention to homonyms, grammar, and punctuation.
The exam essay should be 20 pages long, double-spaced, plus a bibliography. Two readers, including the advisor, will normally grade the take-home exams, but a third reader will be employed if a tie-breaker is needed. The literature review will not be graded during the period May 15-August 31.
- An oral exam based on material that covers the student's research specialization. Candidates may not use notes but may have a copy of their bibliography with them. The advisor will appoint two additional examiners, to make up a committee of three faculty, to conduct the oral exam.
- A take-home written exam based on material that covers the student's research specialization, composed in a one-week period. Each student chooses a question from a set of questions developed by faculty and addresses it in a double-spaced 20-page essay. Two readers, including the advisor, will normally grade the take-home exams, but a third reader will be employed if a tie-breaker is needed.
Most students will work on this examination during their second year and submit in May of their second year or September of their third year. Well prepared students who come with an MA in Anthropology and have submitted their first comprehensive the previous May may submit in January. This examination should be used to help define a research problem for the dissertation and provide the literature needed to write a convincing research proposal.
The third comprehensive exam is an oral defense of the dissertation proposal. The student schedules the exam in conjunction with her/his dissertation committee. Students should plan to defend their dissertation proposals sometime during the third year (second year if coming with an MA). As is the case now, some would defend the department proposal before they applied for outside funding, but many would defend the formal proposal afterward. Students should use their final year of coursework to fill in intellectual and skills gaps that they discover as they work on their second comprehensive and proposal.
Training in research methods is provided in many of the department's graduate courses. Additionally, the department offers specific courses in research methods relevant for professional development and for doctoral dissertation projects. ANTH 652 Anthropological Research Methods is offered in the spring semester, and should be taken in the first year in residence. ANTH 637, Discourse Text and Voice, provides a range of methods for analyzing cultural, social and historical content in spoken and written texts. ANTH 531 orients students to specific modes of analysis of material culture. Some sections of ANTH 544 provide training in forms of ethnographically related, community-centered film-making. ANTH 640 Ethnography for Social Change addresses the tasks of interpretation and summation, emphasizing different formats in which research findings can be made available to audiences inside and outside academe.
Research methods options can also be found in Sociology, in MATH/STAT, in SIS and elsewhere on campus. Discuss your research training needs with your faculty advisor and integrate relevant choices into your Program of Study.
University regulations require that doctoral students demonstrate proficiency in two different tools of research. Generally these are two languages, or one language and statistics or another research "tool." According to academic regulations, these tools should relate to research in the discipline in which the student is studying.
The department faculty strongly believe that a well-educated anthropologist will:
- become competent in a language used in the field of research;
- be able to read anthropological literature in a language other than English; and
- know technical and methodological tools needed to do appropriate data collection and analysis.
Ideally, one tool will be a language other than English.
The second tool may either be a second language or a technical tool. The student and his/her advisor jointly determine which additional tool is appropriate and useful in the student's dissertation research. The Department Chair approves the selection of research tools by signing the "Application for Certification of Proficiency in a Tool of Research" form. Once the Chair's signature is registered on this form, the form is forwarded to the registrar and a copy placed in their academic files.
A. Certification of commonly taught languages with a literate tradition may be made by:
- Course work at an appropriate level, with a grade of B or better;
- Examination administered by the Department of Language and Foreign Studies at AU;
- Examination administered at another appropriate institution;
- Translation examination administered by the Department of Anthropology;or
- Departmental certification of status as a native speaker.
In general, students must demonstrate a sufficient level of language competence to be able to read anthropological literature in that language;certification of such competence must be registered on the "Tool of Research" form.
B. Certification of field languages that are not widely taught and may not have broadly known literate traditions may be certified by:
- The same means as commonly taught languages (as above);or
- Written certification by a teacher or native speaker that the student's competence is sufficient for fieldwork use.
Tools other than languages may include statistics, particular quantitative or qualitative techniques (e.g., discourse/text analysis), computer languages, or other appropriate techniques as decided on by the student and advisor. Such tools may be certified by appropriate course work with a grade of B or above. Statistics may be certified via the use of appropriate statistical methods in the dissertation. In this case, the tool of research form will normally be filled out after data analysis is completed.
The department recommends:
- 1-credit modules in the Sociology Department's (on their list of courses, but not recenetly offered) and SIS (e.g., SIS 638 Selected Topics in International Development Skills).
- Quantitative methods courses offered by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, or SIS.
NOTE: ANTH 652 Anthropological Research Design may not be used for certification of the tool requirement.
Students who take courses to fulfill the Research Tool requirement should have the appropriate "Research Tool" form certified immediately after completing the course. However, tools need to be chosen with the dissertation in mind; the department will not certify tools that have no connection to the proposed dissertation topic.
In the summer preceding the second year of doctoral study (for those coming with an MA) or the third year (for students entering without an MA), students should begin working with advisors and other faculty (primarily those who will be on the dissertation committee) to prepare proposals seeking external funding for dissertation research. Enrollment in ANTH 897 in fall and spring semesters of that year is strongly recommended of all doctoral students working on developing dissertation proposals. Students who plan to apply for Fulbright awards (or other awards with early deadlines) need to begin the application process during that summer; the Office of merit Awards will provide specific deadline and other requirements.
Proposal development is a difficult and demanding process. You should begin early (some advise 6 months ahead of time) to have sufficient time for comments from committee and for rewrites and reviews of multiple drafts. The on-campus deadline for proposal submission is substantially earlier than the due date at the agency, so adjust your timeline for institutional submissions accordingly.
The doctoral dissertation represents an original scholarly contribution to the field of anthropology. In most cases, the dissertation is based on a program of sustained field research or other first-hand engagement with the issues under discussion in this project.
Dissertations are written and revised under the guidance of a core committee of at least three scholars. The chair of the committee (usually the candidate's academic advisor) must be a tenured member of the full-time faculty in the Department of Anthropology at American U and hold an earned PhD. Untenured, tenure-line faculty may serve as co-chairs of Dissertation Committees, but must serve with a tenured faculty member. At least two of the core committee members, including chair/co-chairs, must be full-time, tenure-line faculty members at American University and preferably from the program in which the student is enrolled.
The dissertation process begins with the preparation of a dissertation proposal. Ordinarily the proposal contains:
- a description of the dissertation focus and goals including a summary of the topics to be explored, particulars of the research context, reasons for pursuing the project, etc.
- a review of the literature in anthropology and other fields relevant to the dissertation topic
- a methodology that discusses the plans for conducting research, analyzing data, and preparing the dissertation text
The candidate prepares the proposal in close consultation with the Chair of his/her dissertation committee and with other committee members. After committee members are satisfied with the proposal, the advisor schedules an oral defense of the proposal. (Note: this defense counts as the candidate's 4th comprehensive examination.)
Before the defense of the proposal can be held, the doctoral student, in consultation with her/his committee chair, must choose faculty for the committee. S/he submits the names of the Chair and other committee members for approval by the Graduate Program Director. Once approved by the Graduate Program Director, the proposed membership of a Dissertation Committee is then approved by the university's Doctoral Council. If the status of any member of an approved Dissertation Committee changes, the doctoral student and the Graduate Program Director will recommend a replacement for approval by the Doctoral Council. See Advancement to Candidacy from the Office of Graduate and Professional Studies for further information and forms.
A satisfactory defense of the proposal allows the student to begin work on the dissertation project, as planned. The Chair of the committee notifies the CAS Dean's office of the successful proposal defense by filling out the appropriate sections of the Graduate Academic Action form. A copy of the dissertation proposal title page signed by the Chair and other members of the committee must be included with this submission. A copy of the signed dissertation proposal title page and a copy of the proposal should be put into the student's academic file in the main department office.
As noted, students who are ABD must continue to register every fall and spring semester, usually for ANTH 899, until they graduate.
Regular communication with your committee and especially with your dissertation advisor is expected throughout the research and writing period. Some advisors want to see drafts of individual chapters as soon as they are prepared while others prefer to read all the chapters at one time. Committee members should be asked for their preferences and about how involved they wish to be in the earlier writing stages. The candidate should heed the commentary and suggestions of advisors and committee members. Candidates may want to ask staff, e.g. in the university's Writing Center, to review text and make suggestions regarding style and clarity of presentation.
The format for the dissertation is strictly defined by university regulation. All dissertations are now required to be formatting electronically. Requirements are outlined on the University Graduate Studies web page, Guide to Electronic Theses and Dissertations. It is the candidate's responsibility to ensure that the dissertation meets American University's requirements. Documents that do not conform to university stipulations will not be accepted.
Once the advisor is satisfied, chapters are circulated to other members of the dissertation committee for their review and critique. When the committee determines that the dissertation is near completion, the advisor arranges for the formal dissertation defense. At the time of the final examination of the dissertation, at least one additional member will join the core of the dissertation committee as an outside reader for the final examination. The purpose of the outside reader(s) is to provide a review of the dissertation by a colleague with the appropriate terminal degree who is an expert in the subject matter of the dissertation. The outside reader should have no direct association with the student. An outside reader serves an advisory role, and the charge to the outside reader is to determine if the dissertation meets general standards in the field, not necessarily to critique the work in detail.
The dissertation defense is open to the public. It opens with the candidate describing the dissertation research. Then the advisor and other committee members pose questions about the project, after which the advisor invites questions from other members of the audience. If the committee decides that the candidate has successfully defended the dissertation, members sign the title page of the document. The defense usually concludes with the committee giving the candidate a list of changes and additions that need to be made to the dissertation document.
Deadlines for completing the final dissertation manuscript are published in the Academic Calendar each semester. In order for a dissertation to be completed, the dissertation must be accepted by the Thesis/Dissertation coordinator in the CAS Dean's Office. For this to happen, the advisor and other committee members must be satisfied with the finished product and the CAS Dean's Office must have approved final formatting. The CAS Dean's Office will notify the student of other requirements for final graduation.
Application for Graduation
Students are also responsible for filing an Application for Graduation with the Office of the Registrar, in which they indicate how their name should appear on the diploma, etc. This application must be submitted early, at the latest during the registration period of the last semester the student is enrolled at AU. Submit for the semester that you plan to graduate;you can always resubmit if you don't finish in time!!!!
Graduate ceremonies occur only in May, but a student can graduate (receive a diploma) in August or December as well. Please consult the yearly Academic Calendar to see the dates for filing the graduation application and the doctoral dissertation.