University of Wisconsin–Madison

Cultural Anthropology: PhD Requirements

  1. Completion of a minimum of 21 graduate credits beyond the 30 graduate credits required for a Master’s degree in Anthropology.
  2. Passage of the Qualifying Examination at the Ph.D. level.
  3. Satisfaction of all Master’s requirements (Master’s degree granted).
  4. Demonstration of competence in speaking and reading at least one non–English language appropriate to the candidate’s area of research.
  5. Anthropology 909, Research Methods and Research Design in Cultural Anthropology. Anthropology 909 may be taken as a directed study when it is not offered as a course by the department, and it affects a student’s progress.
  6. Completion of one additional graduate seminar in cultural anthropology in addition to 909 and those required for the Master’s degree. Substitutions for 900 level courses can only be made by petition to the Cultural Section.
  7. Completion of at least one course (300 level or higher) in another section of the Department of Anthropology.
  8. Approval of field statements and dissertation research proposal by the Preliminary Examination Committee.
  9. Up to an additional six credits of foreign-language instruction beyond those counted toward the MA can count toward the Ph.D.
  10. Dissertation defense successfully conducted within 5 years following passage of the Preliminary Examination.
  11. Exceptions to any of these requirements requires the approval of the Cultural Section Faculty.

Examinations and Core Curriculum

All students need to develop a command of social theory and ethnography. They must become well–acquainted with the literature, concepts, problems, and issues of the discipline. To this end, we strongly urge students to take courses primarily in anthropology during their first year in the program (or longer if they enter the program without an anthropology major). The Anthro 860, Anthro 900 sequence is designed to give all first year students a grounding in the fundamentals of the discipline. In addition, students should work closely with their advisors to construct a course of study appropriate to their particular needs and interests.

The examination structure has been designed to ensure that students progress satisfactorily through the program. The Masters qualifying exam tests whether students in the program have attained a solid grounding in the theories and methods of the discipline. The field statements are designed to ensure that students master the literature appropriate to their chosen research, and the preliminary exam ensures that they can design and carry out a viable research project.

Field Statements and Preliminary Examination for the Ph.D.

The Preliminary Exam Committee

At the end of their second year, students will put together a Preliminary Exam Committee. The committee consists minimally of three persons: the student’s advisor; one additional member of the Cultural section; and a third member who, at the student’s discretion, can be chosen from the Cultural section, another section of the Department of Anthropology, or from another department of the University. The job of the Exam Committee will be to aid with and approve the students’ field statements and bibliographies, to work with the student on the preparation of his or her research proposal, and to administer the Preliminary Exam.

The Field Statements

In consultation with the members of his or her exam committee, each student will prepare three field statements. Typically, one field statement will focus on the student’s region(s) of geographical specialization; the other two statement will cover theoretical or topical fields of the student’s own construction in collaboration with a faculty member (each of the student’s Prelim Committee members will be responsible for working with the student on one of the field statements). The field statements will be 15-20 page essays that define and justify the fields chosen and review the literature appropriate to the field. The student’s Exam committee must approve the field statements and accompanying bibliographies.

The Research Proposal

Students must also prepare a research proposal of approximately 20 pages, laying out their plans for dissertation fieldwork. Students are expected to work closely with their major professors and committee members in preparing the proposal.

The Preliminary Exam

The Preliminary Examination is the gateway to candidacy for the Ph.D. The student must submit copies of his/her research proposal and field statements to committee members at least 14 days before the exam. The Preliminary Exam consists of an oral defense of the research proposal and field statements. The exam evaluates whether the candidate has sufficient breadth and depth of preparation, evaluates the overall merit, methodology, and feasibility of the proposed dissertation project, and offers an occasion for feedback between the candidate and the committee. The Committee will grade the Preliminary Examination on a Pass/Fail basis. At the examiners’ discretion and recommendation, a failing student may be reexamined on the whole exam or on one or more specific sections.


It is anticipated that students will begin preparing their field statements near the end of their second year of graduate studies (though they should begin framing the fields and compiling references in consultation with their advisors from the time they enter the program). The bulk of the work preparing the field statements and bibliographies will be undertaken during the third year. The Preliminary Examination is normally taken by the end of the sixth semester. The date of the examination will be arranged at the mutual convenience of the student and the committee, with appropriate advance notice. Students intending to schedule the examination during the summer should ensure the availability of all committee members.

Course Credit for Field Statement and Exam Preparation

While preparing their field statements, students may enroll in Anthro 999 Independent Reading and Research for a total of 6 credits (typically 3 credits each semester of the third year). Exams should be held at the end of the third year or as the committee deems appropriate.

Student Responsibilities in Cultural Section

  1. Attend department colloquia and lectures.
  2. Provide a minimum of two weeks notice to faculty for requests of letters of recommendations (include address and stamped envelopes as appropriate).
  3. Secure Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval as appropriate for research involving human subjects.
  4. Submit advanced draft or finished dissertation to committee members at least one month prior to the date of the defense.

Human Subjects Protocol

All research conducted by graduate students – including preliminary research carried out in preparation for Preliminary examinations – requires human subjects review by the UW Institutional Review Board. It is absolutely essential that students obtain all necessary IRB clearances prior to undertaking any research. Students should work closely with their advisors to ensure that their research undergoes proper review.

Dissertation Defense Committee

The finished dissertation, or an advanced draft, will be defended orally before the Dissertation Defense Committee comprised of a minimum of five UW-Madison graduate faculty members. Of the members of the defense committee, at least one will be from another department, at least two will be on the Cultural Anthropology faculty, and at least three will be from the Anthropology Department. The advanced draft or finished dissertation should be distributed to committee members at least one month prior to the date of the defense.