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Course Requirements:


The student is required to complete six semesters of course work. The average course load is three courses per semester.  However, if warranted by the student's plan of study, he/she will be allowed to take a fourth course (e.g. a language course). Normal coursework will continue throughout the first three years, including the spring of the third year.

Graded Coursework:

A student must take at least 18 graded courses, of which no more than 5 may be independent studies.

Of these 18 courses, at least 10 must be regular courses listed or cross-listed as a graduate course (at or above the 500 level) within CA, including CA 801, 802, 803 and 804.  Up to 2 graduate-level anthropology courses at UNC-Chapel Hill can also count towards this 10 course requirement. Individual reading and research courses (independent studies) cannot be included within the 10 regular courses. The one-course credit second- and third-year students receive for TAing may be counted as one of the ten courses from primary faculty.

No more than 5 of the remaining 8 (non CA) courses may be Individual Research/Individual Reading courses (independent studies).  The faculty recommends that 3 of these independent studies be reserved for the spring of the third year, when the student is preparing for the Portfolio Workshop.

Of these 18 graded courses, all students must take at least 2 courses in a discipline outside of Cultural Anthropology.

Independent Studies:

We recommend that at least 1 of these independent studies be taken in the spring of the 2nd year to assist with the preparation of field-specific annotated reading lists and in anticipation of grant writing in the fall of the 3rd year. The terms of the independent study must be negotiated with the faculty advisor in question. In the interest of faculty labor, they should not be understood as tutorials, but as opportunities for sponsored independent work towards completion of the portfolio requirements.

Course distribution:

All students must take at least two courses in a discipline outside of Cultural Anthropology. Students may, however, take more than two courses outside of Cultural Anthropology.

  • Theories: The 2-semester Theories course (CA 801-802) focuses on core debates and themes within the history of socio-cultural anthropology and related fields.
  • Research Methods: Students are required to take the Research Methods and Portfolio Seminar (CA 803) in the spring of their second year. This course will be focused on ethnographic methods, using the students summer fieldwork as the basis of the exploration.
  • Grant Writing:  Students are required to take the Grant Writing seminar (CA 804) in the fall of their third year.   This course will focus on the development of the dissertation research proposal and the preparation of grant proposals; it will also allow students to work further on their portfolios.

Theories Exam:

In the final exam for CA 802, at the end of the first year, students will be responsible for materials dawn from both halves of the yearlong course. A faculty committee comprised of the graduate committee and at least one of the instructors of the Theories course will evaluate the exams.  Successful completion of this exam will be required for continuation in the graduate program.

Ph.D. Committee:

Students should begin thinking about the establishment of their Ph.D. Committee during the first year of graduate study and should have identified one committee member by the end of that year. Please submit that committee member's name to the DGSA by the last day of Graduate Classes in the spring of that year. The remainder of the committee should be identified by February 1 of their second year. These names should also be submitted to the DGSA.

The Committee must be composed of a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 5 members. At least 3 committee members must have a current primary or joint appointment in the Cultural Anthropology Department at all stages of the student’s graduate career.  At least one (and no more than two) members must have a primary appointment in a discipline other than Anthropology (a Graduate School requirement). The committee should have a single chair, who must be a primary faculty member in the department. The Committee is chosen with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School. The student’s field evaluators will normally be included as members of the Ph.D. Committee.  The Ph.D. Committee will be responsible for evaluating the student's Portfolio and the Dissertation.

Graduation Defense Deadline:

In keeping with the guidelines of the University Graduate School, we require students to finish their Ph.D. work, including defense of their dissertation, by the end of the 8th year. Any student seeking an extension must submit a petition for approval to the Cultural Anthropology Director of Graduate Studies explaining any extraordinary circumstances that would make such an extension necessary.  These requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis, following the general guidelines used for the consideration of tenure clock relief.   The department will do whatever it can to assist international students with visa issues during their time in the program and after they graduate, but will not be able to grant extensions beyond the eighth year for visa reasons alone.  Financial support from the department, in the form of teaching opportunities and tuition assistance, will not be provided ­­for students after their 8th year.

The Portfolio:

Overview: Students will demonstrate their readiness to undertake independent dissertation research by submitting a portfolio of their best work. Submissions are meant to demonstrate the student's developing ideas in prior years, and are intended to prompt discussions in the Portfolio Workshop about how the student's thinking has changed over time.

Required Portfolio Content:

  • Three annotated reading lists (two theoretical in focus, and one geographic) displaying the contours of each of the student's fields. Each field list should include 35 items. Annotations may vary in length (from a short paragraph to a page) - a balance to be determined by the faculty examiner for that particular reading list in consultation with the student. The list for each field should be introduced by a synthetic overview that charts the genealogy of the readings and/or that critically reviews its key themes (2-3 double spaced pages per list).
  • Five exemplary papers written during Duke seminars (10-25 double spaced pages). This should include at least 2 research papers based on original research or analysis (20-25 double pages). The remainder may be shorter theoretical essays (10-15 double spaced pages in length) such as those written for Theories. One of the research papers should be substantially revised. The rest may be submitted in their original form. Each submission should each be identified by the class and instructor for whom it was written and the year it was produced.
  • The Dissertation prospectus (20-25 double spaced pages). This document should be comprised largely of the student's grant proposal for dissertation fieldwork, to they will append a discussion of changes that have occurred in the thinking, design, and framing of the project since the grant was written (particularly considered in relation to the field lists). This document should also include a provisional outline of the dissertation; any questions about implementation of the project that the student would like to raise with her committee during the Portfolio Workshop; and discussions of Human Subjects issues that pertain to the project, and formal approval by Duke's Human Subjects Committee if the project includes human subjects.
  • One syllabus on a topic pertaining to your dissertation research.

Portfolio Logistics:

One member of the student's Ph.D. committee will be responsible for the evaluation of each field, and will provide the student with guidelines identifying the kind of materials that should be included within the field reading list, and the nature of the synthetic writing about each field. The chair of the student's committee may be responsible for one of the student's fields. The student should meet regularly with each examiner to discuss progress on the respective field reading lists. Each student will assemble their material for the portfolio on their own website, provided by the department, although committee members may also request hard copy of parts or all of the contents.

At the end of the semester in which the list is prepared and annotated by the student, they will be examined independently by the faculty member responsible for that list.  The student must pass these examinations in order to sit for the Portfolio Workshop.

Timetable for Portfolio Work:

Year One: Students begin assembling materials for their portfolios. This should begin even before they have finalized their choice of fields and have determined their entire Ph.D. committee. As per guidelines above, at least one committee member must be identified by the end of the first year.

Year Two: By February 1 of their second year, students will have identified and established the remainder of their Ph.D. committee. In April of their second year (TBD) each student will participate in a Field Specializations Workshop, led by their Ph.D. committee, in which they will discuss their preliminary field lists, their summer research proposal, and the courses they are planning to take during their third year and what they expect to produce for the Portfolio therein. The student must provide the field lists and research proposal to her committee at least one week prior to the workshop. At least three committee members must be physically present for the workshop; only one may be on speakerphone. After the meeting, each committee member will inform the student of any revisions or additional material they require in their field's section of the portfolio. This communication between faculty and student will take the form of a contract, which each committee member must sign and submit for DGS approval, with a deadline of September 30 for submitted revisions. Failure to fulfill the terms of the contract in the specified time frame may be grounds for dismissal from the program. Occasionally, a student may substantially shift the focus of the dissertation project after September of their third year. If such a change becomes necessary, the student should discuss a possible change in the fields with their advisor.

Year Three: Students will finish assembling the portfolio, with a focus on writing the dissertation prospectus and the synthetic essays. Students must complete at least one field section of their portfolio by December 15 of that year. The remaining field sections of the portfolio must be submitted to all committee members no later than March 15 of the third year. A final version of a dissertation prospectus must be distributed to all committee members at least two weeks before the Portfolio Workshop, typically held in April of the third year. Upon receipt of faculty assessments of all sections of the portfolio, the student's committee chair will review the portfolio in its entirety, including the dissertation prospectus, at which point he or she will notify the student, other committee members and the DGS as to whether the student may proceed to the oral Portfolio Workshop (See below for details). 

Portfolio Workshop (Preliminary Certification):

Before a student can move on to candidacy for the Ph.D., he or she must receive Preliminary Certification from the department. The student’s entire Ph.D. committee will participate in this two and half hour oral discussion of the portfolio (typically held in April of the third year).  The first half of the workshop will focus on the student’s three fields, and the student will be expected to demonstrate fluency in the key themes in these fields. The second half of the workshop will focus on the student’s dissertation prospectus and plans for research.  Students who fail to defend their portfolio by the end of their third year risk not being allowed to continue in the program.  If the student’s Ph.D. committee feels that the student has not performed adequately, the student will be allowed to reschedule the workshop only if the entire committee supports this recommendation (pending approval of the Graduate Dean). All Ph.D. committee members must participate in the workshop, with no more than one member participating via conference cal

Receipt of the MA "on the way": 

A student may apply to receive an MA on the way to the Ph.D.  The MA will be awarded after successful completion of the Portfolio Workshop, which will serve as the MA exam. Please consult with the DGSa about the relevant deadlines for submission of the MA request materials.

Dissertation Defense:

The defense of the student’s completed dissertation is the final examination for the doctorate, taken in the final semester.   The student is expected to work closely with their Ph.D. committee chair and committee members in the course of researching and writing the dissertation. A schedule for submission of chapters should be worked out with the committee chair. In the last semester prior to defending, the student should assemble their entire committee to talk about the final writing stage and any expectations the committee may have. All committee members must receive a complete, final dissertation draft in the first month of the semester of the scheduled dissertation defense.

The examiners are the student’s 4-5 person Ph.D. committee, augmented by any members of the regular graduate faculty in the department who wish to participate.  The DGS must inform all CA faculty members of the time and place of the defense.  All Ph.D. committee members must participate in the defense, with no more than one member participating via conference call.  In accordance with Graduate School regulations, a student who fails the examination may request permission to take it a second time (for the time limitations and other specifications governing the writing of the dissertation, the student is referred to the Graduate School Bulletin; and the Guide for the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations:

As the Bulletin states, "this dissertation is expected to be a mature and competent piece of writing, embodying the results of significant and original research."

Other Requirements:

Language requirement:

All doctoral candidates must demonstrate spoken and/or written competence in at least one language other than their native tongue that is applicable to their planned research program. This requirement may be satisfied by taking a departmentally designed language test or, alternatively, by submitting acceptable evidence of sufficient coursework or other background in the language. To the end of gaining the necessary competence, students are strongly encouraged to seek out and attend intensive summer language courses as early in their graduate careers as possible. The department, whenever possible, will endeavor to contribute funds toward the expenses of such intensive courses.

Plan of Study:

The Plan of Study is intended to make students think about the courses they need to take in order to acquire competence as professional anthropologists, to define their long-range research projects, and to ensure students are meeting university and departmental requirements in a timely manner. It also provides faculty an opportunity to give students feedback regarding appropriate course work and other achievements essential to attaining their academic goals.  Students are responsible for proposing a Plan of Study that describes future curriculum and other academic accomplishments necessary to meet research and professional objectives. The Plan of Study should be designed in consultation with the student's advisor/committee each year that a student is in the program. The full text should be no longer than two pages, single-spaced. The plan of study should be submitted to the DGS/DGSA for consideration by the faculty as a whole.  Students will receive feedback from their Ph.D. Committee Chair/Advisor. The Plan of Study is due by the last Friday in January

In the first 3 years the Plan of Study should contain:

  • One or more concise paragraphs describing the student's ethnographic and theoretical fields of interest, including a list of the three fields that the student anticipates will form the basis of the Portfolio
  • A summary of the contents of the student’s portfolio to date and a timetable for the completion of Portfolio requirements.
  • A list of courses the student has taken in the graduate program thus far and a list of RA/TA assignments to date;
  • A list of the remaining courses the student plans to take to complete his/her 6 semesters. The proposal cannot possibly specify all courses to be taken over the next three or more semesters, since some of these courses are not scheduled in advance; but it should specify the general topics and rough order of course work;
  • A description of any non-course experiences, such as fieldwork or field language study, that can reasonably be completed during the student's graduate career, and that will contribute importantly to the student's program.  In order to facilitate the broadest possible feedback and to ensure that students' intellectual interests are known to the entire faculty, the department as a whole will review all Plans of Study.

Once a student is admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, the Plan of Study should focus on accomplishments in the past year including teaching and publishing activities and plans, grants applied for and/or received, an update on fieldwork and dissertation progress, any revisions to the planned structure of the dissertation, and an updated timetable for completion of fieldwork and the dissertation. With the exception of students whose defense date is set, all students are required to submit a Plan of Study.

In the spring of each year the overall progress of each student will be evaluated by the regular graduate faculty in Cultural Anthropology, meeting as a whole and using the Plan of Study written by each student as a basis of discussion. At that time a student may be 1) continued in the program unconditionally; 2) continued in the program on a conditional basis, if the faculty decides that the student needs to develop certain background fields or particular academic skills; or 3) dropped from the program, if the faculty judge the student's overall performance unacceptable. Directly following the evaluation meeting, the student will be advised by her/his advisor of the decision of the faculty. Any specific recommendations and any conditions to be fulfilled will also be communicated by the student's advisor/committee chair (with a written copy of recommendations to be submitted to the DGS for the student's file).


It is a requirement of the graduate program that all students, irrespective of funding source (e.g., FLAS, NSF, APSI, Ford, J.B. Duke, Duke Endowment, etc.), provide research or teaching service to the department in years 1, 2, 3, and 5. Normally, this would include research assistance to faculty in year 1 and teaching assistance in years 2, 3 and 5.  However, all assignments will be determined by departmental needs and student needs/qualifications.  For details of the department's Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant philosophy and policy, see the TA-RA Policy.  Except for the fourth year, when the student is expected to be engaged in dissertation field research, the department cannot provide departmental funding to a student who is out of residence.

RA guidelines: Research assistants will work a maximum of 10 hours in any given week. It is incumbent upon the GA to keep a log of hours worked. Possible tasks to which RAs may be assigned include the following: research projects (including web-based research), library tasks and research materials, proof-readings and indexing manuscripts, preparing classroom materials, course planning and assisting with syllabi preparation. 

Students may receive course credit for one of their TA assignments in the second or third year, with the expectation that the student and the professor teaching the course will focus on the development of the student’s teaching skills. This would normally occur in a course that has a heavy teaching load (i.e., where TAs conduct discussion sections).  In order to receive credit for this work, you must speak with the professor about the work necessary to complete (typically a syllabus, annotated bilbiography, or reserach paper).  This arrangement should be worked out with the professor and student, in consultation with the DGS.

No service will be required in the 4th year while a student is out of residence conducting dissertation research. However, a student will not be eligible for a service-free stipend until the Preliminary exam is successfully completed.


All graduate students are required to gain teaching experience as part of their professional training. This requirement may be fulfilled by either serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in a course in which the student is responsible for one or more discussion sections that meet at least once a week or by teaching a course independently.


At admission, incoming students are guaranteed 5 years of funding (full tuition and stipend), contingent upon adequate progress in the program.  Students are encouraged to pursue grants for fieldwork and dissertation write-up.  The student who is successful and, after the third year, receives a grant to cover their expenses from a source external to the department and external to the Graduate School may “bank” up to one year of Duke funding.  Students may only bank one year of funding, even if two years of outside support have been granted

If a student obtains external grants or fellowships to support their graduate study in their first three years (e.g. NSF Graduate Fellowship), he or she will receive a $1,000 research fund from the department during the semesters of external funding.   Students still on departmental funding who receive a Duke grant through the Graduate School (e.g. the International Fellowship) that replaces their departmental funding in the third year or beyond will not be able to bank an additional year of funding, but they will also receive a $1,000 research fund from the department.  All students are expected to apply for the Graduate School grants for which they are eligible.  

The faculty recommends that students spend at least 1 year in the field. Students who have received an outside fellowship may spend an additional semester or possibly year in the field supported by Duke (this will be in lieu of banking the funding for write-up support at Duke).  Those with an outside fellowship who elect to spend 1 year in the field will return to Duke with 2 full years of funding.  Students who have not received outside funding will not be eligible for more than 1 year of Duke support in the field.  

In order to receive your final year of funding, you must be in residence at Duke, completing service (TA or RA work).  

Grant Proposals:

In the spring of the second year, students should collect information about relevant grants for their field dissertation research in the fourth year. Please note: some deadlines are as early as mid summer after the second year.  In the fall of the third year, students are expected to apply to all relevant sources for external funding for fourth year dissertation research.


The DGS will serve as advisor and mentor to first year students; each student must choose a primary advisor by the end of the first semester of their second year.

Summer Field Research:

Students will conduct preliminary research during the summers following the first and second year (funding provided by the University). We also encourage students to develop and submit grant proposals to various campus funders that support summer research (e.g. Center for International Studies, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the Graduate School, etc.). All students must submit proposals for internal Duke summer funding for which they are eligible.


Students should aim to do the best work possible for each semester within the confines of that semester.  The department discourages Incompletes. A student who has two Incompletes at the end of any semester or who does not complete an outstanding Incomplete before the end of the following semester is not in good academic standing and risks losing departmental funding.  Students will not be allowed to sit for the Portfolio Exam if they have an Incomplete on their transcript.

Transfer Credit

The department does not normally grant credit for any previous M.A. work at other universities.  Our philosophy is that students will gain the most benefit by taking a full course load in the department – and proceeding through the program at the same pace as their entering cohort.   In rare cases when a student would need course credit to stay with their cohort – because they have been forced to take a leave absence sometime in their first three years in the program – the department will consider granting credit  for up to two previous graduate-level courses at other universities.   The courses must be graduate-level courses in anthropology.   Any student seeking credit should discuss the matter with DGS and, if they choose to petition for credit, provide to the DGS the course syllabi, graded coursework or other verification of successful completion, and a written explanation of the reason for their petition.

Departmental Colloquia:

It is an essential departmental requirement that all students—and faculty—attend scheduled department colloquia, at which faculty, advanced graduate students, and other invited speakers present their research and ideas.  Students must inform the DGS in writing if they are not able to make any particular colloquium.  You may NOT be enrolled in a class tht conflicts with the colloquia.

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