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Postgraduate Study


The MPhil in Human Evolutionary Studies is a full-time interdisciplinary course, taken over a period of ten months, which involves teaching in evolutionary anthropology, human and hominin evolution and prehistory, human behavioural ecology, primate behaviour and evolution, evolutionary aspects of human health and development, cultural evolution, and genetics. This is a demanding course which enables students to obtain interdisciplinary training and specialist knowledge in an area of human evolutionary studies over a relatively short time frame. The programme is organised around four learning methods: 

  1. Lectures are designed to cover particular topics in human evolutionary studies. Students are enrolled in four core modules - ‘Human and Primate Ecology and Behaviour’, ‘Human Evolution’, ‘Comparative Human Biology’, and ‘From Data to Interpretation’. Lecture courses are completed by the middle of Lent Term. Reading lists and course syllabi provide an overview of lectures, and are available to all students. MPhil students are encouraged to sit in on other undergraduate courses that are relevant to their course of study. 

  2. Seminars and discussion sessions designed to provide students with intensive engagement with academic staff across the range of topics covered in the lecture courses. They are designed to be highly interactive and provide students with the opportunity to explore the fit between theory and methods. Preparation and participation in seminars is expected of all students. 

  3. Small-group teaching, modelled on Cambridge’s undergraduate supervisions, provide students with an opportunity to develop writing skills, read in-depth around topics other than the subject of their dissertation, receive feedback, and act as a forum to monitor progress. 

  4. Independent Research. Students are expected to engage in independent learning and their success depends on their willingness to undertake self-directed study. The MPhil co-ordinator and other academic staff are available to guide students in undertaking such study, in addition to their designated supervisor.

One to one supervision

Students have small-group teaching sessions or ‘supervisions’, on topics related to the lecture courses, including feedback on written work, in parallel to the lecture courses. Students are encouraged to attend relevant seminars, and participate in post-seminar informal discussions with academic staff and other students.

Students are also appointed a research supervisor, to help with the choice of topic and monitor the progress of the student’s research for the dissertation throughout the year. Supervisions provide the student with an opportunity to seek academic information and advice and are a forum to monitor students' progress.

Students can normally expect to have around 6-8 supervision sessions per year depending on the nature of their course and dissertation. The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes

Students attend a series of MPhil discussion seminars focused on research and academic writing skills.  Seminars are 2 hours a week in Michaelmas and Lent terms


Students are expected to attend lectures in four core courses covering the breadth of subjects in evolutionary anthropology, as well as data science and methods for statistical inference. They are also encouraged to attend specialist one-term long lecture/seminar series in areas of particular interest.

Students are expected to attend 6 hours of lectures per week for the compulsory core courses and can spend as many hours as they wish auditing the other specialist lectures.


Students are encouraged to attend any practicals associated with courses that would enhance their methodological and technical skills. Students should approach the relevant course coordinator for permission, as these sessions may have restricted-size classes.

Small group teaching

The course includes small-group sessions to discuss and develop ideas from the lecture courses. These include the writing of essays to develop writing and synthesising skills, on which students receive feedback.

Journal clubs

Journal clubs are normally student-driven and organised around particular interest groups. Students are encouraged to organise them, and to invite other students and researchers to participate.

Posters and Presentations

Students are  expected to give two presentations during their course to develop their science communication skills focused on their thesis progression - one in the form of a poster, the other as a short powerpoint presentation.


Students receive feedback on all essays and other activities set as part of their lectures, MPhil supervisions and MPhil research skills seminars. This feedback is critical for the self-monitoring of progress prior to submission of assessed pieces of work. Students receive written feedback on assessed work via the Teaching Administrator, and final marks are made available to students following the final examiners' meeting in September.

Students are invited to group meetings throughout the year to discuss progress and concerns in order to address issues as and when they arise. 2-3 individual meetings with the MPhil Director are scheduled across the year, and more can be arranged on request. Students who wish to continue to the PhD can also receive feedback on their proposals and advice on applications from their supervisor or any other appropriate member of the academic staff.


Thesis / Dissertation

The dissertation is an extended piece of independent, original research. Students work with their supervisor to formulate a dissertation project, carry out research and write it up. The topic of the dissertation has to be approved by the Department. Students may choose between two alternative formats for their dissertation:

  • either in the form of a thesis of not more than 20,000 words in length, exclusive of tables, bibliography and appendices, or

  • in the form of a research article, inclusive of data analysis, and accompanied by (a) an in-depth literature review on the topic of the project, and (b) supplementary information on (b.i) data used, (b.ii) methods of data collection, and (b.iii) methods of data analysis, which in combination do not exceed 20,000 words. The article may be in preparation or submitted for publication. 

An oral examination (viva) is not normally required, but examiners reserve the right to hold one if they judge it necessary to make a recommendation. The dissertation is worth 50% of the final mark.



The MPhil in Human Evolutionary Studies is a combined taught and research degree, and 50% of the final mark will be based on work submitted as part of the taught component. This work takes the form of a quantitative exercise on statistical analysis and interpretation, three essays, each on a topic drawn from the three other core lecture courses, and an assessment of scientific communication skills, normally in the form of a poster and a podium presentation on a subject related to the student’s research topic. Excluding the quantitative exercise, these assignments will total no more than 8000 words.


Although not assessed, attendance at the relevant Research Skills seminars and workshops is strongly encouraged.

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Key Information

10 months full-time

Master of Philosophy

Department of Archaeology

Course - related enquiries

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Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

Michaelmas 2024

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
April 24, 2024
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Course Funding Deadline
Jan. 4, 2024
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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