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Postgraduate Study

Course closed:

Social Anthropology is no longer accepting new applications.


The taught element of this course consists of these compulsory streams:

  • The Pre-Fieldwork seminar
  • The Ethnographic Methods Course, Parts I (Michaelmas term) and II (Lent term)
  • Senior Research Seminar, scheduled for Fridays during term time. This is the place where the Department really gets together, and we usually attract very good speakers from across the UK and overseas.
  • Anthropological Lives explores the lives of anthropologists who made striking and distinctive career decisions and/ or unexpected use of their anthropological material. The series reflects both ongoing and new knowledge and interests on the part of Departmental teaching staff, with contributions from former Department members now based elsewhere.

Students are also strongly encouraged to attend other optional elements:

  • "Experiences from the Field" seminar, run by writing-up students recently returned from the field.
  • Anthropology Beyond the Academy - a series of presentations from speakers from a range of fields, reflecting on how their study of anthropology has informed their subsequent careers. 
  • Ad hoc sessions in transferable skills or anthropological methods, such as journal publication, technologies of research and data management, film-making and research with children.
  • Social Sciences Research Methods Programme courses - students are expected to undertake a Skill Check prior to the start of the course to identify the most suitable modules.
  • Participation in undergraduate or Masters level lectures and seminars which address themes specific to their research topic.
One to one supervision

The Supervisor’s role is to advise students on the planning and execution of their research, to provide feedback on progress, and to help students complete their work within the required time.

The University of Cambridge publishes an annual Code of Practice which sets out the University’s expectations regarding supervision.

Seminars & classes

3-4  hours per week of compulsory seminars, plus the weekly Senior Research seminar.  For part-time students, 1.5-2 hours per week of compulsory seminars, plus the weekly Senior Research seminar.


PhD students are encouraged to attend undergraduate and masters level lectures relevant to their research topic.


Students receive written feedback on the three essays they submit as part of the pre-fieldwork course. 

Students will also receive regular informal feedback from their supervisors, throughout the period of the course, and a progress report at the end of each term from their supervisor via their Camsis account.


Thesis / Dissertation

The PhD in Social Anthropology may be awarded after three to four years of full-time study or five to seven years of part-time study (including a probationary period) of supervised independent research on the basis of a thesis.

A PhD thesis must not exceed 80,000 words and is expected to be near that length. The word limit includes all footnotes, text, figures, tables and photographs, but excludes the bibliography, cited references and appendices. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits.  

The Degree Committee will appoint two examiners to examine the student's thesis, normally one internal examiner and one external examiner. Neither examiner may be the student's supervisor. An oral examination is compulsory. At the discretion of the Degree Committee, an Independent Chair may also be appointed to attend the oral examination.


Students preparing for fieldwork receive guidance and advice from their supervisor as they draft their formal Fieldwork Proposal which sets out their detailed plan for the research on which their thesis will be based.

Following their Fieldwork Clearance Interview conducted by members of the Departmental PhD Committee, students receive written feedback on their proposal. This will normally summarise and/or supplement comments and suggestions provided by Committee members during the interview, and may include comments on the student's research strategy, and suggestions for further reading and/or other matters which may facilitate productive work in the field.
Following their return from fieldwork, students will have a Return From Fieldwork Interview with their supervisor (and Faculty Advisor if available) to help them plan and timetable the writing up of their thesis.

Key Information

3-4 years full-time

4-7 years part-time

Study Mode : Research

Doctor of Philosophy

Department of Social Anthropology

Course - related enquiries

Application - related enquiries

Course on Department Website

Dates and deadlines:

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

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

Course Funding Deadline
Dec. 5, 2023
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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