Why do your PhD in Social Anthropology at Dal?

Our department is interdisciplinary, comparative, and critically engaged. Our graduate programs are small, collegial and selective. We pride ourselves on the faculty support we offer our graduate students. Many of our doctoral students successfully secure scholarships from major granting agencies, and go on to post-doctoral fellowships, employment in academia, research, policy, and the non-profit sectors.

Our graduate students are active and engaged scholars, who disseminate their research in a variety of ways.

Program Details

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Anthropology

Program Structure

The doctoral program is designed to be completed in four years, although many students in our disciplines find that their fieldwork and writing require them to take a fifth or even sixth year to complete the degree.

The goal of the first year is to develop and broaden the student’s intellectual foundation and to permit the department to assess the student’s strengths and weaknesses. During the first year, the student registers for six half classes.

The second year is spent preparing for and writing the comprehensive examinations. By the end of that year, the student shall have written three interrelated comprehensive examinations, normally in theory, in methods, and in a substantive area. The student is required to pass all three comprehensive examinations in order to continue in the PhD program.

The student begins the third year by developing a formal dissertation proposal, which is presented to the department Colloquium. The student also must demonstrate a working knowledge of a language other than English which is relevant to the student’s studies and research.

The fourth year is devoted to writing the thesis. In accordance with Faculty regulations, an oral defence of the dissertation is required.

The Program Committee

Prior to arrival, the student shall have been assigned a Program Committee Chair by the Graduate Education Committee (GEC) on the basis of her or his "Statement of Interest" and communications with the Graduate Coordinator.

The Program Committee Chair shall consult with the student to choose the second member of the student’s Program Committee, and shall pass this information about committee composition to the GEC.

The Program Committee, in consultation with the student, shall plan the first-year program in light of the student’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses. It shall be responsible for the creation of the student’s Comprehensive Examination committees and, with the Graduate Coordinator, for the formal approval of the student’s program forms.

The Program Committee continues its supervisory role until the student has completed the Comprehensive Examinations (when it shall be replaced by the Doctoral Dissertation Committee). Changes in the membership of the Program Committee shall be considered by the GEC upon request either by the student or by a Committee member. The student and Committee Chair should be in regular communication with one another throughout each term.

Comprehensive Examinations

The comprehensives consist of three examinations: normally, one each in theory, methodology, and a substantive area.

A comprehensive is not a narrative or a literature review, it is a discussion of key issues and controversies and is expected to be synthetic, analytical, and critical.

For each comprehensive examination, the Program Committee chooses two or three faculty members (some of whom may be Program Committee members) and seeks assurance that the faculty members involved shall be available during the requisite time period. Composition of the Comprehensive Examination Committees must be approved by the GEC.

Before each comprehensive examination, the student in collaboration with the Comprehensive Examination Committee develops a one-page statement describing the area of the examination and a reading list of approximately 30 books, monographs and journal articles considered to be key works in the field. The committee develops 2-3 examination questions in consultation with the student as part of the process of developing the reading list. The Comprehensive Examination Committee Chair submits to the GEC for approval the student’s committee-approved statement and reading list, and the committee’s examination questions, with a copy to the student’s Program Committee Chair. Following GEC approval, the student commences the reading and writes essay responses to the questions. Each answer is expected to be from 15 to 20 double-spaced pages in length.

The Comprehensive Examination is normally a take-home exam.

Under special circumstances, the Comprehensive Examination Committee, after consulting with the student, may utilize a “sit-down exam” format. After the student has finished reading the sources on the reading list, the committee provides its questions and one week later, the examination is held. The actual examination period is six hours and no notes or references are permitted. Standards of grading are somewhat less stringent than those used in the “take-home” format.

Ordinarily, the first comprehensive shall have been completed by the end of August of the student’s first summer in the program. The student must pass that first comprehensive before going on to the second, which should in turn be completed by the end of December of that year. Similarly, the student must pass the second comprehensive examination before taking the third, which shall have been completed by the end of April of the next calendar year.

All questions are to be graded by all Comprehensive Examination Committee members, and an overall consensus grade must be reached by the committee. The available grades are “pass” and “fail.” Comprehensive Examination Committee Chairs are responsible for submitting the committee’s grade to the GEC for review, normally three weeks after receipt of the completed exam. The GEC monitors the examination process in order to ensure that students’ examinations are equivalent. They are responsible for overseeing the examination and for ensuring that students are treated equitably. It is the responsibility of the GEC to receive the Comprehensive Examination Committee’s evaluation of the student’s comprehensive examination.

The student must pass all three comprehensive examinations in order to continue in the PhD program.


Dissertation Proposal

Within four weeks of successful completion of the Comprehensive Examinations, the Program Committee and the student are to advise the GEC of the creation of the student’s Doctoral Dissertation Committee and dissolution of the Program Committee. The committee must have at least three members: a supervisor (or two co-supervisors), plus two additional committee members. The membership of the Dissertation Committee must be approved by the GEC, which will take into account faculty expertise, availability and accessibility. Program Committee members may continue on as members of the student’s Dissertation Committee. Presentation and approval of dissertation proposal.

Ordinarily, the student shall be ready to submit a proposal for approval by the Dissertation Committee by September of the third year. In order to permit the student to take advantage of faculty and student interest and expertise, the proposal is to be presented orally to the department, with a draft document being circulated either prior or subsequent to the presentation.

Research involving human subjects requires a review by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Ethics Board. The department follows the regulations of the Faculty of Graduate Studies concerning doctoral dissertation supervision and procedures for oral examination, defence, and preparation of the dissertation.

Please see the Graduate Calendar for the most up-to-date details.

Language Requirement

Students must demonstrate an appropriate working knowledge of a second language. The Program Committee is responsible for informing the GEC of how the student either has met or is meeting this requirement. The student has several options from which to choose in demonstrating a “working knowledge”:

  1. Successful completion (i.e., with a minimum grade of B-) of a first year university language course (e.g. French 1004.06: Pratique de la lecture/French for Reading).
  2. Successful completion of any private-sector university-equivalent language course.
  3. Successful completion of a test administered by faculty members of the SOSA department competent in the relevant language.
  4. Successful completion of a university course taught in a language other than English.
  5. Any other method approved in advance by the GEC.
SoSA Graduate Handbook

For more detailed information about programs and policies, please consult our SOSA Graduate Handbook 2022-23.