SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Department of Anthropology Research Student Handbook

Table of Contents
  1. A Summary Statement of Educational Provision
  2. Student Representation
  3. Contacting Members of Staff
  4. Enrolment/Registration Procedures and Course Commitments
  5. Logbooks
  6. SOAS Libraries
  7. Media Training and Production Facilities
  8. Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal
  9. Ethics
  10. Funding and Fieldwork
  11. SOAS Application Forms for Undertaking Fieldwork
  12. The PhD Dissertation
  13. Submitting the Dissertation
  14. Further Postdoctoral Research
  15. References for Applications
  16. SOAS Careers Service
  17. Staying in touch
  18. General Notes on Essay Writing

1. A Summary Statement of Educational Provision

The Department of Anthropology and Sociology teaches the discipline of Social Anthropology with special reference to the countries, peoples, societies and cultures of Asia and Africa - both past and present. The emphasis given to particular regions, themes and approaches will vary with current trends in the discipline, broader global developments, and the evolving research specializations of academic staff. The Department recognizes a special responsibility to complement the provision of skills in the languages and the cultural and social affairs of Africa and Asia provided in the other Departments and Centres of SOAS.

Degree programmes are offered at BA, MA and Research (MPhil and PhD) levels. This Statement and Handbook refer chiefly to the MPhil and PhD Anthropology degree programme.

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2. Student Representation

At the beginning of each year arrangements are made for the election of student representatives: one from the first year (pre-fieldwork) and one from the post-fieldwork cohort. Representatives formally meet with staff at least twice a year in the Student/Staff Forum. Students share the responsibility of setting the meeting agendas, and for identifying issues that will be taken up more fully by the Department Staff Committee which meets at least twice a term. A dedicated noticeboard is available for student representatives to communicate current information to fellow students. Student representatives from the department will also have a chance to serve on Faculty- and School-level committees.

Faculty office staff will assist student representatives in setting up e-mailing lists for the MPhil/PhD programme. You should check your SOAS email regularly as this will be used by academic and faculty staff, as well as other students, to contact you with important degree-related information throughout your studies.

Faculty staff will also assist student representatives to organise meetings and events (i.e. making room bookings). These may include informal meetings with staff or with other students, year forums, workshops, or social events as students see fit.

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3. Contacting Members of Staff

Individual office hours are posted outside the doors of academic staff. Please try to make your enquiries at those times only. When in their offices, staff are frequently conducting supervisions, preparing for teaching, or engaged in research activity. If you need to arrange an appointment at an alternative time, please do so in person, by email, or by telephone. You can also leave a note pinned to the small board outside each office. Of course, we do understand that emergencies may require immediate attention.

The Faculty Office is open during holiday periods (with reduced opening hours - see the Faculty Office webpage for details), but academic staff are only available for consultation during these times by previous appointment. Staff will normally contact you by e-mail, or by leaving a note in the postgraduate pigeon holes on the 3rd floor (located between rooms 327 and 328). Pigeon holes should be regularly checked during term time. Notices concerning courses and timetabling will be posted on the MA Student Notice board on the 3rd floor. You should check this notice board whenever visiting the faculty office.

  • Supervisor
    • As an anthropology research student, you will be assigned a supervisor in the department at the beginning of your studies. This staff member will be available for consultation on matters concerning your work and welfare. Normally, you will have the same tutor throughout your study programme. If your supervisor is absent on research leave, you are expected to keep in touch with them, but your second supervisor will normally assume responsibility for administrative duties during the first supervisor’s absence.

      If you are a first-year, full-time MPhil/PhD student, you should arrange to meet your supervisor during registration week and fortnightly during term time. Your supervisor will schedule regular meetings with you once you have introduced yourself. Post-fieldwork students are expected to meet with their supervisors once a month or more frequently given their writing timetables. Part-time students are expected to see their supervisors monthly in years one and two and as needed during the post-fieldwork period.

  • Second Supervisor
    • Your second supervisor is usually assigned to complement the thematic or regional expertise of the first supervisor. A second supervisor can be consulted during the first year of research, but their principal task is to examine the Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal (see Part Two) at the end of the year. The second supervisor can also step in to fulfil the main supervisor’s duties should they be on leave. When you return from the field, the second supervisor will be invited as one of two people to comment on your PhD post fieldwork seminar presentations. The second supervisor may also be the penultimate reader of a PhD thesis draft if deemed necessary by your main supervisor.
  • Co-Supervisor
    • Some students will have two supervisors who share the task of seeing them through the research student programme. A co-supervisor is generally a supervisor based in another department, and the work load of tutorials is shared equally between the two. The School expects the co-supervisor from the student’s main department, to act as ‘lead’, that is, to take responsibility for ensuring that all the paperwork is completed. In such cases, students are assigned a third supervisor as well as the usual second, making a research committee of four.
  • Research Tutor
    • During registration week, you are also advised to meet the Research Tutor, Professor Trevor Marchand. From week one you will be seeing the Research Tutor regularly in the Research Training Seminar (Monday afternoons, 3:00-5:00pm, check timetable for the room number). The Research Tutor can offer moral support and general guidance, acting as both confidant and spokesperson. If you have any special burdens be they financial, personal or in relation to your role as a parent and/or carer of which you think the department should be aware, it is a good idea to let your Research Tutor know as soon as possible. You may also wish to discuss with the Research Tutor any plans for taking time out, intermitting, or for deferring your course (Registry must also be consulted at an early stage).

      If you are not comfortable with your supervisor, you can request a change of tutor from the Research Tutor as well, although such changes are not undertaken lightly and again will need approval from the Associate Dean of Research. If you have serious problems which need counselling, or require the setting in motion of grievance procedures, your supervisor or Research Tutor can make suggestions and point you in the right direction.
  • Your Research Committee
    • Every student has a three-person research committee. The committee consists of the above members: supervisor, second supervisor and Research Tutor. In cases where the Research Tutor and supervisor are one and the same person, the Head of Department will normally act as the third member of the committee. The Research Tutor monitors the progress of every student and signs the Upgrade Form at the end of the Mphil year. In cases where a student has concerns about the upgrading viva, they (or their supervisor) can request that the Research Tutor be present as an ‘external’ during the exam process.
  • The Associate Dean for Research
    • The Associate Dean for Research (ADR), Dr Mandy Sadan, together with the Faculty Research Committee, has responsibility for overseeing all aspects of research student training. The ADR oversees the progression of all students through to graduation. If arising problems related to supervision or training cannot be resolved with your supervisor, you are advised to speak to the Research Tutor and/or Head of Department. If you are still not satisfied or need further advice, you should speak to the ADR regarding regulations and procedures.

In general - It is important that you keep your supervisor and the Research Tutor aware of problems which may be leading to repeated absences, difficulty completing coursework or other issues affecting your studies. Please provide documentation in the form of medical certificates, letters of explanation, etc. where applicable.

If after reading this handbook you are still in doubt as to the right person to see about academic or personal matters, ask in the Faculty Office. There is a list of Department Staff and their roles alongside the staff photographs posted in the fifth floor corridor.

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4. Enrolment/Registration Procedures and Course Commitments

During the Registration period, members of staff and the Research Tutor will be available at advertised times to meet you in their offices. You will need to discuss any courses that you may want to audit or that you are required to take and pass (i.e. courses specified in your letter of offer from the School and/or language courses) with your supervisor. All MPhil students are required to attend the Research Training Seminar, and to take and pass Research Methods and Statistical Analysis (students who can demonstrate that they have successfully completed a university-level course in statistics may be exempted by the Research Tutor).

It is your responsibility to speak to specific course teachers about attending their language classes or auditing their lectures.

The times of required lectures are fixed so as not to clash with other lecture commitments you may have within the department. If the time slots for other lectures you wish to audit outside the department coincide with that of the Research Training Seminar, Research Methods, or Statistics courses, then these compulsory courses must take precedence. Some juggling in relation to the demands of language classes might be possible, but you must first discuss this with both your supervisor and the Research Tutor.

Attendance and Absence

Attendance for the Research Training Seminar, Research Methods, and Statistical Analysis courses is compulsory. Attendance is monitored, not least to ensure that students are not encountering problems. As a matter of courtesy, please contact the Research Tutor if you anticipate being unavoidably absent from a particular class. If absence is due to illness, then you should, where possible, submit a medical certificate. This is especially important when absence is prolonged, or results in the late submission of coursework. Please refer to the Postgraduate Research Handbook for information on School regulations.

Please talk to your supervisor or Research Tutor if you are experiencing, or are about to experience, problems which you feel impinge upon your attendance or studies. It is usually best to share such difficulties with a concerned member of staff who will be able to advise you, in confidence, on the best way to cope with them.

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5. Logbooks

At the start of your MPhil/PhD programme, you will be issued with a personal electronic logbook. Before meeting with your supervisor, you are responsible for completing the first few entries that outline what you think he/she needs to know about your existing skills and experience and your future training needs. The logbook must be completed every time you meet with your supervisor throughout your study programme, and all goals and deadlines agreed during the tutorial must be logged. The logbook must be signed by your examiners at the end of your MPhil upgrading viva.

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6. SOAS Libraries

There are two libraries at SOAS to which you have access. You should become familiar with them, their strengths, layout, computer catalogues, loan regulations etc. from the start and learn to use them to your best advantage.

SOAS (Main) Library
Familiarise yourself from an early date with the principal sections of the main library, including the Teaching collection, General collections, Regional collections, Periodicals and current periodicals room
Social Science Reading Room (for reference works)

Anthropology Department Library
The Helen Kanitkar Departmental Library contains a large number of items, mostly copies of popular anthropological texts and material used on BA and MA courses. This library also serves as the Postgraduate Research Student (PGRS) study centre. The room is equipped with new computer terminals for the exclusive use of postgraduate research students, making this an important space for writing and research, as well as for informal meeting and exchange of ideas.

University of London (Senate House) Library
The School has limited funds to purchase ‘Day Tickets’ or ‘Annual Tickets’ for the use of ULL, and the collections in this library should be consulted only for works not available at SOAS or other University of London college libraries. Please contact the SOAS library information desk for more details on how to become a Senate House card holder.

Ethnographic Film
Every week the Department of Anthropology screens an ethnographic film in the SOAS Lecture Theatre. The films are carefully selected from the collections of the Royal Anthropological Institute and elsewhere, and are introduced by people with specialist knowledge. There is usually opportunity for discussion.

Information Technology
MPhil/PhD students have access to personal computers in the SOAS Main Library and other parts of the building.

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7. Media Training and Production Facilities

Media Training and Production Facilities at SOAS – located on the lower ground floor of the main building – is a computer lab with a difference. The PCs in that room are equipped with the Adobe Creative Suite software and are dedicated to media production work, mostly video and audio editing. The room also doubles as a video recording studio and classroom, and media training is offered to postgraduate students throughout sessions offered by the Library and Information Services department. If you are planning to record and edit video or audio in the course of your fieldwork, you can also get advice by contacting Libby Homer at in the Library and Information Services department.

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8. Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal

In your first year, as part of your degree, you will write a Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal of 20,000 words on a topic you have chosen and agreed with your supervisor. This is due by the official School deadline of 4:00pm on Friday of week 4, Term 3 – HOWEVER, I strongly advise that submission is made by the preferred departmental deadline of 4:00pm Friday of week 1, Term 3. The departmental deadline provides a more workable timeframe for examiners to examine students before the hectic School examination period, and therefore improves chances that students can be upgraded quickly and commence fieldwork. If you hand in by the official School deadline there is no guarantee that you will be examined until the end of term 3.

Good reason for any late submission must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Research Tutor. All students are expected to submit this report and be examined in a viva voce by the end of term 3. Late submissions may require delays in examinations and a delay to the upgrade from MPhil to PhD status. No student is granted permission to leave for fieldwork until they have been successfully examined and upgraded.

The general guidelines for producing the MPhil upgrade document in anthropology are:
Research Report: 12,000 to 14,000 words
Fieldwork Proposal: 6,000 to 8,000 words
Totalling no more than 20,000 words.



The Research Report should demonstrate a clear development in your critical thinking over the course of the MPhil year regarding your topic of study and related issues.

  1. The formulation of your research problem should demonstrate sound understanding of the related debates and dialogues underway both in anthropology and elsewhere in the human sciences, and an ability to take up a scholarly position;
  2. Your research problem should be formulated in relation to the existing ethnographic literature of your selected region;
  3. The Research Report should display an ability to pose an anthropological question/problem such that, if necessary, you could make a new project for yourself once arriving in the field.
  4. The Research Report should contain a well-formulated research question that emanates squarely from the preceding discussion.

The Fieldwork Proposal section is the place to address pragmatic and practical information. If the Report has not addressed, for instance, the current political situation in your field site and the ways that it might impact your study, then you might wish to consider it here. The Proposal is the place to include timetables, statement of visa requirements, discussion of funding applications, and institutional and personal links in the field. Importantly, it is the place to elaborate upon your proposed field method and to discuss ethical issues (these may also be addressed to some degree in the Research Report, but try to avoid repetition).  

Correct spelling and grammar are required for all submitted work, and poorly structured reports will not be accepted. Keep in mind that research committees have an obligation to refer students who merely submit literature reviews in place of properly developed reports; who propose projects that are not sufficiently developed or deemed to be untenable; or who display insufficient foundational knowledge in the subject of anthropology. It is therefore important that your supervisor’s advice be taken seriously whilst writing.


Two bound copies of the combined Report and Proposal must be submitted to the Faculty Office by the School deadline, and labelled for the attention of the Research Tutor. Students will be examined by their second supervisor and another member of the department (or of another department if appropriate) in a viva voce. Every effort is made for the examination to take place within two weeks of submitting the reports.

There are several possible outcomes from the viva voce examination. You may be:

  1. upgraded (subject to the approval of the Associate Dean for Research);
  2. asked to make minor corrections;
  3. asked to do some major re-writing;
  4. recommended to remain on the MPhil course only;
  5. recommended that your course of study be terminated.

A student working well with their supervisor will find that there should be little need to worry about the last two categories.

Students Joining the MPhil after Completing the MA Res or another ESRC-Recognised Masters

The first year of study differs for students joining the department after completing the MA in Anthropological Research Methods or another ESRC-recognised Masters. For SOAS MA Res students, the work done in this year will have to be agreed with their supervisor and this will include finding a second supervisor and may include further language training. However, the expected pattern is that the MA Res dissertation will serve as the basis for producing a 20,000 word document that includes the Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal described above. The Report section should include the development of any ideas not fully considered in the Masters dissertation, plus a Fieldwork Proposal that includes a discussion of methods and ethics. This document will be submitted for upgrade to PhD status.

The upgrade viva cannot take place before November of the MPhil year, but should occur before the month of March. Students who have done the SOAS MA Res are thus expected to be upgraded and leave for fieldwork early in the MPhil year.

Students in a similar position coming to us from other universities may choose, in consultation with their supervisor, to follow the above path or to do the full MPhil year of training including the Research Training Seminar, the Research Methods and Statistics courses and any necessary language training. Decisions on individual study patterns will be decided in consultation with the Research Tutor.

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9. Ethics

Both the Research Report/Fieldwork Proposal and your PhD dissertation must demonstrate awareness of and engagement with the School and Anthropology codes of ethics. The School Statement on Ethics can be found below, and you must also familiarise yourself with the Association of Social Anthropologist (ASA) statement which can be found on:

SOAS Research Ethics Policy

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10. Funding and Fieldwork

Few students come to the MPhil/PhD programme with their fieldwork funding in place and this is an issue that occupies considerable first-year concern and effort. So while working on methods and training, a student is expected to identify and apply to any relevant sources of fieldwork funding. Your supervisor can offer guidance, but, aside from writing references, a supervisor is not expected to locate sources of income for you. Finding funding, writing applications, and collecting the necessary supporting material are all part of your research training and transferable skills that will serve you after the PhD. Discussion of how to locate funding sources occurs within the Research Training Seminar and the Generic Research Training Day run by the School. The Careers Office might also help identify potential funding sources. The journal Anthropology Today frequently includes advertisements for the better-known Scholarship Foundations, and the Research Tutor circulates all advertisements for funding that he receives from outside sources.

General Funds Available to Anthropology Students:

Please contact Alicia Sales,, in the Scholarships Office for information and assistance regarding ESRC, AHRC, and SOAS scholarship applications, as well as for information about other funding schemes. Note that the dates and deadlines, as well as the sums of awards, listed below are subject to change each year. Students are advised to check institutional websites as early as possible to verify procedures and deadlines. Keep in mind that referees require plenty of advance warning for supplying letters of support.

  • AHRC (UK and EU Students only):
  • Bloomsbury Colleges PhD Studentships:
  • British Commonwealth (must apply through home country)
  • British Foundation for Women Graduates: Founded in 1907 BFWG has been providing Scholarships Funds for women in their final year of study for a PhD. Its wholly owned subsidiary Funds for Women Graduates (FfWG) makes awards to help women graduates while undertaking postgraduate study or research. For more information see
  • Chevening Scholarships: The Chevening Scholarship scheme offers exceptional candidates the opportunity to undertake postgraduate study at leading universities in the UK. It is aimed at future leaders, opinion formers and decision-makers. For more details on the Chevening Scholarships Programme see
  • Elisabeth Croll Scholarship for fieldwork in China
    The Elisabeth Croll Scholarship for fieldwork in China has been created to honour the memory of Elisabeth Croll (1944-2007), vice principal of SOAS and Professor of Chinese Anthropology. The scholarship offers a current MPhil/PhD student at SOAS £1000 towards the cost of fieldwork in China.
    Application Deadline:  
    • A date in October–for students leaving for
      fieldwork from 10 January  to 25 April inclusive
    • A date in January – for students leaving for
      fieldwork from 26 April to 25 September inclusive  
    • A date in April – for students leaving for fieldwork
      from 26 September to January inclusive
  • Application Procedures: Application forms may be downloaded from obtained from:

  • Daiwa (small grants, Japan):
  • DARG Postgraduate Prize (Development/education related, funds fieldwork and conference attendance as well):
  • ESRC (UK and EU Students only):
  • Felix Scholarships are open to Indian graduates starting a degree at SOAS to read for a Taught Postgraduate Masters degree or for a Masters or Doctoral by research degree (MPhil/PhD), who would be unable, without financial assistance, to take up their place. Applicants must be under 30 years of age and must have at least a first-class Bachelor's degree from an Indian university or comparable institution. Those who already hold degrees from universities outside India are not eligible to apply. Graduates are expected to return to work in their home country. Up to six scholarships were available for previous academic sessions. Scholarships normally cover tuition fees at the overseas rate and an annual maintenance grant. The closing date for applications is normally at the beginning of March. See SOAS website for details.
  • GDAI (Governance for Development in Africa Initiative) PhD Scholarships: The SOAS Centre of African Studies offers three part-present PhD scholarships to African residents. In addition to the SOAS MPhil/PhD application form, send a proposal of the intended research in 1000 words max. This should outline the research objectives, appropriate methods and research relevance. It should also make clear the relation between the proposed research and the core themes of governance and development in sub-Saharan Africa. Contact: Angelica Baschiera, Coordinator, Mo Ibrahim Foundation Governance for Development in Africa Initiative, SOAS. Email:
  • Haimendorf (administered by the Department, fieldwork grants only). The primary purpose of the Fürer Haimendorf Fund is to support research in South Asia by SOAS doctoral students. Priority will be given to those students wishing to work in the same areas as Professor von Fürer-Haimendorf. Professor von Fürer-Haimendorf was also a pioneer in the use of film and photography as ethnographic tools.  Students working with these technologies are also eligible to apply for funding regardless of their region of ethnographic specialization, but in the knowledge that applicants working is South Asia will be given priority. Applicants are asked to submit proposals of 500 words and costings by May 15th to the Research Tutor. The maximum award available under the scheme is £1,500.
  • Horniman (RAI administers):
  • Japan Foundation (one year fieldwork, very tough for PhD students):
  • Japan Foundation Endowment Committee (supervisor must apply):
  • Japan Society for the Promotion of Social Science (
  • Meiji Jingu PhD Studentships: Two awards are offered annually, either for PhD students at SOAS, or newly enrolling full-time MPhil students, who have been accepted by SOAS. Students may be registered in any department, and be of any nationality, but must be working on some aspect of Japanese Studies. Normally awards are for one year only, but where a recipient of the Studentship has demonstrated outstanding potential for research, the recipient of the Studentship can reapply up to a maximum of three times. Candidates will be chosen on the strength of their proposal, for the MPhil students, and on the results of their research during the previous year, and proposal for PhD students. Some consideration may be given to need. Studentships are worth £5000, and carry a 20% reduction of fees (EU or Overseas). See SOAS website for closing date for applications.
  • MEXT scholarships (Japan Research, Japanese government Scholarships:
  • Newby Trust (fieldwork, development related):
  • Ouseley Memorial Scholarship (not available every year). This scholarship is for a student taking a full-time research degree, whose research requires the use of a Middle Eastern or Asian language. The Scholarship will be awarded for one year only. The value of the Scholarship is £6000 for one year only. The scholarship does not carry remission of tuition fees. The closing date for applications is normally in March – please email: for more details.
  • Radcliffe-Brown Award. Small sums of financial support for students about to submit the thesis. For information, see
  • Sasakawa Foundation (mostly Japan-related, but has interests in other areas:
  • Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust: Its Objectives are to provide financial assistance to graduates with a First or Upper Second class degree, over the age of 24, who register for a higher degree or equivalent academic qualification in any subject, or for a degree in medicine, dentistry or veterinary science, at a university in the United Kingdom. The annual closing date for applications is 31st March. Awards are announced in late June. See for more information.
  • SOAS Research Student Fellowships are available for students who are proposing to register full-time for an MPhil/PhD at the School. Only new research students may apply: those already enrolled on a research degree programme at SOAS are not eligible. Award-holders must possess a good Masters degree from a UK University or equivalent qualification. Candidates completing a Masters degree may apply. The Fellowships consist of a remittance of fees at home/EU level and an annual bursary. New awards are valid only for the first academic session but, subject to satisfactory progress, they may be renewed for the normal duration of a full-time student’s registration*. Overseas fee payers are recommended to apply also for an ORSAS award, which meets the difference between the higher and lower fees.
    *The normal duration of a full-time student’s registration is three years. The award is therefore renewable for up to a further two years. The closing date for applications is normally at the start of term two. See SOAS website for more details
  • SOAS Faculty of Arts and Humanities Conference Awards: these small grants are offered through the ADR and whenever the faculty budget allows it. The aim is to advertise for applications twice a year if possible. Applications are to the ADR, and must include conference details, a letter of invitation to give a paper, costings and a letter of support from your supervisor. This fund is aimed at 3rd year PhD students, other students can also apply, but priority will be given to 3rd years who have not had previous funding.
  • SOAS Postgraduate Additional Awards for Fieldwork: these awards are intended to provide some financial support for SOAS postgraduate students to conduct MPhil/PhD fieldwork abroad. These awards do not cover conference attendance and are not awarded more than once to any student. Normally these awards do not cover more than the price of a budget return airfare. Competition is very intense and applicants and referees are encouraged to be as precise as possible in making their case. Closing dates for applications are normally in October for students leaving for fieldwork from January to March the following calendar year; January for students leaving for fieldwork from April to September of the same calendar year; and April for student leaving for fieldwork from October to December inclusive. Alternatively, please email:
  • Spalding Trust (for research in religion):
  • Tibawi Trust: this award is to assist a Palestinian postgraduate student and may be used towards conferences, fieldwork etc. The value of the award is £600. The closing date for applications is normally in January – please email: for more details.
    Toyota Foundation (small grants, Japan:
  • Tsuda (for 4th SOAS year students working on Japan)
  • The Universities' China Committee in London:
  • Wenner Gren (Fieldwork in the main, but now has a special fund for students who come from countries in which anthropology is under-represented:
    Wingate Foundation (

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11. SOAS Application Forms for Undertaking Fieldwork

Once upgraded to PhD status, you and your supervisor must complete the Application for Approval to Undertake Overseas Fieldwork/Research form (available from the Registry) and submit to the Registry. On this form you are expected to outline your research plans for the next 12 months, including overseas university contacts and a description of arrangements for supervision while in the field. Fieldwork of longer than 12 months must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Associate Dean for Research.

You are expected to keep in touch with your supervisor throughout fieldwork. Some students prefer to send a regular monthly report of their activities by email (or post); while others submit a longer mid-term fieldwork report after the first six months. You and your supervisor must agree on your planned method of reporting prior to departure. At the end of the year, your supervisor must complete an annual assessment form for you and will need to know what you have been doing. Any requests for extended stay made from the field must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Associate Dean for Research, so regular contact with your supervisor is essential. Note carefully that any extensions to your fieldwork will result in a shortening of the writing-up period, and this needs to be taken into serious consideration. The School requires all students to complete their PhD within four years.

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12. The PhD Dissertation

In your second year, you are normally expected to conduct twelve months of fieldwork based on your Fieldwork Proposal. Requests for longer periods of fieldwork must be approved by the ADR and supported by your supervisor. On return from the field you will be expected to begin work on your PhD dissertation of maximum 100,000 words. This dissertation must adhere to the University of London Regulations for Anthropology Degrees.

Writing the Dissertation

SOAS Anthropology dissertations adhere to the University of London. A short version of the regulations is outlined below (© University of London 2001). A complete outline of all regulations regarding the PhD.

The thesis shall:
  1. consist of the candidate’s own account of his/her investigations and must indicate how they appear to him/her to advance the study of the subject;
  2. form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power;
  3. be an integrated whole and present a coherent argument;
  4. give a critical assessment of the relevant literature, describe the method of research and its findings, and include a discussion on those findings, and indicate in what respects they appear to the candidate to advance the study of the subject;
  5. be written in English and the literary presentation shall be satisfactory, although the College at which the candidate is or will be registered may make application for a thesis in the field of modern foreign languages and literatures only to be written in the language of study, to be considered on an exceptional basis by Subject Area Board E (Humanities); in such cases the thesis shall include additionally a submission of between 10,000 and 20,000 words which shall be written in English and shall summarize the main arguments of the thesis;
  6. include a full bibliography and references;
  7. not exceed 100,000 words; a College may prescribe a lower number in certain subject areas, which shall be detailed in the relevant College regulations;
  8. be of a standard to merit publication in whole or in part or in a revised form (for example, as a monograph or as a number of articles in learned journals).

A series of papers, whether published or otherwise, is not acceptable as a thesis; work already published, either by the candidate or jointly with others, may be included only if it forms an integral part of the thesis and thereby makes a relevant contribution to the main theme of the thesis and is in the same format as the rest of the thesis; the part played by the candidate in any work done jointly with the supervisor(s) and/or fellow research workers must be clearly stated and certified by the supervisor; publications derived from the work in the thesis may be bound as supplementary material at the back of the thesis.

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13. Submitting the Dissertation

Deciding whether the dissertation is near completion should be done in consultation with your supervisor (and possibly second supervisor). If agreed, the following steps must be taken:

You will need to collect an Entry Form from the SOAS Registry and return it two months before you plan to submit the thesis to avoid delays in examination arrangements. You will need to prepare an abstract of the work for the Entry Form. At this point you should discuss potential examiners with your supervisor who, while being guided by you, will make the final decision. Every student will be examined in a viva voce by two examiners: one from the University of London (but normally external to SOAS) and another from outside the University. While a student may have had previous contact with their examiners, it is normally expected that the examiners will not have read large parts of the dissertation nor will they have engaged in extended discussions of the thesis with the student beforehand. Your supervisor will seek approval of the nominated Examiners from the Department’s Panel for Approving Examiners.

When the final draft of the thesis is complete, you will need to submit three copies of the manuscript to Senate House. These can be initially bound in soft covers, to be replaced by hard-cover binding after the successful examination. Your supervisor will contact your examiners and arrange the day, time and place of the examination.

More detailed University of London Regulations pertaining to the PhD examination and its outcome are included below (© University of London 2001):

The examiners, after reading the thesis, shall examine the candidate orally and at their discretion by written papers or practical examination or by both methods on the subject of the thesis and, if they see fit, on subjects relevant thereto.

Candidates are required to present themselves for oral, practical or written examinations at such place and times as the University may direct and to bring with them to the oral examination an additional copy of their thesis.

There are seven options open to examiners in determining the result of the examination
as follows:

  1. If the thesis fulfils the criteria (set out above) and the candidate satisfies the examiners in all other parts of the examination, the examiners will report that the candidate has satisfied them in the examination for the PhD degree.
  2. If the thesis otherwise fulfils the criteria but requires minor amendments and if the candidate satisfies the examiners in all other parts of the examination, the examiners may require the candidate to make within three months amendments specified by them. The amended thesis shall be submitted to the examiners or one of their number nominated by them for confirmation that the amendments are satisfactory.
  3. If the thesis, though inadequate, shall seem of sufficient merit to justify such action, the examiners may determine that the candidate be permitted to re-present his/her thesis in a revised form within 18 months. Examiners shall not, however, make such a decision without submitting the candidate to an oral examination. The examiners may at their discretion exempt from a further oral examination, on re-presentation of his/her thesis, a candidate who under this regulation has been permitted to re-present it in a revised form.
  4. If the thesis satisfies the criteria but the candidate fails to satisfy the examiners at the practical or written examination prescribed under paragraph 9.3.1, the examiners may determine that the candidate be exempted on re-entry from presentation of the thesis and be permitted to submit to a further practical or written examination within a period specified by them and not exceeding 18 months. The examiners may at their discretion exempt the candidate from taking a further oral examination.
  5. If the thesis satisfies the criteria for the degree, but the candidate fails to satisfy the examiners at the oral examination, the examiners may determine that the candidate be permitted to re-present the same thesis, and submit to a further oral examination within a period specified by them and not exceeding 18 months.
  6. If, after completion of the examination including the oral examination or re-examination for the PhD degree, the examiners determine that a candidate has not reached the standard required for the award of the degree nor for the re-presentation of the thesis in a revised form for that degree, they shall consider whether the thesis does or might be able to satisfy the criteria for the award of the MPhil degree. If they so decide, the examiners shall submit a report which demonstrates either (a) how the criteria for the MPhil degree are satisfied, or (b) what action would need to be taken in order for these criteria to be satisfied. Thereafter the following conditions and procedures will apply: Either (i) the candidate will be informed that he/she has been unsuccessful at the examination for the PhD degree, but that his/her examiners have indicated that he/she has reached the standard required for the award of the MPhil degree or with minor amendments to his/her thesis he/she will satisfy the criteria for the degree, and that he/she may be considered for the award of the MPhil degree if he/she indicates within two months that he/she wishes to be so considered. Any minor amendments required shall be made within three months and the amended thesis shall be submitted to the examiners or one of their number nominated by them for confirmation that the amendments are satisfactory. (ii) a candidate who indicates that he/she wishes to be considered for the award of the MPhil degree under this Regulation will not be required to submit the thesis, as may be required under the Regulations for the MPhil degree or to undergo an oral examination thereon, but will be required to fulfil the requirements for the MPhil examination in all other respects including (if applicable) the passing, at the next following occasion on which they are held, of any required written papers for the MPhil degree in Philosophy. In the latter case, the candidate will be informed that he/she must satisfy the examiners in the prescribed written papers and that if he/she fails re-entry will be governed by the Regulations for the MPhil degree in Philosophy insofar as they are applicable.

In general, the majority of students are successful in their PhD examination, but there are regularly minor amendments to be made, or up to 18 months further work to be done. Given the four year timetable to which student now must work, these two options may become more frequent. Total failure in the PhD is rare, but possible. The best way you can ensure success is to allow yourself to be guided by your supervisor. That is, while fieldwork makes you the expert on your subject, it is your supervisor who best understands what constitutes an acceptable PhD thesis. Working together with your supervisor (rather than avoiding them) leads to the most positive outcome. To this end, please make sure that your supervisor and the faculty office have your current contact details at all times.

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14. Further Postdoctoral Research

For students who wish to continue with postdoctoral research, please familiarise yourself with the application forms, procedures and deadlines of individual funding schemes well in advance of applying. Your supervisor can advise you on applying for the ESRC, British Academy, or Mellon post-doctoral fellowships. You are responsible for finding other possible sources of post-doctoral funding and for working out an appropriate application timetable with your supervisor.

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15. References for Applications

Whether you go on to further study, volunteer work or a paid job, references are important. Students generally ask for references from supervisors and teachers whom they know well, but more general references may be provided by the Research Tutor or Head of Department.

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16. SOAS Careers Services

SOAS has a careers service which is available to all students, free of charge, while they are studying at the school. You will receive further information about this at registration. David Jones is the Careers Officer and has regular office hours. The Careers Service will help with job listings, interviews during ‘Milkrounds’, putting together CVs, and even organising post-doctoral research.

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17. Staying in touch

The School has an Alumni Office which aims to keep in touch with all graduates. This provides a pool of potential speakers for Careers’ Talks. Having a record of the employment of anthropology graduates and how our students get on helps us to reflect upon, and plan for, our teaching programmes, and to advise current students.

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18. General Notes on Essay Writing

Research students come from a wide variety of intellectual backgrounds and often ask for clarification about the appropriate style for writing anthropological dissertations. It is difficult to provide a simple answer for reasons which may be quite illuminating.

Anthropology is regarded by some as a science, by others as part of the humanities. Ideas about the appropriate style of essay writing differ somewhat accordingly. In some scientific circles, authorities encourage the use of the passive mood, as it is supposed to suggest detached objectivity and neutrality. Given recent trends in anthropology and other social sciences and humanities, it is now important to ask who is the author or agent. So the active mood is preferable. It requires you to reflect on ‘who’ or ‘what’ actually did what was stated. In the SOAS Department we recognize that a variety of styles is permissible and that style is important in the presentation of ideas to readers. For a variety of reasons we do not wish to lay down static rules about what should, or should not, constitute an anthropology essay, an MPhil upgrade report or a PhD dissertation.

It seems preferable to give examples of the sorts of writing which many anthropologists consider to be good or exemplary. This is done below.

Certain features of essay writing are common to both the sciences and humanities. An essay should have a beginning, middle, and end. As a rough guide, you should indicate in the introduction what it is you are setting out to argue or show. The body of the essay should lay out your case using suitable arguments, citations and ethnographic evidence, the balance depending upon the kind of essay you are writing. Evidently, you should display an appropriate mastery of the literature relevant to the essay topic. In the conclusion it is not usual to introduce new arguments or materials, but rather to make inferences or draw conclusions from the arguments and materials already presented in the body of the text.

There are other agreed features of an acceptable essay. Spelling should be correct and normally conform to that used in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Punctuation is not a matter of personal proclivity and there are fairly widely agreed standards (see Carey 1971; Truss 2003). Similarly, while certain features of English grammar are a matter of choice, many are not. Partridge (1973) is probably the best known guide to grammar and many other aspects of English usage. Students often treat paragraphs as if there were no conventions. As Partridge points out, a paragraph, ‘is a collection, or series, of sentences, with unity of purpose ... Between one paragraph and another, there is a greater break in the subject than between one sentence and another’ (1973: 223, citing Bain). You should seriously consider buying Partridge’s Usage and abusage if you are not familiar with the vagaries of style in English.

On one matter there are quite definite rules in anthropology. That is over bibliographical conventions. Anthropologists are expected always to use the modified Harvard system, which is used in The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI, previously Man). It is an efficient system, once mastered. Whether their native language is English or not, Research students are expected to use the bibliographical style of JRAI in all writing and, by the time they come to write their dissertations, to have a command of English usage. Examiners expect fluency in English usage and correct use of bibliographical style to be part of the qualifications for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

All documents should be double-spaced. Bibliographical references should be cited in the text by the author’s last name, date of publication (Firth 1954); if the author is quoted, then the page number needs to be included e.g. (Firth 1954: 285); or, if the author’s name is mentioned in the text, by the date and page reference only, e.g. (1954: 285). Quotations always are marked by quotation marks (“and”). Inverted commas are for ‘emphasis’ and not quotations. Quotations of more than 50 words do not get quotation marks but should be blocked and single spaced.

Entries in the Bibliography should be by authors’ surnames, in alphabetical order, and should include the following: name and initials of author(s) or editors, date, title (in italics for books, in inverted commas for articles) and (for books) place of publication and, if published in 1901 or after, name of publisher; for articles, name of journal in full (or abbreviated according to the World List of Scientific Periodicals) in italics, volume number (Arabic numerals to be used throughout) and pagination. See the Bibliography at the end of this section for an example of good practice.

Perhaps the best way to indicate some of the kinds of essay style which we would recommend is to give examples of journals and authors. Obviously JRAI, as the main British anthropological journal, is one source to look at. The quality of style in the articles varies greatly however and, as anthropology changes, so does its style. Among British anthropologists, the following authors often are remarked on for the quality, or clarity, of their writing: E.E. Evans-Pritchard, Raymond Firth, Alfred Gell, John Middleton, David Pocock. Of the authors whose work you will encounter on the course, among American anthropologists Marshall Sahlins writes well, as does the Oxford philosopher Collingwood. However, ethnographic and anthropological writings are themselves changing genres (Clifford 1983), which have been affected by broader literary trends. Conrad, although not a native English-speaker, has had much effect on ethnographic writing.

If in doubt, remember that, in general, good English is simple. Moreover, there is no point in using your computer’s Spellcheck, Grammar and Punctuation checker or Thesaurus if you don’t know the meaning of the word in the first place, have little idea of how to spell it, or don’t understand the grammatical rule the programme is trying to impose on you. For example, passive sentences are acceptable in essays, but the Microsoft grammar programme hates them. Since it is a US-based programme, it also includes many grammatical rules which, by UK standards, are just plain wrong. If you are concerned about your writing skills, the Learning and Teaching Unit, as well as the Language Support Unit, offer a variety of courses to help you at any stage of your research degree (see Section I.v).


Carey, G.V. 1971. Mind the stop: a brief guide to punctuation with a note on proof-correction. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Clifford, J. 1983. ‘On ethnographic authority’ in Representations 1,2. Reprinted 1988 in The predicament of culture; twentieth-century ethnography, literature, and art. London: Harvard Univ. Press.

Crabb, G. 1974. Crabb’s English synonyms. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Fowler, H. W. 1968. Modern English usage. 2nd edn. revised by Sir Ernest Gowers, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Gowers, E. 1962. The complete plain words. Harmondsworth: Pelican.

Partridge, E. 1973. Usage and abusage: a guide to good English. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Truss, L. 2003 Eats, shoots and leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation. London: Profile Books

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