Why a PhD in Anthropology at SOAS?
A majority of our PhD graduates have embarked on an academic career, taking up lectureships in universities in the UK as well as abroad, or pursuing further their interests through post-doctoral fellowships and other research-based posts.
At the same time, SOAS anthropology PhD graduates have gone on to a range of occupations in the fields of social and market research, development organisations at home and overseas, international and national government and policy, heritage and museum services, journalism and in advisory services of many kinds.
Social anthropology is widely regarded by employers as an excellent training, equipping holders of the degree with a range of sought after skills. The MPhil/PhD offers graduates the opportunity to enhance their qualitative research skills and advance their expertise in their chosen field of study. Thus equipped, they are valuable not only for generating the empirical data required for reaching certain decisions, but also for providing the necessary critical tools that enable organisations to innovate and address the challenges of a fast changing world.
The SOAS PhD in Social Anthropology is recognized by the ESRC as both a +3 and 1+3 course. (See ESRC Scholarships and MRes in Social Anthropology)
There are several possible research pathways available to research students in the department. These are:
- The +3 pathway
- The 1+3 pathway
- The 2+3 pathway
- The +4 pathway
The +3 pathway is our standard MPhil/PhD pathway suitable for candidates with an existing Masters-level degree in anthropology. Candidates are initially registered as MPhil students. For full-time students, the first year of registration includes research methods training and project development, culminating in upgrade to PhD registration. Subject to successfully upgrading, the second year is generally spent conducting fieldwork. The third year is spent writing-up.
The 1+3 pathway involves one year on our ESRC-recognised MRes Social Anthropology programme followed by three years on the MPhil/PhD programme. This pathway is suitable for candidates with an undergraduate degree in anthropology but no Masters-level training in the discipline. The dissertation for the MRes Social Anthropology constitutes the basis for the research report and fieldwork proposal required for upgrading from MPhil to PhD status. Consequently the upgrade process generally occurs early in the first year of the +3 part of the pathway and the student may expect to leave for fieldwork after about one term.
The 2+3 pathway is intended for those with an undergraduate degree in anthropology but who require additional intensive training in a designated African or Asian language in order to undertake fieldwork. It comprises the two-year MRes Social Anthropology and Intensive Language, followed by three years on the MPhil/PhD programme. As with the 1+3 pathway, candidates are able to upgrade and embark on fieldwork earlier in the first year of MPhil/PhD registration than students on the standard +3 pathway.
The +4 pathway is intended for students with an existing Masters-level degree in anthropology who require additional intensive language training in order to undertake fieldwork. The pathway comprises of a two-year fieldwork training period, including intensive language training, and the opportunity, where appropriate, for short pre-fieldwork familiarisation visits to expected fieldwork sites and/or in situ language training. Candidates are expected to upgrade to PhD status at the start of their second year of registration.
The above descriptions are based on full-time registration. Each of these pathways is also available on a part-time basis (e.g. the +3 pathway can be taken part-time over six years). Students on each of these pathways may also be eligible to apply for an additional year of writing up at reduced fee level on ‘continuation’ status.
As described above, the expectation is that candidates for the above research degree pathways will already have training in anthropology at undergraduate or postgraduate level (depending on pathway). We recognise, however, that some candidates may have anthropological training without a formal degree in anthropology. Prospective students should contact the Director of Doctoral Studies to discuss their particular circumstances. Where candidates do not have sufficient anthropological foundation, they may be advised first to take one of our taught MA programmes (rather than the MA in Anthropological Research Methods) in order to qualify for the +3 or +4 MPhil/PhD pathways.
For more information, contact the current Research Tutor (details on our Departmental Staff page).
How to apply
Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis, as they are received. For instructions to apply to the MPhil/PhD programme see How to apply for a research degree.
As part of your application you will need to submit a 2,000 word Research Proposal. See the Anthropology Department's Guidelines for writing a Research Proposal.
Final deadline for submission of applications (for September 2021 entry): 30 June 2021
Applicants wishing to be considered for funding must submit the complete application several months earlier. See further information and specific deadlines:
Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
- A BA and/or MA degree in Anthropology, with a merit or equivalent in the Masters Degree and a MA dissertation grade of 65% (UK) or higher. Applicants must provide a clear and coherent research proposal of 2000 words, plus two academic references. In exceptional cases we may accept applicants who do not meet these criteria if they show evidence of a strong Masters degree and/or appropriate level of relevant work experience.
International applicants should also see Doctoral School English language requirements
- All SOAS PhD programmes are expected to take a maximum of 48 months fulltime (three years of full fees that includes one year fieldwork, and one final year of continuation). The PhD programme may also be taken part time. If taken part time, it is normally expected that both the year-long fieldwork component and continuation year are taken full time. To learn about funding opportunities, follow the "Funding For Degree" link in the menu bar at upper left.
Home students fees:
- Overseas students fees:
Fees for 2022/23 entrants. The fees are per academic year. Please note that fees go up each year. Further details can be found on the Postgraduate research tuition fees page
In the first year, every MPhil student is appointed a three-person research committee comprising a principal supervisor, a second supervisor and the Research Tutor. MPhil students attend the weekly Research Training Seminar and the Research Methods course, and they take relevant language training. MPhil students may also be required to take additional regional, thematic or theory courses related to their chosen specialisation. Upon successful completion of a 20,000-word research report and fieldwork proposal, MPhil students are upgraded to PhD status and commence fieldwork. The fieldwork experience forms the basis of a 100,000-word dissertation which should demonstrate original thinking and make a significant contribution to the discipline. During the post-fieldwork period, PhD students attend the weekly post-fieldwork seminar and have the opportunity to present their work in progress. MPhil and PhD students are encouraged to attend the variety of seminars and workshops that take place across the School.
Students undertaking a PhD have a few requirements in their first year. They are required to take the Research Methods in Anthropology (15Cr) 15PANH091 course and attend the Research Training Seminar each week. They are expected to attend the Departmental Seminar Series events (advertised weekly). They are required to write a Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal. They are required to submit an Ethics form. They will meet their supervisors at regular intervals. Generally, this will be fortnightly for full time students, however it may be appropriate to meet more or less frequently at different stages. Some supervisors may ask doctoral students to take additional modules in the first year of their PhD.
All students enrolled in their first year of an MPhil/PhD are required to take and pass the assessments for this course.
Statistical Methods for Research – Social Sciences
MPhil students are strongly encouraged to complete a not-for-credit online module, Statistical Methods for Research - Social Sciences run by Epigeum.
Research Training Seminar
The aim of this seminar is to help students prepare for their upgrade by thinking through what an anthropological research project should be about. The seminar has also the over-arching objective of supporting the students preparing their upgrade documents, fieldwork plan and ethics review. It consists of students’ presentations, workshop-style exercises and invited talks by members of staff as well as returning PhD students. In term 1, students will introduce their research topic and outline the objectives of their PhD research through collaborative work with their colleagues. In these presentations, students are expected to engage with the materials they are reading or viewing with the aim of an discussing the writing and presentation techniques involved. Questions to consider include: what makes good ethnography? What is an effective way of organising and conveying an argument? What are the boundaries of ethnography, and how have they changed, and continue to change? Student presentations in term 2 focus on questions of ethics and the practicalities of and the choices involved in fieldwork.
In addition to supporting the written work students do and the ideas they explore in their individual sessions with supervisors, the Research Training Seminars also aims to introduce and hone transferrable skills. These include the ability to compose and communicate both brief and more sustained seminar presentations, the skill to assess ethnographic writing and each other’s work in a productive manner; and the ability to contribute to discussions and the making of knowledge as a member of a group. The seminar provides a vital forum for students to recognise, discuss and evaluate competing theoretical positions and approaches and to consider different forms, techniques, and styles of ethnographic (re-)presentation and communication. All such aspects are aimed at contributing to the intellectual and organisational development of the upgrade report.
Other required courses
Some first-year research students may be required to register for specific courses and they must complete the coursework set by the teacher. This will have been indicated in their letter of acceptance to the research programme. If you fall into this category, your supervisor will remind you of your commitment and will follow your progress on the course, as will the Director of Doctoral Studies and with the Head of the Doctoral School.
Training Needs Analysis
All students complete an annual Training Needs Analysis by the end of October, via PhD Manager. The TNA is a conversation between a doctoral researcher and their lead supervisor at the beginning of each academic year, whereby both parties identify skill areas that need further development and make prioritised action plans from that year.
Doctoral students use PhD Manager to record and request a wide variety of things, supervisors should be able to provide support if you are having any issues; however if they are unable to assist, then the Doctoral School should also be able to help.
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 at the beginning of term 3 of your first year and any late submissions 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 examined and a decision has been made about upgrading.
In your second year, you are normally expected to do twelve months of fieldwork based on your Fieldwork Proposal. Requests for longer periods of fieldwork must be approved by the Head of the Doctoral School and supported by your supervisor. On return from the field you will be expected to begin work on your PhD dissertation of 100,000 words. This dissertation must adhere to the University of London Regulations for Anthropology Degrees.
If you are a part-time, then, like all first-year research students, you must meet your supervisor at the beginning of the academic year to agree your training needs and define the appropriate mode for supervisory contact. It is normally advised that you take the Ethnographic Research Methods course in your first year; and you are expected to attend the Research Training Seminars in your second year. During the term, supervision will take the form of a mix of face-to-face meetings and email contact; face to face supervision tends to occur during the Christmas, Easter or summer break.
The majority of departmental seminars, and many subject-based seminars, are held throughout the week and in the evenings. Access to the library and computing facilities is possible during normal opening hours. Formal teaching and an increasing amount of subject-based research material is available via electronic resources available through the Library internet connection (including a growing number of specialist search engines by subject/region).
The variety of seminars you might like to attend at SOAS, and across London, is enormous, and you will need to be selective. The Anthropology Departmental Seminar meets on Wednesday afternoon and is a crucial element of the shared intellectual life of staff and postgraduate students. All first year students are expected to attend. Invited speakers will present work in progress, much of which should be at the cutting edge of anthropological research. There is also a regular PhD Post-Fieldwork Seminar given by students returning from fieldwork. While this seminar is primarily aimed at post-fieldwork students (and all post-fieldwork students in residence are expected to attend regularly), MPhil students are strongly encouraged to attend and participate in discussion.
SOAS hosts a variety of public lectures, conferences and seminars which are prominently advertised on the SOAS events page. SOAS staff usually belong to an academic department and a Regional Centre (some also belong to Special Purpose Centres). If you have a regional interest, then make a point early in the year of locating the relevant Regional Centre where you will find an information board displaying forthcoming meetings. Some Regional Centres also publish a Newsletter.
Outside SOAS you might want to explore the facilities of the University of London. The LSE, University College and Goldsmiths College have substantial anthropology departments and also run weekly seminars. Some of you might have specialist interests which make it worthwhile seeking out London University colleges concerned with higher studies in medicine, law, education etc. The possibilities are too extensive and varied to itemize here; if you have particular interests then ask a member of staff who shares your enthusiasms.
You might also consider taking out a Junior Fellowship of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) which will include a journal subscription to Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Anthropology Today. Membership also includes access to the RAI library located in the British Museum, which also hosts seminars and film screenings.
Second and third year (and beyond)
The second year of the PhD involves fieldwork, and the third year involves writing up (100, 000 words). In the third year, it is expected that you will meet with your supervisor around once a month. As a post-fieldwork student, you will also be expected to give two seminar presentations in the post-fieldwork seminar in the third year of your course of study. This is an opportunity to get feedback on your work from other members of the department as well as from your fellow doctoral students. The aim of the third year is to help you complete the work or produce the large part of a first draft of the dissertation. Many students then seek a fourth year of study, or Continuation. All changes in status must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Director of Doctoral Studies and the Doctoral School. During the writing-up period, your supervisor may encourage you to attend conferences and present papers outside of SOAS. In the last year of writing the dissertation, you should also start considering postdoctoral work and applying for fellowships and to job advertisements. Normally, your supervisor will guide you in preparing your applications, but it is your responsibility to identify opportunities and meet application deadlines.
The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session. If you are a current student you can find structure information on the previous year link at the top of the page or through your Department. Please read the important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules.
Teaching and Learning
Teaching & Learning
MPhil/PhD students are expected to work independently for the most part. There are, however, certain requirements for the first year of the programme which all students are expected to fulfil.
- Fortnightly tutorials with your supervisors are the norm if you are full time, although there will be times when you will see your supervisor more frequently and others when you might need three weeks between appointments. You will also be required to attend and do the coursework for the Ethnographic Research Methods class in term 1 and the Research Training Seminar in both terms.
- In consultation with your supervisor, you may also decide to take a language course and you will be expected to follow classes and do the related coursework.
- Some students may be required to enrol on one or more MA core courses as part of their first year of study and to attend the seminars/tutorials, write essays and take the exams.
- Other students also may decide to audit BA or MA core theory lectures in anthropology, or special interest lectures in other departments which will require attending lectures only.
- Most courses involve a weekly one hour lecture. Please consult the timetable on the SOAS website for days and times. Once again, you will need to seek agreement from the convenor to audit a course.
- Post-fieldwork students (year-three students) are expected to meet regularly with their supervisor to discuss the work and progress of their PhD thesis.
- Following the fieldwork year, all students are required to present two papers in the Post-Fieldwork seminar. Throughout postgraduate studies, many students also participate in the student run workshops, reading groups and seminar series.
- The lectures for any courses you are required to attend or audit serve merely to introduce new topics, theories, and debates. Ideally, lectures serve as a basis and catalyst for your further reading and research into the subject. Please note, therefore, that lectures are not a substitute for your own independent reading and study which will be monitored by your supervisor.
Auditing courses in the Department of Anthropology
Students are strongly recommended to consider auditing some of the lectures for courses offered at undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department. Particular mention should be made of:
- Introduction to Social Anthropology (first-year BA core course)
- Social Theory (first-year BA introduction to the history of social thought)
- Theory in Anthropology (second-year BA core course)
- Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology (MA core theory course)
- African and Asian Diasporas in the Contemporary World: Migration, Space, Identities
- African and Asian Diasporas in the Contemporary World: Cultures of Resistance and the Dissolution of Boundaries
- Anthropology of Development and Sustainability: Global Challenges and Alternative Futures
- Anthropology of Development and Sustainability: History, Politics and Culture
- Anthropology of Food: Politics, Place and Mobility
- Anthropology of Food: Diet, Society and Environment
- Body Politics: The Anthropology of 'Race', Gender and Desire
- Medical Anthropology: Global Perspectives
- Medical Anthropology: Bodies and Cultures
First and second-year undergraduate theory lectures may be especially useful to any student feeling in need of extra guidance on the topics dealt with in Theoretical Approaches to Social Anthropology during the first term.
Students are also welcome to audit other lectures at BA and MA levels within the Department, and are free to audit other lectures within the School with agreement from the course convenor. As a matter of courtesy, please ask the lecturer concerned whether or not your attendance will raise any problem in face of over-subscription or limited room space (especially for small lecture groups). Please note that auditing is possible for lectures but not for tutorial classes. Auditing a language is, therefore, normally precluded. Please also note that students cannot be examined in audited courses, nor is work set or marked.
Auditing courses in the University of London
Please note that auditing other courses at other colleges within the University of London is an option, but this must be recommended by your supervisor and approved. Auditing within the University of London can involve a course fee and, if you are not willing to pay this out of your own pocket, the faculty may elect to do so if an argument can be made for the necessity of the course. SOAS reserves limited funds for this propose, but applications must be supported with a supervisor’s reference.
If you wish to apply for funding for separate language tuition offered outside SOAS, then this must be specified at the time of application. When you arrive, your supervisor must give their approval and help you make the application. For more information, please contact the Director of Doctoral Studies.
The precise coursework requirements for each course you take (rather than audit) are indicated on the course cover sheets which accompany reading lists. It is your responsibility to acquaint yourself with this information. Reading Lists will be distributed to students in the first week of teaching.
Coursework is an important part of your first year of study, not only because it contributes toward your overall mark for a course, but because it enables tutors to assess your grasp of the key concepts and principles introduced, and your ability to present them in argument. Perhaps more importantly, it is only through concerted study of ideas, developed understanding, and active problem solving, that sustainable (not just measurable) progress in your learning and comprehension can be achieved.
All courses involve at least an element of written coursework which is formally assessed. Essays must be properly referenced: the standard form of anthropological referencing is that used in the 'Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (JRAI, previously Man)'.
The Doctoral School has responsibility for Fieldwork Grant Funding from the Santander Mobility Allowance and University of London. A small amount of funding (between £500 - £1,000 per applicant) is available, though this amount will vary by the allocation we receive each year. Please see the Doctoral School grants website for further details on deadlines and how to apply.
Post-field work seminar and student status
The work of writing the PhD dissertation is yours alone, supported, of course, by regular (normally monthly) meetings with your supervisor. As a post-fieldwork student you will also be expected to give two seminar presentations in the Post-fieldwork seminar in the third year of your course of study. This is an opportunity to get feedback on your work from other members of the department as well as from your fellow PhD students. The aim of the third year is to help you complete the work or produce the large part of a first draft of the dissertation. Many students then seek a fourth year of study, or Continuation. All changes in status must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Head of the Doctoral School.
During the writing-up period, your supervisor may encourage you to attend conferences and present papers outside of SOAS (as noted above, some funding is available from the Doctoral School – please contact the Doctoral School Administrator). You will also have available to you the various seminars and workshops run by the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching Unit and the English Language Support should you feel that your writing, organisational or language skills have suffered during fieldwork or simply need to be honed. Further skills training will be offered to you via the School (IT for example) or the Bloomsbury group. You may also, if it does not interfere with the writing of the dissertation, be encouraged to prepare at least one journal article for publication. Students, whose work is progressing satisfactorily, may wish to acquire paid teaching experience as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA) for undergraduate anthropology courses within the department. The Head of Department organises the GTA teaching each year and will ask your supervisor if your work is progressing before approving your application to do teaching within the department. Students are not allowed to do more than six hours of teaching a week.
In the last year of writing the dissertation, you should also start considering postdoctoral work and applying for fellowships and to job advertisements. Normally, your supervisor will guide you in preparing your applications, but it is your responsibility to identify opportunities and meet application deadlines.
Some useful websites to search for postdoctoral funding
SOAS Library is one of the world's most important academic libraries for the study of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, attracting scholars from all over the world. The Library houses over 1.2 million volumes, together with significant archival holdings, special collections and a growing network of electronic resources.
Fees and funding
Various sources of funding for training and research are available for Anthropology MPhil/PhD programme applicants, read more on funding your studies
Fees for 2022/23 entrants per academic year
Please note that fees go up each year.
See full details of postgraduate research tuition fees
Application Deadline: 2022-01-10 23:59
Application Deadline: 2021-04-30 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-01-28 15:00
JRC Fuwaku Scholarship
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-04-17 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-06 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-04-05 00:00
Application Deadline: 2022-05-02 00:00
For further details and information on external scholarships visit the Scholarships section