The Doctor of Philosophy program in anthropology requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit.

The Ph.D. degree leads to the accomplishment of professional-level skills in conducting independent research, and normally features specialized training in one or two of the discipline’s subfields. Doctoral education is guided by a Ph.D. committee composed of members of the faculty competent in the particular areas and topics chosen by a student.

The doctoral program includes an integrated process of progressively developing and completing reading lists, developing and submitting research proposals to funding agencies, developing and defending a dissertation prospectus, and writing two comprehensive exam essays. Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examination and the dissertation prospectus, a student advances to candidacy for the Ph.D. To complete the Ph.D. degree, all doctoral candidates are required to conduct independent anthropological research, write a dissertation, and defend it.

For students who enter the doctoral program with an existing M.A. (in anthropology or a related field), the faculty develop an individualized program of study based on a student's existing coursework and goals.

Ph.D. students also may elect to pursue an optional concentration in either feminist anthropology or paleoanthropology.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Doctor of Philosophy in anthropology, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Required Theory Course 3
Research Design and Proposal Writing 3
Data Analysis 3
Dissertations Writing Seminar 3
Relevant Courses varies
Language Competency -
Comprehensive Examination (see below) -
Prospectus and Defense -
Dissertation (see below) -
Total Hours 72

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: January 1st (for all programs)


Applicants for admission to the graduate program in anthropology are considered regardless of their previous field of training. Students without previous training in anthropology are expected to perform additional work as necessary to achieve competence expected for their degree objective.

Students normally are admitted under the assumption that they intend to pursue the Ph.D. degree. Students without an M.A. in anthropology devote the first two years fulfilling the M.A. requirements. After those requirements are completed, the student's committee may award the M.A. with admittance to the Ph.D. program.

Students with an M.A. in anthropology from another institution may proceed directly into a Ph.D. program organized around their special research interests. If they lack any of the requirements of the graduate program at the University of Iowa, they are informed of those requirements when admitted. Acceptance of credit hours from other institutions will follow UI regulations.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit official test scores to verify English proficiency. Applicants can verify English proficiency by submitting official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Once recommended for admission, international students also must complete several additional requirements.

For additional information, visit the Graduate Admissions Process page.

Comprehensive Examination

During the semester of the comprehensive exam, the student will prepare two comprehensive essays: one in the geographical area of specialization and the other in the primary topical area of specialization.  In some subfields and for some projects, a geographical area may not be relevant and the student will focus on two topical areas.  Each paper will address a question posed by the committee in consultation with the student.  The department recommends that each student and committee chair compile feedback from all committee members on proposed reading lists for each question, prior to the student beginning the writing process.

Comprehensive exam essays should combine factual knowledge and comprehension with analysis, evaluation, and synthesis.  In other words, they should: demonstrate control of a body of information (knowledge and comprehension), critique a major problem or debate (application and analysis), develop a position on an issue, and provide an explanation or theoretical justification for the position (evaluation and synthesis).  Essays therefore document the student’s ability not only to characterize key lines of academic inquiry in a given area, but also to identify points where new research questions might constructively enter into these conversations.


All doctoral candidates are required to conduct original anthropological research. Students typically conduct dissertation research after advancement to candidacy. Dissertations are usually based on ethnographic fieldwork, archaeological excavations, or laboratory analysis. Some are based on archival collections or other source materials.

NOTE:  Any research which involves "human subjects" must be reviewed by the University of Iowa Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to the initiation of the project.  Proof of the determination/review process must also be submitted to the International Studies Program before the international experience proposal can be approved. For all questions contact the IRB at (319) 335-6465; or complete the IRB Determination Form to find out if your research meets the definition of human subjects research.