Procedures for Satisfying the PhD Comprehensive Examination Requirement

The substantive nature of PhD Comprehensive Exams in Anthropology is described in the written Requirements for the PhD in Anthropology. The purpose of this document is to describe the means by which this exam requirement is satisfied. In archeology, the student takes a three-day written exam. In the other subdisciplines, a student's exam committee, in consultation with the student, chooses either a three-day written exam or a comprehensive statement written by the student. This choice can be made independently for each of the two comprehensives required. As specified in the requirements for the PhD, the student petitions the Graduate Studies Committee for approval of the exam committee, stating the area or topic (except for the history and theory exam in archeology, which does not have a specified narrower focus), the proposed members and chair, and whether it will be a three-day written exam or a comprehensive statement.

The chair of each comprehensive exam committee informs the Graduate Secretary in writing of the committee's evaluation, and provides a copy of the exam questions and answers or of the comprehensive statement for the student's file. The Graduate Secretary lists comprehensive exam results for full faculty approval along with graduate student petitions as these are brought to the Graduate Studies Committee and full department faculty from time to time. If a student has failed a comprehensive examination (including by exceeding the time limit for the Comprehensive Statement option in cultural or biological anthropology—see below), the chair of the comprehensive exam committee will also forward a recommendation as to whether the student should be allowed to retake the examination or should be dismissed from the program. This will be included in the comprehensive examination results that are brought to full faculty for ratification. If the student's continuation in the program is contemplated, the viability of a course of progress, including the constitution of appropriate comprehensive examination and dissertation committees will be fully weighed. A failed comprehensive examination may be retaken only once; it must be passed by the end of the term following the term in which the student failed the previous examination. This will not automatically extend the overall time limit for completion of comprehensive examinations and overview.

The Three-day Written Examination

The student writes a three-day exam.  The questions are prepared by the student's exam committee and given to the student at the beginning of the first day (8:30). The student emails in the answers within 72 hours.

The Comprehensive Statement

The student prepares a comprehensive statement under the supervision of his/her committee. The comprehensive statement is a document that outlines, explores, and critically examines the key literature in the student's chosen field. This document takes the form of a critical essay that demonstrates the student's grasp of the historical development of the literature in this field, delineates the parameters, and evaluates the major debates, key themes, and central questions in this body of literature. The document takes the form of a critical bibliographic essay, or a review article. As a document on the state of the field, it is in many ways like the articles published in Annual Review of Anthropology. It allows students to digest a body of literature, question the strengths and weaknesses of this literature, and identify their own intellectual position in relation to a clearly defined set of arguments and debates. The comprehensive statement takes the form of a written document approximately 8,000–10,000 words long, with a fully cited bibliography (not included in the 8,000–10,000 words). The document is circulated to committee members for feedback and suggestions.

For students in cultural, linguistic, and biological anthropology, once the committee has assessed the comprehensive statement, the student defends the document in an oral examination meeting with the committee. This final meeting allows the student the opportunity to engage in an intellectual discussion with all of her/his committee members. In cultural and linguistic anthropology, the committee may, at its discretion, omit the oral defense. Students are expected to complete a satisfactory draft of the comprehensive statement by the end of the semester (other than summer) following that semester during which the topic was approved by the faculty. Failure to meet this deadline constitutes a failure of the exam.