Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Evolutionary Anthropology

Note: A downloadable version of the information below is available


1. Preliminaries
2. Monitoring of student progress: Annual report, RequirementsIndividual Development Plan (IDP)
3. Graduate Student Expectations
4. Responsible Conduct of Research
5. Course requirementsCourse LoadGraduate TutorialCore competencies
6. Required writing experiences
7. Teaching Experience and Teaching Assistantships (TAs)
8. Public Presentation (Seminar) Requirement
9. Dissertation committee: Forming the Committee, Regular Committee meeting
10. Preliminary Examination
11. Dissertation Defense
12. Master’s Degree
13. Amendment to the Requirements
Appendix 1:  Graduate School requirements related to the dissertation (from the Graduate Bulletin 2020-21 Academic Year)
Appendix 2:  Expectations of Faculty Serving as Graduate Mentors

1. Preliminaries

Before registration for the first semester, the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), in consultation with the advisor, will assign each beginning graduate student a supervisory committee tailored to their interests. This committee will include the Ph.D. advisor and two additional faculty. New students are expected to meet with their supervisory committee before classes start to decide on courses to take and fulfillment of other graduate requirements. Upon request by the student, the DGS, the advisor, and the student’s supervisory committee will review the student’s past coursework and determine if any of the student’s previous graduate level courses represent sufficient completion of coursework in our “core areas” (see below). 

Entering students typically work with a specific advisor, and this faculty member typically serves as the permanent advisor for a student throughout their Ph.D. degree in Evolutionary Anthropology.  However, students can discuss advising issues with any faculty and the DGS during their time in the program, and can reconsider which advisor is the best for their progress toward completing the degree.

Students are encouraged to apply for fellowships, particularly the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation.  Students who have received external fellowships may elect to TA (and receive compensation for TA-ing) if their external fellowship does not cover the full stipend offered by the Duke Graduate School in a given semester, and provided that TA positions are available.  All fellowship-holders who elect to TA must ensure that teaching, or any other forms of employment, are consistent with the terms of the fellowship.   In some cases, this will require asking for permission from their funding agency.  Students with fellowships who would like to teach in an academic year must inform the DGS and DGSA of their teaching plans no later than November 1 of the previous academic year, and they must remain committed if the request to teach is approved. 

In addition to this document, students are provided with a Milestone document for each year in the program.  The Milestone documents focus on the requirements that are specific to a given year of the Ph.D. program.  The Milestones also provide additional information aimed at helping students understand the culture of being an academic, including service, conferences, and obtaining research funding.

Student grievances within the department should be directed to the DGS or department Chair.  Students may also seek assistance within the Graduate School, including through an interactive guide for reporting discrimination, harassment, toxic behavior and other issues.

Students are also expected to familiarize themselves with requirements of the Duke Graduate School (See for example The Graduate School Bulletin, the Director of Graduate School Manual, and The Graduate School’s guidelines for theses and dissertations). 

2. Monitoring of student progress

Annual report: Students submit to the DGS a brief report summarizing their academic activities prior to the annual student evaluation meeting in the spring of each academic year. The graduate faculty will evaluate the progress of each student. The following options are possible: (i) continuation; (ii) continuation subject to improvement (concern); or (iii) dismissal from the program. Two consecutive "concern" decisions may lead to dismissal from the program. Students will receive written notification of the results of this evaluation, along with the next year’s Milestone document (assuming they received “continuation”). Students are encouraged to discuss their progress at any time with their advisor and/or the DGS. The student’s written progress report and the DGS’s letter summarizing the outcome of the annual faculty meeting serve as a record of the student’s progress, contributions, and status in the program.

Requirements:  Students will also keep track of their progress via a file in DropBox that the Director of Graduate Studies Assistant (DGSA) will monitor.  The DGSA will provide new students with instructions upon arrival, and students are required to enter requirements as they are completed; these will be confirmed by the DGSA.

Individual Development Plan (IDP):  As part of the advising process, students and advisors will complete an intellectual development plan (IDP) and associated Action Plan for the next academic year.  This will be conducted at the start of each academic year and revisited at least once during the academic year (typically at the start of spring semester).  The advisor and student fill out their sections of the IDP separately, discuss those sections in a follow-up meeting, and jointly outline steps to advance the student’s research and career goals in the Action Plan.  Upon completion, the IDP and Action Plan are shared with the DGSA and retained in the graduate student’s records. 

3. Graduate Student Expectations

Students are expected to be in regular communication with their advisers, and to respond promptly to emails from their advisors, committee members, and leadership and staff of the department.  For communication between advisor and student, expectations may differ according to lab; slower reply times by students are to be expected on non-work days or when the student is in the field.  Students are encouraged to speak with their advisors about these expectations.  Students are also expected to provide prompt presentation of written work and other projects, to update advisers (and committee members when appropriate) on research projects’ progress, and to communicate in a timely way any impediments to progress or changes in circumstance.

Students should also attend weekly EATS seminars and other departmental events, including recruitment weekend, symposia, and official meetings of the graduate students. 

Students are expected to contribute to service in the department.  This includes assisting with EATS or the weekly happy hour, facilitating activities for recruitment weekend, or representing the graduate students in faculty meetings or in other organizations on campus. 

Upon departure from the program, students will undergo an exit interview.  They will be given questions in advance, and will be able to request that the interview be administered by the DGS, DGSA, Departmental Chair, or Business Manager.  Efforts will be made to maintain confidentiality of any feedback, including in summary form.

Expectations of faculty serving as graduate mentors and on Ph.D. committees are provided in Appendix 2.

4. Responsible Conduct of Research

All doctoral students at Duke University are required to complete a series of training sessions in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). These sessions consist of two components: the first is an orientation workshop. All PhD students will subsequently attend a mandatory minimum number of RCR forums or other training experiences (including workshops and courses) scheduled throughout the academic year on individual topics related to responsible conduct of research. These events are published at the beginning of each fall semester on the Graduate School website.

5. Course requirements

Course Load:  First- and second-year students must register for “continuation,” which will automatically be entered by the registration system.  To count toward our requirements and those of the Graduate School, all courses must be at the 500-level or above.  A typical course load is anything from 9 to 12 units of graduate courses per semester, including continuation (which carries one unit).  Permission numbers (when required) are obtained from the faculty member teaching the course.  You are also encouraged to undertake independent research for credit with your advisor or other faculty members. 

Students in their third year and beyond who have fulfilled all the course requirements need to only register for “continuation.”  If you find a course you would like to take, consult with your advisor before enrolling, but you are not required to take graded research or any courses unless advised to do so by the committee.

Graduate Tutorial: During the first two years, all students must take the set of two 1semester Graduate Tutorials, offered consecutively in the spring semester (EVANTH 701 and 702).  The goals of the Graduate Tutorial are to:  (1) provide students with an introduction to topics that are central to the field, especially those in which the faculty have particular expertise; (2) introduce students to faculty and their labs; (3) develop student skills in scientific inquiry, oral expression, and presentation; and (4) familiarize students with the facilities/resources on campus that are associated with Evolutionary Anthropology.

Core competencies: During the first four semesters, students must take graduate-level courses that cover at least four of the six core areas: (1) evolutionary theory, (2) cognition, behavior & ecology, (3) paleontology, (4) morphology & physiology, (5) research design & statistics; and (6) genetics & genomics.  At least one of these courses must be outside the student’s areas of specialty. For courses below the 500-level, faculty may offer an equivalent 700-level course for graduate student credit, at the faculty member’s discretion and in consultation with the DUS.

Specialty-­appropriate courses:  The student must also take graduate courses as recommended by the dissertation committee to fulfill the needs of the specialty.  Such courses are over and above the core course requirement.

6. Required writing experiences

Students will complete two writing experiences within the first 5 semesters.  Within the first two years of study, students should either (1) work with their advisor and any other faculty member to write and submit a grant application for intramural or extramural research support (including fellowship applications), or (2) conduct research with their advisor or other faculty member and write up the results for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. 

The second writing requirement is the dissertation proposal.  This is described in more detail below (Section 10).

7. Teaching Experience and Teaching Assistantships (TAs)

All graduate students are required to gain teaching experience as part of their professional training. This requirement can be fulfilled in one of two ways:  as a teaching assistant or by teaching a course as an “Instructor of Record.”  For the teaching assistant option, students must serve in this role for at least 2 semesters to complete the requirement. This requirement may be fulfilled at any time during the student's program. Students are required to TA in the first semester of year 1 unless they are funded from other sources, including by an NSF Fellowship, research assistantship, or internal graduate fellowship. 

Students are expected to fulfill their duties as TAs in a professional manner (these responsibilities are provided in a separate document).  They are to work no more than 19.9 hours per week.  Students should also expect to have regular meetings with the instructor, and to receive feedback on their performance and how to improve their teaching. At the end of each semester, the faculty member provides an evaluation of the TA’s performance which is provided to the DGS and DGSA and then shared with the student.

To complete this requirement by teaching a course, students may serve as the Instructor of Record in a Summer Session course (in consultation with their advisor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies), or serve as an instructor via a Graduate School fellowship, such as the Bass Fellows program. 

Interested students are encouraged to consider obtaining a Certificate in College Teaching offered through the Graduate School.

8. Public Presentation (Seminar) Requirement

Students are expected to give a presentation to the department yearly, typically in the Evolutionary Anthropology Talk Series (EATS).  At least two of these presentations involve research defenses related to the preliminary examination and the dissertation defense.  For other presentations, the organizers of EATS provide opportunities for short presentations, leading discussions, or participation in panel discussions.  The annual “what I did last summer” EATS does not fulfill this requirement.

9. Dissertation committee

Forming the Committee:  By the end of the third semester, the student must select a committee and convene an initial meeting of the committee. The committee will consist of five faculty members, at least one of whom represents the student’s minor field (see below). The goals of the initial meeting are to assess the novelty and feasibility of the proposed dissertation topic at an early stage, to ascertain whether the student needs to take any additional courses to demonstrate preparedness for the preliminary exam, and to decide the format of the written dissertation proposal.

Upon the first meeting of the dissertation committee the student must declare a minor field. The member of the dissertation committee representing the minor field will be charged with assessing the student’s knowledge in that area during the preliminary exam. The goal of the minor is to ensure that each student acquires a breadth of knowledge beyond his or her immediate specialty. Given the wide range of research areas represented in Evolutionary Anthropology, dissertation committees will have the freedom to determine the specific nature of the minor, so as to tailor it to the needs of the individual student.

Regular Committee meetings:  At least once yearly, the student will meet with the provisional committee, and later the dissertation committee, to review progress.

Scheduling committee meetings, preliminary exams, and dissertation defenses during the summer is strongly discouraged. Summer meetings, exams, and defenses can only be scheduled by agreement of all members of the committee and in accordance with Graduate School regulations for preliminary examinations and doctoral defenses.

10. Preliminary Examination

Preferably by the end of the fourth semester, but certainly by the end of the fifth semester, students must pass an oral preliminary examination to establish candidacy for the Ph.D. Two weeks prior to the exam, students provide their committee members a written dissertation proposal. Before the oral examination, the student is required to give a public seminar describing the dissertation proposal (typically in EATS). Optimally, the public presentation occurs immediately before the oral defense, but in any case, subject to the approval of the dissertation advisor, there should be a delay of no more than 2 months between the “public” defense talk and the oral examination.

The oral exam itself will be both specific and wide-ranging. That is, it will cover the specific research areas addressed in the student’s proposal, and will also test both the student’s depth of knowledge in their area of specialty and their breadth of knowledge in evolutionary anthropology as a whole (especially involving how their research informs broader understanding of central questions in evolutionary anthropology).

11. Dissertation Defense

Students are encouraged to complete the degree requirements by their tenth semester. After that point, the department is no longer able to support the student’s tuition and stipend through normal mechanisms of graduate fellowships and TA-ships.

When the dissertation research is completed, the student will present the written dissertation to the committee two weeks prior to the dissertation defense. Students are also required to present their results in a public seminar immediately preceding the defense. When the timing of the public seminar presents a significant obstacle, the DGS can waive this requirement, but it is expected that the time between public presentation and private defense will be minimized.

12. Master’s Degree

Applicants who express a desire to obtain a master’s degree only will not be admitted to the program. However, students who decide to leave the program with a master’s degree will be permitted to do so. Evolutionary Anthropology master’s degrees will follow the standard regulations as described by the Graduate School.

13. Amendment to the Requirements

Changes to this document require a majority vote of the graduate faculty with primary appointment in the Department of Evolutionary Anthropology.

Appendix 1:  Graduate School requirements related to the dissertation (from the Graduate Bulletin 2020-21 Academic Year)

The Dissertation The dissertation is expected to be a mature and competent piece of the student’s own writing, embodying the results of significant and original research. The dissertation must include a scholarly introduction that sets the context and importance of the research questions addressed in the study, separate chapter(s) presenting the research itself, and a final overview chapter summarizing the findings, conclusions, and significance of the dissertation project. Though the writing is expected to be the student’s own, many dissertation projects involve collaborative work; the contributions made by other researchers must be identified fully and specifically for each chapter in a preface to the relevant chapter. One month before the dissertation is presented and no later than January 25 for a May commencement, June 15 for a September degree, and October 15 for a December degree, students must apply for graduation electronically by following the appropriate procedure in their student account on DukeHub. This application indicates the title of the dissertation, which must be approved by both the DGS of the student’s degree program and the professor who directs the dissertation.

The basic requirements for preparing the dissertation are prescribed in the Guide for Electronic Submission of Theses and Dissertations, which is available on The Graduate School/Academics/Theses and Dissertations website. The dissertation must be completed to the satisfaction of the professor who directs the dissertation (dissertation advisor), members of the student’s milestone committee, and the academic dean of The Graduate School. The dissertation advisor must examine and approve that the dissertation is ready for defense prior to submission to The Graduate School, as indicated by a letter to The Graduate School stating this approval. An electronic copy of the approved dissertation must be uploaded to ProQuest for review and approval by The Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the defense. Deadlines for dissertation submission are posted on The Graduate School website and must be respected if the student wishes to receive the degree in the semester when the intention to graduate has been formally declared; if the deadlines are missed, the student must register and reapply to graduate in a subsequent term, and pay continuation tuition accordingly. Final doctoral dissertations are scholarly products of Duke University, and must become publicly available for reading, though they may be embargoed for a specified period before becoming publicly accessible. Dissertations must be submitted electronically to ProQuest in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and to DukeSpace in the Duke Libraries, where they are openly accessible online after any embargo. See The Graduate School/Academics/Theses and Dissertations website for information about electronic submission and about procedures for obtaining a copyright, and the possibility of a temporary embargo before public accessibility. Abstracts are published in Dissertation Abstracts International.

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense) The final examination is administered by a milestone examination committee of at least four qualified members of the graduate faculty, who must have at least two weeks to read and review the completed dissertation before the final examination (the dissertation defense). Many programs require a public seminar to present the dissertation’s content, in addition to the formal examination itself. An oral examination by the committee, of at least 90 minutes in duration, shall be focused primarily on the dissertation; however, any question may be asked in the candidate’s major field. The student must be physically present for the oral examination, together with a majority of the committee and its chair.

Successful completion of the final examination, taking into account the dissertation itself and its oral defense, requires at least four affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. The sole exception to this policy is that a negative vote cast by the chair or co-chair of the examining committee will mean a failure on the examination. A student who fails the final examination may be allowed to take it a second time, but no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. Permission to take the second examination must be obtained from the professor who directed the dissertation and the other examining committee members, as well as from the DGS and academic dean. The second examination must be administered by the same committee that conducted the first examination, and all votes must be positive to pass. A second failure renders the student ineligible to continue work for the PhD at Duke University.

A student must be registered during the term when he or she takes the final examination. The examination may occur during the break between terms if the student is registered for the terms before and after the break.

Appendix 2:  Expectations of Faculty Serving as Graduate Mentors

The following are minimum expectations of faculty advising graduate students:

  1. Faculty advisors will assist their advisees in meeting the program expectations and requirements, including completion of the IDP, providing feedback on the annual report, and ensuring the student advisee meets the requirements of the program, such as the seminar requirement and yearly committee meeting.  To help achieve this, faculty are provided with the milestone document for each student at the start of each academic year.
  2. Faculty should reply to a student’s queries within 3 working days when the faculty member is on campus, and within 14 days in other circumstances.
  3. Faculty should provide feedback on documents within 10 working days.  This includes feedback on dissertation drafts.
  4. Faculty are expected to meet on a regular basis with their students; the frequency of meetings is to be determined by faculty member and student, and should be at least monthly, with more frequent meetings for early-stage students. 
  5. Faculty will make themselves available, with reasonable notice, for students’ committee meetings.
  6. Faculty will promote the student’s completion of the Ph.D. within a reasonable time frame. The Ph.D. should be awarded based on the student's research quality and productivity, not for a certain number of years working on a particular project.
  7. Providing mentoring on scientific writing is an important component of Ph.D. training.  Faculty will work with students to ensure they have skills to publish their research, both before and after the dissertation defense.  Faculty will promote first authorship by students on their Ph.D. research and provide them with the skills to earn first authorship.
  8. Faculty will submit letters of recommendation on time, especially when requested at least 30 days in advance.  Students should be informed when letters are submitted.
  9. Faculty should make themselves available for a meeting (in person or virtual) within 7 days when the faculty member is on campus, and within 14 days in other circumstances.
  10. Abusive treatment, including verbal abuse, is not tolerated.
  11. Faculty may not demand use of funds for students’ projects outside the proposed scope of research, and when students are recognized as the PI, they will administer their own awards.
  12. Committee members are expected to be prepared for committee meetings, including by reading all relevant documents.  Committee members should also meet with students as needed, and should work with the student as flexibly as possible to coordinate full committee meetings.