The Graduate Program
The Graduate Program: An Informal Guide (2016-2017)
December 15, 2016 is the deadline for applications to the Anthropology Department graduate program for admission in Fall 2017. Princeton University’s Graduate School Admissions Office application is entirely online, including the submission of all application materials: résumé, transcripts, writing sample, the application essay (personal statement), and letters of recommendation. In applying to the Anthropology graduate program, please follow Graduate School Admissions directions. All questions about application procedures (e.g., fees, paper GRE and TOEFL deadlines, etc.) should also be directed to the Graduate School Admissions Office.
Once the online application process is closed, the Admissions Office forwards all applications to the Anthropology department in time for our review. Our departmental website – including this section – is designed to anticipate many questions about our academic program, including faculty and student interests. For academic program questions not addressed here, you may e-mail our Graduate Administrator . Review of applications is made by Anthropology faculty acting together as a committee of the whole. Note that our program offers courses in sociocultural anthropology only. We admit a small number of students each year, making admission to our graduate program highly competitive; the admissions process, though, is designed to provide for close attention to each individual application. We look forward to reading your application.
Application considerations. Graduate training in anthropology at Princeton prepares students for ethnographic fieldwork in the context of a larger plan of curiosity-driven primary research. Consequently, when we read an application, we pay careful attention to the applicant’s academic background in relation to his or her intellectual goals. While an undergraduate (or other previous) concentration in sociocultural anthropology is not required, prior coursework in that discipline is desirable. Either way candidates should provide writing samples or other evidence of their ethnographic imagination and readiness to participate in the small intensive seminars that are the mainstay of our program.
Please note that we do not expect applicants to select a single mentor, nor do we expect applicants to have settled on a particular specialty or dissertation topic, since we recognize that the interests of admitted students may well change in the course of the first year (see below). We encourage this kind of flexibility, and accordingly look for evidence of both the breadth and depth of an applicant’s interests.
Overall, we look to the application to gain an understanding of an applicant’s accomplishments in relation to current engagements and future goals. Because anthropology assumes the importance of language in fieldwork settings, we ask that you address in your essay the language competency you will need to carry out your proposed research and your plans to acquire that competency if you do not already have it. Reviewing this whole website (including information about current faculty and students) will be useful preparation for writing your application essay – since we will be interested in your expectations with regard to how we might contribute to your goals.
Placement. Our program is designed to prepare students for academic careers in anthropology and related fields, as well as careers in other sectors in which ethnographic engagement is the primary mode of inquiry and analysis. Please click on this link for a list of recent graduate placements.
Funding: special features
Basic Princeton fellowship support for Anthropology Department students in good standing is for five years. All Anthropology graduate students are offered the same basic fellowship package – a structural equality that promotes graduate students’ collegiality.
Summer funding: our students use the summers after the first and second years to advance their doctoral fieldwork planning with language training, field site exploration, and the development of collegial networks and institutional affiliations related to possible field projects. Several competitive awards are available within the University to make this possible. Most of our students take advantage of these opportunities, which have in turn enabled them to apply successfully for external (i.e., non-Princeton) dissertation research funding . Subsequently, our students have also been successful in securing post-fieldwork dissertation write-up fellowships from University and other sources (like ACLS and Charlotte Newcombe).
You may use your fellowship funding to begin dissertation fieldwork. We expect our students to apply for external dissertation research grants: with such outside funding, it is sometimes possible to stop one's University fellowship “clock”, enabling one to reserve part of those funds for dissertation write-up. Princeton fellowships may also be used to begin dissertation research prior to the start-up of an external grant, or even to carry out the main dissertation research itself.
Graduate program: special features
Time to degree: The graduate program in anthropology requires only two years of “residency” (time spent on campus taking courses), at which point students are eligible to take the PhD qualifying General Examination (“Generals”). After passing their Generals and developing a research plan for formal presentation to the department, most students commence dissertation field research sometime during their third year, completing the PhD in about six years.
We offer students a rigorous, historically-informed orientation to contemporary sociocultural anthropology. We expect all of our students to cultivate interests outside of their specialties by participating together in seminars offered by faculty or designed in conjunction with fellow students—a collegial pedagogy that promotes intellectual resourcefulness. Everyday realities of department life facilitate this educational goal:
Admissions and advising philosophy: The small size of the department and our centralized department space – including a large graduate study area with a carrel for each student – enable faculty and students to develop a collegial familiarity. A graduate student’s relationship with his or her advisory committee is the main axis of his or her personal program; that said, we encourage all students to work closely with as many faculty as possible.
Each first-year student is assigned a mentor – not necessarily in his or her main areas of interest – to encourage faculty and entering students to meet in a substantive way outside of the classroom. Our admissions and advising philosophy fosters shared faculty commitment to each student’s progress; at the same time, it encourages intellectual versatility and flexibility among our students. After the first year, students choose their own committees (two members in the second year, three or four in the third year and beyond).
Course of studies: disciplinary formation and transformation
The first- and second-year courses of studies are organized to facilitate broad student-faculty exchanges, through formal studies as well as through department events (e.g., colloquia, post colloquia “brown bag” discussions, and student research proposals and dissertation defenses).
While some students hold fast to the topical or theoretical interests that led them to apply to graduate school in the first place, change is normal, and we encourage students to review and revise their plans as their interests develop. Our goal is to recruit imaginative scholars whose engagement and versatility will lead them to explore (and pursue) new goals in the course of their studies. We are committed to maintaining an atmosphere in which intellectual transformation is the norm.
Students may take courses in other departments at Princeton and (on a limited basis) at other universities belonging to the Consortium of which Princeton is part (including Penn, Rutgers, NYU, Columbia and others); however, the core of our graduate program consists of “departmentals” (i.e., courses offered by our Anthropology Department faculty):
Students take two departmentals per semester, for a total of eight departmentals during the four semesters of residency; in addition to their two departmentals, each semester students take at least one additional course either in the Anthropology Department or elsewhere at Princeton and/or Consortium universities. Departmentals have included full-semester courses, half-semester seminars, and student-initiated tutorials (called “reading courses”: go here for a sampling of past student-generated themes).
The first-year program is anchored by a required, two-semester Proseminar (ANT 501-502), taught by two faculty members, that provides an historically informed understanding of contemporary interests. Additionally, a required Co-seminar (ANT 541) – which first- and second-year students take together – is taught on a new topic and by a different faculty member each year. The second-year program is anchored by students’ work preparing for the second-year General Examination (“Generals”) with their faculty committee.
Departmental course offerings reflect the faculty’s evolving research interests, which overlap in productive ways in areas of critical translation, reflexivity, ethnography and field practice; law, politics and the state; political economy, consumption, commodity-life, and forms of exchange; ritual, religion, and socialities; race, gender, and sexuality; medicine, psycho-social life and subjectivity; visual culture and media; and science, disciplinarity, and education. Our regional interests encompass the US, Europe, Latin America, West Africa, North Africa and the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and the island Pacific; associated faculty work in Russia and East Asia.
After successful completion of first- and second-year requirements, students work with their committees to draft research applications for external grants and a research proposal for oral presentation to the department community. Most commence dissertation research sometime during the third year, returning in the fifth year to begin writing the dissertation.