Anthropology, PhD

for the Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology

head of the department: Brenda Farnell

director of graduate studies: Kathryn Clancy

museum studies program coordinator: Susan Frankenberg

overview of admissions & requirements:

overview of grad college admissions & requirements:

college website:

department website:

department faculty:

department office: 109 Davenport Hall, 607 South Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801

phone: (217) 333-3616


The Department of Anthropology offers graduate programs leading to the Master of Arts and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees. We generally do not accept students for a terminal M.A.

Graduate Degree Programs in Anthropology

Anthropology, MA

Anthropology, PhD

optional concentration: Second Language Acquisition and Teacher Education

Museum Studies Graduate Minor


Students without the equivalent of the department’s undergraduate concentration may be admitted to either degree program, but they may be required to make up any deficiencies in their anthropological backgrounds. In addition to the Graduate College admission requirements, students whose native language is not English are required to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), with minimum scores set by the Graduate College. Students are admitted for the fall term only.

Students wishing to pursue the minor in Museum Studies must be in good standing in the graduate program of an academic department, and must apply for acceptance into the minor. Admission to the minor is contingent upon approval of the student’s home department and the Museum Studies Steering Committee. Students may apply to the minor during the first week of the fall and spring semesters in any academic year, and should contact the Museum Studies Program Coordinator for application instructions or more information.

Application to the PhD Program Guidance


The University of Illinois Department of Anthropology welcomes application to their PhD program for fall 2023. We welcome applicants from all subdisciplines and well as students whose research interests cross sub-disciplinary boundaries and those who are well-matched to the strengths of our faculty. We especially encourage students from underrepresented minority groups to apply as part of our diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts.

This application process aims to give you the opportunity to show us your best scholarly selves. Please read the information below for guidance on both required and optional materials, designed to give you ways of sharing your thinking that play to your strengths.

A few quick tips to increase your chances for success, in this program and many others:

  • Contact potential advisors in advance of submitting your application. A short conversation can reveal whether you have shared interests and mentoring styles. This also saves you work if your preferred faculty is not taking students this year.
  • Consider applying to programs where there are at least two faculty with whom you would be excited to work. We often encourage co-advisors because we find that distributing mentoring leads to more varied and constructive advice for our students.
  • See if you can talk to graduate students in the program, as well as in the research group or lab (if you are bio/arch) that you are interested in joining.

Application Materials

  • Description of Interests
  • Statement of Research Interests and Objectives
  • Personal statement
  • Writing Sample (optional)
  • Online conversation (optional)
  • 3 Letters of recommendation
  • Transcript (GPA 3.0 or higher)
  • CV/Resume
  • TOEFL score (for non-native English speakers)

Guidance on application materials

DESCRIPTION OF INTERESTS: This part of the application allows you to indicate your topical and geographical areas of interest and identify the faculty members with whom you are interested in working. Please do not write an essay, but rather provide a bulleted list of your interests and the names of at least two faculty with whom you would like to work. Please also indicate in this document if you choose to participate in the optional online conversation (see below). We want you to end up in a program that is best for you, and this information helps us to make this determination.

STATEMENT OF RESEARCH INTERESTS AND OBJECTIVES: This is the single most important item in your application. This essay should be 1000-1500 words and give the admissions committee a clear idea of 1) why you want to pursue a career in anthropology; 2) what anthropological questions or problems interest you; 3) how you want to address these questions; and 4) why you want to pursue your graduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Submit your Statement of Research Interests and Objectives electronically by uploading it with your online application.

PERSONAL STATEMENT: The Personal Statement is a brief essay (maximum of 500 words) on how your personal background and life experiences, including social, cultural, familial, educational, or other opportunities or challenges, motivated your decision to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This is not an academic statement of research, but a discussion of the personal journey that has led to your decision to seek a graduate degree.  This information will assist the Admissions Committee identify and nominate candidates for Graduate College Fellowships [see]. Submit your Personal Statement with your online application.

WRITING SAMPLE (optional): Your writing sample should provide the Admissions Committee and relevant faculty with a substantive piece of scholarly work and demonstrate your ability to write clearly and to make a cogent argument. Applicants may submit a short research paper, an excerpt from a thesis, a journal article, essay, etc. Please do not send more than 8000 words. 

ONLINE CONVERSATION (optional): As an alternative to, or in addition to the optional writing sample, we invite applicants to schedule a fifteen minute call with members of the faculty in their subfield (biological, sociocultural/linguistic, archaeology). If you select this option you will receive a link with options for times between December 2-9, 2020.

Admissions process and timeline

Admission decisions are made collectively by faculty in each subdiscipline in consultation with the Graduate Admissions Committee. We receive many worthy applications, and every year find ourselves putting truly excellent students on our wait list. Often being on this list has more to do with the priority of a given faculty member in admitting students to their group than anything else. If you are waitlisted, know that this means we think you would be wonderful for the program and would very much like to have you join us. We admit students off the wait list every year.

Our graduate process takes place in two phases. A first selection is made by December 10th when each subdiscipline ranks their top choices. A final selection is made by December 17th by the Graduate Admissions Committee. We will notify you by Dec 21st if you have been admitted or waitlisted. While the official acceptance date is April 1st, we strongly encourage admitted students to formally accept or decline our invitation as soon as they reasonably can so that we can invite wait listed students into the program.

Degree Requirements

Each subfield (Archaeology, Biological Anthropology, and Sociocultural/Linguistic Anthropology) requires a specific set of courses for graduation. Achieving doctoral candidacy in all three subfields entails passing (a) language (and/or skill) exam(s), (b) passing a set of preliminary examinations, and (c) successfully submitting a predissertation paper, and/or a doctoral proposal, all to be defended in an oral examination. For specific details and requirements for admission to and navigation of the Ph.D. program, please refer to the Anthropology Department Graduate Programs Handbook and the University of Illinois Graduate College Handbook.

Graduate Teaching Experience

Although teaching is not a general Graduate College requirement, the Anthropology Department recognizes the importance of teaching experience as part of a graduate education. Most Anthropology graduate students will have the opportunity to work as teaching assistants, to learn to design their own classes, and possibly teach their own classes.

Faculty Research Interests and Facilities

Courses and individualized study provide broad coverage of sociocultural, linguistic, archaeological, and physical anthropology. The department provides special emphases in the analyses of state ideologies and cultural transformations; complex societies in transition; kinship and gender relations; politics, economics, and business studies; social movements and youth; border studies, criminalities, violence, and security; religion, race, and ethnicity; democracy, governance, and policing; social classification; performance and embodiment; food and environment; language and culture; discourse and narrative analysis; transnationalism and diasporas; human evolution; agricultural origins and development; landscape histories and heritage; hunter-gatherer adaptations; climate change and sustainability; diet and nutrition; paleoecology and paleobiology; evolutionary genetics; population genetics; peopling of the Americas; ancient DNA; biomechanics of locomotion; exercise and neurobiology; functional morphology; comparative and analytical osteology; forensics; demography; immunology; evolutionary medicine; microbe-host interaction; reproductive ecology; female reproductive physiology; conservation; and nonhuman primate evolution, morphology, behavior, and ecology. The department’s research facilities include laboratories for archaeology, GIS and spatial computing, faunal analysis, casting, stable-isotope analysis, ethnography, ancient DNA, skeletal biology, locomotion and motion analysis, and endocrinology.

Departmental funds and a grant from the National Science Foundation, as well as from area studies centers, are available for graduate students’ summer field research. An archaeology field school is held at various locations in Illinois and outside of the US (location varies from year to year). Graduate student programs are enriched by close departmental relationships with the various interdisciplinary units, including area studies centers on campus (African, East Asian and Pacific, European Union, Latin America and Caribbean, Russian and East European; South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies), the ethnic and gender studies units (the American Indian Studies Program and the departments of African-American Studies, Asian American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Latina/Latino Studies), along with the Women and Gender in Global Perspectives Program, Spurlock Museum, the Museum of Natural History, Krannert Art Museum, the Institute for Genomic Biology, and the Program in Ancient Technologies and Archaeological Materials.

Agreements between the University and various governments and institutes facilitate research in many nations. Training is available in various languages (some with funding available), including Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Chinese, Hausa, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Quechua, Lingala, Russian, Shona, Swahili, Thai, and Urdu. Students have ready access to the extensive computer facilities of the University and to the department’s facilities.

Financial Aid

University fellowships, Graduate College fellowships for under-represented minorities, and teaching and research assistantships provide variable levels of funding for most graduate students who do not hold external awards. Tuition and service fee waivers accompany most fellowships and assistantships. Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) fellowships are available through various area centers. University of Illinois public archaeology programs, including the Illinois State Archaeological Survey and the Public Service Archaeology and Architecture Program, have provided support and research employment for graduate students in the past, as has the U.S. Army Construction Engineering Research Laboratory in Champaign.

for the Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology

The preliminary examination consists of a pre-dissertation research paper, a proposal for doctoral research, and a written examination designed by the student's doctoral committee followed by a two-hour oral examination. The final examination is a defense of the doctoral thesis.  Fieldwork is strongly recommended, although not required.

For additional details and requirements refer to the department and the Graduate College Handbook.

Master’s degree or equivalent number of hours32
Electives 32
Language Requirement: High proficiency in one, or reading ability in two, foreign languages is required. Statistics, computer modeling, or similar expertise, however, may be used in lieu of one foreign language.
ANTH 599Thesis Research (min/max applied toward degree)0-32
Total Hours96

Other Requirements

Other requirements may overlap
Masters Degree Required for Admission to PhD? No
Qualifying Exam Required No
Preliminary Exam Required Yes
Final Exam/Dissertation Defense Required Yes
Dissertation Deposit Required Yes
Minimum GPA: 3.0