Frequently Asked Questions


General FAQs

What is Anthropology?

Anthropologists study human beings from every time period, in every way possible, in all their complexity. Sociocultural anthropologists talk to and observe living people, often over long periods of time and through close participation in the communities they form, whether those are in modern biological labs, in globalizing villages throughout the world, or people joined only through the internet. Medical anthropologists study how disease, violence, and the development of the body are understood by contemporary people. Archaeologists interpret human social life in the past through the study of the things people made, used, and discarded and the traces of their impacts on the environment, whether their sites are 20th century buildings on the Berkeley campus, early colonial villages in the Pacific, or the campsites of Palaeolithic Europe. Biological anthropologists seek to understand the physical nature of human beings and how present-day aspects of human biology interact with current social and environmental conditions, including exploring the social ecology and biology of our close cousins the primates and distinctively human features of human brains, genetics, reproduction, aging, and disease, all considered from an evolutionary perspective.

How long does the average Ph.D. student take to complete the program?

The most recent 10 years of students averaged 8.1 years to completion of the Ph.D. This compares favorably to the most recent reported national average of 8.3 years. The Graduate Division of the university has set the "normative time" for completion of the degree at six years, with approval of up to eight years contingent on evidence of progress toward the completion of the dissertation.

What are the sources of financial support for anthropology graduate students?

Many Anthropology graduate students gain support from prestigious external fellowships, such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, where historically, Berkeley has been the leading recipient of anthropology fellowships. Other students are supported by competitive multi-year fellowships administered by the university, including the Berkeley, Regents, Chancellor's Opportunity, and Cota Robles Fellowships. These provide two years of outright fellowship funding, and the guarantee of two years of support from the department, usually in the form of teaching appointments. Every student who completes the Qualifying Exam by the end of the sixth semester is eligible for the Dean's Normative Time Fellowship awarded by the Graduate Division, which funds a full year without any teaching obligations and can be used through the end of the fifth year. Students may apply to be nominated for two dissertation-year fellowships awarded through university-wide competitions. The Department of Anthropology itself annually awards additional student funding from a Block Grant allocated by the Graduate Division, and from named endowments for graduate support. Finally, most students work as Graduate Student Instructors, Readers, or Graduate Student Researchers at some point in their career, with many of these appointments providing payment of in-state fees as well as proving a salary.

What do faculty look for in prospective applicants?

Berkeley graduate students come from varied BA programs with many from majors other than anthropology. Admissions discussions involve the entire faculty in each program. Individual faculty weigh factors differently. Among the most important aspects of an application are letters of recommendation from individuals who can describe substantive experiences of student achievements related to success in graduate education; and a statement of purpose that makes a compelling argument for why the applicant is best served by study at Berkeley, and demonstrates that the applicant understands how graduate study differs from the undergraduate experience. Providing a professional curriculum vitae with all relevant experience clearly outlined is also useful.

Are there opportunities to teach?

The department strives to provide every student with an opportunity to gain teaching experience. Every year, students work as teaching assistants responsible for small discussion or laboratory sections (Graduate Student Instructors, or GSIs) and serve as Readers assisting with grading but not conducting independent teaching. Unlike some universities, Berkeley does not normally approve students to teach entire courses independently, even in the summer session. In recent years, the department has drawn on recent PhDs to staff summer session courses after they complete the degree. In preparation for teaching, the department each fall teaches a seminar, required before or concurrent with the first GSI assignment, on teaching in anthropology. Many department members have received recognition for their teaching, with graduate students eligible for the university's Outstanding GSI citation and Teaching Effectiveness Award.

Are there any opportunities for undergraduate research?

Anthropology undergraduates enjoy a wide range of opportunities to get involved in research. For some, this will lead to the completion of a senior thesis; see Information for Current Majors for details on this option. To find a research project in which you may be involved, search this directory of faculty and graduate student research projects open to undergraduates.

Many anthropology faculty and graduate students also offer opportunities for undergraduates to collaborate in research projects through the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program; specific projects change each year or even each semester, so be sure to check for new opportunities.

Summer research projects directed by faculty or graduate students specializing in archaeology, and laboratory analysis of recovered materials during fall and spring, may accept volunteers, depending on specific requirements and your individual talents and experiences.

Other research opportunities may arise through coursework with faculty, including coursework in ethnographic and archaeological methods. Check the listings of upcoming courses to see if there are any that will offer this kind of opportunity.

Students who are accepted as volunteers to work in the Hearst Museum of Anthropology can petition to receive credit as interns under the supervision of an appropriate faculty member. Talk to the Undergraduate Advisor for more information about this possibility.

Do I qualify to undertake the honors thesis? And how long is an honors thesis?

You must have a 3.6 GPA in Anthropology and an overall 3.5 GPA at UC. Further requirements for course completion (No Incompletes, Anthro 114 and the methods requirement completed) and total upper division units completed and in progress (at least 8 completed, at least 16 either completed or in progress) to apply.  A typical undergraduate Honors Thesis contains approximately 50 pages of text (but no more that 100), a bibliography, and often illustrations and tables.