MPhil/PhD in Anthropology

MPhil and PhD

Anthropology is the comparative, evolutionary and historical study of humankind. It is both a theoretical and a field-based discipline. UCL anthropology looks at the biological, cultural, social and material culture aspects of human beings as well as their evolution. We cover the entire human story, from its origins to the present day. 

The breadth of Anthropology at UCL distinguishes our programme from those offered by most other British Universities and our excellent results in the 2008 and 2014 Research Excellence Frameworks (REF) put us in the lead for broad-based anthropology departments in the UK. Indeed, in the 2014 REF we were the only anthropology department in the country to receive a 100% top rating for the Research Environment assessment. 

UCL has one of the largest and most vibrant postgraduate research student groups of any anthropology department (in the UK and worldwide), with outstanding postgraduate facilities, both academic and social. Our research-active academic supervisors, our postgraduate research methods courses, and specialised Research and Reading Groups give a strong framework of support to research students, from the first formulation of research ideas through to thesis completion and the professional opportunities that follow. UCL Graduate School leads the UK in pioneering professional training in general and transferable skills for research students, as well as in a range of specialised skills, led by Anthropology among other research-intensive departments. UCL Anthropology’s research training programme for PhD students won special mention in the ESRC’s recent award of a Doctoral Training Centre to UCL.


One of the most important factors for successfully completing a PhD is the relationship between a PhD student and their supervisor(s). Whilst doctoral research is autonomous study and thus primarily self-guided, an experienced supervisor is there to offer advice and guidance on all matters of the PhD. Students are able to have either a primary and secondary supervisor or two co-supervisors. Primary supervisors offer up to 50 hours of supervision per year, secondary supervisors up to 10 hours, and co-supervisors up to 30 hours each. Given the importance of the relationship, it is critical that applicants for the PhD make prior contact with their desired supervisor, and have established that the academic has agreed to supervise the student in their research. We have 34 permanent members of staff, all of whom are research active. To view our permanent academic staff, who are able to supervise, please follow the link to the relevant section of interest:


The department offers two graduate research degrees, the MPhil in Anthropology and the PhD in Anthropology. A general outline for each degree is given below.

MPhil Qualification

The MPhil degree is designed for students who wish to follow an advanced research-based degree without intending to enter academic anthropology. However, the MPhil programme may lead on to PhD graduate work. On its own, qualification for an MPhil degree usually consists of a two-year programme in which the student may complete training course work in the first year while preparing for his or her dissertation, normally based on non-field reading and research in the second year.

PhD Qualification

The PhD is a full academic research degree which almost always involves field, museum or laboratory research. All students applying for the PhD are initially enrolled in the MPhil programme, except in the event that the applicant already holds the equivalent of the University of London MPhil degree. 

For those initially enrolled in of the MPhil programme, completion is not a requirement to move on to the PhD in Anthropology. Rather, after the first year of graduate study and the successful submission of a suitable upgrading proposal, the student transfers to PhD status. 

A PhD in Anthropology will normally take between three and four years of full-time study (or the part-time equivalent). Students must be registered for at least two years full-time, or three years part time, before they will be allowed to submit their thesis for examination. The Postgraduate Student Handbook offers more in depth information about the research experience. A thorough reading is strongly advised before submitting your application.

Assessment of the Work Produced

For the PhD, there are three options as to the work that can be produced for examination:

  1. Research-led dissertations are the traditional and most common studies undertaken, resulting in a thesis of around 85,000-100,000 words
  2. Practice-led dissertations require a written element of 15,000-40,000 words with a substantial studio or creative portfolio of practice, the whole making an original contribution to knowledge.
  3. Practice-related dissertations require a written element of 60,000-80,000 words with a significant but lesser studio or creative portfolio of practice, the whole making an original contribution to knowledge.

For all three routes, the final examination takes the form of a viva voce, whereby two examiners, experts in the relevant field, having read the thesis, will orally exam the student on their work. The viva typically lasts for between 2.5 and 4 hours.


The MPhil and PhD programmes are an exercise in personal development through guided investigation of a particular social, biosocial or evolutionary phenomenon of one’s choosing. Under the direction of two or three experienced scholars, research students hone invaluable skills over a number of years dedicated to preparing for and working on their research. 

Literature analyses: locating, analysing and revising relevant literature is a necessary aspect of the pre-field work preparation stage. The challenging process of filtering through the wealth of chronicled knowledge available within your area of focus will polish your ability to draw thematic connections in support of your research proposal. The skills involved in the collection and refinement of sources in support of an argument are universally valued beyond the academic arena. 

Data collection: Whether in the field, laboratory or museum collections, research students meet the challenge of designing their methodology and carrying out practical data collection activities that will yield the data necessary to answer their research questions. 

Schedule design: time-management and prioritisation are key skills involved in the successful completion of a highly personalised research degree. Under guided supervision you will learn how to organise and adhere to a research schedule carefully plotted to your own specifications. The need to anticipate and meet deadlines under pressure will improve your flexibility, ingenuity, self-discipline and capacity to put your plans into action. 

Analysis and interpretation of field data: Whether you deal with qualitative data or quantitiative and statistical analysis, the ability to decode patterns and to draw connections amongst raw, unpolished findings will be developed through critical subjective and objective interpretation of the fruits of your own labour. After conducting your research you will learn how to translate your results into sound conclusions and theoretical positions that can be argued and supported.

Presentation and publication skills: communication, debate, translation and delivery are key areas of personal and professional development that will be improved upon as you learn how to frame and present your research findings. Participation in Anthropology’s in-house reading and research groups, thesis writing groups, external conferences, reviews and round tables as well as engagement with popular media and audiences at all levels will challenge your oral and written skills with a view to professional and academic success. 

Graduate School Courses: In addition to skills honed during your time in Anthropology, UCL’s Graduate School offers a wide range of courses. In consultation with your supervisor you can choose those you will find most useful for your research training at the Graduate School's Skills Development Programme Website.

Economics and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) Funding for PhD Research from the UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) 

The Department of Anthropology at UCL invites applications for funding from the ESRC for study beginning in September 2017. The Department is a member of the UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership (UBEL DTP) which incorporates UCL, SOAS, Birkbeck College and University of East London. Anthropology is one of the pathways funded within this DTP. The ESRC has granted this DTP funding for over 40 new PhD studentships each year. More details of this training partnership can be found at https://ubel-dtp.ac.uk/

Funding is available on a competitive basis. Applications are invited for entry onto our 1+3 and +3 PhD programmes starting in September 2017. ESRC funding is normally available only for UK Home students (fees & subsistence) and EU students (fees only).  Registration can be on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Projects should fall under the specific remit of the ESRC for which see   http://www.esrc.ac.uk/funding/guidance-for-applicants/is-my-research-suitable-for-esrc-funding

Two kinds of funding support the two different programmes offered on the UCL Anthropology training route:

1. 1 + 3 funding is available for students EITHER holding the equivalent of a good (usually First Class) Undergraduate Honours degree in Anthropology OR students in the final year of an Undergraduate Honours degree with the equivalent of a First Class degree predicted. The first year of the degree is spent registered for EITHER the Master of Research (MRes) OR Anthropology of Environment and Development (AED) both of which are ESRC recognised, research Masters degrees. 

2.  +3 funding is available for students holding a good undergraduate Degree in any subject AND a pathway-recognised Masters degree in Anthropology. Applicants would normally be expected to have graduated with the equivalent of a First Class degree and Distinction OR, at least, one of these. In some instances, relevant professional experience including significant publication can substitute for a Masters degree in which case, an Undergraduate Degree in Anthropology is highly desirable.

A small number of studentships are offered for projects requiring the use of Advanced Quantitative Methods, and some of this funding is available to overseas students.

How to apply

Prospective students must apply both for admission onto a UCL Anthropology PhD programme AND for a UBEL-DTP studentship. These are separate processes.

Applications to Anthropology PhD programmes should be made through UCL’s Postgraduate Application System http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/graduate/apply-graduate-study/complete/form-guidance/online and should proceed only after contacting a prospective supervisor who agrees to acts as Primary Supervisor.

Applications for a UBEL DTP studentship should be made by downloading and completing the DTP application form at https://ubel-dtp.ac.uk/how-to-apply/. This must be submitted ONE pdf document by email to anthro-pgr@ucl.ac.uk. The deadline for receipt of both place and funding applications is 4pm, 3 February 2017.

Advice on completing your DTP funding application

Competition for DTP studentships is extremely strong. Applications are assessed on the basis of academic track-record as well as on the quality of the proposed research. The application form includes three sections. Sections One and Two are completed by applicants. Section Three is completed by an academic staff member who has agreed to act as Principal Supervisor. It is very important that applicants approach prospective academic supervisors in the Department of Anthropology well in advance of the February 3rd deadline to discuss and draft their applications. Secondary supervisors must also be identified on the DTP application form. These will be identified from across the UBEL DTP by prospective Primary supervisors.. Applicants may contact the Departmental Graduate Tutor, Dr Allen Abramson (a.abramson@ucl.ac.uk) or the Departmental Postgraduate Administrator anthro-pgr@ucl.ac.uk for further information.

It is expected that candidates will be notified of the outcome of their applications by mid-April 2017.

For further information please see the UBEL DTP website https://ubel-dtp.ac.uk/

For the academic year 2013/14, 36 of our PhD students are receiving full PhD funding. These include:

Individual funding awards

  • 2x AHRC
  • 1x AXA
  • 11x ESRC
  • 2x ESRC/AHRC
  • 1x ESRC/NERC
  • 1x NERC
  • 1x Wellcome Trust

Research Grant funding

  • 2x EPSRC (Dr Victor Buchli)
  • 6x ERC (Professor Ruth Mace; Professor Daniel Miller)
  • 9x Leverhulme Trust (Dr Andrea Migliano)

Visiting Research Students

The department invites applications from visiting students registered for a graduate degree at their home university. This opportunity allows the student to spend up to a year at UCL and to take advantage of the wide range of available specialist courses. Fees are payable pro rata. Detailed information in relation to visiting research students from overseas is available from the UCL International Office.