Ph.D. Qualifying Examinations

Passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination is but one of the requirements determining whether or not the student has successfully completed the first phase of the graduate program and should be recommended for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. The examination is “closed book.” The written component is normally in two parts, one covering the general field of the student’s special anthropological interests (archaeology-prehistory, biological anthropology, sociocultural anthropology, linguistic anthropology, or some approved combination thereof), the other focuses on the topic and general area of the student’s proposed dissertation research. The purpose of the exam is to assist the faculty in assessing the student’s progress toward becoming an anthropological scholar since his or her admission to the Ph.D. program. It assists also in determining the extent to which the student has acquired the skills needed to enter the research or Ph.D. phase of graduate study.

The qualifying examination is made up and administered by the student’s advisory committee plus one or two other faculty members chosen by the faculty on the recommendation of the student’s advisory committee. When appropriate, the committee may invite an examiner from outside the Department or the University. The qualifying exam is both written (four hours each for two consecutive days) and oral (two hours). The written exams are set on the last Thursday and Friday mornings in March; the oral exams follow in the next two weeks. Other arrangements may be made for students who are accelerating their progress to the Ph.D. phase of the program or, in exceptional instances, for other reasons.

Again, the purpose of the qualifying examination is to help the faculty to assess the student’s scholarly progress since entering the program at Yale, and it is only one of the means whereby that assessment is made. Although a high quality of performance is expected and demanded of all students, each written and oral examination is tailored to that student’s interests, goals, and previous studies at Yale. There is no fixed syllabus or course of study for the contents of which all students are held equally responsible. Because students come to study in the Department with diverse backgrounds and degrees of preparation, and because we normally allow only two years of full-time study before the qualifying exams must be taken, students come variously prepared to the examination experience and are expected to perform variously in the course of it. Therefore, advancement to the dissertation research phase of the Ph.D. program depends on faculty evaluation of the totality of the student’s performance and progress, and not on examination performance alone. For that reason, a student whose performance on the qualifying exams is judged unsatisfactory is not permitted to retake the examinations.