Research Degrees (MPhil/PhD) in Anthropology & Sociology


Read more about this program on the institution's website

Program Description

Mode of Attendance: Full-time or Part-time
All SOAS PhD programmes are expected to take a maximum of 48 months fulltime (three years of full fees that includes one year of fieldwork, and one final year of continuation). The PhD programme may also be taken part-time. If taken part-time, it is normally expected that both the year-long fieldwork component and continuation year are taken full-time.

In the first year, every MPhil student is appointed a three-person research committee comprising a principal supervisor, a second supervisor and the Research Tutor. MPhil students attend the weekly Research Training Seminar and the Research Methods course, and they take relevant language training. MPhil students may also be required to take additional regional, thematic or theory courses related to their chosen specialisation. Upon successful completion of a 20,000-word research report and fieldwork proposal, MPhil students are upgraded to PhD status and commence fieldwork. The fieldwork experience forms the basis of a 100,000-word dissertation which should demonstrate original thinking and make a significant contribution to the discipline. During the post-fieldwork period, PhD students attend the weekly post-fieldwork seminar and have the opportunity to present their work in progress. MPhil and PhD students are encouraged to attend the variety of seminars and workshops that take place across the School.

Why a PhD in Anthropology

Social anthropology is widely regarded by employers as excellent training, equipping holders of the degree with a range of employable skills. The value and relevance of the discipline are evidenced by the great variety and distinction of careers SOAS anthropology graduates have embarked upon with success.

Anthropologists have a global perspective when they come to make career choices. The speed and ease of worldwide communication networks are expanding the need to understand and interpret the socio-cultural patterns, values and lifestyles of others. Social anthropologists, therefore, find opportunity in diverse fields including international business, information technology, the media, library and museum services, and tourism. The multi-cultural nature of modern society has triggered a need in many spheres for staff with a trained awareness of the socio-cultural norms of minority communities, and our graduates may be found throughout the education sector, health sector, local government, and in advisory services of many kinds. Increasing numbers work in the field of development at home or overseas, with UN agencies or non-governmental organizations, and others work as freelance consultants.

The SOAS PhD in Social Anthropology is recognized by the ESRC as both a +3 and 1+3 course.

Research Pathways

There are several possible research pathways available to research students in the Department. These are:

  • The +3 pathway
  • The 1+3 pathway
  • The 2+3 pathway
  • The +4 pathway

The +3 pathway is our standard MPhil/PhD pathway suitable for candidates with an existing Masters-level degree in anthropology. Candidates are initially registered as MPhil students. For full-time students, the first year of registration includes research methods training and project development, culminating in an upgrade to PhD registration. Subject to successfully upgrading, the second year is generally spent conducting fieldwork. The third year is spent writing-up.

The 1+3 pathway involves one year on our ESRC-recognised MA Anthropological Research Methods programme followed by three years on the MPhil/PhD programme. This pathway is suitable for candidates with an undergraduate degree in anthropology but no Masters-level training in the discipline. The dissertation for the MA Anthropological Research Methods constitutes the basis for the research report and fieldwork proposal required for upgrading from MPhil to PhD status. Consequently, the upgrade process generally occurs early in the first year of the +3 part of the pathway and the student may expect to leave for fieldwork after about one term.

The 2+3 pathway is intended for those with an undergraduate degree in anthropology but who require additional intensive training in a designated African or Asian language in order to undertake fieldwork. It comprises the two-year MA Anthropological Research Methods and Intensive Language, followed by three years on the MPhil/PhD programme. As with the 1+3 pathway, candidates are able to upgrade and embark on fieldwork earlier in the first year of MPhil/PhD registration than students on the standard +3 pathway.

The +4 pathway is intended for students with an existing Masters-level degree in anthropology who require additional intensive language training in order to undertake fieldwork. The pathway comprises of a two-year fieldwork training period, including intensive language training, and the opportunity, where appropriate, for short pre-fieldwork familiarisation visits to expected fieldwork sites and/or in situ language training. Candidates are expected to upgrade to PhD status at the start of their second year of registration.

The above descriptions are based on full-time registration. Each of these pathways is also available on a part-time basis (e.g. the +3 pathway can be taken part-time over six years). Students on each of these pathways may also be eligible to apply for an additional year of writing up at reduced fee level on ‘continuation’ status.

As described above, the expectation is that candidates for the above research degree pathways will already have training in anthropology at undergraduate or postgraduate level (depending on pathway). We recognise, however, that some candidates may have anthropological training without a formal degree in anthropology. Prospective students should contact the Research Tutor to discuss their particular circumstances. Where candidates do not have sufficient anthropological foundation, they may be advised first to take one of our taught MA programmes (rather than the MA in Anthropological Research Methods) in order to qualify for the +3 or +4 MPhil/PhD pathways.


Required Courses

Ethnographic Research Methods

All students enrolled in their first year of an MPhil/PhD are required to take and pass the course, i.e. to pass the course assessment for this course and the companion course on quantitative methods.

Introduction to Statistics - A Graduate Programme at Three Levels

All first year MPhil/PhD students in the Department, unless formally exempted by the course convener, are required to take and pass this course. Students who miss a session may experience difficulty in following the trend of teaching in subsequent weeks. Part-time students are expected to make arrangements to ensure regular attendance.

Research Training Seminar

This is a two-hour seminar course that has no formal lectures but includes occasional guest discussants. In the first weeks of term 1, basic writing and organizational skills will be discussed; funding bodies and grant applications will be considered; a library orientation tour will be scheduled, and we will be introduced to the use of audiovisual equipment in fieldwork. From the second half of term 1 onwards, the main part of the course will consist of student presentations and focus on writing and developing the MPhil Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal.

  • Timetable: Terms 1 and 2, Thursday 3-5 room 559
  • Coursework requirements: This course is aimed at supporting the writing of the Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal, both of which are due no later than the Friday of week 3 in Term 3. To this end, all students will be required to make various presentations in the seminars. In term 1, students will introduce their Research Topic and briefly outline the future aims of their PhD research. Early in the term, students will be introduced to audiovisual equipment and will conduct a brief ‘fieldwork’ exercise in London in order to familiarise themselves with the equipment and explore the limits and possibilities of ethnographic representation ‘beyond text’. The learning outcomes of this exercise should be integrated into forthcoming presentations Students will also be expected to make presentations on the material they are reading (or ethnographic film they are viewing), with an aim to discuss the writing and presentation techniques involved. Questions to consider include: What makes good ethnography? What is an effective way of structuring an argument (both in writing and visually)? What makes for difficult reading or viewing? What are the boundaries of ethnography, and how have they changed, and continue to change? Longer presentations to be made during term 2 will consist of a section of the student’s Research Report. Selection of work for presentation should normally be discussed and agreed upon with the student’s supervisor. In term 2, students will be assigned to act as commentators on one another’s written piece of work.
  • Course aims: In addition to supporting the written work students do and the ideas they explore in their individual tutorials with supervisors, the Research Training Seminar also aims to introduce and hone transferable skills. These include the ability for composing and communicating both brief and more sustained seminar presentations; the skills to critically assess ethnographic writing and each others’ work in a productive manner; and the ability to contribute to discussions and the making of knowledge as a group member. The seminar provides a vital forum for students to discuss competing for theoretical positions and approaches; and to consider different writing styles, forms of ethnographic representation, and ways of communicating results and ideas. All such aspects of the seminar are aimed at contributing to the intellectual and organisational development of the MPhil upgrade Report.

Other Required Courses

Some first-year research students may be required to register for specific courses and they must complete the coursework set by the teacher. This will have been indicated in their letter of acceptance to the research programme. If you fall into this category, your supervisor will remind you of your commitment and will follow your progress on the course, as will the Research Tutor and Associate Dean for Research.

Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal

In your first year, as part of your degree, you will write a Research Report and Fieldwork Proposal of 20,000 words on a topic you have chosen and agreed with your supervisor. This is due at the beginning of term 3 of your first year and any late submissions must be supported by your supervisor and approved by the Research Tutor. All students are expected to submit this report and be examined in a viva voce by the end of term 3. Late submissions may require delays in examinations and a delay to the upgrade from MPhil to PhD status. No student is granted permission to leave for fieldwork until they have been examined and a decision has been made about upgrading.


In your second year, you are normally expected to do twelve months of fieldwork based on your Fieldwork Proposal. Requests for longer periods of fieldwork must be approved by the ADR and supported by your supervisor. On return from the field, you will be expected to begin work on your PhD dissertation of 100,000 words. This dissertation must adhere to the University of London Regulations for Anthropology Degrees.

Part-time Students and AHRC Students

If you are a part-time or AHRC student, then, like all first-year research students, you must meet your supervisor at the beginning of the academic year to agree your training needs and define the appropriate mode for supervisory contact. It is normally advised that you take the Anthropological Research Methods course in your first year, and you are expected to attend the Research Training Seminars on Mondays with the Departmental Research Tutor in your second year. In the past, the post-fieldwork seminar has been scheduled on Mondays as well, so the second year commitment could be one full day. During the term, supervision will take the form of a mix of face-to-face meetings and email contact; face to face supervision tends to occur during the Christmas, Easter or summer break.

The majority of departmental seminars and many subject-based seminars are held throughout the week and in the evenings (e.g. the department seminar is held every Wednesday from 3-5 pm). Access to the library and computing facilities is possible during normal opening hours, and arrangements are underway to increase access, particularly to the new IT facilities in the East Block which was completed in 2004. Formal teaching and an increasing amount of subject-based research material are available via electronic resources available through the Library internet connection (including a growing number of specialist search engines by subject/region).

AHRC Students: The department and faculty do their best to meet all the highest standards of supervision, care and provision for all research students.


The variety of seminars you might like to attend at SOAS, and across London, is enormous, and you will need to be selective. The Anthropology Departmental Seminar meets on Wednesday afternoon and is a crucial element of the shared intellectual life of staff and postgraduate students. All first year students are expected to attend. Invited speakers will present work in progress, much of which should be at the cutting edge of anthropological research. There is also a regular PhD Post-Fieldwork Seminar given by students returning from fieldwork. While this seminar is primarily aimed at post-fieldwork students (and all post-fieldwork students in residence are expected to attend regularly), MPhil students are strongly encouraged to attend and participate in the discussion.

SOAS hosts a variety of public lectures, conferences and seminars which are prominently advertised on the SOAS events page. SOAS staff usually belong to an academic department and a Regional Centre (some also belong to Special Purpose Centres). If you have a regional interest, then make a point early in the year of locating the relevant Regional Centre where you will find an information board displaying forthcoming meetings. Some Regional Centres also publish a Newsletter.

Outside SOAS you might want to explore the facilities of the University of London. The LSE, University College and Goldsmiths College have substantial anthropology departments and also run weekly seminars. Some of you might have special interests which make it worthwhile seeking out London University colleges concerned with higher studies in medicine, law, education etc. The possibilities are too extensive and varied to itemize here; if you have particular interests then ask a member of staff who shares your enthusiasms.

You might also consider taking out a Junior Fellowship of the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI) which will include a journal subscription to Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Anthropology Today. Membership also includes access to the RAI library located in the British Museum, which also hosts seminars and film screenings.

Important notice

The information on the programme page reflects the intended programme structure against the given academic session.

Research Admissions and Applications

We welcome applications from qualified students holding a good Master’s-level degree (or overseas equivalent) in a relevant subject for research degrees at SOAS. Applications should be submitted online.

It is important to apply well before the start of the academic year in which you wish to enrol to allow us time to process your application. If you are applying for scholarships, earlier deadlines may apply.

The SOAS PhD programme is competitive and applicants should have a track record of high academic achievement and a viable proposal which will contribute to the research interests of the Department. Please note: we discourage purely speculative applications. Applications for interdisciplinary research are welcome, but only one application to one Department may be submitted.

Entry Requirements

a BA and/or MA degree in Anthropology, with a merit or equivalent in the Master's Degree and an MA dissertation grade of 65% (UK) or higher. Applicants must provide a clear and coherent research proposal of 2000 words.

Unconditional English Language Entry Requirements

Applicants that require a Tier 4 visa to study in the UK must provide a UKVI IELTS Academic certificate from a UKVI approved test centre.

International applicants requiring a Tier-4 Visa to study in the UK

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in sub-scores. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores

EEA and EU applicants

Test Unconditional entry Unconditional entry with in-sessional support
IELTS (Academic) 7.0 overall or higher, with 7.0 in each sub-score. 7.0 overall or higher, with at least 6.5 in sub-scores.
TOEFL IBT 105 overall or higher, with a minimum of 25 in sub-scores. 105 overall with a minimum of 22 in sub-scores.
100 overall with a minimum of 25 in writing and 22 in other sub-scores.
Pearson Test of English (Academic) 75 overall or higher, with a minimum of 70 in sub-scores. 70 overall or higher, with a minimum of 65 in sub-scores.
Last updated Sep 2019

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