Your Guide to Progressing Through the Graduate Program

Saharawi Refugees by Vivian Solano
Saharawi refugee camp, Tindouf, Algeria. Photo by PhD Candidate Vivian Solana.

How long does it take?

The Master of Arts program is normally a 12-month program, extending from September to August, with formal instruction from September to April. The Master of Science Program extends over a two-year period that would normally be completed in the summer of the second year. Both the M.A. and M.Sc. programs may be taken on a part-time basis.

Students admitted to the Doctor of Philosophy program from a master’s degree are technically admitted to a “four-year” degree while students admitted as direct-entry students are admitted to a “five-year” degree. These designations are shaped in part by funding considerations (graduate students receive guaranteed funding for this period of time) and partly by provincial guidelines for counting time to degree. However, SGS rules allow up to six years for completion of the Ph.D., plus up to two one-year extensions in exceptional circumstances if these are supported by the Supervisor and the Department. Completion of an anthropology degree in four years is often only feasible for those students who have an exceptional background at the time of admission, and/or those whose research projects are readily in place, adequately funded, and do not require extensive language or other specialized training. Given the need to learn languages, and engage in fieldwork and field seasons, most graduate students in anthropology will take longer than four years. The chart below summarizes a typical trajectory through the graduate program (although, as noted, timelines may vary). For more detailed information on progressing through the graduate program, please refer to the Graduate Handbook.

Admitted from Master’s degree Direct-entry 
Complete Courses By August of year 1 By August of year 2
Present and Defend Thesis Proposal
Complete Ethics Review,
Complete Language Requirement
By August of year 2 By August of year 3
Fieldwork/dissertation Research Year 3 – 4 Year 4 – 5
Write Dissertation Year 4 – 5 Year 5 – 6
Pass Final Oral PhD Examination Year 5 Year 6

Choosing a supervisor and a core committee

Upon admission to the graduate program, each student is initially assigned to a Faculty Advisor. An Advisory Committee (faculty advisor and two other graduate faculty members) will be set up for each doctoral student within the first year of the program. After acceptance of the thesis proposal, a Supervisor and Core Committee are appointed.

The supervisor/ee relationship

The relationship between a graduate student and their supervisor is one of the most significant of the graduate school experience. It is crucial to ensure that both student and supervisor meet their obligations to one another. For a comprehensive set of guidelines on graduate supervision,  please read

Graduate Supervision: Guidelines for Students, Faculty and Administrators.

What is guaranteed minimum funding?

The University and the Department are committed to ‘full funding’ for all admitted students in the first year of the Masters and the first four years of the PhD. The funding package (tuition, incidental fees, and $15,000 in living costs) is assembled from a combination of external scholarships, university fellowships, TAships and RAships. Students who hold external awards valued below the University minimum receive support sufficient to bring them up to the funding commitment. Our students have a high rate of success in a wide variety of scholarship and grant competitions at institutional, provincial, national, and international levels.

The funding package is provided for four years of the PhD program (five years for students admitted directly from bachelor’s degrees), with the provisions that the student makes satisfactory progress through the program and that those without external funding apply for CIHR, NSERC, OGS, or SSHRC.  Failure to apply for external scholarships normally results in reduction or interruption of the UTF portion of funding.

For information about University of Toronto Awards and sources of external funding, please refer to the SGS website (, and also the Faculty of Arts and Science website about graduate scholarships.  Information is also available from the SGS Awards Office, 63 St. George Street.

Yogyakarta mural, Trembley
Mural in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Photo by graduate student Jessika Trembley. This mural is one of many painted on the walls of the residences of Kampoeng Cyber (Cyber Village), used to advertise the community’s Internet access program to visitors.

How many courses and when to take them?

Students who enter the PhD program from a BA or BSc degree program are entering a five-year PhD program. They will take a minimum of five full-year graduate courses (or equivalent), of which three will normally be taken in the first year. The remaining two courses can be taken in the second year when the work on the research proposal is also expected to begin. Students will need to attain an annual average of at least A- to continue in the PhD program in good standing. Of the five full-year course equivalents, 1.5 full course equivalents must be in anthropology. Exceptions require approval of Supervisor and Graduate Coordinator.

Students who enter the PhD program from a MA or MSc degree program are entering a four-year PhD program. They will take a minimum of three full-year graduate courses (or the equivalent). Students will need to attain at least an A- average in their course work to continue in the PhD program in good standing. Of the three full-year course equivalents, 1.5 full course equivalents must be in anthropology. Exceptions require approval of Supervisor and Graduate Coordinator.

Preparing the thesis proposal for defense

A student’s research formally begins with the presentation of a thesis proposal. The thesis proposal is normally about 20 pages (not including references). In many ways a thesis proposal is like a grant proposal, though it is a bit longer than most, in order to give students more space for the development of their theoretical framework and more space for the critical review of relevant literature.  The format of the proposals can range widely, depending on the nature of the student’s research project. Normally, the proposal lists the research objectives, contexts for the research (defined to include your theoretical framework, a critical review of the relevant research literature, relevant historical background to the problem, and/or description of the site where research will take place, as appropriate), and a detailed account of methods.  The proposal may include a time-line for the research in the text or an appendix; it need not include a budget.

Students should circulate their thesis proposal by May 1 of the second year (May 1 of the third year for direct entry PhD students.)  However, students are encouraged to submit their thesis proposals to their supervisors as soon as possible in their second year. In exceptional circumstances, students and advisors may petition the Graduate Coordinator for a later deadline. Failure to complete all pre-thesis program requirements by the end of the second year normally results in interruption of the UTF portion of funding until such time as student meets these requirements. It is a department requirement that PhD students will normally complete all required coursework before defending their thesis proposal. Please refer to the Graduate Handbook for a complete listing of the steps to acceptance of the proposal.

Gulu, photo by Letha Victor
Gulu Town, Uganda, September 2013. Photo by PhD Candidate Letha Victor. Young men exhume the remains of family members who died during the 1986-2006 war in the Acholi sub-region of northern Uganda. Those people with adequate resources attempt to bring their relatives’ bones to ancestral villages previously emptied by war and forced displacement. To protect the labourers from being haunted or possessed by the spirits of the dead, particular ritual care is taken with the remains.


Most Ph.D. students engage in field work as the most important part of their doctoral research project. Field work is a highly rewarding but challenging life event.

Students beginning full-time field work off-campus must apply to the Graduate Coordinator for “off-campus status”.  All off-campus students must leave an official field address with the Graduate Office while they are away. All students who are registered off-campus and will be in the U.S.A. or overseas will also need to register with the Safety Abroad Office database. Further details available at: Since it is each student’s responsibility to apply for off-campus status, failure to apply could result in forfeiture of registration, fellowships and awards, and loss of full-time graduate status.

University policy regarding Safety in the Field ( outlines a hierarchy of responsibility for safety, starting with the student’s academic Supervisor. Before departing for the field to conduct field work, the student (in consultation with the Supervisor) must file a letter with the Department that acknowledges awareness of the risks in the proposed fieldwork.

Students preparing to conduct fieldwork must complete these mandatory forms and actions:

Off-campus registration request (action: submit for approval to the Anthropology Graduate Office)  and register with the Safety Abroad database.

Field research planning record (action: file with with the Anthropology Graduate Office)

Ethics form (if you are working with human subjects; follow instructions)

If you are going to do your field work outside Canada then you must register for one of the Safety Abroad Sessions.

Funding issues beyond the 4th year

Students in unfunded cohorts can apply for teaching assistantships or arrange research assistantships, where available.

Listed below are some other avenues of financial support available to unfunded students:

  • The Doctoral Completion Award (DCA) supports full-time Doctoral students who are beyond the funded cohort and within time limit for their degree. The DCA is administered by individual graduate units. Students should contact the anthropology department for application procedures and details.
  • Students who find themselves delayed by unfortunate personal circumstances can apply for an Emergency Grant, administered by the School of Graduate Studies. The intent of the Emergency Grant Program is to assist currently registered, full-time, graduate students beyond their first year of study who generally are not part of the funded cohort and who encounter an unanticipated serious financial emergency. It is not considered to be a source of routine or long-term funding.
  • Through SGS, students can also apply for Emergency Loans. These interest-free loans are intended to aid students in reducing cash flow problems, and must be paid back within a mutually-agreed upon time period.
  • The Master’s Tuition Fee Bursary is for Master’s students who are beyond the program length required for their degree, but who still have a small amount of work remaining, due to unanticipated factors that are beyond their control.

Please also visit the School of Graduate Studies website for information on other graduate scholarships and awards.

The thesis defense

The thesis defense (or Final Oral Examination – FOE) is the culmination of the PhD program. Once the student’s Core Committee decides that the thesis is defensible, the School of Graduate Studies procedures for the Final Oral Examination will be followed. At least seven to eight weeks are necessary to schedule a PhD Oral Defense, after the thesis has been approved by the Core Committee. The full procedure is outlined in the SGS Calendar. In addition, please review SGS’s Guidelines for the Doctoral Final Oral Examination.