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PhD without an anthropology background?

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PhD without an anthropology background?



Hi guys, a first-time poster here. Hope everyone is enjoying a nice summer.

I am currently doing a master degree in urban planning, with some project and conference experience in international development and environment protection. I am interested in anthropology of environment issues, and I am considering applying for a PhD in Anthropology this year for fall 2020. The problem is that I didn't do and will not have a anthropology degree in my undergrads and my master's studies. I have checked some department pages of the PhD programs and found that a degree in anthropology is not required, but I'm not sure if an anthropology BA or MA is actually required for a good anthropology PhD program. I have a BA in linguistics, which might be useful for anthropology research, but would that also be an advantage if I apply for a anthropology PhD focusing on environment protection?

Also I am concerned with the LoRs. At this stage I think I can find strong recommendations from professors doing urban planning, sociology and linguistics, but not professors from the anthropology department. Would that be my weakness in applying for a anthropology program?

Please feel free to share your ideas. Thanks in advance.


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  • 2 weeks later...

Hi @LocationQuotient

I will say that you don’t necessarily need a background in anthropology to be accepted to anthro PhD programs. Of course, check the program website because some will explicitly say that you need a degree (BA or MA) in Anthropology or that it is preferred but you will get a solid training during your core classes. For my cohort, only two of us have a BA and MA in anthro, the rest have BAs or MAs in psychology, environmental sciences, sociology, or archaeology (these are from Unis outside American Anthro so it is a little different). These candidates were selected due to the diversity of their backgrounds and educational experiences so everything is useful so long as you can effectively convey why you are applying for an Anthro PhD - this goes for those even with degrees in anthropology. 

I don’t think that LoRs from those fields would put you at a disadvantage. I would sit down with them and discuss the programs you are interested in and why you seek the anthropological training and how your research fits well within the program. The linguistics background will help as well since it is part of the four-field approach to American anthropology, but maybe not much outside the US. Again, it really depends on how you market yourself. 

I would reach out to some professors who you would like to work with and send your CV as an attachment and possibly some questions etc. From there you could ask to get in touch with their students and see what their specific advice would be as well.

Hope this helps! 

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  • 2 months later...

In my graduate cohort, most of us have prior degrees in anthropology. However, this is not the case for all of us, and I don't think it's necessary. I would just focus on explaining in your application why you became interested in anthropology and how you think a background in urban planning will be helpful (especially if you want your future research to be urban planning adjacent). 

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