Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

PhD Requirements


The doctoral curriculum and stages to degree are designed to prepare candidates for research and professionalization in the fields of South Asian Studies and its allied disciplines. Specifically, it seeks to develop


  • Deep familiarity with the history, methodology, and practice of a chosen discipline relevant to the study of South Asia, and a broad knowledge of allied disciplines;
  • Demonstrable proficiency in at least two relevant research languages as follows:

  a)    Advanced competency in a South Asian language of concentration equivalent to a minimum of four years of study and adequate to sustain proposed dissertation research;

    b)    Intermediate-Mid competency in a second research language necessary for conducting advanced research, equivalent to a minimum of two years of study;

    c)     Students are strongly encouraged to choose one classical and one modern South Asian language

  • Teaching experience and familiarity with pedagogical practices in South Asian studies;
  • A compelling plan for dissertation research.


The course of study toward the degree of Doctor of Philosophy requires a minimum of twenty course credit units (CUs). As part of these 20 CUs, students must take:

  • 10 CUs in disciplinary courses, of which at least 4 should be in a discipline chosen for specialization
  • 4 CUs in advanced-level courses in a language of concentration*
  • 2 CUs in intermediate-level courses or higher in a research language (advisor and Grad Chair must approve 2nd language)*
  • 3 electives
  • 1 final CU may be used for research connected with the preparation for third year Candidacy Exams (formerly ‘Preliminary Exams’) and a dissertation proposal. This is typically an independent study.
  • You must fulfill all of your language requirements before you will be permitted to take your candidacy exam in your third year.
  • At least six content courses (NOT including language courses and independent studies) must be taken with six DIFFERENT Standing Faculty of the South Asia Studies department in the first two years.

Note: Courses 400-level and above count for Graduate Credit.

*Candidates who demonstrate advanced knowledge in their language of concentration and/or Advanced knowledge of a second research language may be excused from part of these requirements. Candidates who satisfy language requirements at the South Asia Language Institute or other summer courses, or in advanced language programs abroad may likewise be excused from taking additional language courses. Any CUs not required for language study may be reallocated to electives. The exemption from further language study does not result in a reduction of the total number of 20 CUs required for the degree.

Policy on Incompletes:

Students are strongly discouraged from taking an incomplete grade in graduate seminars or graduate level courses. Should a student take an incomplete grade in a course for unavoidable reasons, the last date by which the student may submit all work for a Fall Semester course will be the first teaching day of the Spring semester; for a Spring semester course, three weeks from the last day of the Spring semester. Failure to submit work beyond this date will result in a loss of a third of a letter grade for each further day's delay. After seven days a permanent C will be given for the course grade.  The Graduate Office of the School of Arts and Sciences reserves the right to suspend funding for PhD candidates on Benjamin Franklin Fellowships who have not resolved their incompletes on time.

NB: In the instance of graduate students being faced with life events or disasters, an Incomplete may be extended, by written permission of both the course instructor and the Graduate Director. In such cases, the student will state in writing the date by which they will submit all work for that course.


Advising and Course Selection:

Incoming graduate students will be assigned an interim advisor to help students select courses and develop their curriculum. A student may change advisors if they so choose, by informing the Graduate Coordinator.

Choice of disciplinary focus and languages should be made in consultation with the student's advisor and the Graduate Chair of the Department.

Graduate students are required to meet with their advisor* at the beginning of each semester to discuss course selection. The following form must be filled out, signed by the student's advisor, and turned into the Department Coordinator prior to the end of the course Add period for each semester.  

Once students' coursework is complete PhD students are required to meet with their advisor* at least once per semester to discuss the progress of their research and subsequent dissertation writing.

It is strongly recommended students choose their courses in the first two years of study with preparation for the second year exam as your high priority.

By the end of the second year, the student must establish a Dissertation Committee of up to five people, two of whom must be from the Graduate Group.

*If an advisor is on leave/sabbatical, student should meet with the Graduate Chair.


To acquire pedagogical experience, PhD candidates serve as teaching assistants in four undergraduate courses in South Asia Studies, usually in the second and third years of study.

Candidates who enter the Ph.D. program in South Asia Studies after an M.A. or other graduate study at Penn or at another accredited institutions may petition, after a full year of enrolment in the Ph.D. program, for a transfer of appropriate prior credits toward the 20 CUs required for the Ph.D. program. Transfer of credits requires full documentation and is awarded at the discretion of the Graduate Chair. In no case will transferred credits exceed a total of 8.


Graduate Student Independent Study Policy and Procedures:

Graded independent studies normally involve:

  1. completion of a specific reading or research project
  2. regularly scheduled tutorial sessions with the instructor during the semester
  3. submission of a substantial paper at the end of the term in which the course is taken.

For graduate students who wish to pursue a graded independent study, the procedure is as follows:

  1. When you have a clear idea of the topic you would like to study, you should find a faculty sponsor who can supervise your work. Any member of the standing faculty or South Asia Studies Graduate Group may offer an independent study to a student at the professor's discretion.
  2. When you and your faculty sponsor have decided upon the topic and terms of your independent study, please complete this application and return the following form to Alexandra Zeiger in the South Asia Studies Department, 820 Williams Hall.

All application Forms must also include:

  • Syllabus
  • Number of Hours
  • Assignments

Additional Information

  • Independent Studies may be taken for a letter grade ONLY (no Pass/Fail).
  • Independent Study applications must be submitted for approval to Department or Graduate Chair no later than one week BEFORE the end of “add period”.
  • Exceptions may be approved by the South Asia Studies Department Chair.
  • The appropriate Graduate or Undergraduate Chair has discretion to limit the number of independent studies undertaken. 



In addition to formal coursework (and in consultation with faculty advisors), PhD students are typically expected to spend one or two summers and/or one academic year engaged in advanced language training abroad. In most cases, PhD candidates are also expected to spend at least one year abroad doing fieldwork in South Asia as part of their dissertation research.

There are a wide range of competitive funding options available for both language study and research work abroad. Funding above and beyond the five-year PhD funding package includes both external funding competitions (e.g. American Institute of Indian Studies, American Institute of Sri Lankan Studies, American Institute of Pakistan Studies, Fulbright-Hays, Social Science Research Council, Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the National Science Foundation), as well as internal university competitions (e.g. School of Arts and Sciences Dissertation Research Fellowships, SAS Dissertation Completion Fellowships, the South Asia Studies Department's Briton Martin Fellowship, etc.). PhD students in the Department of South Asia Studies have had an extremely high rate of success in obtaining fellowships and grants for research and language study abroad. Periodic workshops led by faculty in the department also help students to develop and hone their abilities to effectively write competitive fellowship and grant applications--an essential skill for any career in academia.



The Doctoral Program in the South Asia Studies Department may be conceived in terms of course related requirements and ‘degree stages'. Degree stages also entail the submission of proposals and presentations.

In addition to the completion of coursework and language requirements, Ph.D. candidates through the course of their time in the department are expected to make two presentations to the South Asia Colloquium and to successfully pass three Stages to Degree: Qualification Exam Stage (2 parts), Candidacy Exam Stage, and Dissertation Examination Stage. Passing the Qualification Exam Stage marks admission to PhD candidacy.


Students are expected to make research related presentations at the weekly South Asia Colloquium at least twice during the course of their study. The first presentation should be presented in the second or third year of study, and may take the form of either a Candidacy piece of research-related writing on the candidate’s dissertation topic or a draft of the dissertation proposal. The second presentation will normally be in the post-fieldwork stage and is typically the presentation of a chapter draft, conference paper, or job talk. The idea of these presentations is that the student may benefit from the feedback of faculty and fellow students. It also helps students prepare for the dissemination of their research in the wider field.


Students will pass through three degree stages (see further details below).

  1. A Qualification Stage, concluding at the end of the 4th semester
  2. A Candidacy Examination Stage (formerly ‘Preliminary Exam’), comprising an examination in three ‘fields’ of the candidate’s choice usually taken after all coursework is completed (usually at the end of the third year or 6th semester) in addition to Dissertation Proposal
  3. A Dissertation Completion Stage, consisting of a Dissertation Defense, given when a completed dissertation is submitted (usually between the fifth and seventh years)

*Failure to meet these requirements in accordance with this timetable, may place PhD funding in jeopardy*


For PhD: Due by end of exam period of 4th semester. 20-30 page pre-prospectus research paper framing a potential doctoral research question and placing it in conversation with existing scholarship. The paper should utilize primary source materials or preliminary fieldwork. This will be read by all standing faculty.

For MA:Designate paper already written for class or submit thesis due by end of exam period of 4th semester.


The Ph.D. Candidacy (formerly ‘Preliminary’) Examination is conducted after all course requirements, including all language requirements, have been fulfilled (usually at the end of the 6th semester). This stage consists of a Candidacy Examination in conjunction with the presentation of the Dissertation Prospectus. Both of these elements have a written and oral component.

For the Candidacy Examination, the candidate is expected to develop over the course of the first semester of the third year of study, bibliographies for three ‘fields’ of study, each of which is to be related either to the mastery of a teaching competency or the familiarity of a research-related theme or topic. Bibliographies for each of the three fields are to be developed in consultation with the dissertation supervisor (who must be a member of the graduate group) and two other faculty members (at least one of who must also be a member of the graduate group); the three of whom together constitute the candidate's Candidacy Examination Committee. Committee members drawn from outside of the graduate group must be approved by the dissertation supervisor and graduate chair. Each Examination Bibliography should include between 40 and 60 works. Students should work closely with their faculty members during their 5th semester to develop their exam bibliographies and must obtain approval of their bibliographic lists and submit the approved lists along with a coversheet including the signatures of the Candidacy Examination Committee (and the graduate chair) by no later than the last teaching day of the fifth semester of full time study (ordinarily the end of the first semester of the third year), one full semester before the Candidacy Examination is to take place. The coversheet may be found here.

In conjunction with the Candidacy Examination, candidates must submit a Dissertation Prospectus of 20-25 pages with a bibliography of at least 35 and primary and secondary sources. The Prospectus should include a brief orientation to the topic of research, a placement of the candidate’s work in relation to a discipline or field of knowledge, and a detailed plan for undertaking of fieldwork research.

The procedure for taking the Examination and submitting the Dissertation Prospectus is as follows:

By the end of their sixth semester, students should schedule a 2-hour oral Candidacy Examination with the members of their committee (which must have been declared by the end of the 5th semester).  (Members of the SAST graduate group must make up a majority of the committee--more than 50%.  Additional committee members may be drawn from outside the graduate group, but must be approved by the dissertation supervisor and graduate chair).  Based on the bibliographies students draw up in their fifth semester in consultation with committee members, students will complete three “field statements” and a Dissertation Prospectus and submit them no later than two weeks before the schedule oral candidacy exam.  Field statements (3000 words each) are to be developed in consultation with committee members on broad thematic fields that are relevant to the student’s doctoral research. 


Candidates must also submit a Dissertation Prospectus of 10-20 pages with a bibliography of at least 35 primary and secondary sources, no later than two weeks prior to the scheduled Candidacy Examination.  The Dissertation Prospectus may follow a relevant grant application format, or may be an expanded version of a grant application.  The Dissertation Prospectus should include a brief orientation to the topic of research, a placement of the candidate’s work in relation to a discipline or field of knowledge, and a detailed plan for undertaking of fieldwork research.  The field statements will be evaluated – along with the dissertation proposal – during the oral examination scheduled for two weeks after the field statements and proposal are turned in to the department.





Research for the dissertation is expected to include field work in South Asia and/or South Asian communities and/or library, archival, or material South Asia collections, and to include sources in South Asian languages. After completion of research and writing, candidates present a final dissertation and defend it orally before the entire graduate faculty and fellow graduate students. The procedure for submitting the dissertation is as follows:

  1. Copies of the completed dissertation for each of the final Dissertation Advisory Committee members and one for deposit in the SAST Department's office must be submitted at least two weeks before the scheduled oral defense. The Department copy will be open for inspection by the Graduate Group during this period.
  2. A two-hour oral Dissertation Defense conducted by the Dissertation Committee before the Graduate Group faculty, graduate students, and invited guests. At least two members of the Dissertation Committee must be physically present for the Defense.
  3. For further guidelines for the submission of the dissertation, see here.


Applicants should apply to only one program within GAS
(Graduate School of Arts and Sciences). If you are interested in another department within GAS,
you may include this in your personal statement. Upon review, our faculty
will decide if the candidate is a good fit for our department or if another
program is more suited to their academic interests.





3 of 4 Core courses during the first year:  600, 602, 603, 617

Highly Recommended:  Methods Course (either 655 or 556)



Within the first two years, SAST students must take six courses taught by primary standing faculty within the Department.

 Thus, during the first year in the joint program, the student will take three anthropology courses and two or three SAST courses, and during the second year, the student will complete the SAST requirements (three or four courses).



Joint Program Language Requirement:  Competency in 2 languages, one South Asian language plus one scholarly language to be approved by Advisor and Graduate Chair. It is strongly encouraged students study one modern and one classical South Asian language.  Students might be able to pass out of one or more of these requirements by taking a placement test at the beginning of the year, after which point further needs would be assessed.



ANTH:   The Comprehensive Examination is a two-day (four hours each day) examination in general anthropology, based on Core Program courses, usually taken after the first year.  Joint students should take the comps at the end of the year during which they have taken the core courses. There are three possible outcomes of the Comprehensive Exam: A student may pass at the PhD level, pass at the MA level, or fail the exam. These exams typically happen two weeks after the end of the spring semester, usually the Thursday and Friday a week after graduation.

SAST: Qualifying Stage in two parts, one at the beginning of the 3rd semester and the other at the end of the  4th semester. Dtails coming soon.



 Students will complete three “field statements” and the defense of a dissertation proposal by the end of the third year.  Field statements (3000 words each) are to be developed on broad thematic fields that are relevant to the student’s doctoral research.  At least one of these field statements will be focused on South Asia, and will be developed with a member of the standing faculty of the SAST Department.  Field statements are typically turned in toward the end of the third year, and are evaluated – along with the dissertation proposal – during an oral examination scheduled for two weeks after the field statements and proposal are turned in to the department.  Proposals generally follow Wenner-Gren or NSF formats for doctoral research grants (10-20 pages), but we are willing to accommodate other formats as necessary.



 Joint students will complete ONE dissertation that will serve both departments, under the advisement of the student’s committee, comprised of both SAST standing faculty and Anthropology graduate group faculty.  When the dissertation is finalized by the student and his or her committee members, the student will conduct a dissertation defense.  For anthropology, a defense is public, with the student presenting his/her research and findings for 40-45 minutes (akin to a job talk), with a period of questions afterward.

Attachment Size
Independent Study Form -2012.doc 25.5 KB
Timetable for first 3 years of SAST PhD degree.doc 29.5 KB
SAST PhD Prelim Research Proposal & Dis Advisory Committee Due Semester 4.pdf 170.82 KB
SAST PhD Cover Sheet for Prospectus Defense Due Semester 6.pdf 169.47 KB
Course Selection Approval Form for Graduate Students Due Semesters 1 thru 6.pdf 26.89 KB
PhD Annaul Progress Report Template, Updated March 2013.pdf 13.66 KB

SAST PhD Candidacy Examination Committee.docx

15.24 KB

SAST PhD Candidacy Examination Coversheet Due Semester 5 (1).docx