PhD in Human Paleobiology


2 graduate students working on laptop in a lab


The PhD in Human Paleobiology program trains students to address key research questions surrounding human evolution. The STEM-designated curriculum draws on research tools from archaeology, behavioral ecology, genetics, hard tissue biology, morphology, neuroscience, paleoecology, paleontology, social cognition and more. Research is conducted both on site and through the Anthropology Department’s Center for the Advanced Study of Human Paleobiology housed in our cutting-edge lab facility.

The curriculum incorporates professional development opportunities outside the classroom, including workshop presentations and weekly peer research discussions.

The PhD program in Human Paleobiology is suspending admissions for this year, and will not be considering applications for the 2021-2022 academic year. We are taking this pause on admissions due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our wish to support our current students as fully as possible. We note that our Master’s program will continue admissions as usual this year and our faculty would be pleased to discuss this option with interested applicants.



How to Apply

Interested students are encouraged to contact a core faculty member in human paleobiology to discuss their interests and learn more about the curriculum and resources. Find the complete application requirements on GW's Graduate Program Finder.

The five-year PhD program offers fully funded fellowship opportunities, including a stipend and teaching assistant salary. However, for some PhD funding packages the university continues to require that GRE scores be submitted. For this reason, we currently recommend that applicants to the PhD program take the GRE, but with the understanding that your scores will not affect your chances of admission into the program. We hope that, in the future, the GRE will no longer be required for any funding packages and we are actively working to make this happen.



Program Goals

The PhD in Human Paleobiology degree program strives to provide students with:

  • Relevant scientific expertise and experience with cutting-edge instrumentation
  • An appropriate ethical compass
  • An environment that emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of collaborative research
  • An ability to work and collaborate internationally
  • Transferable leadership and management skills



"One of the reasons I chose to get my PhD at GW was the human paleobiology program’s emphasis on educational outreach. The program requires a Public Understanding of Science internship for all doctoral students, [which provides] an opportunity to work closely with an organization dedicated to presenting science to the public."

Meagan Vakiener

MS ’18
Current PhD Student

Program Timeline

The first and second years primarily consist of coursework, a professional skills and ethics seminar, a grant-writing course focused on preparing a dissertation proposal and internship or lab experiences that integrate original research and coursework.

Students participate in two different laboratory rotations to broaden their research skills. One laboratory must be at an institution other than GW, and students are strongly encouraged to undertake at least one project outside the United States. General examinations in hominid paleobiology and paleolithic archeology should also be taken at the end of the second year, and no later than the end of the third year.

In the third year, students begin directed research on their doctoral dissertations while participating in a capstone seminar, laboratory rotation and internship. General examinations, including the dissertation proposal defense, must be successfully completed by the end of the third year. After successfully completing general examinations, the student may advance to candidacy.

Once students reach candidacy, they proceed to completing the doctoral research plan and writing the dissertation.

Students complete and defend their dissertation. If they pass, they submit their electronic dissertation by the end of the fifth year.

Learn More in the CCAS Doctoral Student Handbook


Course Requirements

The following requirements must be fulfilled:

The general requirements stated under Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Programs.

The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy program.

72 credits.

Recommended Preparatory Courses

Advanced undergraduate courses in biology, including courses in evolution and any two of the following: genetics, developmental biology/embryology, anatomy, physiology, ethology, ecology, and paleontology. GW courses that correspond to these subjects are:
BISC 2207Genetics
BISC 2208Genetics Laboratory
BISC 2214Developmental Biology
BISC 2332Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy
BISC 2450Organic Evolution
BISC 2451History of Life
BISC 2452Animal Behavior
BISC 2454General Ecology
BISC 3122Human Physiology
Advanced undergraduate courses in anthropology, including courses in any two of the following: osteology, human biology, paleoanthropology, primatology, and Paleolithic archaeology corresponding to:
ANTH 3832Paleoanthropological Field Program
ANTH 3401Human Functional Anatomy
ANTH 3402Human Evolutionary Anatomy
ANTH 3403Forensic Anthropology Laboratory
ANTH 3404Human Variation
ANTH 3412Hominin Evolution
ANTH 3411Primatology
ANTH 3491Topics in Biological Anthropology
ANTH 3801African Roots from Australopithecus to Zimbabwe
ANTH 3802Human Cultural Beginnings
One course in statistics corresponding to:
STAT 1127Statistics for the Biological Sciences
One course in mathematics, including precalculus, corresponding to:
MATH 1220Calculus with Precalculus I
MATH 1221Calculus with Precalculus II
Advanced undergraduate courses in one or more of the following subjects: chemistry, biochemistry, physics, geoscience, and calculus

 Doctoral Program

The following requirements must be fulfilled: 72 credits, including 6 to 24 credits in dissertation research.
Students complete a program of study including a minimum of 48 credits of coursework developed in consultation with the advisor prior to advancing to PhD candidacy.
Foundations core (5 to 7 credits)
ANTH 6491Topics in Biological Anthropology (Special Topics: Grant-Writing)
HOMP 6202Lab Techniques: Paleoanthropology
HOMP 6203Ethics and Professional Practice I
Modern and paleobiology core (12 credits)
One exemption may be allowed depending upon prior education. Program approval is required.
ANTH 6407Anthropological Genetics
ANTH 6801Paleolithic Archaeology
HOMP 6201Hominid Paleobiology
In addition, one 3-credit course in animal/primate biology, behavior, or ecology such as ANTH 6404, BISC 6206, or another approved course chosen in consultation with the advisor.
Statistical methods core (3 credits)
ANTH 6413Analytical Methods in Human Evolutionary Studies
or an alternative course selected in consultation with the advisor.
Engagement and application core (9 credits)
HOMP 8302Public Understanding of Science Internship
HOMP 8303Paleobiology Lab Rotation (taken twice for 3 credits for a total of 6 credits)
The remainder of credits in coursework selected in consultation with the advisor from among various interdisciplinary courses, including but not limited to, the following:
ANTH 3401Human Functional Anatomy
ANTH 3408The Evolution of Human Families
ANTH 3411Primatology
ANTH 3413Evolution of the Human Brain
ANTH 3801African Roots from Australopithecus to Zimbabwe
ANTH 3802Human Cultural Beginnings
ANTH 6406Human Genetic Variation
ANTH 6491Topics in Biological Anthropology
BISC 6210Methods of Study of Evolution
BISC 6215Vertebrate Phylogeny
BISC 6216Morphological Systematics
BISC 6228Population Genetics
BISC 6230Human Genetics
BISC 6249Seminar: Developmental Biology
BMSC 8210Genes to Cells
GEOL 3140Geochemistry
HOMP 6995Independent Research
Or, any 6000-level course in ANAT, ANTH, BISC, BIOCHEM, BIOSTAT, CHEM, GEOL, HOMP, PHYS, or PSYC.
Dissertation research (6 to 24 credits)
HOMP 8999Dissertation Research (6 to 24 credits)

Advanced Requirements

Students must successfully complete general comprehensive examinations, a dissertation proposal defense and examination, and a final dissertation defense and examination.

General examinations prior to PhD candidacy

General examinations, including the dissertation proposal defense, must be successfully completed before the end of the third year of the program, prior to advancing to candidacy. These comprise two written comprehensive examinations, and a dissertation proposal defense and examination. 

The first comprehensive examination includes written questions that integrate comprehension across all core thematic areas (hominid paleobiology; paleolithic archaeology; anthropological genetics; and primate biology, behavior, and ecology) and tests foundational knowledge, concepts, theory, and/or methods learned in the core curriculum.

The second comprehensive examination is written in the form of an authoritative review of a chosen topic, including a history of previous relevant research, discussion of theoretical issues, and identification of outstanding questions or directions for future research. 

For the dissertation proposal defense, students must prepare a research proposal that meets funding agency guidelines and successfully complete an oral defense and examination of this proposal.

After PhD candidacy

After candidacy, students proceed to completing their doctoral research plan and writing the dissertation.  Successful completion of a final dissertation defense and oral examination is required to earn the PhD degree.