PhD in Human Paleobiology

collecting gorilla plant food samples

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.


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 in the department's entry in the CCAS Graduate Program Finder

The five-year PhD program offers fully funded fellowship opportunities, including a stipend and teaching assistant salary.


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 one laboratory rotation to broaden their research and/or professional skills, ideally in a laboratory other than their own.  Many students undertake one component of their research and training outside the United States. General examinations are taken in the second and third year of the program, the second of which is designed to focus on a topical area related to the doctoral dissertation.

In the third year, students also begin directed research on their doctoral dissertations while participating in a capstone seminar. After successfully completing general examinations, dissertation proposal defense and other coursework, 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, including a minimum of 45 credits in courses selected in consultation with the advisor prior to advancing to PhD candidacy and 6 to 27 credits in dissertation research.

Foundations core (8 or 9 credits)
ANTH 6413Analytical Methods in Human Evolutionary Studies (or an alternative course selected with the approval of the advisor and program director)
ANTH 6414Grant Writing for Biological Anthropology
HOMP 6202Lab Techniques: Paleoanthropology
HOMP 6203Ethics and Professional Practice I
Modern and paleobiology core (15 credits)
Five courses selected from the list below. Of these five courses, one course exemption may be allowed depending on prior education, for which program approval is required. When an exemption is granted, the student is still held to the requirement that they take 45 total credits of coursework.
HOMP 6201Hominid Paleobiology
ANTH 6403Primate Behavior
ANTH 6404The Evolution of Primate Life Histories
ANTH 6407Anthropological Genetics
ANTH 6423Evolution of the Human Brain
ANTH 6801Paleolithic Archaeology
Engagement and application core (6 credits)
HOMP 8302Public Understanding of Science Internship
HOMP 8303Paleobiology Lab Rotation
At least 15 or 16 credits in coursework should be selected in consultation with the advisor from among various disciplines, including, but not limited to, ANAT, ANTH, BISC, BIOCHEM, BIOSTAT, CHEM, GEOL, HOMP, PHYS, or PSYC.
The following courses may be repeated for elective credit, not to exceed a total of 12 credits:
HOMP 6995Independent Research
HOMP 8998Advanced Reading and Research (Taken for no more than a total of 6 credits. This course is graded on a CR/NC basis.)
Dissertation research
HOMP 8999Dissertation Research (taken for 6 to 27 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 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 thematic areas in the modern and paleobiology core 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, in consultation with their dissertation committee. Successful completion of a final dissertation defense and oral examination is required to earn the PhD degree.