Ph.D. Requirements

Students are expected to be familiar with the general requirements stated in the Bulletin of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. Among other requirements, Human Paleobiology PhD requirements include a minimum of 72 credit hours, including at least 12 and at most 24 hours of Dissertation Research (HOMP 8999). A minimum of 48 of the 72 credits must be taken in precandidacy stage (before completing the 3 General Examinations). In the PhD program, these 48 credits include the following: core and elective course work, participation in one Problem-Based Learning Seminar, two laboratory rotations, and other training experiences outlined below.

To see a full course listing please view the Courses page.

Core courses
(19 credit hours in Years 1 and 2)

Courses in the Human Paleobiology core curriculum represent fields outside of traditional physical anthropology, and are designed to provide students with a solid foundation in multidisciplinary approaches to uncovering and understanding the dynamics of major behavioral shifts in human evolution. In the first three semesters, all students are required to take the following Primary Core courses (one exemption is allowed, depending on prior education):

Research Techniques in Paleoanthropology (1-3 credits – HOMP 8202)
Hominid Paleobiology (3 credits – HOMP 6201)
Paleolithic Archaeology (3 credits – ANTH 6801)
Genetics or Molecular Evolution (3 credits)*
Geoscience or Vertebrate Paleontology (3 credits)*
Animal Behavior or Ecology (3 credits)*
Statistical Methods (3 credits)*

*This requirement can be fulfilled by any number of different courses, chosen in consultation with the advisor. One exemption is allowed depending on prior education. The most common courses taken by Human Paleobiology students are listed below.

  • Genetics or Molecular Evolution Core – Anthropological Genetics (ANTH 6407), Human Genetics (BISC 6230), Population Genetics (BISC 6228), Evolutionary Developmental Biology (BISC 6251), Molecular Phylogenetics (BISC 6225)
  • Geoscience or Vertebrate Paleontology Core – Sedimentology & Stratigraphy (GEOL 3126), Vertebrate Phylogeny (BISC 6215)
  • Animal Behavior or Ecology Core – Primatology (ANTH 3411), Primate Life Histories (ANTH 6404), Current Topics in Evolutionary Ecology (BISC 6206)
  • Statistical Methods Core – Analytical Methods in Human Evolutionary Biology (ANTH 6413)

Elective courses

Depending on their intended field of specialization and background, students will also take courses from a wide variety of electives. The electives are to be determined by the student in consultation with his/her advisors. Elective courses are intentionally meant to allow for flexibility, and we encourage students to formulate a unique curriculum that is tailored to best serve their interests.

Highlighted Requirements

Problem-based Learning Seminar 
(HOMP 8301, 3 credit hours, Year 1 or 2)

Problem-Based Learning Seminars (PBL) allow students to develop the personal and research skills, attitudes, and the confidence required for the type of collaborative problem-solving that is intrinsic to all successful and innovative research. This approach is a learner-based method of mastering basic knowledge and skills within the context of real-world research problems. Training in this way helps students to employ critical thinking to develop a question-driven, rather than a discipline-driven, approach to research.

All students participate in one semester of PBL (3 credits), taken in Years 1 or 2. 

Ethics and Professional Skills Training 
(HOMP 8204, 3 credit hours, Year 1)

In Year 1, students will take a seminar that will focus on the ethical dilemmas faced by all scientists, as well as on those specific to human evolutionary studies. This module will also cover critical reading and reviewing skills, time and project management, building and managing a team, manuscript and grant writing, oral and visual presentation skills, interview protocols, laboratory safety and preparation of research plans and curriculum vitae. This seminar has the goal of equipping graduate students with the skills and attitudes needed to operate in a collegial system that allows for sharing data and ideas while protecting the rights of individual scientists and organizations.

At the outset of their training, students are expected to attend at least one professional meeting per year, present their research at professional meetings, and publish articles in peer-reviewed journals. The faculty works closely with students on their first presentations and publications.

Laboratory Rotations 
(HOMP 8303, 6 credit hours, Years 2 and 3)

During their second and third years, students participate in laboratory rotations of semester-long involvement in fields that complement their research interests. Students register for 3 credit hours for each rotation, each of which requires a total of 96 working hours, or equivalent. The student’s work schedule is negotiated directly with the rotation supervisor.

Laboratory rotations are to be determined by the student in consultation with his/her advisors, and will be available at laboratories both within and outside of GW. Students are encouraged to pursue laboratory rotations at GW or any institution which best serve their interests.

Public Understanding of Science Internship 
(HOMP 8302, 3 credit hours, completed before the end of Year 5)

The responsibilities of scientists who study our species’ evolutionary history must also extend to the public at large. Therefore, an important component of the Human Paleobiology graduate training program is an internship in the “Public Understanding of Science.” Before the end of Year 5, students undertake a part-time, semester-long or summer internship with an organization that presents science to the public. To date, students have successfully completed internships working directly on articles and website material at the National Geographic and USA Today, working with producers at NPR and contributing their own pieces, contributing to public initiatives on the understanding of race and human variation with the American Association of Anthropologists and AAAS programs on science, ethics and religion, and helping to design the content of a major Human Origins Hall at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Other standing opportunities include attachments to the exhibits or education departments, or the public outreach, public relations, or congressional affairs offices of the Smithsonian Institution (e.g. The National Zoological Park, The National Museum of Natural History), or to other appropriate organizations based in Washington, DC (e.g., The National Geographic Society, National Public Radio, The Washington Post, Science Magazine, The National Academy of Sciences).

Capstone Seminar 
(Years 3 – 5)

Beginning in the fifth semester, students make presentations in a weekly journal club that helps stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty and students.


Students generally begin research for the dissertation (including preparation of a dissertation proposal) after completing their qualifying exams at the end of Year 2. The final step before being advanced to candidacy is a Dissertation Proposal Defense, comprising a written proposal in the form of a National Science Foundation Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant, an oral presentation, and a defense of the student’s proposed dissertation topic. The Dissertation Proposal Defense is normally completed by the end of Year 3.

For Human Paleobiology students, the dissertation committee includes a Director or Co-Director who is a core CASHP faculty member from GW, and additional advisors that are drawn from CASHP or elsewhere, with at least one reader from outside GW.

Additional Requirements and Program Information

Other components of the Human Paleobiology PhD program include regional training workshops for interested students, and teaching experience for professional skills development, and training in international settings. Students are also strongly encouraged to undertake at least one component of their graduate training outside of the United States.