2. Teaching and learning

A formal statement on the examinations and degrees described in this handbook can be found in the current edition of the University’s Examination Decrees and Regulations.

Students are responsible for their own academic progress and will often need to work independently and to develop strong time management skills. During term time, each programme requires a substantial amount of reading and writing, which may sometimes be hard to combine with other activities or duties. Do talk to your supervisor if you meet with such difficulties.


2.1 Teaching methods

Tutorials: At the start of the academic year, each student is assigned a supervisor or academic advisor for the year (the Oxford convention is to use the term ‘supervisor’ for graduate studies and ‘tutor’ for undergraduate studies, though in many respects their roles are the same, especially for taught-course degrees). Tutorials are student-oriented meetings with the main supervisor or sometimes with an option specialist acting in a similar role (though most options teaching is class-based). They are an important part of the School’s taught master’s courses. They differ from meetings of research students with their supervisors, which have no such formal designation but are usually simply called ‘supervision meetings’ or ‘supervision sessions’.

Tutorials are given to students either individually or in small groups; there are arguments in favour of both arrangements, and the tradition in the School is very much to leave the choice to tutors’ preferences. For each tutorial, the supervisor will assign a selection of readings and a topic or question in advance, and the student will write an essay or other piece of work of sufficient length to cover the assignment. In some cases supervisors ask for the piece of work to be submitted in advance, while in others supervisors prefer it to be brought to the tutorial and read out by the student. Again this is a matter of tutor preference. Tutorials are firmly connected with the student writing, presenting and discussing an essay on a regular basis, regardless of the number of students in the tutorial group: in this they differ from seminars, classes or lectures.

The number and frequency of tutorials will differ according to the degree you are doing, but as a rough guide expect a maximum of one a week in term, perhaps with occasional extra tutorials for certain options; for the more specialized degrees especially, however, this figure may well be less. Tutorial teaching normally ends halfway through Trinity Term, to leave time for examinations and revision for them. A notional maximum is therefore twenty tutorials over the year for core teaching, possibly rising slightly in the case of some but not all options, but also possibly fewer, depending on the degree. It can therefore be seen that teaching throughout the school is flexible, depending to some extent on tutor preference and the student’s degree; students should not automatically draw conclusions regarding the quality and quantity of the teaching they are being given from such variations.

The tutorial is a distinctive part of Oxford teaching, and you may be unfamiliar with it at first, though experience shows that most students adjust to it quickly. It is important to realise that tutorial essays in the strict sense (i.e. as opposed to designated coursework) do not contribute to degree results in any way but are essentially a teaching tool. Essays are therefore not normally graded, but they are nonetheless taken very seriously: supervisors will provide written feedback (usually on a printout of the essay) and/or verbal feedback for you to assess your progress, and the contents and standard of the essay will normally enter into the tutorial discussion at some point. Expect constructive criticism from your supervisor and don’t be alarmed by it while nonetheless taking it seriously. The tutorial is also an opportunity for you to discuss topics mentioned in lectures and classes, and your progress and future plans in general, as well as to settle routine administrative matters with your supervisor (signing forms etc.) or raise any concerns. Tutorials provide a principle, sometimes the principle means of providing feedback to taught-course students on the work in preparation for the examinations.

Lectures: While lectures may not always be linked directly to tutorials on a one-to-one basis, they provide additional support for them, as well as being a source of learning in their own right. Main venues for School lectures (normally just under an hour long) are the lecture rooms in the ISCA Annex (61 Banbury Road) and main ICEA building (64 Banbury Road), the Pitt Rivers Museum Research Centre, the Institute for Human Sciences, behind the main COMPAS building in 58 Banbury Road, and the Examination Schools. Other venues are used from time to time, and all the relevant details are to be found on each term’s lecture list, issued just before the start of each term. Lectures are fairly formal and do not ordinarily permit discussion. While lectures are not formally compulsory, in many cases they are unavoidable if the degree one is studying is to be followed properly. Many lectures are now being recorded (aurally only) for podcasts available through Canvas. In general lectures are open to all students, but check the lecture list to make sure there is no definite restriction to a cohort different from your own (as opposed to mere advice on who should attend).

Classes: Venue information as for lectures. Classes are the normal way of teaching options, but they are also used for some core teaching, in addition to tutorials. They normally last one and a half to two hours, but for options teaching especially they may sometimes be combined with lectures (e.g. in the first or last hour of a two-hour session). One or two students may be asked to give a short presentation of around fifteen minutes on a selection of readings assigned previously, followed by a class discussion, guided by the member(s) of staff organizing the class. All the students attending the class are expected to have done the assigned readings so that they can contribute to the discussion. Whether such presentations contribute to degree results depends on the degree, but often they are basically a teaching method. While there is no hard and fast distinction, classes often correspond to what are called seminars in other universities (see next paragraph). Research students and second-year MPhil students have their own classes where they present their theses to their peers. Attendance at classes simply for ‘auditing’ purposes are a bit more restricted than at lectures, so ask the seminar convenor if you can attend first.

Seminars: In Oxford, the term ‘seminar’ may be used interchangeably with ‘class’, but seminars may also be usually research-related and involve invited speakers, often senior in standing (including senior research students), and very frequently from outside the University. A number of more research-oriented seminars are put on both within the School and elsewhere in the University. While not directly oriented towards teaching or coursework, these are valuable in learning about current perspectives and recent research results, which students may use to supplement their reading and other learning, as well as to feed into their tutorial essays. In general, these seminars are open to all. The distinction between class and seminar is not always made in practice, and to an extent the two terms are used interchangeably for both teaching and research-related events.

Other: Some special teaching methods that follow a hard-science model may be used, especially in ICEA. General courses on research methods in anthropology for all students are provided in Michaelmas and Hilary terms. All students should attend at least some of these (on the advice of supervisors), though only some have to write up the results as a report to constitute an item of coursework for the degree (see relevant course handbooks).


2.2 Progression from taught course to research degree

A description of the mechanisms and criteria for progression appears in the Examination Conventions for each degree.

Taught-course students are initially registered for one of the MSc or MPhil degrees. It is relatively straightforward to transfer sideways between subject degrees (e.g. from Social Anthropology to VMMA or Medical Anthropology) after you arrive in Oxford, if approved, provided this is done promptly, and in any case within the first two weeks of Michaelmas Term (leave it any later, and your ability to follow the new course effectively is likely to be seriously affected). Permission to switch in this way is not automatically granted and depends on the agreement of the new course director and the Director of

Graduate Studies. (NB: the above applies to complete changes of subjects, not of degrees within a subject, e.g. from MSc to MPhil within Social Anthropology, Medical Anthropology, etc.; on this, see paragraphs below.)

After the written examinations in June, students in Social Anthropology, in VMMA, and in

Medical Anthropology in effect have a choice between two possibilities, depending on their performance in the examinations and upon their personal situations and preferences: 1) complete the MSc degree, with submission of a thesis in September; or 2) complete the MPhil degree by continuing for a second year and beginning immediately to plan for the MPhil thesis. Students in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology do not have this choice, since there is no MPhil degree in this subject; they therefore have to complete a thesis for the MSc degree as above.

Any change of programme requires completion of the change of programme form, GSO.28; see Appendix 2 or https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/forms. Note that it is usually only possible to change programme once (exceptions can be made as detailed on the form).

While on course, or after completing the MSc with a sufficiently good result, the student may apply to be readmitted as a Probationer Research Student (PRS) as a first stage in proceeding towards the DPhil or MLitt After completing the MPhil degree, on the other hand, the student may apply for readmission to DPhil or MLitt status directly (not students in Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology). In both cases, acceptance will depend upon achieving the threshold mark of 67 in the relevant examinations, proof that a viable research project exists and the agreement of both individual supervisors and the School as a whole acting in committee. NB: there is no automatic right to proceed from a taught-course to a research degree, however good the final result in the examinations, since all the above conditions have to be met. Application is via the usual form for admission to the University, the relevant deadlines for which should be observed (note that anthropology does not use the latest deadline in mid-March).

Although the MPhil is a terminal degree, the MPhil thesis is intended to act as the basis of the doctoral dissertation for students transferring via this route (i.e. as an alternative to the upgrade or transfer text prepared by probationer research students). According to the Examination Regulations, Ch. 12, § 2, # 1 (ii), ‘the subject of the thesis offered by the candidate in the examination for [the MPhil] degree shall be in the broad field of research proposed for the DPhil’, i.e. there should not be a radical change of topic between the MPhil and DPhil degrees. Otherwise the same basic criteria for progression apply as in the case of MSc-to-DPhil/MLitt transfers (see above).

No member of the academic staff can be compelled to take any student for supervision. Any supervisor accepting students for doctoral studies should be an established member of the School’s academic staff or a recognised anthropologist in another department who is expected to be in post sufficiently long into the future to be able to supervise the entire DPhil project. Supervision by anyone who does not fall into this category (e.g. a temporary appointee) may only be provided jointly with someone who does. The current University code of practice relating to academic supervision applies (see the School’s course handbook for research students).

All decisions regarding supervision, progression and transfers are ultimately taken by the School’s Teaching Committee, whether acting as such or through the Director of Graduate Studies. All agreed transfers from the completion of one of the taught master’s degrees to PRS or DPhil student status should be made as described in the sub-section below.


2.3 Procedures for progression
Any taught-course degree to a research degree, i.e. DPhil (PRS) or MLitt

Apply through the University’s standard admissions procedures (q.v.).

Students transferring to a doctorate via the MSc route become Probationer Research Students in the first instance (for roughly the first year as a doctoral student, pending transfer to full DPhil student status). Students transferring via the MPhil route have the latter status to begin with. All DPhil but not MLitt students must confirm their status as such subsequently through an interim text before the final viva.

Though it is theoretically possible to transfer from a taught-course degree to the MLitt instead of the DPhil, this is exceedingly rare, as the MLitt exists mainly as a lower-level degree that can be offered to DPhil students whose work ultimately proves not to be of DPhil standard. Doctoral students who fail to pass one of the interim tests (upgrade or transfer; confirmation of status) may be required to continue as MLitt students instead.

MSc to MPhil and vice versa

Use form GSO 28 (‘Change of programme of study’). MSc students may transfer to the MPhil at any time up to just after the announcement of the final results in September; they should not formally graduate in these cases, and any transcripts for this degree that have been issued to them will become invalid and must be returned as a condition of transferring.

First-year MPhil students may transfer to the MSc at any time in that year up to immediately after the June examinations, so that they can embark immediately on an MSc thesis.

NB: Overseas (i.e. non-home/EU) students should note that any change in degree may affect their immigration and visa status. Consult the Student Immigration Office.


2.4 Fieldwork

1) Fieldwork by MSc or MPhil students. Fieldwork is not required for these degrees, which may be based solely on library sources, but it is permitted if the opportunities to do so are appropriate. In all such cases, the supervisor should be consulted and be satisfied that the field trip is likely to be beneficial to the student’s project and/or that the project cannot be completed satisfactorily without such a trip. Fieldwork should be restricted to the vacations, due to the structured nature of these courses, with teaching etc. mostly taking place in term time. Funding for such trips is solely the responsibility of the student concerned (in particular, note that trips will not be funded from the skills training budget maintained by the department). However, the School does run an annual competition (in early Hilary Term) which offers modest support for planned fieldwork travel (see the ‘Small Grants’ tab at https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/funding).

2) Fieldwork by PRS students. PRS students should not embark on major fieldwork or other research for their thesis until they have successfully upgraded to DPhil-student status. However, in consultation with their supervisor, they may embark on brief reconnaissance trips to their prospective fieldwork or other research sites for the purposes of determining the feasibility of projects and improving the content of the texts they present for upgrade. The supervisor should be satisfied that any such trip is likely to be beneficial to the student’s project. Such trips should only be undertaken in the vacations, unless there are very compelling reasons for a visit in term time; again, the supervisor should be consulted. Funding for such trips is solely the responsibility of the student concerned (in particular, note that trips will not be funded from the skills training budget maintained by the department and described in Section 4).

3) There is no formal requirement that fieldwork be carried out for the MLitt or DPhil degrees, although there is an expectation that the overwhelming majority of students will wish to do so, especially for the latter.

4) Any field trips or other travel related to any of our degrees requires a Travel Evaluation form, a Full Risk Assessment form and one or more CUREC forms (for ethical review) to be filled in. See details on the anthropology website (go to ‘About Us’, then ‘Safety, Fieldwork and Ethics’). Attention is drawn to ensuring that fieldwork can be conducted safely, especially in conflict areas. Students especially should be aware of the potential for sexual harassment in field situations.

5) Standard university insurance cover (as defined on the insurance website) is available free of charge to students. However, the School will not pay any insurance premiums specifically levied in connection with travel to areas with an increased level of risk and/or for longer than 12 months. Students should therefore be prepared to accept responsibility for such payments themselves, however inflated, and factor this in to their fieldwork planning at the outset.


2.5  Forms

From time to time you will need to fill in other forms too for various purposes. A list of the most used forms is given in Appendix 2 to this Handbook (and at https://www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/forms). All of the forms are available from the main university page for graduate forms. Some additional forms for exceptional circumstances are linked-to from that page and are located here. In addition, note that taught course students must sign a form provided by their college (normally in Hilary term) to enter for the written examinations. Taught-course students should enter or confirm any options they wish to take on the electronic form in consultation with their supervisor. Doctoral and MLitt students have their own form (GSO 3) to apply for the appointment of examiners and to be examined.

All these forms apart from the college’s registration form can be downloaded from the University website. Your supervisor should always be consulted before you fill out any of these forms and will normally have to sign them, as will a representative of your college. In non-routine cases, you should also seek the advice of the Director of Graduate Studies, whose signature is also normally needed (they can be left for the DGS in the general office in 51 Banbury Road). In general, approval of forms is unproblematic, provided the supervisor and DGS are convinced the changes involved are genuinely required, but in no case should this be assumed as a right.

Although there is a form for dispensation from residence requirements, by agreement with the Graduate Studies Office, doctoral or MLitt students do not have to fill it in because of the regularity with which such students in anthropology do fieldwork (NB: a concession that could be withdrawn at any time). Dispensation from residence in Oxford during term is not available to master’s students. Residence ‘in Oxford’ means ‘within 25 miles of Carfax’ (i.e. the main crossroads in the city centre).


2.6  Examinations, illness or other mitigating circumstances, suspension and withdrawl
Entering for the University examinations

Details of how to enter for the exam as well as other useful exam-related advice and information can be found here.

Sitting examinations

Information on (a) the standards of conduct expected in examinations and (b) what to do if you would like examiners to be aware of any factors that may have affected your performance before or during an examination (such as illness, accident or bereavement) are available on the Oxford Students website.

If a candidate for a taught-course examination feels that his or her preparation for it has been significantly affected by illness, stress, personal or family problems, etc., the college should be consulted with a view to taking advice and possibly securing special arrangements to take the examination, asking for an extension, or withdrawing from it temporarily with the permission of the Proctors (NB: examiners should not be approached directly for this purpose). Withdrawal from any part of an examination ordinarily means the student returning at the corresponding point the next year to complete it, there being no entitlement to tuition or supervision during the period of withdrawal. Permanent withdrawal from any course should be notified on form GSO 29.

Students who have been assessed and diagnosed with a specific learning disability (e.g. dyslexia, dyspraxia, a disability etc.) often take examinations under special arrangements, e.g. using a word processor, taking the exam in a room on their own (often in college), being given extra time, etc.. This is arranged following referral via the university’s Disability Advisory Service (DAS).

Taught-course students should note that, in the absence of special permission for illness-related or other genuine reasons as described above, academic or other penalties may be imposed for late submission of any work for examination purposes or failure to observe word limits and other similar regulations, etc. in such work. Penalties apply to all assessed coursework that is submitted late without the prior agreement of the Proctors (application to whom must be made via your college. School staff cannot give extensions, and examiners should not be approached directly or otherwise). Details of penalties are given in the Examination Conventions for each degree.

There is more flexibility regarding the timing of MLitt and DPhil interim assessments (transfer or confirmation of status) and vivas, and these are normally arranged directly with the assessors or examiners. See the Handbook for Research Degrees.


Sometimes it is advisable for a student to suspend status for a period (limited to six terms, taken up to three terms at a time). Suspension of status means that you will not pay fees, but you will also not be entitled to receive any teaching, supervision, or IT or library facilities while suspended, unless special arrangements are made (e.g. visiting status, enabling use of libraries). The immigration status of overseas (i.e. non-home/EU) students may also be affected, as may exemption from Council Tax.

Suspension will not be granted on the grounds that you wish to engage, for personal reasons, in some other activity and then return to postgraduate work at a later date. Possible grounds for suspension include unforeseen financial difficulty; physical or mental incapacity; bereavement or other unexpected domestic crises; acquisition of an ancillary qualification which cannot reasonably be deferred until the post-graduate work is complete; temporary work, such as an internship, which is relevant to your research and/or proposed career, the opportunity for which is unlikely to recur; and undue delay resulting from difficulties in making arrangements for overseas fieldwork or in carrying it out. You should always let your supervisor know when illness or other causes prevent work on your degree for a significant length of time (NB: there is now a specific University policy regarding maternity, paternity and adoption leave; see https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/welfare/childcare?wssl=1).