The research proposal distils your research training to date and is at the core of your own plans. It sets out the problem you intend to investigate and how you propose to go about it. Your description of the research problem should include a discussion of relevant literature in the field, and explain why your own research will be a contribution to the discipline. You should then explain why it makes sense to address your research questions through fieldwork in the specific place(s) in which you plan to work.
The research proposal forms part of the research proposal portfolio. After you have submitted this portfolio, you will attend a fieldwork clearance interview with the PhD Committee.
For all first year PhD students, the proposal should be a single continuous and complete prose document of up to 7,000 words. This word count includes footnotes but does not include the bibliography. Do not attach separate documents or disks to the proposal. It should be bound or stapled and should contain the following components:
- A review of the literature, both theoretical and ethnographic, with discussion of selected themes/ issues in the ethnography, and of relevant aspects of the history, economy, and languages of the region/ field where the study will be conducted
- An outline of the questions to be addressed and the expected contribution of the study to anthropological understanding
- A methodological discussion, in which theoretical questions and general issues are translated into researchable empirical questions and the methods to be employed are justified and described
- A discussion of the practical, political, and ethical issues affecting conduct of the research
- A presentation of the schedule for the research, and its estimated budget
On this page:
The research proposal enables the Division to assess your progress in the acquisition of generic research skills, and to satisfy itself that you are adequately prepared for the research you plan to undertake.
For those on the Pre-Fieldwork Course, your proposal should address, briefly or in detail as appropriate, all of the following five:
- History: Consider the sources and historiographical issues relating to the area, people and/or institutions you intend to work on. How much is known of the history? How much is contested, by whom, and in what ways?
- Language: Specify the languages with which you will have to work. Are different languages used by different people or for different purposes? How and why might an attention to language be relevant to your research? How will you negotiate the use of different languages in your research?
- Global relations: Set out how you would locate the people or problem you are working on in terms of global political economy, trans-national institutions, national and regional governments, etc. What other large-scale frameworks are relevant, eg cultural areas, traditions, movements, processes, or trends?
- Theory: Discuss the relations between the theory/theories you wish to work with and concrete research topics you will have to address in fieldwork or archival research.
- Methods, techniques and ethics: Discuss the principle methods and techniques you expect to use in your research, together with practical and ethical issues relating to these.
The proposal should not contain substantial ‘recycled’ portions of your RTPs. Copies of your three, already examined, RTPs will be supplied directly to the Committee.
For those doing the MRes, it is assumed that extended attention will be paid to issues germane to your proposal (in the thesis), and that topics similar to those specified for the RTPs will have been considered.
The portfolio should be made up of the following items:
- The research proposal (including ethical considerations)
- References and bibliography
- Evidence of any local permissions/ visas required for fieldwork
- Completed Fieldwork Risk Assessment Form
- Contact address/ telephone/ email for the period before you leave; and/or in the field, as known
In terms of formal approval procedures, the PhD Committee, consisting of four UTOs in the Division, acts as Ethics Committee for doctoral students, and ethical clearance is an intrinsic part of the Fieldwork Clearance procedure all PhD students must clear before they begin fieldwork. This body and the Divisional Committee have final responsibility for ethics clearance at the division level.
The University of Cambridge Research Integrity website provides extensive ethics and integrity guidelines to support staff and students. The Association of Social Anthropologists also provides . Please consult these carefully in advance of applying for research clearance from the division. Also see ESRC framework for research ethics and AAA ethical guidelines. As the statement from the ASA chair usefully points out, the guidelines are not intended to provide ready-made answers or to absolve researchers from ethical responsibilities, but should be a starting point for a concrete reflection on the specific ethical issues which may have to be borne in mind in the case of your specific research:
“Codes of practice and guidelines are of necessity succinct documents, couched in abstract and general terms. They serve as a baseline for starting to think about ethical issues, but cannot of their nature encompass the complexities of concrete situations and the dilemmas of choice and positioning that anthropologists routinely face as they navigate through a variety of intersecting fields of power and responsibility and start to consider how their own work both reflects and affects power relations. If ethics is seen simply as a question of avoiding a lawsuit and our codes are simply a list of restrictions on conduct designed to protect us from interference, our ethical purpose will simply be a matter of self-serving professional interest.” (Statement from the Chair, ASA)
Researchers should also be aware of data protection issues that arise as a result of conducting research. In particular, you should keep in mind that when using cloud-based storage, or programmes such as Evernote, data will be crossing international borders even if your research does not. This means you should be aware of any issues raised concerning not only the security of your own research data, but also the legal issues surrounding data protection of all personal data. Further information on data protection can be found at the following places:
The University of Cambridge Staff and Student Information
Research data Q&A from Jisc Legal
SOAS information on personal data in research which covers some issues of particular interest to anthropologists in more depth
If, having read these guidelines, you have any questions or would like any advice relating to research ethics, please consult the division’s research ethics officer, mc288[at]cam.ac.uk.,
Spell out all anticipated risks to health and safety. Specify what steps have been agreed between you and your supervisor for minimising risk and dealing with contingencies. Seek advice, where appropriate, from bodies such as the Occupational Health Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The completed Fieldwork Risk Assessment Form should be submitted separately from the rest of the bound portfolio. When submitted electronic copies to Moodle, please upload the Risk Assessment form as a separate document.
Indicate, month by month, when you anticipate undertaking the main tasks described in your proposal. The timetable may be subject to revision, of course, during fieldwork, as agreed with your supervisor, but this is a first step to imagining the concrete situation.
Your budget, as complete and detailed as possible, should be in clear tabular form. You will need a budget to apply for funding and the Division can only support applications that are accompanied by a credible budget. The Division also needs to be kept informed of the sources of fieldwork funding you obtain.
Circumstances (and exchange rates) change and some expenses are unpredictable. The more detailed and accurate your budget, the easier it will be to make a specific case for additional funds if you find you incur unexpected expenses in the field.
Ideally, your budget should include both a detailed classified list of anticipated expenditure and a month-by-month time-chart showing what you expect to spend when. For some items, you will have a fairly accurate idea of what the cost will be. Others will necessarily be estimates. Indicate clearly which is which and, where appropriate, what the information about costing is based on. If you can, it is a good idea to list items in the first instance in the currency in which you expect the money to be spent, and then to convert these figures to pounds sterling at the current exchange rate. This may be difficult but it lends credibility to your figures and helps strengthen your case if exchange rates move against you.
Note: not all funding bodies will support all kinds of expenses. If you apply for funds for any purpose that is explicitly excluded by the funding body this may prejudice your chances of obtaining any funding at all.
- International flight
- Travel to/ from airport
- Internal travel (plane, train, bus, car etc) – itemise/ justify in relation to time schedule
- Local transport (specify as appropriate per diem cost/ monthly rental/ cost of purchase/ resale)
- Luggage costs
- Accommodation in major centres
- Accommodation in fieldwork site(s) (per calendar month)
- Subsistence (per diem)
- Consider also ‘start-up costs’, the cost of setting up a household, for each major field location (lodging for the first few days, agent’s fees, non-refundable deposits, extra supplies, etc)
- Research assistance (justify)
- Language tuition in field
- Communications (post, email access, etc – justify)
- Books, maps, etc (justify)
- Photocopying (justify)
- Audio-visual equipment (itemise and justify)
- Other research equipment (itemise and justify)
- Consumables (film and processing, tape, batteries etc (itemise and justify)
- Specialist clothing (itemise and justify)
- Itemise and justify
Set against expenses, you should give details of projected income: grants obtained and grants applied for to show how you propose to fund the fieldwork. See the Funding Fieldwork page for more informaiton.
Your research proposal must include references giving details of all works referred to. It is also good practice to include a working bibliography covering all the important published work in your field, with notes on content, interest and importance. Your supplementary annotated bibliography should distinguish between works you have/ have not yet read and should indicate briefly the ways in which the works listed relate to your research.
PhD Pre-fieldwork Course – FOUR paper copies to be submitted to the Graduate Administrator by noon on Monday 16 May 2016, plus an electronic copy (.doc, .docx or .pdf) to be submitted via the Assignment section of the MRes/PhD1 Moodle Course.
MRes (for those progressing to PhD) – FOUR paper copies to be submitted to the Graduate Administrator by noon on Monday 19 September 2016, plus an electronic copy (.doc, .docx or .pdf) to be submitted via the Assignment section of the MRes/PhD1 Moodle Course.
All first-year PhD students are admitted on a probationary basis. Successful completion of your research proposal portfolio and clearance to proceed to fieldwork from the PhD Committee are necessary for the Degree Committee to consider recommending to the Board that you be registered for the PhD degree. Alternatively, students are sometimes registered for the MLitt degree, the requirements for which are less exacting than those for the PhD. In either event the date of registration will be backdated to the date on which you started your pre-fieldwork training. You cannot initiate the registration procedure yourself.