skip to content

Department of Social Anthropology


Documenting Hargeysa, Somaliland (Christina Woolner, 2017)



Students progressing from the MRes to the PhD course who have passed their fieldwork clearance interview will then undertake 12-18 months of ethnographic fieldwork (15 months is the standard period for social anthropology).

Shorter periods of fieldwork may also be necessary during the first year as research for your MRes dissertation – this fieldwork should be taken during the Christmas, Easter or summer vacation periods, not during term time. Please ensure that you have read information on the University's Safeguarding Work Away website.

You need to agree the details of your fieldwork with your supervisor and bear the following points in mind: 

Leave to work away

Before students may depart for their period of fieldwork they must obtain official  'Leave to Work Away' and complete a Fieldwork Risk Assessment and Ethical Statement Form. Those students traveling to high risk areas should complete the Additional Section Form (these can be found on your Moodle Course). Leave to Work Away must be initiated via your Camsis self-service account during the term before departure. For more information please see the University's advice for those applying for Leave to Work Away.  You should apply for Leave to Work Away for all absences over two weeks, including any fieldwork undertaken during vacation periods.

Please ensure that you have read information on the University's Safeguarding Work Away website. 

Language learning

If, as a precondition to being able to complete your field research, you need to spend a substantial period of time learning a difficult and / or unwritten language, students in receipt of ESRC funding can get an extension to their funding in order to undertake difficult language learning.  The maximum length of extra time you may be eligible for is determined with reference to the ESRC’s guidelines on Difficult Language training (Annex C, p.54).

Where language learning takes place away from Cambridge, you will need to apply for Leave to Work Away in the normal way, but you must explicitly state which period of your fieldwork will be devoted primarily to language learning.

Students are still expected to complete their PhD within four academic years and having undertaken language learning relevant to your PhD does not constitute a reason for an extension

Contact details

Before leaving Cambridge you must provide the Department with full contact details for the period of time you will be away. You must also inform the Department of any changes in these details and keep your CamSIS record up-to-date. 


You should ensure that you have sufficient insurance in place before departing for the field. The University offers free travel insurance to students conducting overseas fieldwork. For more information please see the University's advice for those applying for Leave to Work Away. Please note, that some claims associated with unregulated accommodation such as AirBnb will not be covered by University travel insurance if there has not been a suitable consideration of potential risk (financial, crime, safety). 

Funding fieldwork

Financial support for fieldwork is available from a number of sources, both outside and within the University. For further information, please see Funding Fieldwork. Students with Leave to Work Away are also able to apply to the University for assistance in meeting fieldwork costs. 

MRes students are also eligible to apply to the Department's Dissertation Expenses Grant for any fieldwork or other expenses related to their MRes dissertation. 

Field reports

You should keep in regular touch with your supervisor and send regular reports on the progress of your work, and on any problems you encounter. Some supervisors ask for quarterly reports; the precise schedule is worked out on an individual basis.

In any event a report ordinarily contains:

  1. A diary of the preceding three months’ activity
  2. A general comment on conditions of work, contacts, findings, expectations etc
  3. A case study or analysis of any topic on which you can already write in some depth
  4. A plan of the next three months' work. 

First-term fieldwork report

Particularly important is your First-term report to your supervisor. This should be a substantial piece of writing (approx. 3,000 words) submitted to your supervisor three-to-four months after your arrival and is the basis for your supervisor’s confirmation in her/his initial termly CGSRS report that you have begun conducting fieldwork and are beginning to do fruitful research. In this report, you should include systematic discussion of the methods you have been using and are likely to use for the completion of your research. You should initiate discussion with your supervisor regarding any additional training you may require and how these training needs might be met. 


During field clearance, you will have to show that you have discussed ethical issues with your supervisor. The School of Human, Social and Political Science is in the process of setting up a Research Ethics Committee to which problematic or difficult circumstances can be addressed. In the meanwhile, a supervisor is obliged to consult the Head of Department if any particular problems are envisaged. This is a safeguard for the student as well as for the Department. All field workers are obliged to take into account the ethical conventions that apply in the areas where they work. 

Sponsorship and reciprocity

In addition to obtaining any necessary permits and visas, you may need some kind of affiliation to an academic institution in the local region or foreign country in which you are working. You should comply with any formal obligations concerning the deposition of copies of your dissertation and other writings and should do your best to contribute to the academic activities of your host institution. 

Risks and safety

Before leaving for the field you must have discussed with your supervisor any possible risks and dangers involved in your field research and must be adequately insured. You must make contingency plans should things go wrong, inform the Department, your College and your next of kin of these plans, and ensure that all the parties concerned have the relevant contact details. When you attend the field clearance interview you are required to submit a Fieldwork Risk Assessment and Ethical Statement Form signed by your supervisor. The form is your guarantee that you have considered the risks involved and put in place the necessary arrangements. Those students traveling to high risk areas should complete the Additional Section (High Risk) Form.  The forms are available on your Moodle Course.

Please ensure that you have read information on the University's Safeguarding Work Away website.

In cases where a student plans fieldwork in regional contexts where health risks may be significant, the student should be instructed to use both the CDC and WHO websites as well as the Foreign Office and NHS information sites, and to include in their risk assessment statements an indication of what information and/or warnings the CDC and WHO sites contain that is relevant to their research plans, together with an indication of how they will address the issues raised.

 Coronavirus, travel and risk assessment

The University policy and advice on Coronavirus can be found here - 

Problems, delays and intermission

Your research should be a full-time commitment and you are expected to complete your PhD within four years of the start of your pre-fieldwork training. If for any reason – illness, injury, family responsibilities, bureaucratic delays, etc – you are temporarily unable to continue with your research, you should apply for intermission through your self-service account.

Intermission cannot be approved retrospectively, so it is important that you let your supervisor and the Department know as soon as you experience difficulties.

See also: the film ‘Fieldwork in the Himalayas’ narrated by Professor Alan Macfarlane. This film takes the viewer through the fieldwork endeavour, from leaving one’s own country through to getting back to it after fieldwork.