PhD in Forensic Anthropology: Program Information

Forensic anthropologists participate in the recovery and identification of human remains using standard scientific practices. While there are no programs offering a Ph.D. in Forensic Anthropology, there are programs that offer a Ph.D. in Anthropology with a concentration in forensics.

Essential Information

Students learning about forensic anthropology learn to identify human remains using specific scientific techniques. These include studying the bones and teeth of the deceased (osteology), examining fingerprints (dermatoglyphics) and measuring skeletal remains (anthropometry). Using these techniques, students learn to determine how the individual died and how long ago the death occurred. They also learn to ascertain the gender, age and ethnicity of the individual and establish how many different individuals may have been present at a scene. In addition, students are trained to correctly recover and preserve remains. Those who obtain this advanced degree can pursue careers in police work and other fields. Programs usually take two to five years to complete.

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PhD in Forensic Anthropology

To enter a Ph.D. program, students should have a master's degree in anthropology. While there are master's programs in anthropology with forensic concentrations, any concentration is acceptable for application to a doctoral program. Previous coursework should include classes in criminology, criminal justice, chemistry, physics and biology. Applicants may or may not need a score from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Though it is not generally required, it is useful if applicants have had some type of forensic, anthropological or archeological work experience. This can be gained through professional employment or through a school internship or practicum.

Students studying forensic anthropology take courses that cover a variety of general anthropological topics. However, much of the coursework is in the sciences to help students learn proper identification and recovery techniques. Often there is required lab- and fieldwork included in the curriculum. To complete the Ph.D. program, students usually must write and defend a dissertation. Common course topics include the following:

  • Death and burial rituals
  • Anatomy
  • Field recovery techniques
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Identification techniques
  • Decomposition

Popular Career Options

Though many individuals who complete forensic anthropology degrees work with the police as crime scene technicians or are employed with a crime lab, there are other career options individuals can pursue. Possibilities include the following positions:

  • Military forensic anthropologist
  • Anthropology professor
  • Museum curator
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Detective

Job Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn't offer employment and salary information specifically for forensic anthropologists; however, anthropologists and archeologists as a whole are projected to see a 4% employment growth from 2014-2024. The mean wages for anthropologists and archeologists were $64,290 in May 2015. However, those working for the federal executive branch were projected to see mean wages of $76,180 that year.

Anthropology Ph.D. programs with an emphasis on forensic science train students in the applications of anatomy, biology and chemistry in relation to criminal investigations. These degrees can lead to careers in forensic anthropology, archaeology, law enforcement, or academics.

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