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Faculty of Philosophy

 

Timetable

Research students are expected to be in residence in Cambridge pursuing their research between terms, except during periods of holiday agreed with their supervisor, normally up to 8 weeks in a 12 month period. Students who make time to take some holidays, or a break away from their studies, tend to do better.

PhD candidates may submit their theses after nine terms (three years) of research, and MLitt candidates after six terms (two years).  The Student Registry and the Degree Committee expect a thesis to be a piece of work which can be produced by a capable, well-qualified and diligent research student, properly supervised and supported, within those times.  It is very important that you design your project with these time-limits firmly in view. It is good both for morale and for your CV to submit your thesis within the stated times – and most PhD funding runs out after three years. 

If your PhD research is suitably related to your MPhil work, you will usually be allowed to count some or all of your three MPhil terms towards the residency requirements of the PhD, if you are ready to submit your thesis before the minimum terms of study have elapsed. This means that you may submit a PhD thesis after only six more terms, if you wish. Please see the following webpage for further information:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/postgraduate-study/your-student-status/allowanceexemption-research-terms

The Student Registry and the Degree Committee recognise, however, that original research is liable to unforeseen difficulties and delays, so all PhD students are allowed 4 years in which to complete and submit their thesis (3 years for the MLitt). Unless there are extenuating circumstances, which would permit a student to apply for an extension to their submission date, candidates who do not submit by these final deadlines would be asked to withdraw from the University, until such time as they are ready to submit, and apply for reinstatement.

 

Registration

All students accepted for the PhD are on probation for their first year. In your third term of research, the Degree Committee will decide whether to register you as a candidate for the PhD (the registration then being backdated to your date of admission). You will have a registration interview with two Faculty assessors, other than your Supervisor. Central University information on the requirements of a registration review is here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/self-evaluation

In some (rare) cases, your assessors may decide that you should be registered for the MLitt degree, instead of the PhD, at this stage. This registration interview cannot be delayed without good cause (e.g., illness). With your supervisors’ help, you start working out your plan of research, and the topic or topics of your written work, as soon as possible after you arrive.

Before registering you as a PhD candidate the Degree Committee must be satisfied (i) that you have a suitable plan of work and (ii) that you have begun to write about some part of it, in a sustained way, at a standard likely to get you the degree in a reasonable time. You are therefore required to email the following documents to your two assessors and the Postgraduate Secretary by the last day of Lent full term*:

  • a statement (1,000 words) of your plan of research.
  • a piece of recent written work (6,000-10,000 words) on some topic within this plan; and
  • an account of research already completed (1,000 words)

These submissions must be properly written up: rough drafts are not acceptable. The registration interview will take place shortly after the end of Lent Term, with your two assessors who will have read the submitted documents. The exact date of the review will be agreed on by the two assessors and the student. The requirements for registration are as outlined above. Students will be sent a copy of their review report once it has been approved by Degree Committee at their May meeting.

Prospective PhD candidates whose work does not show sufficient progress will be given the opportunity to submit an improved set of work by the last day of Easter full term*. A further interview will then take place with the two Faculty members writing independent reports for the Degree Committee in late June/early July*.

The Degree Committee will recommend that prospective PhD candidates whose resubmitted work is still deemed to be unsatisfactory either withdraw from the University or, less severely, be registered only as MLitt candidates. In the latter case they may later be re-registered as PhD candidates (with registration again backdated to the date of admission) if they submit sufficiently improved work at the same time in their second year (i.e. at their fifth term review).

The Degree Committee will recommend that prospective MLitt candidates whose resubmitted work is still deemed to be unsatisfactory withdraw from the University.

 

Monitoring progress

Your supervisor is required to report termly to the Student Registry and the Degree Committee on your progress. You will also be invited to submit self-evaluation reports on your progress on CamSIS. More information on the Feedback and progress reporting systems for postgraduate students is here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/self-evaluation

In addition, there are the following reviews:

Fifth Term Review

This review takes place in the fifth term for a student who is registered for the PhD or MLitt.  For this review you need to email the following documents to your supervisor, advisor, and Postgraduate Secretary by the last day of Lent full term*:

  • a statement (1,000 words) of your plan of research.
  • a piece of recent written work (6,000-10,000 words) on some topic within this plan; and
  • an account of research you have already completed (1,000 words)

These submissions must be properly written up: rough drafts are not acceptable.  The review will take place shortly after the end of Lent Term, normally with the supervisor and advisor, who will report in writing to the first meeting of the Degree Committee in the Easter Term. The exact date of the review will be agreed on by the two assessors and the student. Students will then be sent a copy of their review report once it has been approved by Degree Committee at their May meeting.

In the unlikely event that your work does not show sufficient progress you will be given the opportunity to submit an improved set of work by last day of Easter full term*. A further interview will then take place with the supervisor and advisor writing independent reports for the Degree Committee in late June/early July*.

Seventh Term Review

This review takes place in the seventh term for a student who is registered for the PhD. For this review you are required to email the same three documents as are described above, again demonstrating ongoing progress, to your supervisor and advisor by the last day of Michaelmas full term*.

The review will take place shortly after the end of Michaelmas Term, normally with the supervisor and adrvisor, who will report in writing to the first meeting of the Degree Committee in the Lent Term. The exact date of the review will be agreed on by the two assessors and the student. Students will then be sent a copy of their review report once it has been approved by Degree Committee at their January meeting.

If the supervisor and advisor are not happy with a student's progress they may recommend to the Degree Committee that a student's registration be changed from PhD to MLitt. They may also recommend that candidates who are not making satisfactory progress towards completing their theses withdraw from the University. The student will be fully consulted before any such recommendation is made. Note also that students withdraw from the University for this reason (or because they have failed to submit on time), but who manage to complete their theses on their own, may apply to be reinstated in order to submit their theses for examination. Please see:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/postgraduate-study/your-student-status/reinstatement

Although this monitoring may sound onerous, experience shows that most often the reviews function as useful markers of progress, and as good opportunities to take stock and to talk about useful ways forward, in a forum slightly different from that of a normal supervision.

 

Intermission

If your work is hindered or interrupted by medical, financial or other problems you may apply for leave to intermit your research for a period of time from 2 weeks, to up to 3 terms (for full time students). Terms intermitted do not count towards the above deadlines. Consult your Supervisor and the Postgraduate Secretary if you would like to discuss this option at any point in your studies. You can also find further information here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/postgraduate-study/your-student-status/medical-intermission

 

Working away from Cambridge

It is possible to apply for leave to work away from Cambridge for a maximum of 3 terms at a time Some PhD students find this is useful if they wish to work with a supervisor who is external to the University of Cambridge for some of their PhD study. More information on the process of how to apply for leave to work away can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/postgraduate-study/your-student-status/work-away

To support students working away from Cambridge, it is recommended that students apply to the University for free travel insurance: https://www.insurance.admin.cam.ac.uk/travel-insurance/travel-insurance-students

The Faculty has a small allocation of funding for fieldwork, that students can apply for via the Postgraduate Office. As part of this application process, students will also be required to complete a risk assessment: https://www.safety.admin.cam.ac.uk/risk-assessment

The Faculty can provide a template risk assessment – please ask the Postgraduate Secretary for further information.

 

Preparation of theses

Length

PhD (MLitt) theses in philosophy must not be more than 80,000 (60,000) words long. The word count includes appendices and references. See here for further information:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/examinations/graduate-exam-information/submitting-and-examination/phd-msc-mlitt/word#philos

Standard

The University’s regulations require that to qualify for the award of the PhD degree, a thesis has to be in English (apart from quotations and technical formulae), to be clearly written, to take due account of previously published work on the subject, and to represent a significant contribution to learning (for example through the discovery of new knowledge, the connection of previously unrelated facts, the development of new theory, or the revision of older views). The Degree Committee of Philosophy, in its advice to examiners, adds as an informal gloss on this that an acceptable thesis should contain some material of sufficient originality to merit publication and this material should be adequate to form the basis of, for example, at least two articles (together amounting to 15,000 - 20,000 words) or of a short monograph.

To qualify for the award of the MLitt degree, a thesis must be clearly written, take due account of previously published work on the subject, and represent a useful contribution to learning.

Candidates may get an idea of the standards expected of PhD and MLitt theses in philosophy by reading the copies of successful theses deposited in the University Library.

Submission

The detailed procedure for submitting PhD and MLitt theses for examination, which candidates should follow carefully, is at:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/examinations/graduate-exam-information/submitting-and-examination/phd-msc-mlitt/prepare

In what follows only a few salient points are picked out.

Candidates should apply for the appointment of examiners, through the Philosophy Postgraduate Secretary, when—but only when—their theses are nearly complete. (In particular, if they are going to submit their theses during the Long Vacation they should apply in good time for the late June/early July meeting of the Degree Committee*.) Together with the candidate, the supervisor should compete the form found here:

https://www.phil.cam.ac.uk/curr-students/postgraduates/Graduate-Forms

and submit this by e-mail to the Postgraduate Secretary. The candidate will also need to email the Postgraduate Secretary a one page summary of the thesis, to guide the Degree Committee in appointing suitable examiners. This abstract should be around 300 words in length – a candidate’s supervisor can provide further guidance on the expected content of the abstract.        

Theses are examined independently by two examiners, one of whom will normally be from outside Cambridge. Candidates are required to submit their thesis initially via Moodle, the University’s Online Teaching Platform. The Postgraduate Secretary will provide further information on the process for softbound submission. As of 1st October 2017, once their PhD has been approved, students are also required to submit an electronic copy of their PhD thesis to the University’s repository, Apollo. At the point of upload, students are given the choice of different access options, including the choice to make their thesis available Open Access immediately or to embargo access for an initial 12 months. The upload of the thesis can be done via the upload form in Symplectic Elements.

Once the award of the degree is approved, students should submit one hard bound copy to be deposited in the University Library.  More information on the submission of electronic theses can be found on the Office of Scholarly Communication website:

http://osc.cam.ac.uk/theses

It is important that thesis examiners actually receive theses when they expect to do so; otherwise their other commitments may seriously delay the examination. In giving submission dates, candidates should therefore take care to be realistic, and not underestimate the time it takes to complete writing up, make final corrections, check references and proofs, and get their theses printed and bound.

What to expect from the viva

The examination is undertaken with two examiners, and may include an independent chair if the Degree Committee has deemed it appropriate.  There are no rules for its duration, but as an approximate guide, the examination will normally take at least 90 minutes and is likely to conclude within three hours at a maximum.

The oral examination should allow:

  • The defence of your dissertation and the clarification of any matters raised by the examiners
  • the examiners to probe your knowledge in the field
  • the examiners to assure themselves that the work presented is your own and to clarify matters of any collaboration
  • the examiners to come to a definite conclusion about the outcome of the examination

What to bring with you to the viva

  • You can take a (marked up) copy of the thesis in with you.  You may want to take a tablet or notepad and pen to make notes.
  • Water will be available in the room where you will be examined but you may like to take your own with you.

The default viva format is an in-person examination held in Cambridge, but students will have the option to choose an online viva if they wish. The University has provided additional information about the online viva process, which can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/files/guide_to_conducting_vivas_online.pdf

Examiners write independent reports on theses for the Degree Committee, making recommendations, which may or may not be conditional on the results of the oral examination. Because it often takes a considerable time for examiners to get round to, and to complete, this assessment, candidates must expect to wait (or return) for their oral examination up to two months (but no more than four months) after submitting their theses. Examiners may allow candidates who have had to return, e.g., to America or Australasia, the option of conducting the oral examination by video conference; but they are under no obligation to do so, and candidates must not assume that they will. If a candidate would like to request adjustments to their viva on the grounds of disability, they should complete a ‘voluntary disclosure form’ and return this to the Postgraduate secretary. The form can be found here: https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/files/voluntary_disclosure_form.pdf

An examiner who thinks that a PhD or MLitt thesis fails to reach the required standard, but could do so with suitable revision, may recommend allowing the candidate to submit a revised thesis. This can only happen once; a thesis which has already been resubmitted once cannot be submitted again.

An examiner who thinks that a PhD thesis fails to reach the standard required for that degree, but does reach the standard required for the MLitt, may recommend approving the candidate for that degree. A PhD examiner who thinks both of the above may recommend giving the candidate the alternative of submitting a revised thesis or of taking the MLitt (but not both).

If the examiners’ recommendations agree, the Degree Committee will normally accept them, unless the examination has been improperly conducted in some way, in which case new examiners may have to be appointed. If the original examiners’ recommendations disagree, the Degree Committee may resolve the disagreement by appointing a third examiner.

Plagiarism

The University’s statement on academic misconduct, including plagiarism can be found at:

http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/univ/plagiarism/students/statement.html

 

Questionnaires

We ask PhD & MLitt students to provide their feedback at regular intervals throughout their course, in the form of a questionnaire sent from the Postgraduate Office. Usually there is one questionnaire sent at the time of each review. Feedback from students is important in helping us to improve the course, and we ask that all students complete all questionnaires.