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Guide to graduate study

Graduate study in philosophy need not be deeply mysterious. Here are a few tips for thinking about graduate school.

Am I a Good Fit?


The first question you have to ask is whether your areas of research interest overlap with one (or more) academic staff member at the University to which you intend to apply.

Bear in mind that graduate study in any academic discipline is a professional degree. A professional degree, like a J.D., M.A., Ph.D., requires extensive study of a narrowly and carefully formulated project. Such a study calls for graduate students to work with academic staff, their supervisors, to write a substantive and to make a substantive original contribution to the discipline. So, it is only natural for students to seek to work with someone who has overlapping interests.

Students should determine whether an academic staff member is a good fit. The best way to do that is to appreciate what the academic staff member's research interests are.  consult the list to determine whether I would be an appropriate choice for graduate study supervision. The following is a comprehensive list of areas of philosophy in which I am seeking talented graduate students.

Areas of Research Interest

Theories of Truth 
The Phenomenology of Music and Aboutness/Intentionality
Individuation of Events / Actions
Philosophy of Time
Topics in Experimental Philosophy
History of early analytic philosophy:
Austrian realists from Bolzano to Mally
The Lvov-Warsaw school (broadly construed)
Vienna Circle 


May I Contact You?

If your primary area of research interest overlaps only partially with one of the areas listed here, I would encourage you to contact me about the prospect of working with me. In the email, tell me about your philosophical background, the question guiding your research, and any conclusion you anticipate will be reached following further study. Indicating why you believe I would be the correct choice for the supervisory role would also be well received.

Whilst it is permissible for email correspondence between us at the outset to be relatively informal, students should understand that graduate study is a professional qualification and should follow some guidelines for interacting with me, and my colleagues in the Philosophy Programme, during full-time study. And they should realise that there are expectations of students who complete graduate study in philosophy.

Should our research interests align, it's time to apply.

Admissions to Graduate Study

For advanced degrees in philosophy, persons have to be able to communicate proficiently both in writing and orally with other professional colleagues. Engaging in, or otherwise "doing", philosophy involves reading and writing, rewriting and revising, and analysing and evaluating arguments -- whether you're at home, in the classroom, or on a bus around town. You should be constantly thinking about your work. Philosophy is a 24-7-365 job, and the expectation is that you will take it that seriously. If your finding reading philosophy articles burdensome and dull, then that's likely an indicator for you to choose an alternative career path.

Just being a student is relatively easy. You show up for lecture, you submit assignments, and you engage with the material by asking targeted questions. That's it! There's no special formula for success. It's just a matter of reading and writing about a topic that you find appealing.

Of course, you'll be evaluated by lecturers as you were a peer or colleague but that is a matter of shepherding you from a novice and into a professional colleague. Your writing must be polished, your thoughts clear, and your ability to withstand scathing (and perhaps unfair) criticism resolute.

How to prepare a dissertation/thesis proposal

The PhD thesis/dissertation research proposal is an overview of a multi-year project that the postgraduate anticipates completing in a three-year period. It is a summary of the thesis that will be defended following its completion. The oral defence will typically involve the student whose work is being assessed, the chief supervisor, an internal committee member, and an external (perhaps international) committee member.

The thesis prospectus shouldn't be overly ambitious, but it should be original. By suggesting that the prospectus shouldn't be overly ambitious, I mean that the research question the student proposes to undertake should be narrowly conceived.  It should give the committee the impression that the thesis may be completed in the time allocated, usually three years by New Zealand standards.  One of the greatest dangers graduate students face is coming up with a project that cannot be completed in a reasonable amount of time.  The student shouldn't think of the PhD thesis as their final word on the subject matter.  In a sense, the thesis is their inaugural item permitting them entrance to the professional world.


Second, an expectation of any PhD thesis is that it is an original and interesting contribution to the field.  Just as was mentioned above, we can think of the thesis as signalling the student's entrance to the professional field.  Because of that, the work should suggest that the thesis says something new and interesting in contrast with other works that have been published by professional colleagues. 

So, what about the mechanics of the research proposal?  The University has published regulations on what it would like to see in a full research proposal, and they are published here. I presume that you're familiar with the guide; I also presume that the research plan you submit to me is consistent with the requirements of the University.  Note, however, that my standards are more strict than the University's and that you'll be expected to satisfy my requirements before confirmation of enrolment may be awarded.

The research proposal should summarise your thesis' main argument, and it should outline each of the auxiliary arguments that support the main argument.  Of course, the auxiliary and main argument, as outlined in the proposal may be flawed. What supervisors are to do is help you work through these flaws in the preliminary stages of the writing to ensure that none of the flaws of the arguments end up in the final product.  Expect to have about 10-15 pages of text on the main and auxiliary arguments of the thesis.

The proposal should defend reasons for thinking that your contribution to the field is original.  In New Zealand, folks call this the "literature review."  I take that title to be ambiguous because under such an aegis one could just go and give a cursory summary of what has been written.  That's not a literature review; that's plagiarism.  In the proposal, tell your supervisory panel why your work is distinctive. Ask yourself what sets your work apart from others? And argue for your view, suggesting that there's no one out there other than you who will be an expert in this one particular and narrowly conceived field.

Your proposal should include a bibliography.  The length of it is up to you, but you should realise that I will ask in a formal setting why you've included a reading and what the main argument of that reading is.  So expect to defend your reasons for including it in the proposal.  

There's a question I will ask you time and again, whether I'm your chief supervisor or on your supervisory panel, and as chief supervisor this will be the first question I ask you in your proposal defence.  Here it is: "We're at The Meteor with other Hamiltonians, some of whom didn't even know that philosophy was still taught at the University.  You tell them that you're working on your PhD in Philosophy at the University of Waikato. They want to know more about that.  What's your 30-second summary of your thesis?"  There's no doubt that your summary will change from the time you defend your proposal to the completion of the project, but use this as not only an exercise in spot-checking what you're doing but also an exercise in epistemic and intellectual humility. You might be getting your PhD in Philosophy but let's not lose sight of reality.

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