The Research School of Social Sciences is home to one of the best Philosophy Programs in the world. It is a very unusual and distinctive program, as befits its place in the ANU, which is an institution dedicated to research-led education. This page sets out some of the distinctive features of research training in the School of Philosophy.
The principal focus of graduate training in the School of Philosophy is on producing the major research scholars of the next generation. A graduate student typically comes to us with a strong grounding in the discipline overall, and leaves with a dissertation which establishes him or her as among the leading lights of the next generation. In effect, this is an apprenticeship in academic research. Of course, not every student will end up being an academic researcher (although 80% of our students do); but whatever you do in life, the skills required for academic researcher will place you in good stead. (We are extremely successful in placing our graduate students in academic research positions, especially in Australia and New Zealand; for information about this, visit our placements record page.)
The key element of the graduate program of Philosophy RSSS is the unique research culture of philosophy at ANU. Our guiding assumption is that the best way to produce academic researchers is to incorporate them into a culture of academic research. This research culture is made possible by at least two things: the culture of philosophy with its intensive focus on discussion and debate, and the culture of the ANU, with its focus on research-led education. Some elements of our research culture are:
- Weekly research seminars: the Thursday Seminar, the Tuesday PhilSoc Seminar, the MSPT Seminar.
- Two annual named lectures -- the Jack Smart Lecture and the John Passmore Lecture.
- Roughly six conferences or workshops per year, including one major international conference every year.
- The Program hosts a very large number of international and national visitors.
The strong expectation of the School of Philosophy is that students will take an active role in this research culture. All PhD students are required to attend Thursday seminars. PhD Students working in Moral, Social and Political Theory are required to attend MSPT seminars.
PhD Progress Milestones
Throughout your candidature, the University requires you to successfully complete a series of progress milestones. You can read about these here.
In addition to the general research climate of the School of Philosophy, we have instituted a number of elements of graduate training designed to enhance the experience of graduate students. First, reading groups: These are small weekly discussion groups of about 10 or so participants, lasting for 2 hours. The groups are attended by staff and students, and are organised around areas of common interest; sometimes the focus is on reviewing the foundations of the discipline, while sometimes the focus in on cutting edge research. There are usually around a half dozen such groups running at any one time. To recieve details of the Reading Groups currently active, join the Philsoc-1 mailing list. The School of Philosophy expects its graduate students to attend at least one of these reading groups per week and any given student would typically attend at least a couple of them.
Second, the pre-talk: Every week, before the main Thursday Philosophy seminar there is a one-hour 'Pre-talk', open to PhD students alone, in which the speaker sets out the background of his/her talk. Active participation in this 'pre-talk' is compulsory for PhD students at all stages of their career in RSSS. To see the titles of recent talks in this series, click here. As is evident from that list, over the course of the year this series of seminars covers all the principal areas of the subject, and participation in those seminars and the backgrounder Pre-talks preceding them gives PhD students a good, well-rounded introduction to the cutting edges of contemporary analytic philosophy.
The thesis proposal review
The Thesis Proposal Review. Approximately 9-12 months after students arrive they will undergo a comprehensive review of their plans for their dissertation and their ability to carry out this plan. Students must provide three pieces of work: i) a general statement of the goals and plan for the thesis; ii) a piece of focused written work focusing on some analytic question relevant to their research; and iii) a bibliography. The first two of these pieces of research are presented to a seminar of the whole faculty. After this the student will meet with his or her committee to discuss their progress. The chair of the committee will then write a report summarizing the findings and making a recommendation about the next stage of the student’s career.
The mid-term review
Approximately 18-24 months after students arrive, they will be required to undergo a comprehensive review of the progress of their dissertation called the Mid-Term Review. The Mid-Term Review involves, first, the submission to panel members of four pieces of written work: 1) a 1-2 page summary of the proposed dissertation, 2) a detailed table of contents, 3) a detailed bibliography and 4) a polished chapter of the dissertation. Second, the Mid-Term Review involves a 45-60 minute formal oral presentation to a relevant seminar comprising: 1) a very brief (approximately 5 minute) overview of the thesis as a whole, and 2) presentation of the chapter of the dissertation submitted to panel members. Written work should be submitted to panel members at least a week before the oral presentation.
Finally, international exchanges: we have been very successful in arranging for our students to spend some time overseas. (Just as we have been very successful in hosting visiting graduate students from Michigan, Arizona, MIT, Princeton.) In recent times, we have had our students visiting UNC, Princeton, MIT and various other campuses overseas. We have also supported students. These exchanges are made possible by the international reputation of the School of Philosophy.
HDR Coursework requirements
From 2011 all candidates commencing a PhD or MPhil in the Graduate Research Field (GRF) of Education will be required to undertake three courses at the post graduate level. PhD candidates in the School of Philosophy will be required to enrol in the following courses within the first two years of candidature:
- PHIL8011 Foundations Seminar (12 units)
- ARTS8102 Situating the Thesis (6 units)
- ARTS8103 Research Design and Ethics (6 units)
Successful completion of these four courses is required for confirmation of candidature. In particular, all PhD students are required to attend Foundations seminars during their first two years of candidacy.
As part of the initial meeting period with the Chair of their supervisory panel, each student will undergo a brief 'skills needs analysis' that will identify the skills which students are likely to need during candidature; which skills they might already have; sources of support and training; and when it is likely that they will need those skills, so that a learning plan can be developed. Recommendations on appropriate courses for individual students will be based on the skills audit and discussions between the supervisor and student.
Typical Weekly Obligations
Graduate students at the ANU have a busy weekly schedule. When fixing their plans, they should note that their primary obligation, throughout their candidacy, is to participate in the Thursday seminar and pre-talk, and, for those working in Moral, Social, and Political Theory, the MSPT seminar on Mondays. During their first and second year, they are also required to attend foundations seminars when they are running. Any other commitments (including teaching) have to be scheduled to allow them to fulfil these central obligations. Exceptions to these requirements may be authorised by a PhD candidate's chair, but only for very good reasons.