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:
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 receive 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:
More information on these courses can be found on Programs and Courses and on the CASS website, or by contacting the Graduate Convenor, Professor Alan Hajek.
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.
A students point of view
What is it like being a graduate student at the ANU School of Philosophy? Our days are typically filled with stimulating research and social activities. We go to research talks and reading groups, we attend coursework seminars, and, of course, we meet with our supervisors and work on our dissertations. Below we set out some of our weekly commitments, to give you a glimpse into the life of an ANU philosophy graduate student.
First, the research talks: there are typically about four talks each week (although not all are compulsory). The Thursday Philosophy seminar – on Thursdays, 3:30-5:30pm – is the main research talk. It is preceded by a ‘pre-talk’, from 1:30 to about 3pm, where the Thursday speaker covers background material that will be helpful for understanding the seminar itself. The Philsoc Seminar runs on Tuesdays, 3:30-5:30pm, and it is typically the venue for ANU faculty and students to present their research. Finally, the MSPT seminar is held on Mondays, 12:30pm-2pm, and focuses on research in moral, social and political theory.
Second, we go to reading groups, or work-in-progress groups, that are relevant to our research interests. For example, the Philosophy of Mind work-in-progress group and the Moral, Social and Political Theory Graduate Workshop have weekly meetings, discussing a pre-circulated paper, or hearing a talk, about research in these areas.
We also attend the Foundations seminars, which form the coursework requirement for the degree (graduate students are required to attend Foundations in their first two years). Each set of Foundations seminars is organized around a topic, and usually consists of six sessions of about two hours each. There are about four such sets of seminars each year. These seminars span a wide range of topics – to give you an idea, the 2017 sessions were on value superiority, linguistics, aesthetics, and deontology and risk.
These usual research activities go on for most of the year. The period from June to August, however, is an especially exciting time because it is visitor season at the School – when we receive a large number of visitors from around the world, who present their research and exchange ideas with us. The two annual named lectures – the Jack Smart Lecture and the Passmore Lecture – also usually happen during this season.
Apart from these research commitments, there are also social activities happening each week. On most weekday mornings and afternoons we meet for tea at the Coombs balcony, where we sit and chat (often about philosophy!) with fellow grad students and faculty. We also go for drinks at the pub on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (after the Philsoc and Thursday seminars), and usually on Friday evenings too. Drinks often segue to dinner.
Current Student Quotes
- #1: “There's lots to love about doing philosophy at ANU: the amazingly high calibre of faculty members; the multiple seminars every week; and the annual visitor season during which you'll bump into leading philosophers from all over the world. But one thing they don't tell you is that grad students here are given offices …The grad program at ANU is one-of-a-kind. Nowhere else would you be able meet and talk to world-leading philosophers so frequently and in such casual settings. Particularly at the daily afternoon tea, you'll often find yourself chatting to someone whose work you've been reading since first year!”
- #2: “The great latitude for research direction, along with regular opportunities to test new-found knowledge in seminars and reading groups, makes ANU an institution that encourages a broad scope of ideas and methods. In particular, my own area of research benefits from strong links with the departments of linguistics and biology, promoting a truly vibrant interdisciplinary approach … A strong emphasis is placed on the communal aspect of the graduate program, with students and faculty regularly mingling over tea (twice daily) and other drinks (weekly). These opportunities are perfect for getting to know new arrivals and visitors, and help promote the warm atmosphere for which ANU is rightly renowned.”
Former Student Quotes
- #1: “I had a fantastic time as a PhD student at the ANU. Everyone was very encouraging and interested in my work, and so I definitely felt that I had all the support I needed to complete the programme and get an academic job at the end.”
- Stephanie Collins: “My supervisors at ANU went above-and-beyond when preparing me for the academic job market. They helped me with submitting papers to journals, revising those papers until the journal reviewers were satisfied, writing job applications, and preparing for interviews. I couldn't have asked for more!”
- Holly Lawford-Smith: “Before I went there, I’d heard the ANU described as ‘philosophy heaven’! This sounded like a hilarious overstatement but it turned out to be pretty much accurate. There’s so much going on - three seminars a week, workshops, conferences, trebling of the staff & student population over visitor season - that you can live and breathe philosophy for the duration of your PhD. This puts you in a great position for the job market! … One thing I really appreciated about being trained at the ANU was the level of support offered to graduate students. The faculty were remarkably available - all of them, not just your own supervisors. And we got feedback on everything, from presentations through draft papers to job applications. Being part of such a vibrant and supportive community made it a pleasure to do philosophy, and made me want to keep doing it.”
Application for funding
John Passmore Endowment