y Department of Philosophy :: Independent Research
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INDEPENDENT RESEARCH IN PHILOSOPHY

The Department of Philosophy provides opportunities for undergraduate students to do independent research for academic credit in a wide variety of areas.  There are two kinds of independent research in Philosophy at MSU:  Independent Study and Senior Thesis.

Students wishing to do either kind of independent research in some area of philosophy must have some background in the general area. Independent research projects are often stimulated by course work. After taking a course in a certain area, topic, or philosopher, a student may want to investigate, in greater detail, some aspect or question raised in or by the course. A course in Aristotle, for example, may stimulate a research interest in a particular scholarly question or problem that goes well beyond what is covered in the course. The student's project will generally include: (a) formulating a good researchable question; (2) doing the research and critical reflection necessary to answer it; and (c) writing a substantial, self-contained paper explaining the question and the results of the research and reflection.

PHL 490: Independent Study

Offered every semester.  Credits variable 1-4. 

Guidelines for PHL 490

Overview: Students work with individual professors on topics of their choosing.  The topics must not be covered in regular courses, although a project that begins with material from a regular course but goes well beyond it is allowed at the discretion of the instructor.  Work for the independent study is determined by the student and instructor and generally includes substantial reading, meetings with the instructor, and writing assignments of various lengths. On occasion a professor may offer an independent study including more than one student.

Procedure: Students must choose a topic and find a faculty member willing to supervise the independent study.  They must together fill out the Application for Independent Study (http://www.reg.msu.edu/read/pdf/indestudyapp.pdf) and submit it to the Undergraduate Program Director in the Department of Philosophy ("Academic Advisor" on the application). Preferably all should be complete during the semester prior to the independent study, but no later than the end of the first week of classes of the independent study semester.

Rules: The university application lists the following rules on the application:

Independent Study should:
1. Consist of work not described in the University catalog in any other format;
2. Be taken under a course number commensurate with the student’s class level, major field, and experience;
3. Relate to a subject for which the student has adequate preparation;
4. Be directed by a faculty member with whom there is a periodic contact and consultation throughout the study;
5. Not exceed eight semester hours of credit in a single semester;
6. Not exceed 10% of the credits earned in a bachelor’s program;
7. Be applied for on the form provided by the university, or any equivalent departmental or college form;
8. Be approved on this form before the student enrolls for the course

PHL 499:  Senior Thesis

Offered fall, spring, and summer (fall is recommended).  Three credits. 

Guidelines for PHL 499

Overview: The senior thesis in philosophy is an option for students who wish to do more intense, original, and sustained work in philosophy than is typical for a regular class.  The thesis must be an original page work approaching professional quality in style and sophistication, with a length appropriate to its topic, normally 14-18,000 words.  Students interested in pursuing graduate work in philosophy are strongly encouraged to write a thesis.  The thesis course, PHL 499 (3 cr), is taken for one semester, although permission from a willing faculty member must be obtained and preliminary work on the thesis must commence prior to that semester.

Relation to other courses:  the thesis differs from an independent study (PHL 490) in that the student must produce one original long paper on a somewhat narrow topic instead of various shorter papers on a broader topic.  The thesis satisfies the university Tier II writing requirement and can be used as a substitute for the Philosophy Capstone Seminar requirement with the permission of the Director of Undergraduate Program.  Permission to substitute will be granted only to students with a 3.5 philosophy GPA who have completed at least 24 credits, including one course in logic, and whose overall GPA is at least 3.0.

Timetables: Typically a student interested in writing a thesis will enroll in PHL 499 during fall semester of senior year.  The timeline for writing a fall thesis is:

1. By spring semester junior year:  consolidate a topic and find a professor willing to work with you as thesis advisor
2. By April 15 junior year:  write a prospectus for approval by that professor
3. By end of final week of classes:  submit completed Senior Thesis Application form to Undergraduate Program Director
4. Summer: work on thesis when possible, particularly performing research
5. Fall semester senior year:  enroll for PHL 499.  Particular deadlines during the semester for drafts will be determined with the thesis advisor
6. Monday of final class week fall semester:  completion of final thesis draft
7.  Exam week, fall semester:  defense of thesis before committee


A student writing a thesis during the spring semester senior year will follow the following timetable:

1. By early fall semester senior year:  consolidate a topic and find a professor willing to work with you as thesis advisor
2. By November 25 senior year:  write a prospectus for approval by that professor
3. By end of final week of classes:  submit completed Senior Thesis Application form to Undergraduate Program Director
4. Winter break: work on thesis when possible, particularly performing research
5. Spring semester senior year:  enroll for PHL 499.  Particular deadlines during the semester for drafts will be determined with the thesis advisor
6. Monday of final class week spring semester:  completion of final thesis draft
7. Exam week, spring semester:  defense of thesis before committee

Requirements and Preparation:  The official requirements for the thesis include completion of the Tier I writing requirement and at least one logic course (130, 330, or 432).  Recommended background is 24 credits in Philosophy.  These requirements should be completed by the semester prior to the thesis semester.  A GPA of at least 3.5 in philosophy courses is strongly recommended.  Thesis topics also require background knowledge in the appropriate area of philosophy.  This background is best achieved through advanced level coursework in the area, i.e. 400-level courses.  More general background gained through 200- and 300-level courses is useful but normally insufficient in itself to prepare one for a thesis.  An independent study in the area can often serve the same purpose as advanced coursework.  The thesis advisor will judge whether a student appears prepared to write a thesis in the intended area.
 
Prospectus:  The prospectus must be approved by the thesis advisor during the semester prior to enrollment in PHL 499.  A prospectus should include a discussion of the specific area in philosophy and an identification of the particular problem at issue, presentation of a tentative thesis statement, summary of the projected main argument in various sections of the paper, and a bibliography of primary and secondary works relevant to the topic.  The prospectus must be approved by the professor who has agreed to serve as thesis advisor. The length of the prospectus varies with the topic, but 2-12 pages is typical.  A brief summary of the prospectus is then used on the application form. 
 
Registration:  Approval is required for registration in PHL 499.  The student and thesis advisor must complete the Senior Thesis Application form, which notes approval of the prospectus, confirms completion of the prerequisites, and provides a summary of the thesis topic (an abstract of the prospectus).  This form must be signed and dated by the student and thesis advisor before being submitted to the department Undergraduate Program Director.   Copies of the signed form will be made available to all three.
 
Honors:  Students in the Honors College may request an “H-option” for PHL 499.  There is no provision for any other honors.
 
Peer meetings: During the semester of work on the thesis, all students registered for PHL 499 will meet periodically.  These meetings will provide an opportunity for students to share strategies for working on the thesis and offer mutual encouragement.  Presentation of work-in-progress will allow for peer evaluation of the thesis project.  Students will also use these meetings toward completion of the department’s outcomes assessment requirement. 
 
Defense:  The student is required to submit a completed thesis paper by the Monday of the final full week of classes.  An oral defense of the thesis will take place during exam week.  The thesis committee will consist of the thesis advisor and one other philosophy professor selected by the student and thesis advisor together.  A non-philosophy professor or graduate student may serve on the committee as the second member at the discretion of the thesis advisor. 
 
Grading: The committee will determine whether the thesis, as orally defended, is of high quality (with a grade of 4.0).  Should the committee determine that a lesser designation is appropriate, it may award a correspondingly lower grade.  Only the grade itself and the title of PHL 499 “Senior Thesis”, and not the designation, appears on the student’s transcript.

For more information, contact the Undergraduate Program Director, Professor Todd Hedrick, hedrickt@msu.edu.

 

DOWNLOAD:

Senior_Thesis_Application.pdf