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Senior Thesis

For the philosophy major who is serious about academics and ready for a significant challenge, there is an option of writing a senior thesis. The thesis should be a paper of about 15 to 20 pages that offers a careful investigation of some philosophical problem or some portion of the thought of a historical figure. The thesis is intended to be more in-depth and demanding than a typical paper for a course, and should contain original arguments and insights rather than simple summary or exposition.

The thesis itself is written under the supervision of an advisor over the period of one semester, during which the student is enrolled in PHIL 390. The Department strongly encourages students to choose a topic in an area in which they already have background through coursework and/or previous paper assignments.  Completing a senior thesis is one of the requirements for attaining departmental High Distinction.

Thesis requirements

To be eligible to write a senior thesis, a student must be a philosophy major with a 3.7/4.0 GPA in all philosophy courses (at the time of application). NOTE: Students must go through the application process of securing an advisor and getting departmental approval for their project in the semester BEFORE the one in which they will be enrolled in PHIL 390. 

Application process

  • A student interested in writing a senior thesis may go through the process of finding an advisor and getting departmental approval for their project in the spring semester (this way it can serve as a writing sample for those applying to graduate school). Alternatively, students may do the application process in the fall semester of the senior year and write the thesis in the spring.
  • A student should approach a potential advisor by week 10 of the semester of the application process. In consultation with the potential advisor the student should (1) complete a proposal of 3 to 4 pages in length, and (2) select a a writing sample, which should be a paper from a previous class. If a student has already written a paper in the general area of the thesis, it should be submitted as the writing sample.
  • Potential advisors will give a decision on their willingness to advise the thesis as soon as possible but no later than two weeks from the time the proposal is submitted.
  • If the potential advisor agrees to advise the thesis, the proposal and writing sample will be sent to the Major Advisory Committee (MAC) for final approval.
  • MAC will give a decision on whether the student has been granted approval to write a senior thesis as soon as possible but no later than two weeks after it receives the proposal.

Writing the thesis

  • A student who has received approval to write a senior thesis should contact his or her advisor as soon as possible to work out the details of how the course will be conducted -- e.g. frequency of meetings, due dates for benchmarks, grading policies for PHIL 390.
  • When possible, the student should take some part of the summer (or, alternatively, winter) vacation for research on the topic after it has been approved.
  • The student should enroll in PHIL 390 for the semester for which senior thesis work has been approved.  The Department recommends that the student complete a draft of the thesis by week 7 of the semester in 390.

Approval and defense

  • If the advisor approves the final version of the thesis, it should be submitted to MAC for approval by week 12 of the semester in PHIL 390.
  • MAC will give the final decision on whether the thesis is approved as soon as possible, but no later than week 14 of the fall semester.
  • If MAC approves the thesis, a defense will be scheduled at which—at least under ideal circumstances—the student, the advisor, and the members of MAC would be present.