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Dissertation supervision & advice

Undergraduate

The dissertation is a sustained, independently written and argued essay, with a limit of 10,000 words. You will work on it during your third year of study, although you might try to make a start on preparing for it during the summer break between your second and third years in order to give yourself sufficient time to do it justice.

Choosing a topic

You are free to choose the topic of your dissertation. The best way to write a good dissertation is to choose a topic you are really interested in.

Although the dissertation does not need to relate to anything you've studied in your optional modules, it is perfectly permissible to write on such a topic if you wish. Indeed, it might well be prudent to do so, using what you learnt in the module as a firm foundation for your own investigation. The only restriction on this is that you should avoid significant overlap with any work that you've already submitted as summative assessment. But any work you've done formatively, that hasn't been submitted summatively, is fair game. And, even as far as the summative work itself is concerned, you can certainly continue to explore related themes: just don't resort to cutting and pasting whole chunks from your summative essays.

When should I decide on a topic?

Start thinking early about it. The module coordinator will ask you to send in a short abstract over the summer, before the start of your third year. Please think carefully about it as you will be assigned a supervisor on the basis of the abstract.

Supervision and tutorials

On the basis of your dissertation abstract you will be assigned a member of staff as your supervisor.

You will have 5 x 1 hour one-to-one tutorials with your supervisor. The following is a rough guide to efficient work on the dissertation:

  • use the first two tutorials to develop a research plan
  • use the next two to get feedback on chapters of the dissertation; and
  • the last for feedback on the first draft

In general: start early and meet regularly.

Deadline

For information on when to submit your dissertation, please check the submissions page.

Please note: students have a ‘late window’ of 24 hours after the original deadline in which to submit work. Work submitted during the late window will be marked and returned to the student for feedback, but the mark the student is credited with for that assignment will be capped at the pass mark (40).

After 24 hours, the College rules dictate that you will automatically receive a mark of zero for that assignment. 

Note that it would be sensible to aim to get your work in a day or two earlier than the deadline: there's no predicting when things like illness, computer malfunction or transport disruption might throw a spanner in the works. 

Submission and formatting

You submit your dissertation in just the same way as you would any other piece of summative coursework: for details, please see the submission instructions.

You should follow the normal style guide for summative coursework, and must include a coversheet.

No hard copies are required.

Word limits

The dissertation should not exceed 10,000 words.

Word limits apply to the main text, quotes, footnotes and appendices. Your bibliography is excluded from the word count.

Dissertations that are over the word limit will incur a penalty. No marks will be deducted for work which is within 5% of the word limit. 

  • Work 5% or more over the limit will incur a penalty of two marks, with the penalty increased by an additional two marks at 10%, 15% etc up to 50%.
  • After 50%, three marks will be deducted for each additional 5% above the word limit.

No penalty is applied to candidates whose work falls short of the prescribed limits. Such work will be marked in accordance with the usual academic criteria.

There is no formal penalty for going under the prescribed limit: but, if you write substantially fewer than 10,000 words, you might be disadvantaging yourself. Bear in mind that this word-count was deliberately chosen to offer guidance on the space in which a dissertation topic can be fully and successfully explored.

Requesting an extension

If you need an extension, please refer to the guidance on the Extensions and missed assessment page of the handbook.

Requests should be submitted to the Chair of the Undergraduate Assessment Sub Board, via the Philosophy department office.

If there are genuine mitigating circumstances, adequately supported by the requisite documentation (e.g. a doctor's letter) then we will do our best to accommodate you.

Postgraduate

You will normally work on your dissertation during the summer at the end of the programme. Full-time students are not expected to buckle down to work on the dissertation until after the May exams: until those are over and done with, they should be your principal focus. For part-time students, you might try to make a start on it rather earlier in your second year, in order to give yourself sufficient time to do it justice. But, if doing this will risk undermining your performance in your optional modules, then don't do it — wait until June like everyone else.

Choosing a topic

You are free to choose the topic of your dissertation, provided you work within any programme-specific restrictions on topic (see below).

Although the dissertation does not need to relate to anything you've studied in your optional modules, it is perfectly permissible to write on such a topic if you wish. Indeed, it might well be prudent to do so, using what you learnt in the module as a firm foundation for your own investigation. The only restriction on this is that you should avoid significant overlap with any work that you've already submitted as summative assessment. But any work you've done formatively, that hasn't been submitted summatively, is fair game. And, even as far as the summative work itself is concerned, you can certainly continue to explore related themes: just don't resort to cutting and pasting whole chunks from your summative essays.

When should I decide on a topic?

In late Spring, the programme director will ask you for an indication of the general topic area you wish to work on: this is so that you can be paired with a suitable supervisor. When you begin to meet with that person in June, you will at that stage work out a more-detailed dissertation topic. (There is no reason that you can't discuss your topic with potential supervisors before this point, however, if you're keen!).

Supervision and tutorials

Although the dissertation should be fundamentally a product of your own individual research, you will be paired up with a faculty-member with relevant expertise, to help you through the process of writing it. You will be contacted towards the end of the second semester, and asked for an indication — however tentative it might be at that stage — of what you're likely to want to work on, to ensure an appropriate match. (These supervisory assignments do need to be coordinated centrally, to ensure that the workload is shared evenly across the faculty: but it will usually be possible to give people their first choice of supervisor). You will then be entitled to three individual tutorials with your supervisor over the Summer months, June to September.

It is crucial that you organise your time properly, rather than leaving everything to the last minute. And, in order to ensure that you do this, these three tutorials will come with expiry dates attached. You should have your first tutorial in June, to discuss a plan of attack with your supervisor, and to get some advice on readings and lines of enquiry to pursue. But, if you do not take up this opportunity by the end of June, or at least make contact with your supervisor and mutually agree some alternative arrangement, then you will lose your entitlement to it. Your supervisor is only duty-bound to see you twice after the end of June, regardless of whether you've already seen them once by then or not.

Once you've actually got down to writing some stuff, you should then have a tutorial to go over a draft, albeit at this stage perhaps only a partial one. If you do not take this second (or, if you missed the June one, this first) tutorial, or at least mutually agree some alternative arrangement, by the middle of August, then you will lose the right to it, and your tutor will only be obliged to see you once more. And then, as the deadline begins to loom, you should have a final tutorial, normally to discuss a complete draft. Needless to say, you need to take this third tutorial before the deadline for submission.

But there does need to be a certain flexibility here, on all sides. Bear in mind that people often tend to be away from London for parts of the Summer, so you might not always be able to get a tutorial at the precise moment when it'd best suit you: be sure to give your supervisor adequate notice when you want to arrange a meeting. And sometimes both students and tutors will find it more convenient to have a 'virtual' tutorial via email (or even Skype), in lieu of an actual face-to-face meeting. If you and your supervisor wish to enter into some non-standard arrangement, then, just as long as you're both happy with the mutually agreed plan, that's fine.

Deadline

For information on when to submit your dissertation, please check the submissions page.

Please note: students have a ‘late window’ of 24 hours after the original deadline in which to submit work. Work submitted during the late window will be marked and returned to the student for feedback, but the mark the student is credited with for that assignment will be capped at the pass mark (50).

After 24 hours, the College rules dictate that you will automatically receive a mark of zero for that assignment. 

Note that it would be sensible to aim to get your work in a day or two earlier than the deadline: there's no predicting when things like illness, computer malfunction or transport disruption might throw a spanner in the works. 

Submission and formatting

You submit your dissertation in just the same way as you would any other piece of summative coursework on KEATS: for details, please see the submission instructions.

You should follow the normal style guide for summative coursework, and must include a coversheet.

No hard copies are required.

Word limits

The dissertation for MA programmes will normally be around 10,000 words, with a maximum of 12,000.

The MSc dissertation has a strict maximum of 10,000 words.

Word limits apply to the main text, quotes, footnotes and appendices. Your bibliography is excluded from the word count.

Dissertations that are over the word limit will incur a penalty. No marks will be deducted for work which is within 5% of the word limit. 

  • Work 5% or more over the limit will incur a penalty of two marks, with the penalty increased by an additional two marks at 10%, 15% etc up to 50%.
  • After 50%, three marks will be deducted for each additional 5% above the word limit.

No penalty is applied to candidates whose work falls short of the prescribed limits. Such work will be marked in accordance with the usual academic criteria.

There is no formal penalty for going under the prescribed limit: but, if you write substantially fewer than 10,000 words, you might be disadvantaging yourself. Bear in mind that this word-count was deliberately chosen to offer guidance on the space in which a dissertation topic can be fully and successfully explored.

Requesting an extension

If you need an extension, please refer to the guidance on the Extensions and missed assessment page of the handbook.

PGT students should submit extension requests to the Chair of the Postgraduate Assessment Sub Board, via the Philosophy department office.

If there are genuine mitigating circumstances, adequately supported by the requisite documentation (e.g. a doctor's letter), then we will do our best to accommodate you.

Programme-specific details

If you are pursuing one of the specialised MA programmes, this will constrain your choice of dissertation topic. This is explained fully in the 'programmes' section. 

Please note also that the module code you should enter onto your coversheet will be different depending on your programme of study.

  • 7AAN6000 MA in Philosophy: any philosophical topic will be fine
  • 7AAN6001 MA in History of Philosophy: topic must belong to the History of Philosophy
  • 7AAN6002 MA in Philosophy of Psychology: topic must be in Philosophy of Psychology or Philosophy of Mind
  • 7AAN6003 MA in Philosophy of Medicine: topic must be in Philosophy of Medicine
  • 7AAN6004 MA in Language & Cognition: topic must fall somewhere in the general realm of Philosophy of Language, Linguistics, Cognitive Science, etc. — if in doubt, check with the programme director
  • 7AANM110 MSc Philosophy of Mental Disorder Dissertation
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