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Dissertation supervision & advice

Undergraduate and MSci Physics & Philosophy

The following information is applicable for:

PLEASE NOTE: for 7AAN6005, you will be invited to attend the MA Seminar with fellow postgraduate students. However, your dissertation supervision, word limit and submission will follow the undergraduate pattern outlined below.

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.

All students taking the module will be required to attend a weekly dissertation seminar in Semester 2 and make one presentation of their work.

Important information about the dissertation will be presented at the module choices fair (for date and time see link below). If you are considering taking the dissertation module, it is strongly recommended that you attend.

Choosing your modules (returning undergraduates - year two & three)

Philosophy undergraduate dissertation proposal (online form)

General information

This Level 6 module is worth 30, not 15, credits. Thus it will count heavily towards your final degree.

Given the significant weighting of the dissertation module, and the amount of work involved, we recommend that only students already with a 2:1 average overall consider taking the module. If you so far have an overall average lower than 60, and you still want to take the module, we strongly advise you to make an appointment with the Deputy Department Education Lead and/or your personal tutor to discuss this.

Choosing a topic

You are free to choose the topic of your dissertation from a wide list of possible options. 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?

When you select the dissertation as one of your module choices, you must also complete the Undergraduate dissertation proposal form. You must provide a ranked list of up to FOUR selections from the available dissertation topics (1=most preferred), which will be used to match you to a supervisor. You also have the option to be more specific, i.e. to add a provisional title, but this is not a requirement. Each topic must be one you would be happy to write a dissertation on. Please think carefully about your topic preferences,  as you will be assigned a supervisor on the basis of them.

Some students may already have a clear idea of the precise topic they want to write a dissertation on. If so, they should choose the topic or topics that fit with that idea best. If you’re not sure where it fits in, you are welcome to ask a member of staff for advice.

Some students may be interested in writing a dissertation, but less clear what precisely they want to focus on. In this case, you can still choose a topic or topics that you would be interested to focus on in general. Your supervisor can then help to guide you towards a suitable question to focus on in your first supervision meeting.

How are supervisors allocated?

Places with a supervisor on each topic are limited. We will do our best to accommodate all first choices, and then take into account second choices and so on. In cases where demand outstrips places available on a particular topic, places will be assigned randomly: students who have indicated only one topic choice will not be privileged in such cases.

Once all ranked choices have been accommodated, if you have not been allocated a supervisor for one of your chosen topics but there are still places remaining elsewhere, you will be offered a place with a supervisor for one of these other subject areas. You may then choose either to take up one of these places, or to revert to your back-up module choices.

It is important to check your email in the days following the module choice deadline, as we will need to allocate any remaining places quickly.

Available topics 
  • Aesthetics*
  • Applied Ethics
  • Ancient Philosophy*
  • Chinese Philosophy*
  • Continental Philosophy (19th and 20th Century)*
  • Descartes
  • Early Modern
  • Epistemology
  • Ethics
  • Formal Epistemology*
  • History of Analytic Philosophy
  • Indian Philosophy*
  • Kant
  • Logic
  • Metaphysics
  • Phenomenology (not French)*
  • Philosophy of Action / Free Will
  • Philosophy of Gender*
  • Philosophy of Language
  • Philosophy of Mathematics
  • Philosophy of Medicine
  • Philosophy of Mind
  • Philosophy of Physics*
  • Philosophy of Psychology
  • Philosophy of Race*
  • Philosophy of Religion
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Political Philosophy (including history)
  • Rationality (decision theory, reasons)

Please note: starred topics have a particularly small number of places.

Topics may be withdrawn at short notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

Supervision and tutorials

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

  • In the first meeting you will work on developing the idea for the dissertation.
  • In meetings 2 and 3 you will discuss key readings, draft sections, and/or an overall dissertation plan with your supervisor.
  • In the final two meetings (4 and 5) you will look at polishing the complete draft.

In general: start early and meet regularly.

Deadline

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

It is important that you do not leave your submission to the last minute, so that you have plenty of time to ensure your submission is successful and correct.

Work submitted ON the deadline will be marked as late: for example, if the deadline is 16.00 the work must have completed its submission at 15.59.59 at the latest). You need to submit BEFORE the deadline. Please see below for information on the penalties applied to late submissions.

Work submitted up to 24 hours after the deadline will be marked, but the grade awarded will be capped at the pass mark (40% for UG and 50% for PGT). Students will be informed what mark would have been awarded had the cap not been applied and will receive feedback on the work. 

Work submitted more than 24 hours after the deadline will receive a mark of zero. No feedback or indicative grade will be provided. 

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.

For details of what is included in the word count, and penalties incurred by exceeding the word count limit, please consult the Faculty Policy on Word Count in the Faculty Handbook.

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 philosophy@kcl.ac.uk

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

Students research and write their dissertation towards the end of the programme in the summer months (June-September).

Choosing a topic

The dissertation can be on any philosophical topic. However, the dissertation must avoid significant overlap with work already submitted for summative assessment. Choice of topic can also be limited by available supervision expertise, so students should consider 2 different topics so as to ensure the availability of a relevant supervisor. Students are advised to consult with staff during office hours throughout the year to discuss possible topics. 

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. 

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 then be entitled to three individual tutorials with your supervisor over the summer months, June to September, which you must organise directly with your supervisor. Please use these tutorials wisely.

If you plan on being away from London at any time over the summer, please ensure you communicate this to your supervisor so appropriate plans can be made. 

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, College regulations 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.

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 upper-bracket limit (i.e. 5% or more over 12,000 words) 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.

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
  • 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 & Psychiatry: topic must be in Philosophy of Medicine & Psychiatry

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