Honours in the Department of Philosophy
Dr Caroline West
Room S415 Quadrangle A14
T: +612 9036 9349
F: +612 9351 3918
Find your supervisor on the staff list.
University of Sydney Honours Scholarships
The University of Sydney offers Honours scholarships valued at $6000.
These scholarships will be awarded in degrees that require an extra year of study and are open to all local students and to International students who have completed their undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney.
Further information about these scholarships is made available on the Scholarships website from early September. The closing date for applications is usually mid December.
The Honours Program in Philosophy gives students an opportunity to refine their thinking to a very high degree. It is at once a capstone to the training provided in senior units and a preparation for further study. In seminar work, students are introduced to current research specialization and practice and are given the opportunity to build on their knowledge in advanced courses. The thesis gives students the experience of formulating and conducting a substantial piece of independent research, working closely with a supervisor who helps to bring their reflections and research into sharper focus. Students who take honours at the University of Sydney study in one of the world's leading philosophy departments. They work closely with dedicated teachers and active researchers whose interests span a wide variety of fields and metholodogical approaches.
What Prerequisites do I need?
To enter Fourth Year Honours, students must have completed a bachelors degree, with at least 48 senior credit points of Philosophy (i.e. 8 senior units of study), and have an average grade of credit or above in those 8 units of study. Cross-listed units may be credited towards the 48 credit points. At least 6 credit points must come from each of the three programmes (History of Philosophy; Epistemology, Metaphysics and Logic; Moral, Social and Political Philosophy). Students whose bachelor's degree was undertaken at another university, or students who completed their bachelor's degrees at the University of Sydney more than two years ago should contact the department's Honours coordinator to discuss whether the classes they have taken are equivalent to these prerequisites.
How do I apply?
All students wishing to apply for Honours must to apply via the Courses online website. Instructions can be found here.
If you are interested in applying, you are encouraged to discuss your application with the departmental Honours coordinator before submitting your application
Honours may be undertaken on either a full-time or a part-time basis. It is also possible to enrol in the program mid-year. Conversion from full- to part-time status is possible before 1 May if you have a good reason. Note that a HECS/Fee liability will apply after the census dates (31 March and 31 August).
In the first semester, full-time students simply enrol in two 'shell' units, PHIL4011 and PHIL4012 (Philosophy Honours A and Philosophy Honours B). In the second semester, full-time students enrol for another two 'shell' units, PHIL4013 and PHIL4014 (Philosophy Honours C and Philosophy Honours D). Part-time students enrol in one 'shell' unit per semester, instead of two. These codes bear no relation to the actual seminars taken, or to the thesis. The faculty only needs to know that you're doing two 12-credit units of philosophy honours each semester; which coursework seminars you take is between you and the philosophy department. (This is why the coursework seminars have no unit codes.)
Registration with the Philosophy Department
Students also need to register with the Department of Philosophy. Each student's program of seminars and thesis topic must be approved by the honours coordinator, who will sign the student's registration form. The completed form should be emailed or handed to the coordinator by the end of the first week of semester at the latest. It's possible to change your seminar choices, but we do need an indication of what seminars you'll be taking and who your supervisor will be.
Download registration form
The Fourth Year Honours Program
The Fourth Year Honours program in philosophy consists of four coursework seminars, and a thesis of 12,000-15,000 words. Students are also required to give a 20-minute presentation on their thesis topic at one of two Honours Mini-Conferences held each year. Honours is a single, unified program. While you will receive marks for all pieces of assessment, your academic transcript will record only your final, overall Honours mark.
(i) Coursework seminars
Full-time students normally take 2 coursework seminars in each semester, although other arrangements (e.g. 3:1) are possible in consultation with the Honours Coordinator. Part-time students normally proceed at half the rate of full-time students, completing the honours program over two years and taking 1 coursework seminar each semester.
- Each coursework seminar is assessed by one essay (4,000-5,000 words) due at the end of the semester, worth 15% of the overall Honours grade.
- Each coursework essay is marked by two staff members, so students must submit two copies of each essay to the SOPHI office by the due date with a philosophy cover sheet attached (signed by the student and marked to the attention of the philosophy honours co-ordinator).
The thesis is an extended piece of research (12,000-15,000 words) on an approved topic of the student's choosing, and is written under the individual supervision of a member of staff. The thesis is worth 40% of the final mark, and is due in the final semester of candidature.
It is important to start thinking about your thesis as early as possible, preferably even before you enrol in honours. Ideally, by the time you begin the honours year you will have consulted with your supervisor about a suitable topic, and have done much of the background reading. This is not just for reasons of time-management: having the project simmer away in the back of your mind as you concentrate on your coursework seminars will enrich the thesis immeasurably.
Students work out a thesis topic in consultation with their supervisor, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the topic is manageable within the time-frame for completion. Every student will have a member of the philosophy department’s academic staff as their supervisor. The supervisor guides and advises the student as she or he undertakes research, helps the student refine the topic and the argument, and comments on drafts. Students and supervisors should meet regularly: every two to three weeks on average, more often at ‘crunch’ times, and also whenever problems crop up.
Copies of past philosophy honours theses are available in the SOPHI library.
(iii) Honours Mini-Conference
The department holds two Honours Mini-conferences each year. The conferences give students an opportunity to engage with each other’s work, to receive peer feedback and to refine oral presentation skills. Each student is required to give a 20-minute presentation at one of the mini-conferences on a topic relating to their thesis research. The presentation will be graded on a Pass-Fail basis, and attendance at both of the Mini-Conferences is compulsory.
How do I find a supervisor?
The first thing to do is to form some idea of the kind of topic you would like to write on. (If you are stuck for ideas, a useful strategy is to think back to topics covered in previous philosophy units that you found especially interesting.) Your topic can be quite vague at this point; your supervisor can help you sharpen your focus and refer you to further readings.
Having formed some idea about a topic, you should look at the list of academic staff in the philosophy department and their research interests to see which member(s) of staff specialize most closely in the area you are interested in. Don’t confine your attention only to those staff members who have taught you previously. The department has a large number of research staff who are also available to act as supervisors. Having identified a potential supervisor, you should contact them and arrange a time to meet to discuss supervision.
Take a look at the individual web pages of staff and see what sorts of papers they’ve been publishing and what areas they are working in. That might give you some inspiration regarding areas of interest or potential thesis topics. Don’t just look at the list of areas cited on the staff website: investigate further. Feel free to contact a number of potential supervisors. Ask questions. How often will they meet you? What does supervision with them look like? What areas are they interested in, and what sorts of thesis topics would they suggest? Be guided by what potential supervisors say about thesis topics, they know what can be accomplished in an honours thesis and what the current state of research looks likle. Approach a supervisor you feel comfortable with. If you would like advice or assistance finding a suitable supervisor, you should contact the philosophy honours co-ordinator.
Staff away in 2013
Various staff members are away for one or more semesters in 2013. Under some circumstances a staff member who is away for a semester may agree to supervise for the semester he or she is present, with a replacement supervisor being found for the remaining semester. In general, however, it is preferable to choose a supervisor who is present for the whole year, as changing supervisors mid-year can lead to dislocation. If you choose a supervisor who is away for a semester you must make sure that you have appropriate arrangements made at the beginning of the year for a replacement supervisor. Staff away for one or more semester next year include:
Rick Benitez (away semester 2)
David Braddon-Mitchell (away semester 2)
Alex Lefebrve (away semester 2)
Paul Redding (away semesters 1 and 2))
Luke Russell (away semester 1)
Anik Waldow (away semester 1)
Caroline West (away semester 2
Dealing with problems early
If you are experiencing any problems during your honours year, you should first approach your course instructor (with respect to course work) or supervisor (with respect to the thesis). If the problem is not resolved, then the honours co-ordinator is your next port of call. It is best to deal with problems early, whatever form they may take. If you think you are going to have problems meeting deadlines, or are finding it difficult to get the thesis or course work going, get help early and get the problem fixed. Honours is a very intensive year and can be stressful. Don’t wait until deadlines are looming before asking for help.
Format and procedures for the submission of written work
- Coursework essays
Two copies of each coursework essay should be submitted to the SOPHI office by 4pm on the due date with a cover sheet attached, the compliance statement signed and clearly marked to the attention of the Philosophy Honours Coordinator.
- Honours thesis
Theses should be between 12000 and 15000 words in length. Theses that are more than 10% longer than the 15000 word limit cannot be submitted, and students will be required to cut the thesis down to the appropriate length before submission. Students who think that they may write a thesis that is up to 10% over the 15000 limit must consult their supervisor about whether this is appropriate. Footnotes, endnotes and appendices are included in the word count, but references are not. Two hard copies of the honours thesis should be submitted to the SOPHI office by 4pm on the due date, with a cover sheet attached, the compliance statement signed and clearly marked to the attention of the Philosophy Honours Coordinator.
All honours work marked by at least two staff members, including the staff member responsible for the course (or supervisor in the case of theses), as arranged by the Honours Coordinator. The markers usually confer to determine a mark. If agreement is not reached, a third marker is appointed.
The department and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences regard honours as a single, unified program. Consequently, while honours students receive provisional marks and feedback on their coursework essays as they go along, they receive only one overall grade for honours on their academic transcript upon completing the program.
The department and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences regard honours as a single, unified program. Individual essay and thesis marks are provisional and will be assigned by the departmental Board of Examiners Meeting based on the advice of the original marker and the second marker. Provisional marks that students have received before they finish their honours studies will be communicated to them in accordance with the following scheme:
A+ = above 88
A = 84-88
A- = 78-83
B+ = 74-77
B = 68-73
In order to be eligible for a first Class Honours degree students must
(1) get a first class result in their thesis
(2) get a first class result in at least two course work essays
Honours Grade Descriptors
80-100: First Class (I)
Work demonstrating the highest levels of accomplishment and intellectual autonomy that can be expected from an undergraduate student. An overall Honours mark of 90 or higher is a requirement for the award of a University Medal, though Medals are not automatically awarded to students with overall results of 90 or more.
In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range indicates substantial and innovative research; wide and deep reading in the scholarly literature; sophisticated, perceptive, and original interpretations of data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art; and a very high level of independent thought and argument.
In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates an excellent level of grammatical accuracy, syntactical sophistication, and nuance in use of vocabulary and register.
Work that demonstrates a very high level of proficiency in the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied. Work in this range shows strong promise for doctoral study.
In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range indicates substantial original research; wide and deep reading in the scholarly literature; a very high level of skill in interpreting data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art; and a high level of independent thought.
In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a very high level of grammatical accuracy with only some mistakes, as well as syntactical sophistication, and nuance in use of vocabulary and register.
Work that demonstrates a high level of proficiency in the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied, and shows potential for doctoral study.
In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate thorough research; a firm grasp of the relevant scholarly literature; and a high level of skill in interpreting data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art.
In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a very high level of grammatical accuracy with few mistakes and only very rare basic errors, with vocabulary and syntax varied and expression highly coherent and well structured.
75-79: Second Class, First Division (II.1)
Work that demonstrates a generally sound knowledge of the methodologies, subject matter, and modes of expression and argumentation appropriate to the field or fields studied.
In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate solid research; a firm grasp of the relevant scholarly literature; and competent interpretations of data, documentary evidence, fieldwork, literary texts, or works of art. However, work in this range may also show evidence of a higher level of independent thought combined with some significant lapses in research or expression.
In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a high standard of grammatical accuracy with few mistakes and only very rare basic errors, with vocabulary and syntax varied and expression highly coherent and well structured.
70-74: Second Class, Second Division (II.2)
Work that demonstrates an adequate but limited performance in the methodologies, subjects, and/or languages studied.
In many fields of the humanities and social sciences, a mark in this range can indicate an adequate general knowledge of the subject from the reading of both primary material and secondary literature, straightforward argumentation, and clear expression. A mark in this range may also reflect a superior performance in one or more of these areas combined with serious lapses in others.
In work written in a language other than English, a mark in this range indicates a good standard of grammatical accuracy, albeit with some mistakes, including occasional basic ones; the work shows a good grasp of complex sentence structures and an appropriately varied vocabulary.
65-69: Third Class (III)
Work only barely above the standard of pass-degree work in the field studied. A mark in this range indicates a basic but limited understanding of the methodologies and subject matter of the field or fields studied, and skills in argument and expression that are only just adequate for Honours-level study and research.
Honours not awarded.
Honours due dates for 2013
Honours Mini-Conference Honours thesis deadline (for students completing mid-year)
Honours Mini-Conference Honours thesis deadline (for students completing end-year)
Penalties for late submission
In order to ensure fairness, students who submit late work may be penalised to the extent that such late submission has secured them an advantage over fellow students.
Honours Departmental Seminar series and other events
The philosophy department has a number of seminar series running at any one time. Departmental seminars are on Wednesdays, 3.30-5.30. Current projects seminars are on Mondays, 1.00-2.30. There are also multiple reading groups in social and political philosophy, and there is a postgraduate work in progress series. Honours students are strongly encouraged to attend some combination of these seminars. In particular honours students intending to proceed to graduate studies should take the time to attend these seminars both to broaden their knowledge base and get a sense of what life as a professional philosopher would be like.
To receive notification of all of these seminars and other events, sign up to the Sydphil mailing list
Useful links and other resources
- The Russellian Society is the student philosophy society of the University of Sydney, and hosts regular philosophy talks and events. For details, see the Russoc home page at http://www.russoc.com/
- Emergent Australasian Philosophers, an electronic journal
of philosophy catering specifically to final year/honours students
within Australasia: http://www.eap.philosophy-australia.com/
- For information and general advice about opportunities for postgraduate study in philosophy in Australia and overseas:
- For information about postgraduate study in philosophy at The University of Sydney: