Senior Theses

Assignment of Advisors.  Senior year independent work consists of preparation for a departmental examination (see below) and writing the senior thesis, an essay or group of related essays on a philosophical topic or group of related topics, totaling 10,000 to 15,000 words, prepared under the supervision of faculty advisor.

On the one hand, any member of the regular, visiting, or associated faculty, or post-doctoral fellow of the department who is not on leave is eligible to advise a senior thesis if willing to do so. (Advising by outside faculty is also possible, subject to approval by the DUS.) Students may find advisors on their own, by agreement with some member of the faculty. On the other hand, certain faculty are assigned by the chair of the department special responsibility for supervision of undergraduate independent work, and constitute the Senior Thesis / Junior Paper Advising Panel. Students who do not find advisors on their own are assigned advisors from this panel by the DUS.

When feasible, an advance tentative assignment of advisors will be made late spring, so the student may consult about possible summer background reading.  Normally, by the end of the second week of classes fall semester, every senior who was not assigned a tentative advisor earlier or wishes to change from the tentative advisor then assigned  should submit to the DUS either confirmation of an agreement about advising signed by a member of the faculty (in the form of an e-mail from the faculty member to the DUS, or at a pinch a forward to the DUS of an e-mail from the faculty member to the student, unequivocally indicating the faculty member's willingness to advise), or else a list of several members of the panel by whom the student would be willing to be advised, along with an indication of the general area in which the student wishes to work. Students who have very specific ideas about the thesis project they wish to pursue should begin early seeking a faculty member willing to advise them on their preferred topic. For students who leave their advisor assignment to the department, the specific topic pursued within the general area indicated by the student will be subject to negotiation between the student and the advisor. Notice of advisor assignments will be circulated electronically to students early the next week of classes after the arrangement forms are due. In rare cases, a student may be assigned a preliminary advisor for fall semester and another, final advisor for spring semester.

Format and Word Limits.  There is a recommended format for the thesis title page, of which samples will be available will in advance of the due date. By University rules, every thesis must contain at the end the statement “This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations” followed by the student's name. Note the exact wording. (There is no mention of the honor code, which applies only to in-class examinations, not written assignments.) The regulations in question can be found in the University document Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities.

Any word-processing program now in common use will have a command for making an automatic word count, which the student should employ as writing proceeds. Advance approval of the advisor is required if the thesis will go outside the above-indicated 10,000-to-15,000, word limits in either direction. Such approval should be sought at the latest by the Tuesday after winter recess (when thesis drafts as described below are due). Cases where modifications of the usual limits may be appropriate include but are not limited to the following three special situations.
    (1) Some students writing on philosophy of science, political philosophy, or other areas where philosophy interacts with another discipline may find it necessary or desirable to include some background exposition of material from the other discipline involved, though students must be aware that the thesis will be evaluated primarily for its merits as a philosophical essay, and not for its merits as exposition or popularization of non-philosophical material. Up to an additional 5000 words may be allowed for such purposes.
    (2) Some students, especially among those working towards a certificate in certain programs, may consider the idea of a creative thesis or thesis otherwise outside the normal essay form. Any plans of this sort require advance approval both of the individual advisor and of the DUS. An essay, though a shorter one than a typical thesis, will normally be required in addition to any creative work, in order to make the philosophical content explicit. Approval should be sought at the latest by the Tuesday after fall recess (when thesis proposals as described below are due). Appropriate word limits will be set as part of the approval process.
    (3) Some students may wish to make their thesis project a further development of one of their junior papers, or less often, of a paper written for some course. Any plans of this sort require advance approval both of the individual advisor and of the DUS. Such approval should be sought at the latest by the Tuesday after fall recess (when thesis proposals as described below are due). Students must carefully review University regulations pertaining to multiple submissions as set forth in Rights, Rules, and Responsibilities. Copies of any pertinent earlier work must be supplied to both readers of the thesis, who will be evaluating the thesis for its new contributions only. If it is found necessary or desirable to reproduce any earlier work within the thesis itself, such material must be clearly labeled and set off from new material, for instance by placing it in an appendix. It will not count towards the thesis word limit.

Deadlines and Grading.  A thesis proposal of at least 300 words, indicating some of the principal issues to be pursued and works to be discussed in the projected thesis, is due by 5:00 p.m. on the next-to-last day of classes before fall break.  It is to be submitted electronically in pdf format, as an attachment to an e-mail to the UGA with copies to the DUS and thesis advisor. The assignment of second readers will be made on the basis of the proposal. It is therefore in the student's interest to be as specific as possible in formulating that proposal.

A thesis draft of at least 3000 words, consisting of a chapter or two in nearly finished form, or a fairly detailed outline of the whole thesis, or some combination, is normally due by 5:00 p.m. on the Friday, the end of the first week of Wintersession,  It is to be submitted electronically in pdf format, as an attachment to an e-mail to the UGA with copies to the (Spring) DUS, thesis advisor, and second reader. 

Any student who gets the thesis proposal in on time will be allowed a one-day grace period (waiver of lateness penalty) on the completed thesis. Any student who gets the thesis draft in on time will be allowed a two-day grace period (waiver of lateness penalty) on the completed thesis (for a total of three days if both preliminary deadlines are met). Students entitled to such grace periods should nonetheless think of the official final thesis due date as their target, with the grace period available in case of unanticipated last-minute delays.

The official final thesis due date is Monday the tenth week of spring classes. It is to be submitted electronically in pdf format, as an attachment to an e-mail to the UGA with copies to the DUS, thesis advisor, and second reader.  The University will circulate its own requirements for submission to Mudd Library. Students traditionally have wished to print out and have bound a copy of their senior theses for their own use, but submission of the electronic copy should not be delayed: The printing and binding can always be done later.

There is a grade penalty of 1 point per weekday to a maximum of 10 (= a full letter grade) for lateness, unless a waiver is granted. Waivers require approval of the thesis advisor and the DUS. Requests for extensions on medical grounds must be supported by a note from University Health Services. Theses late past the University deadline (first day of reading period) cannot be accepted for grading by the department unless permission to do so is granted by the student's academic dean, which approval is to be sought before the University deadline passes. (If the deadline has passed and the dean's approval has not yet been secured, the student may and should nonetheless convey an electronic file of the theses to the UGA, for recording of date received, but the student should be aware that the thesis will not be read and graded until approval has been granted by the dean.)

The thesis is read and graded by the student’s advisor together with a second reader who will also serve as the student’s departmental examination coordinator. The thesis grade (like the examination grade) is reported to the student, along with oral comments by the readers, immediately after the student's departmental examination. Written comments should generally not be expected. unless specially requested in advance.

A student who fails to submit a thesis, or who receives a grade of F on the thesis, is ineligible for graduation with his or her class. If an acceptable thesis is subsequently submitted, the F will be joined on the transcript by another grade for “senior thesis, late submission”.

Under University rules, changes of grade, whether on courses or independent work, can be made only by the University Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing: This is the only body to which a student may make formal appeal, and even in cases where the relevant faculty and/or department themselves agree that a change of grade is warranted, the change-of-grade form then filed is formally only a petition to the committee, which need not always grant the petition, though it usually does so.

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Senior Departmental Examinations

Format and Syllabus.  Senior year independent work consists, in addition to the of writing the senior thesis, preparing for the departmental examination, an oral examination of an hour or seventy-five minutes’ duration on an area of philosophy including the topic of the thesis, defined by a syllabus of readings. A student who feels that an oral examination will not sufficiently reveal his or her knowledge and abilities may take a written examination in addition to, but not instead of, the oral examination. The examination is conducted by a member of the department faculty assigned as the student's examination coordinator, who also serves as second reader of the thesis, together with the student's thesis advisor. In case the advisor is a new or visiting or outside faculty member, the examination coordinator will also serve as an informal source of information for the advisor about department expectations.

    The examination is in part an oral defense of the thesis, will usually begin with the student giving a concise summary of the thesis project (with the emphasis on “concise”). The examination is not, however, merely an oral defense of the thesis, and the syllabus will generally include, in addition to items culled from the thesis bibliography, at least a couple of items not on that bibliography, so as to broaden the area somewhat beyond the immediate topic of the thesis. The coordinator assists the student in developing an acceptable syllabus during the period of a couple of weeks between the submission of the thesis and the occurrence of the examination. This syllabus typically consists in all of about a dozen philosophical papers or book chapters, a short enough list that the student should be able to be prepared to answer questions about any of them, though in practice examiners will probably not have time to get around to all of them.

    A completed examination syllabus, already discussed with the coordinator and ready for final approval by the examiners, is due by 5:00 p.m. Tuesday of the last day of spring classes. It should be submitted in pdf format as an attachment to an e-mail addressed to the UGA, with copies to the DUS and the two examiners. Any requests for a written component in addition to the oral component of the examination are also due at this time. If a student fails to submit a syllabus, the examiners may question the student at the examination about any material that seems to them pertinent, including but not limited to any item on the thesis bibliography.

Time and Place.  The examination itself is normally held during the two-day of the period towards the end of spring semester (just after reading period, at the beginning of examination period) set aside in the University academic calendar for departmental examinations. It may be held earlier if all three parties agree, but not earlier than a week after the submission of the thesis. It may not be held later, except with the permission of the student's academic dean, which is only granted in extraordinary circumstances.  It is the student's responsibility confer with both examiners and reach agreement on the day and hour of the examination, as well as the place (usually the second reader’s office, or the advisor’s if the advisor is from outside the department, though the examination may be held virtually if all parties agree). These agreed arrangements are to be reported to the UGA and DUS at the same time the examination syllabus is due. If arrangements are not completed by the student by that date, the examination coordinator will to confer with the thesis advisor and reach agreement on the hour, day during the period set aside in the University calendar for departmental examinations, and place of the examination, and report these agreed arrangements to the UGA, who will notify the student electronically. It is the student's responsibility to check e-mail regularly for such a notification. In exceptional circumstances, the examination may be held remotely if all parties agree.

Grading.  The examination grade (like the thesis grade) is reported to the student, along with the thesis grade and oral comments by the readers, immediately after the examination.  A student who fails to appear at the designated time and place for the examination receives a grade of F. A student who receives a grade of F on the examination after receiving a grade of D on the thesis is ineligible for graduation, unless the department faculty, on consideration of the student's overall academic record, votes to make an exception.  A student who fails to submit a thesis, or who receives a grade of F on the thesis is ineligible to take the departmental examination, receives a grade of INC (incomplete) for it. If an acceptable thesis is subsequently submitted, a departmental examination must then be scheduled and held before the student can be granted a late degree.

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Graduation Prizes and Honors

Declaring Departmentals.  Certain of a student's courses are designated departmentals, and the grades in courses so designated are the course grades used in computing the student's departmental average (see under Honors & Prizes below).  The official designation of departmentals occurs during the fall of the senior year when selecting courses for spring senior year:  All designations before this time are provisional.  After this time a designation cannot be changed merely in order to improve a student's average.  All philosophy courses taken for a letter grade during junior or senior year must be designated departmentals, as must all eight courses used to fulfill departmental distribution requirements (as described in section A). Designation of any other philosophy course or approved cognate is optional.

Computing Averages.  Course grades and junior independent work grades are reported as letter grades, converted to number grades for purposes of computing averages as follows:

A+     = 98
A       = 95
A-      = 92
B+     = 88
B       = 85
B-      = 82
C+     = 78
C       = 75
C-      = 72
D       = 65
F       = 55

Senior independent work (thesis and departmental examination) grades are reported as number grades, converted to letter grades for recording on the student's transcript, the lower bounds for each grade category being as follows:

97.5      = A+
92.5      = A
90.0      = A-
87.5      = B+
82.5      = B
80.0      = B-
77.5      = C+
72.5      = C
70         = C-
65         = D

(Conversion between this department scale and the conventional scale running from F = 0.0 to A+ = 4.3 is like conversion between Fahrenheit and Celsius.) The departmental average is computed according to the following formula:

Departmental Courses     40% (=   5% per course in the usual case of 8 courses)
Jr. Independent Work       20% (= 10% for each semester)
Sr. Independent Work       40% (= 35% thesis + 5% departmental examination)

Grades for courses taken at other institutions (summer, transfer, study abroad, or other) are never taken into account. (This exclusion does not apply to Princeton courses that as part of a special Princeton program are offered abroad in summer by Princeton faculty.) As already stated above, cognates are supposed to be taken before spring semester senior year, and grades from courses in outside departments will generally not be available to the department at the time averages have to be computed.

Graduation Honors.  The distinctions of honors (cum laude), high honors (magna cum laude), and highest honors (summa cum laude) are awarded on the basis of departmental averages. The faculty decides each year the conversion of averages to honors for that year, in such a way as to avoid so far as possible making a distinction as to honors between students whose averages are very close. The fraction of the class receiving some form of honors has been held to near 50% over the long term, which means that the lower bound for honors has slowly crept upwards over the years as a consequence of grade inflation. The Honors List is posted shortly after the last faculty meeting of the academic year.

Thesis Prizes.  Prizes are awarded by vote of the department faculty. All senior theses are automatically considered for prizes; no formal nomination is required. A single prize may be divided among two or more winners. The larger prizes are as follows.

McCosh Prize               for theses in any area of philosophy
Class of 1869 Prize     for theses in moral or social philosophy
Old Warbeke Prize       for theses in aesthetics
New Warbeke Prize     for theses in any area of philosophy (including history of philosophy)
                                        except moral or social philosophy or aesthetics

There are also two smaller prizes.

Dickinson Prize            for theses in logic or theory of knowledge
Tomb Prize                   for theses in philosophy of time

The Dickinson and Tomb Prizes are $500; the value of the others, which are often divided among several students, varies from year to year, but in recent years shares of such prizes have been in the thousands. There are besides some thesis prizes awarded by other departments for which seniors in the philosophy department may be eligible. Prizes are announced and awarded at the Class Day reception for parents.

**For additional useful information and resources please see the comprehensive Independent Work Guide for Concentrators.

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