Qualifying Papers

As stated on the Ph.D. page, there are two qualifying papers (QPs).

The first (QP1) is a paper of 5000 words (including all notes and references), with leeway of plus or minus 500 words, due at midnight before the first day of Spring semester in the second year. The second (QP2) is a paper of 7500 words (including all notes and references), with leeway of plus or minus 500 words, due at midnight before the first day of Spring semester in the third year. Students should deliver a full draft of the paper to their supervisor by November 30, so that the supervisor can provide them with substantive comments. The abstract is due exactly two weeks before the QP is due, but students are encouraged to submit it by December 15.

Students may submit QPs at any time before the due date and are encouraged to do so.

Details regarding the two qualifying papers can be found below. 

  • Where a student takes a leave of absence before registering for a QP, the date for completing the QP will be advanced by the period of the leave.
  • No other extensions will be granted except for a serious medical or other emergency, including one related to physical or mental health (in which case a medical note will normally be required). In such a situation students should notify the QPC or EO before the deadline to request the extension, or make the request via the Student Affairs Office. In the absence of such an emergency, any student who does not submit a QP on time will fail the examination. Only the Executive Officer may grant such an extension. The Qualifying-Paper Coordinator or QPC is not authorized to make exceptions.
  • As soon as it is convenient, and at the latest two weeks before the QP is due, the student should provide the QPC with an abstract of the QP of no more than 200 words. The second examiner will be appointed on the basis of this abstract alone. Therefore it is important that it accurately describes the nature and content of the proposed QP (see Administration below).
  • Students are encouraged to base a QP on a course paper but this is not required. QPs may be based on work done before the student joined the Program; for example, undergraduate work; MA paper/thesis.
  • The QP2 should be on a different topic from the QP1. The two QPs may be in the same area, however; for example, both may be in Ethics, or both in the Philosophy of Language.
  • The QPs should demonstrate the necessary skills for conducting sustained research and writing at the level of professional philosophy. In particular, a QP should (i) make plain the philosophical motivation for the choice of topic; (ii) show a thorough knowledge of the relevant literature and lines of argumentation; (iii) show an ability to understand, analyze, and evaluate positions and arguments and to formulate and defend a philosophical thesis; (iv) handle references in the style of any leading philosophy journal. The ideas in the QP need not be original but the QP must reflect the author’s own working through of those ideas.
  • “Writing at the level of professional philosophy” means beginning the paper with a clear and vigorous introduction, dividing it into numbered or titled sections, and rounding off the discussion with a conclusion.  Citations, lists of references, and other notes must follow some widely-used model.  A QP will pass if it is judged to meet these criteria sufficiently. Otherwise it will fail.
  • The Executive Officer will appoint a Qualifying Paper Coordinator (QPC) to administer the QPs and a four-member “Qualifying Paper Advisory Committee” to assist in the administration in the circumstances specified in the fourth bullet below.
  • Each student shall have a supervisor to assist the student in preparing a QP. The student should, in consultation with the QPC, seek the agreement of a faculty member to be the student’s supervisor. Where the QP is based on a course paper, the instructor in that course may then serve as supervisor, but this is not required. The supervisor may be a recent visitor. The supervisor for the QP2 must be different from that for the QP1. The student must notify the QPC of a topic and supervisor before a date early in Fall semester that is designated by the Executive Officer. The QPC will register the topic and supervisor with the Program’s Assistant Program Officer.
  • The student is entitled to help with a QP from the QPC. Once the abstract has been submitted and the second examiner appointed, the student can obtain this help by sending a draft – just once - that has been approved by the supervisor.  The deadline for submitting a draft for such comments is the same date as the deadline for submitting the QP’s abstract.
  • A QP will be examined by at least the supervisor and one other faculty member. The second examiner will be appointed by the QPC upon receipt of the QP abstract and should be an expert in the field of the QP. Examining by the second examiner will be, so far as possible, anonymous. So the QP submitted to the QPC for examination should not contain the student’s name or similar identifications.
  • Where the supervisor and second examiner disagree over whether a QP should pass, the QPC will appoint a third examiner. The QPC, acting jointly with two members of the Advisory Committee, may decide to appoint a fourth (or even fifth) examiner. All additional examiners will also be expert in the field of the QP and will also, so far as possible, examine anonymously.
  • It is the responsibility of the QPC to recommend an examination result for a QP to the Executive Committee for decision. Where the supervisor and second examiner disagreed over whether a QP should pass and so a third examiner was appointed, this recommendation is made jointly with the two members of the Advisory Committee who participated in the decision whether to appoint a fourth examiner; see bullet above. Recommendations are made solely on the basis of the examiners’ report.
  • Students who fail are required to repeat, with the paper due on the first day of the following Fall semester. Students may, should they wish, repeat with the same topics and supervisors, with the permission of the QPC. Should a student fail twice, the Evaluations Committee will bring this to the attention of the Executive Committee and in the absence of considerations strong enough to override, will recommend that the student be dropped from the program.