Postgraduate Philosophy


There is a vast amount of information available for those students who are thinking of studying philosophy at the postgraduate level. Information about funding, types of programmes, and career prospects are especially important, and those interested in postgraduate study should click on the relevant subsidiary links. Perhaps the best way to find out about MA and PhD programmes in the UK is to consult particular university websites; but applicants might also want to consult Brian Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report for information about postgraduate study beyond the UK.

The British Postgraduate Philosophical Association has an excellent website with a useful ’resources’ section, including information about careers, publishing, and teaching.

UK masters programmes: information for prospective students

Masters degrees in the UK have a confusing range of names (e.g. MA, MLitt, MPhil, BPhil).

This is partly due to the fact that in Oxford and Cambridge MA is a courtesy title, given to those who have a BA, a few years after graduation, and in Scotland it is given to students after their fourth year of undergraduate study, in comparison to the normal three year programme in the UK. Hence there are no postgraduate programmes called ’MA’ at Oxford or Cambridge or in Scotland – but there are Masters programmes with different titles.

Also several universities have more than one Masters-level qualification. For example, London and Birmingham have both an MPhil and an MA; and Manchester, Liverpool and UEA all have MA and MRes programmes.

Consequently the names can be misleading.There are, however, a few basic distinctions to bear in mind:

  • Whether the programme is one year or two years.
  • Whether the programme is a ’general’ degree, or a ’specialised’ one (e.g. Philosophy of Mind, Indian Philosophy, Metaphysics, etc.). A general degree does not mean that one cannot specialise to at least some extent; however a specialised one commits the student to a particular area of study in advance, normally drawing on the specialisation within the department.
  • Whether, or to what extent, the programme involves taught modules, and if so, what the balance of taught modules and dissertation is. All Masters degrees involve writing a thesis; however, the proportion of the programme that the thesis occupies can range from about a third to 100%. Some universities explicitly offer both ’taught’ Masters and ’research’ Masters programmes; some run different taught programmes, with one aimed at students who simply want to do one (or one more) year of philosophy, and another aimed at students who intend to pursue a PhD afterwards. Programmes in the latter category tend to focus more on research skills and/or have a larger thesis component.
  • What kind of undergraduate-level (BA, BSc) qualification is required. Some programmes require a BA in Philosophy, or at least an undergraduate degree with a significant philosophy component (e.g. English & Philosophy, or PPE). Others do not. Some programmes have specific modules that must be taken by students without an undergraduate philosophy degree.

Funding for Philosophy postgraduates in the UK

For UK and EU students, the main source of funding for PhD students in the UK is the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), about which more below.

In addition, the Mind Association and the British Society for the Philosophy of Science provide scholarships for PhD study. The Mind Association has one scholarship, for overseas PhD students, every 3 years. The BSPS offers one scholarship per year to PhD students (home/EU or overseas) conducting research in the philosophy of science, paid at the same rate as the AHRC.

Finally, individual universities and departments often offer their own fee waivers, bursaries, teaching assistantships and scholarships. The easiest way to find out about these may be to browse department websites.

AHRC awards

The AHRC has numerous funding schemes for postdoctoral philosophy students as well as the Doctoral Awards Scheme. The latter is available only to home and EU students. For home (UK) students, the award pays your fees and a living allowance. For non-UK EU students, it pays your fees only.

For 2008-9 awards, you apply through the department you wish to study in; you are only allowed to apply through one department. The deadline is in May, but many departments will require you to apply to them several months earlier, to give them time to prepare your application.

From 2009-10, the AHRC is changing the way it awards postgraduate studentships. For most (but not all) philosophy departments, a quota of studentships will be allocated, for the department to award to whomever it chooses. There is thus no separate application process to the AHRC itself.

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