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PhD Field of Study Exams

Submitted by Anonymous on Thu, 02/08/2007 - 4:27pm

PhD students must pass the three written departmental Field of Study (FoS) examinations prior to their Thesis Proposal Oral Examination and within 20 months of first registration. The FoS examinations are intended to test the student’s knowledge of, and competence to work in, their chosen areas of philosophy. Students are expected to show understanding of the central positions and important lines of debate in the chosen area, and to demonstrate general intellectual and philosophical ability at the PhD level.

Students must write and pass the FoS examinations in three of the following four major areas of Philosophy:

  1. Metaphysics and Epistemology:

    1. Metaphysics

    2. Epistemology

    3. Philosophy of Mind

    4. Philosophy of Science

  2. Moral and Political Philosophy:

    1. Ethics

    2. Political Philosophy

  3. Philosophy of Language and Logic:

    1. Philosophy of Language

    2. Philosophy of Logic

  4. History of Philosophy:

    1. Plato and Aristotle

    2. 12th Century to 14th Century Medieval

    3. Early Modern

    4. Late Modern

For the first three areas, a student chooses one subarea for examination. For the History of Philosophy area, the student chooses two subareas for examination. For at most two areas, a student may submit a research paper in lieu of a written exam.

Composition of Area Field of Study Examination Committees

There is a standing FoS examination committee for each of the four examination areas.  All exam answers and papers are evaluated by the appropriate area FoS examination committee. Each committee consists of three members, including a chair. All committee members vote. The Department Head (in consultation with the Graduate Program Director) appoints area FoS examination committees and selects a chair for each.

Scheduling of Field of Study Examinations

For each FoS examination, the student may choose one of the following:

  1. A 3-hour on-site, closed-book exam

  2. A 72-hour take-home, open-book exam

  3. A research paper

At least one FoS examination must be taken as a 3-hour or 72-hour exam. Specific rules for submitting a research paper as an FoS examination answer are given below.

FoS exams are offered at least four times per academic year. Specific dates for a given academic year will be announced on the department website by May 1 of the preceding academic year. Exam dates are generally the last Friday of August, November, February, and April. Students have the option of writing one or more exams during any of the scheduled exam periods.

Students must inform the Graduate Program Administrator of their intention to sit a 3-hour or 72-hour exam, and their chosen subarea(s), two weeks in advance of a given date.

Format and Process of Field of Study Examinations

Each FoS examination subarea covers a set bibliography. These bibliographies are reviewed by the respective area examination committee every two years. Changes, if any, are announced by the first day of Fall term and will be effective for examinations administered beginning the following Winter term. Bibliographies, as well as sample questions, are available from the Department’s Graduate Office and online at the Department’s website. FoS examination questions cover the literature contained in these bibliographies.

For each exam, the area FoS examination committee sets six questions, of which the student must answer two. Given the breadth of the History of Philosophy field, the committee sets six questions per subarea for a History of Philosophy exam, and the student must answer one for each subarea.

For a 3-hour exam, an answer to each of the two questions chosen is expected to range between 3 and 6 handwritten pages (between 600 and 1,200 words).  Since it is a closed-book exam, it is not expected that the student cite or bring to bear literature not on the reading list. Direct quotations and full bibliographic references are not required.

For a 72-hour exam, answers are expected to be typed, proofread, and formatted as a term paper would be.  The exposition and argument should be supported with pertinent quotations, if appropriate, and a list of references is required in standard bibliographic format. Answers should range between 6 and 14 pages (between 1,500 and 3,500 words), excluding bibliography).

A student may choose to submit a research paper as a FoS examination answer.

  1. Students should consult with the respective area committee between 2 and 4 months before the date on which they plan to submit a paper. The paper’s topic must be submitted for approval to the chair of the relevant examination committee at least seven weeks before the proposed examination date, and approved by the committee not less than six weeks before the exam. In order to be approved, all area FoS committee members must approve it.

  2. Because the FoS examination requirement is intended to ascertain whether students have broad knowledge of the examination area, the topic of the paper should not be overly narrow. A paper, as opposed to the 72-hour and 3-hour examinations, must also demonstrate ability to research a specific topic in depth. The literature taken into account should be current. The submission should exhibit both the ability to explain or summarize clearly a problem, issue, or subject, and the ability to engage critically with it. Mere literature surveys are unacceptable.

  3. It is permitted to re-use material from papers previously submitted to satisfy course requirements, however, at least half of the submitted paper must be new.

  4. Notwithstanding (3), paper submission should surpass the typical graduate seminar papers in both depth and length, but should not exceed 10,000 words (approx. 40 double-spaced pages), excluding bibliography.

  5. Papers submitted in satisfaction of a FoS examination requirement should be typed, double spaced, in 12-point font, be proofread for clarity, and free of spelling and grammatical errors.

  6. Papers must be submitted by 4pm on the examination day to the Graduate Program Administrator, preferably by email. Late submissions will not be accepted.

  7. A student can meet with members of the committee to discuss philosophical content in the relevant area. Committee members will not read or comment on draft papers, but students are free to obtain feedback on their papers from anyone else  before submitting it.

Evaluation of Field of Study Examinations

After a student submits a FoS examination answers or paper, the members of the responsible Area FoS Examination Committee will evaluate the submission, and communicate their evaluation of the submission to the Chair. If at least one committee member votes to fail a paper submission, or, in the case of 3- and 72-hour exams, at least one submitted answer, or if one of the members of the committee requests it, the Chair of the Area FoS Committee arranges a meeting of the committee to discuss the submission. At the end of the discussion in that meeting, the committee members again vote. For a research paper, the committee votes on whether the submission is a pass or fail.  For 3-hour and 72-hour exams, the committee votes separately on each submitted answer. In order to pass, the majority (that is, 2 of 3) members of the committee must vote to pass. In order for a 3-hour or 72-hour exam to pass, both answers must pass. Otherwise, i.e., if the members are unanimously of the opinion that the submission is of passing quality, the submission passes, no meeting is required, and the deliberations of the committee end.

In order to pass, an answer must show the student's ability to (a) articulate, clearly and even-handedly, definitions of philosophical concepts, philosophical views and arguments relevant to the topic; (b) critically assess philosophical views and arguments; and (c) marshal philosophical criticisms and defenses of these criticisms at the PhD level.

For 72-hour take-home exams, in addition to criteria (a)-(c) given above, the committee will take into account the relevance and use made of additional literature not on the reading list the student chooses to discuss, as well as the structure and quality of writing of the answer.

The Chair of the Area FoS Examination Committee will inform the student and the Graduate Program Director immediately after the committee meeting, and in any case within within three weeks of the exam submission, whether the student has passed. The FoS component of candidacy is completed when the student has passed three FoS exams. If the student has not passed, the committee will provide the student with written comments concerning the decision. If the committee does not make a decision within three weeks of the exam submission, the Graduate Program Director will ensure that the examination is assessed without further delay.

A student who fails a Field of Study examination in a given subarea will be allowed to re-take the examination after at least two and within six months of the failed examination. The second failure of a Field of Study examination in a subarea will result in a student being required to withdraw (see the Graduate Calendar, Academic Regulations – Candidacy – Candidacy Examination Outcomes).

Appeal of Failed Field of Study Examination

A student who fails a Field of Study examination may appeal directly to the Faculty of Graduate Studies (see the Graduate Calendar, Academic Regulations – Appeals – Appeals Against Faculty of Graduate Studies Rulings).

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