Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Graduate and postdoc training programme, 2015–16

The Department offers an extensive programme to help the academic development of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Visiting students, visiting scholars and members of other Cambridge departments are also welcome to attend various parts of the programme, space permitting.

All sessions in this programme are given by the Department's core teaching officers, or other leading experts. The Graduate Training Officer (Marta Halina) welcomes suggestions for improvements. Additional sessions can be arranged by request, during the current academic year as well as in future years.


(see also termly lists of events)

Start-of-year induction sessions

(1) MPhil and Part III students
Wednesday 7 October 2015, 2–5pm, Seminar Room 2

This induction will consist of two parts:

  • 2–3pm, General introductory meeting for new people
  • 3–5pm, Introduction to the master's programmes

The latter session will be conducted by the MPhil Manager (Anna Alexandrova), the Part III Manager (Hasok Chang), and the Departmental Librarian (Anna Jones). Basic course structure and routines will be explained, and initial guidance will be given on how to get on with the first essay: choosing a topic, choosing and working with a supervisor, doing the research, and writing. There will be some specific guidance given on the Research Paper for Part III students, and the first essay for MPhil students. Initial advice will also be given for those who are interested in applying for a PhD in Cambridge or elsewhere, to be followed up by an hour-long advice session later in the term. A brief introduction to the rest of the graduate and postdoc training programme will also be given. (This induction session will be followed, at a later date, by individual meetings with the MPhil Manager or Part III Manager. Later in the year, look out for the advice session on dissertation-writing.)

(2) New PhD students and new PhD supervisors
Wednesday 7 October 2015, 12–5pm, Seminar Room 1, except 2–3pm

This induction will consist of four parts:

  • 12–1pm: Welcome and introduction
  • 1–2pm: Buffet lunch
  • 2–3pm: General introductory meeting for new people (in Seminar Room 2)
  • 3–5pm: Getting started with PhD research

The first part, conducted by the Director of Graduate Studies (Simon Schaffer) will explain the basic structure of the PhD programme (including the annual reviews and the log book) and give advice on how to establish a working routine with the supervisor. Advice will be given about the support structures in the Department, the School and the University. The last part, chaired by the Graduate Training Officer (Marta Halina) with the help of the Departmental Librarian (Anna Jones) and others, will give detailed advice on how to start researching for your PhD project and how to build the background knowledge and expertise to support that research. This will include a detailed introduction to the rest of the graduate and postdoc training programme, and other ongoing teaching, research and training programmes in the Department and elsewhere in the University.

(3) Second-year PhD students
Thursday 8 October 2015, 4–6pm, Seminar Room 1

This session will be conducted by a faculty member in the Department with extensive experience of PhD supervision (John Forrester this year). A broad range of guidance will be given on managing the mid-stage of the PhD and maintaining the momentum of research and writing. This session will incorporate advice given in previous years in separate sessions under the headings of 'How to beat the mid-PhD slump', 'How to give a research talk', 'How to make the most of conferences', and 'How to publish an article'. Some preliminary advice will also be given on other aspects of career development, including the building-up of teaching experience. There will be a brief introduction to this year's graduate and postdoc training programme, and other ongoing teaching, research and training programmes in the Department and elsewhere in the University.

(4) Late-stage PhD students and new postdocs
Thursday 8 October 2015, 4–6pm, Seminar Room 2

This session, for 3rd- and 4th-year PhD students and new postdocs, will be conducted by a senior member of the Department (Lauren Kassell this year). A broad range of guidance will be given on managing the final stage of the PhD, and the process of applying for academic jobs or developing non-academic career paths. This session will incorporate advice given in previous years in separate sessions under the headings of 'How to finish your PhD', 'How to give a research talk', 'How to make the most of conferences', 'How to publish an article', 'How to apply for a research grant', and 'How to get a job in academia'. Part of its aim is to highlight the existence of a large and congenial community of early-career scholars in (and around) the Department. Ways of encouraging mutual support within this community will be explored; for example, in past years people have enjoyed and benefited from the jobseekers' coffee mornings (leader TBA).

Academic skills and career development

Building on the advice given in the start-of-year induction sessions, these meetings will focus on very specific tasks and skills. They take place on Fridays 1–2pm in Seminar Room 1, unless otherwise noted; feel free to bring lunch.

How do undergraduate supervisions work?
Friday 9 October 2015, 1–2pm; Marta Halina and Sachiko Kusukawa

All PhD students and postdocs are encouraged to supervise undergraduate students taking Part IB and Part II HPS courses. If you have never done supervisions before, this workshop is an essential prerequisite. It will explain the relationship between lectures and supervisions, departments/faculties and Colleges, and also cover practical topics such managing reports and payments through CamCORS.

How to supervise examinable coursework (I)
Friday 16 October 2015, 1–2pm; Anna Alexandrova

This session is required for first-time supervisors of examinable coursework (Part III and MPhil papers, and Part II dissertations and primary source essays), and optional for supervisors with previous experience. This workshop will give guidance on helping students choose topics, find and use good sources, plan and carry out research and writing, and manage the constraints of deadlines and word limits. We will also consider strategies for coping with various problem scenarios: how and when to ask for help; questions of confidentiality; and how not to end up doing all the work yourself!

How to supervise Part IB and Part II essays
Friday 23 October 2015, 1–2pm; Marta Halina and Sachiko Kusukawa

This is a continuation of the session 'How do undergraduate supervisions work?', but it is also useful for more experienced supervisors. It will provide guidance on effective ways to plan and deliver supervisions, with a particular focus on how to mark and comment on essays, based on real-life examples. There will also be a discussion of the pedagogical functions of supervisions.

Apply for a PhD!
Thursday 5 November 2015, 1–2pm; Simon Schaffer and David Thompson

For those considering doing a PhD, in Cambridge or elsewhere, deadlines will soon be looming. This workshop, run by the Director of Graduate Studies, will explain the Department's PhD admissions requirements and processes. More generally, advice will be provided on choosing places to apply to, finding a workable topic and appropriate potential supervisors, securing references, writing a convincing proposal, and applying for funding.

How to supervise examinable coursework (II)
Friday 15 January 2016, 1–2pm; Hasok Chang

How to write a Part III/MPhil dissertation
Mid-Lent 2016, TBC; Anna Alexandrova and Hasok Chang

In this session (constitute the first Part III/MPhil dissertation seminar) the MPhil and Part III Managers will offer advice on getting started on the dissertation: choosing a topic, finding a supervisor, locating sources, and planning the research and writing. Attention will be drawn to the qualities that examiners typically look for in a high-quality dissertation, and also the common pitfalls. Guidance will also be given on formalities such as deadlines, word counts, figures, appendices and referencing style.

Other sessions to be organised on demand:

  • How to publish a book
  • How to give a research talk and chair a session
  • Life after PhD
  • How to apply for a grant
  • How to publish an article

Research focus seminars

HPS encompasses a bewildering range of topics and methodological approaches. These seminars will focus on some specific ones, offering lively examples of ongoing work by faculty and students as well as abstract debates and concrete advice on practicalities. These seminars take place on Fridays 1–2pm in Seminar Room 1, unless otherwise noted; feel free to bring lunch. They are open to all members of the Department, and Part III, MPhil and PhD students are particularly encouraged to participate in them. (They are complemented by a set of research guides, currently being updated.)

A few exemplars will be featured during Michaelmas Term. Sessions for the remainder of the academic year will be organised according to demand and interest. Please make requests to the Graduate Training Officer for any themes you would like to have covered.

Working with rare printed books and archives in HPS
Friday 30 October 2015, 1–2pm, Whipple Old Library; Anna Jones and colleagues

Special collections of printed books and archives are the primary sources of much research in HPS. This session will introduce some of the many significant collections in Cambridge, and discuss the tools available online and in print to help you identify, locate and compare relevant material further afield.

The session is stand-alone, but would serve as a useful prelude to the 'Science in print' seminar series starting in the Whipple in November, which will focus on more technical aspects of book production and description.

Researching in museums
Friday 13 November 2015, 1–2pm; Josh Nall and others – meet by the information desk in the Museum’s Main Gallery

Why is there a museum inside the HPS Department? What does it collect and display, and why? And how can students use its diverse array of instruments, models, and ephemera as part of their own research? Take a tour and get the answers to these questions and more from the Whipple Museum's Assistant Curator, Josh Nall. Then hear from HPS students and researchers about their own experiences of working with Whipple Museum objects.

The programme for Lent and Easter Terms will be confirmed later. The Graduate Training Officer welcomes requests for particular themes to be covered.

Graduate seminars

The graduate seminars offer a sustained and systematic introduction to specific cutting-edge areas of research, led by faculty members who are leading experts in those areas.

Aims and methods of histories of the sciences
Nick Jardine, with Hasok Chang and Cristina Chimisso; 6 sessions; Mondays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 26 October

These six workshops are for discussion of the history, aims, methods and problems of the history of science. In the first Nick Jardine will give an overview of the origins of the discipline and its current problems and prospects. Topics to be discussed in subsequent meetings include Hélène Metzger and French historiography of the sciences (introduced by Cristina Chimisso, Open University) and the relations between history of science and philosophy of science (introduced by Hasok Chang). Suggestions for themes and readings for the remaining sessions will be welcome as will volunteers to introduce topics.

Science in print I: book production in the hand press period
Roger Gaskell and Anna Jones; 4 sessions; Wednesdays 11am–12.30pm, weekly from 11 November; Whipple Old Library, except session 3

Using examples from the Whipple Library's rare book collections, these sessions will explore some bibliographical techniques to identify and describe the structure and production of printed material from the hand press period (16th–18th centuries). Understanding the book as a physical object is a vital complement to the study of the text, helping to locate its economic and social context, its audience, and ultimately its historical significance. Although the focus will be on scientific texts and illustrations, these sessions will be of interest to book historians in all disciplines, and all are welcome. The series will be structured as follows:

  1. Survey of the hand press period I (Roger Gaskell)
  2. Survey of the hand press period II (Roger Gaskell)
  3. Hand press book production and its implications (in UL Historical Printing Room, led by Roger Gaskell)
  4. Bibliographies, catalogues and online resources (Anna Jones)

For further information and to book a place, please contact Anna Jones (ahr23).

Science in print II: book production in the 19th and early 20th centuries
James Poskett and Sarah Bull; 3 sessions, Lent Term; Whipple Old Library

Science in Print continues in the Lent Term with a sub-series of sessions looking at mechanized book production in the 19th and early 20th centuries led by experts from the Department's postdoc community, with a special focus on the following themes:

  1. Production
  2. Illustration
  3. Distribution

Attendance will not depend on participation in SiPI, but those wishing to gain a fuller understanding of book production should aim to attend both series if possible, since many of the techniques used in the mechanized period develop those establish during the hand press period.

For further information and to book a place, please contact Anna Jones (ahr23).

Other events and resources

Undergraduate courses

Graduate students and postdocs in HPS are encouraged to benefit from any undergraduate (Part IB and Part II) courses that they consider useful. They can provide systematic introductions to subject areas that are new to you, and point to research topics and reading materials even in areas you are reasonably familiar with.



The Department features a variety of seminars and reading groups, some long running such as the Cabinet of Natural History and CamPoS, others temporary, and many in between. The schedule is published termly.

Seminar programme

HPS Philosophy Workshop
Fortnightly, Wednesdays 5–6pm; organised by Hardy Schilgen and Stijn Conix

HPS Philosophy Workshop is a fortnightly peer group seminar devoted to the discussion of on-going work by graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in philosophy. Short papers will normally be circulated by email one week in advance of each meeting, where the author will give a brief synopsis. The aim of the seminar is to provide a forum for informal, constructive interaction amongst those currently engaged in philosophical research.

HPS History Workshop
Fortnightly alternating with above, Wednesdays 5–6pm; organised by Andreas Sommer and TBA

HPS History Workshop is a seminar group, run by and for graduate students and postdocs, devoted to peer discussion of work in progress on the history and historiography of science, for example PhD chapters, dissertations, articles intended for publication or conference papers. The seminar aims to provide an informal arena for the exchange of ideas among students of the history of science in HPS and elsewhere, but philosophers, sociologists etc are very welcome too.

Supervisors’ coffee mornings
11am on alternating Fridays; organiser Riana Betzler

Once your formal supervisor training is over, who do you turn to for continued support? Your fellow supervisors, of course! The College Liaison Officer can also be very helpful when disciplinary matters arise. Come and chat over coffee to other Department supervisors about how it's going, share the pleasures successes of good supervisions and seek advice over trickier issues.

Jobseekers’ coffee mornings
(Volunteer needed)

This group offers informal support and advice for those who are applying for jobs, any jobs, inside or outside academia, or somewhere in between. We discuss the uses of the Careers Service, how to draft a cover letter, who to ask for references, how to pick jobs to apply for, and many more. Come by to share your successes and failures, both are inevitable!

Practice job talks and mock interviews
Anna Alexandrova

If you have a job talk or an interview coming up, the best preparation is to practise it. The Department can help arranging either. Ask your supervisor or Anna Alexandrova. Postdoctoral jobseekers can (and should) also make an appointment with Steve Joy at the Careers Service.

Language help

The Greek Therapy and Latin Therapy groups each offer informal weekly sessions, led by an expert tutor, to help you improve your reading skills in these languages. Greek Therapy is run by Liz Smith and will meet at 5.30pm on Wednesdays in the Board Room. Latin Therapy is organized by Tillmann Taape and Natalie Lawrence (watch for announcement). If English is not your first language and you find yourself struggling to read, write and communicate effectively in an academic environment, come and talk to the Graduate Training Officer (Marta Halina) and/or explore the resources at the University's Language Centre.

Externally provided courses and resources

All graduate students and postdoctoral researchers are encouraged to attend relevant training courses offered by other bodies, most of which are free to members of the University. There's now a central University of Cambridge Training website where you can sign up for any course. Here are some particularly noteworthy:

The University's Skills Portal also lists a lot of useful courses and resources for graduate students and research staff.

Travel and training grants

The Department offers small grants towards travel costs to conferences for those giving papers at conferences (not for attendance only), and towards any particular training need that is not catered for otherwise.