Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine is a nine-month course that starts in October each year. The course is conducted by means of supervisions and seminars. Students are also encouraged to attend some of the wide range of relevant lectures offered in the Department and elsewhere in the University.

The MPhil course requires students to submit three essays, each of no more than 5,000 words, and a dissertation, of no more than 15,000 words. Work for each essay and the dissertation will be separately supervised by senior members and associates of the Department.

All MPhil students must be resident in Cambridge throughout the duration of the course.

Subject areas

The topics of the essays and dissertation should each fall within the following specified subject areas:

  1. Ancient, medieval and early modern sciences
  2. Ancient, medieval and early modern medicine
  3. Sciences in the age of empire, c. 1750–1900
  4. Modern medicine and biomedical sciences
  5. Modern sciences
  6. Metaphysics, epistemology and the sciences
  7. Ethics and politics of medicine and the sciences
  8. Philosophy of the physical sciences
  9. Philosophy of biology and the life sciences
  10. Philosophy of social and cognitive sciences

It is normally expected that no more than one essay shall be submitted in any one of these areas (but with permission from the Degree Committee, up to two essays may be submitted in the same subject area).

MPhil students are encouraged to explore a range of different topics, balancing them so that they are relevant to their interests while also spanning the subject of history and philosophy of science and medicine.

Students are permitted to write their dissertation in the same general area as one of their essays. In such cases, the dissertation and essay have to address different questions, and the dissertation must give evidence of a substantial new research effort.


The MPhil programme is administered by the MPhil Manager, who meets all new MPhil students as a group in early October, then sees each of the students individually to discuss their proposed essay and dissertation topics. The Manager is responsible for finding appropriate supervisors for each of these topics; the supervisors are then responsible for helping the student do the research and writing needed for the essays and the dissertation. Students will see each of their supervisors on a very regular basis; the MPhil Manager sees each student at regular intervals during the year to discuss progress and offer help and advice.

Supervisions are designed to provide students with the opportunity to set their own agenda for their studies. The supervisor's job is to support the student's research, not to grade their work – supervisors are formally excluded from the examination process.

Seminars and lectures

The MPhil seminars are the core teaching resource for this course. In the first part of year these seminars are led by different senior members of the Department and focus on selected readings. During the rest of the year the seminars provide opportunities for MPhil students to present their own work.

Students are also strongly encouraged to attend the Departmental Seminar and other seminars, workshops and reading groups arranged regularly by the Department. Graduate training workshops run fortnightly throughout the academic year, focusing on key research, presentation, publication and employment skills.

The Department has a full programme of undergraduate lectures. Many of these are also relevant to MPhil students, who are strongly advised to attend such lectures. The MPhil Manager and the supervisors will help indicate the lectures and seminars close to each student's interests. As members of the University, MPhil students are also entitled to attend lectures and seminars in other departments and faculties.

Part III

If you are currently a Cambridge undergraduate student you may want to apply to take the HPS Part III course rather than the MPhil. However, you can apply for the MPhil if you prefer, or you can apply for both and decide later which course to take.