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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


MPhil students are required to submit three essays and a dissertation. Each of them must be on a topic approved by the Degree Committee that falls within one of the specified subject areas.

You are encouraged to explore a range of different topics, balancing them so that they are both relevant to your interests and also span the subject of History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine.

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

You are permitted to write your dissertation in the same general area as one of your essays, but the dissertation and essay must address different questions, and the dissertation must show evidence of a substantial new research effort. Any use of the essay in the dissertation has to be appropriately referenced, just like any other primary or secondary source, as if the essay were written by a different person.

Similarly, if an essay or dissertation builds on previously examined, graded or published work it is essential that this is clearly identified in the text and is appropriately referenced, as if it were written by a different person. The assessors should be in no doubt as to what work you have completed in your current degree course and it is this that will be assessed.

Be aware that you should be working on Essay 2 and Essay 3 in tandem during Lent Term. Do not wait until you have submitted Essay 2 before starting work on Essay 3.

Finding a supervisor

The Department publishes a list of members of the Department and associates who are willing to supervise MPhil essays and dissertations, together with the topics on which they are prepared to supervise. You are not permitted to work with the same supervisor for more than two pieces of coursework.

Dissertation and essay supervisors

Your supervisors will see you on a very regular basis, but it is up to you to schedule those meetings according to your needs. As a rule of thumb, you can expect the following supervisions:

  • 3 for each essay;
  • 4 for the dissertation.

If you would like to work with an external supervisor – someone who is not a member of the Department – you must obtain permission from the MPhil Manager.

Topic forms

Online topic forms for the essays and dissertation will be available on Moodle.

You should complete each form by stating the topic of the essay or dissertation, selecting one of the ten subject areas, and entering the name of your supervisor.

The deadline for completing each form is shown on key dates and deadlines.

Changing the topic, subject area or supervisor

Once the Degree Committee has approved the topic, subject area and supervisor for an essay or dissertation, you must apply for permission if you want to change any of them. Permission is not automatically granted. See key dates and deadlines for the last dates for changing topics.

To change the topic, subject area or supervisor, you should complete the request form. The request must be approved by the MPhil Manager.


The University and the Department of History and Philosophy of Science take plagiarism very seriously. Please read our advice about what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.

Plagiarism guidelines

The Department uses the text-matching software Turnitin UK to blanket screen all student work submitted in Moodle.

Use of Turnitin UK

Human participants

If you are planning to collect data from human participants, or use data collected from human participants, you will need to plan well in advance to ensure that you have obtained ethical approval before starting work on your project and have given consideration to how you are going to handle the information you collect.

Working with human participants: ethical approval and data protection


Examined work should be uploaded to the 'HPS MPhil Coursework' site on Moodle before 12noon on the day of the deadline. Paper copies are not required.

Please note:

  • The work should have numbered pages, footnotes and a bibliography.
  • You cannot upload more than one file for each submission.
  • The following file formats are accepted: DOC, DOCX, PDF, RTF.

The essays and dissertation will be marked anonymously, so it is important that your name does not appear anywhere on them.

Please give the following information on the first page:

  • Title
  • Subject area (the same as the one you selected on your topic form)
  • Supervisor
  • Word count

You are advised to check your email the day after you have submitted to ensure there are no queries about your work.

The Senior Examiner will advise the Examiners' Meeting of any late submissions and, unless there are exceptional circumstances, this will normally entail the cumulative loss of marks for each day's lateness beyond the published deadline: i.e. within one day, one mark will be deducted; within two days, two additional marks will be deducted (making three marks in total); within three days, an additional three marks will be deducted (making six marks in total), etc. Given that problems can and do occur (such as computers crashing), students are advised that their work should be ready almost a week in advance of the formal deadline. The Department adheres strictly to the rule that permission to submit essays or dissertations late will only be granted by the Degree Committee (or by the Degree Committee's chair taking chair's action) if a formal request is received from the candidate's College, with medical or similar reasons given in documentary form.

Please note that the Department will retain a copy of your dissertation and essays and may make them available to future students unless you make a written request to the contrary to the Departmental Administrator.

Word limit

The word limit is 5,000 words for each essay and 12,000 for the dissertation. This includes footnotes but excludes the bibliography and prefatory matter.

Figures may be included in the work and should contribute to the argument. They should be captioned only so as to specify the source; such captions are excluded from the word count. Formulae may be used where appropriate and are also excluded from the word count.

In order to ensure the equitable enforcing of the word limit laid down for MPhil work, candidates will be required to submit their work, on the specified deadline, stating the word count in the work. Upon submission the Senior Examiner will inspect each piece of work to ensure that the word limit has been respected. If it has not, the candidate will be asked to revise the work so that it does conform to the word limit. Given that the inspection will take place at the time of the deadline, the rule governing penalties for late submission will be applied (i.e. if the revised work is submitted within one day, one mark will be deducted; within two days, two marks will be deducted, etc).

The Department uses Microsoft Word to check word counts. If you use coding software, such as LaTeX, you should be aware that this software may give a different word count. You may find it helpful to use TeXcount, an online tool that analyses LaTeX code to provide an accurate count of words, formulae, captions and footnotes. If using software other than Microsoft Word you should submit a screenshot to demonstrate the word count from the software used.

Policy on editions, translations and bibliographies

An essay or dissertation should be self-contained, including or citing all information needed for an examiner to follow its argument.

The word limit normally includes text and footnotes but not the bibliography. However, in certain cases permission may be obtained for materials strictly relevant to the argument of the essay or dissertation to be footnoted or appended for the information of the examiners, with such materials not contributing to the word count. Materials falling into this category may include primary source materials that are not readily accessible, translations, questionnaire responses, statistical tables, descriptions of objects and analytical bibliographies.

Normally material included in the word count should mainly consist of the candidate's own discussion and analysis. Exceptionally, when a critical edition or translation, an analytical bibliography, or a technical description of objects and their provenances is based on substantial original scholarship and is central to the argument of an essay or dissertation, permission may be obtained for its inclusion within the body of the essay or dissertation, hence contributing to the word count. Normally no more than one third of an essay or dissertation should consist of such material.

Applications for such permissions should be sought, in consultation with the supervisor, from the Degree Committee at the time at which the topic of the essay or dissertation in question is submitted for approval.

Feedback to MPhil students

During the course of their studies, students receive feedback in person from their supervisors, and from the Course Manager, as well as from termly online supervision reports. The first essay is examined prior to the end of the Michaelmas Term in order to provide students with early feedback on their performance so they can gauge the level of achievement which the course requires, and so they have reliable pointers as to future applications for the PhD, whose deadlines are often early in the academic year. Essay 2 is examined at the end of January, and feedback is given a couple of weeks later in mid-February. Essay 3 is examined at the end of Lent Term, and feedback is given on this shortly afterwards together with a provisional overall mark for the essay component of the course.

After each Board of Examiners meeting, the MPhil Managers meet with students, report the provisional agreed class and provide copies of the non-confidential parts of the reports. At these meetings the work is discussed and assessors' remarks are put in context for future work. Students may contact their supervisor after this meeting if they want to discuss the reports in more detail.

Marks are subject to moderation up until the final Board of Examiners meeting, and require approval by the Degree Committee in late June/early July. At the end of the course the Department provides students with an informal transcript with details of each of their individual marks. Formal transcripts can be downloaded from CamSIS.

Feedback on the overall performance of each year is provided by Senior and External Examiners' Reports which are submitted at the end of the year. Students may find it useful to see examiners' comments on the previous year's work, particularly mark distributions and recommendations.


Request form (for changing the topic, subject area or supervisor, or adding an appendix)

Extension form (for requesting a deadline extension)