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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


Each essay and dissertation is read by two senior members or associates of the Department, neither of whom will have supervised the work being marked. Both will submit independent reports.

The three essays together account for 50% of the overall mark; the dissertation accounts for the remaining 50% of the overall mark.

When marking coursework, assessors will be asking:

  1. What is the main achievement of this work? Is there an original contribution? If so, what is it?
  2. Does the candidate show a good understanding of relevant material? Is the content of the work informative and insightful?
  3. Does the candidate advance effective arguments contributing towards well-articulated conclusions?
  4. Has the candidate used a sufficient number and range of appropriate sources? Are they effectively used and properly credited and cited?
  5. Does the work have a clear and effective structure? Is the writing clear, grammatical, and free of typographical and other errors? Is the style of the references and footnotes clear and consistent?

The three essays must cover a range of topics and, taken together, must show evidence of a broad knowledge of history, philosophy and sociology of science, technology and medicine. They are not required to present original research to pass.

In order to pass, the dissertation must be clearly written, take account of previously published work on the subject, and represent a contribution to learning. It must show evidence of independent research.

In Cambridge, higher degrees are not formally classified. The MPhil is publicly classed only in pass/fail terms. No marks are made publicly available. The minimum pass level for the examination is the equivalent of Class II.I in Part II of a Tripos, extrapolated for one year of graduate study. On the basis of the mark scheme adopted by the Natural Sciences Tripos, the HPS Degree Committee has determined the following mark scheme for the MPhil in History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine:

Mark 80+
First Class (Starred Distinction)
An outstanding and memorable performance in which all the qualities deemed to constitute first-class work are present in a remarkable degree. The work should be well researched and substantially original, bearing in mind that originality has many dimensions: it may reside, for instance, in the thesis defended; or in the way a known thesis is presented and defended. Such work might well form the basis for publication. Potential for outstanding PhD work.
Mark 75–79
First Class (Distinction)

Mark 70–74
First Class (Boundary for PhD)

Work which is of high calibre both in the range and in the command of the material and in the argument and analysis that it brings to bear. The examiner would expect some elements of originality – which may consist in putting together material in novel ways – although originality alone would not guarantee marks in this range. Work in this class will generally meet the following criteria: the argument may be sophisticated, incisive or demonstrate flair; there may be a wealth of relevant information, showing exceptional knowledge and understanding of the issues involved; the approach may be unorthodox in the best sense, suggesting new and worthwhile ways of considering material. The submitted work may display evidence of extensive research imaginatively and convincingly deployed.
Work which receives a mark of 70 to 74: A solid performance in which some of the criteria for first class work will clearly be present but not necessarily all. Shows potential for PhD work.
Work which receives a mark of 75 to 79: A very strong performance demonstrating clear originality, and in which the qualities deemed to constitute first-class work are consistently well represented. Clear potential for good PhD work.
Mark 65–69
High Performance
Clearly proficient with a proper coverage of relevant material. Work may indicate broader range than the Pass category and should be reasonably well presented. Solid but on occasion unimaginative. Ambition of work clearly visible but not always carried through. The analysis and argument are generally good. Work at the upper end of this category shows evidence of a good and broad-based engagement with, and understanding of, the relevant material and organised in a clearly-argued, well-illustrated and relevant fashion. The essay or dissertation will usually contain material which displays evidence of high intelligence, and which is regularly, but not consistently, sophisticated in analysis, impressive in its display of relevant knowledge, and occasionally demonstrate flair.
Mark 60–64
Work which is basically competent, and, in the case of dissertations, reasonably independent. Interesting and provocative ideas may not be carried through fully convincingly. The main thesis may be vague, too general, too unambitious or else over-ambitious. There may be gaps in the bibliography, deficiencies in the overall structure; and weaknesses of analysis and argument. A piece of work which is not always clearly written.
Mark 0–59
Work that, while it may show reasonable knowledge of the material, and serious effort, reveals deficiencies in understanding, organisation or breadth of reference. Work that is derivative or irrelevant, ignorant or extremely superficial. Work showing minimal understanding of material or serious deficiencies in argument.

Candidates are required to pass in each part of the examination separately (i.e. the essays and the dissertation), except in the following special circumstances:

  • A candidate whose failure in the essays is marginal should be allowed to submit a dissertation, and a high performance in the dissertation may be taken into account by the Degree Committee in determining their recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies. Students whose overall essay mark is a marginal fail will be warned by the MPhil Manager in May.
  • Where a candidate's failure in the dissertation is marginal, a high performance in the essays may be taken into consideration by the Degree Committee in determining their recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies.

At the end of the course, examiners may decide to hold an oral examination. Such an examination will in any case be necessary if the dissertation is judged to be a marginal failure or if there is a very marked discrepancy between the two examiners' independent reports on the dissertation.


The Jennifer Redhead Prize, which was endowed by Professor Michael Redhead when he retired as Head of the Department, is awarded each year to the MPhil student who has the best overall performance in the MPhil essays.

The Rausing Prize, endowed by the Rausing family, is awarded annually to the MPhil student who writes the best dissertation.

Student prizes


You will be able to obtain informal verbal feedback on your MPhil performance from the MPhil Manager after the Degree Committee meeting on Monday 27 June. Please note that at this stage the MPhil Manager is allowed only to indicate the grade of the performance (i.e. pass, high performance, distinction, first class distinction), not the marks or assessors' comments. Transcripts and copies of the assessors' reports will be available after your marks have been formally ratified by the Student Registry.