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Department of History and Philosophy of Science


The Part III course gives students the opportunity to carry out focused research in History and Philosophy of Science and enables them to develop a critical and well-informed understanding of the roles of the sciences in society.

HPS Part III has a core in the form of the Part III and MPhil lectures and seminars, which are examinable by means of two Set Essays. In Lent and Easter Terms students contribute to the weekly seminars by presenting their own work and discussing the issues that arise from it.

In Michaelmas Term students work on a Research Paper. At the end of Lent Term they submit a second Research Paper. The Dissertation is due in Easter Term.

Programme specification for HPS Part III

Part III teaching

The Part III is administered by a senior member of staff, the Part III Manager, who meets all new Part III students as a group in early October, then sees each of the students individually to discuss their proposed coursework and dissertation topics. The manager is responsible for helping you find appropriate supervisors for each of these topics; the supervisors are then responsible for helping you to do the research and writing needed for the coursework and the dissertation. The Part III Manager will see you at regular intervals during the year to discuss progress and offer help and advice.

If problems arise with research or supervision, you should talk to your supervisors, the Part III Manager or your Director of Studies.

You are expected to be resident in Cambridge throughout the duration of the nine-month Part III course. The word 'vacation' has a technical meaning in Cambridge. It does not mean 'holiday' but 'research time' and you will be expected to work for most of those periods (though of course you should take a break for a week or so over Christmas and Easter).

It is expected that you will do some reading before lectures (usually items will be starred in the reading lists or otherwise made obvious) with further reading afterwards, before the follow-up seminar. 


Seminars and lectures

Part III students must attend the Part III and MPhil lectures, which meet on Wednesdays during term at 3pm.

The purpose of the lectures is to introduce research topics, methods and approaches adopted by the Department's teaching officers. Normally the lecture will last for 45 minutes with another 45 minutes left for questions and answers, although the precise format may depend on the session. Following (or in some cases preceding) each session the lecturer will canvass interest and announce the schedule for a small group seminar that explores the topics of the corresponding lecture in more depth. All Part III students should attend each lecture, but they can choose which subsequent seminars to follow. Each student must follow at least one seminar in Michaelmas and one in Lent.

Part III and MPhil timetable

In addition, Part III students should go to the Departmental Seminar and regularly attend at least one of the other seminars and reading groups arranged by the Department.

Seminars and reading groups

A wide range of graduate training workshops is offered throughout the year. You are strongly advised to attend all of those particularly targeted at Part III students, but you are very welcome to come to others that are of interest to you too.

Graduate and postdoc training

The Department offers a full programme of undergraduate lectures for Part II in the Natural Sciences Tripos. Many of these lecture courses are relevant to, and appropriate for, Part III students. You are strongly advised to attend relevant Part II lectures. The Part III Manager and your supervisors can help you identify lectures that are close to your interests.

Part II timetable

Whipple Library

The Whipple Library is the largest specialist library of its kind in the UK and provides the basis for the Department's research and teaching. It holds copies of all readings used in the MPhil and Part III seminars.

There are computers for accessing the Library catalogue, the internet, electronic journals and other subscribed electronic resources. The Library also has a scanner, microfilm reader and photocopier. User education sessions are held during Michaelmas Term.

Please register at the Library desk on your first visit with your University Card. Part III students may borrow up to 10 items for up to 4 weeks, excluding items that are 'on reserve', which can be borrowed from 4.00pm until 12.30pm the next day (weekends from Friday to Monday).

Whipple Library

Student workload

Students are expected to attend lectures and supervisions and pursue appropriate amounts of private study and preparation work for their papers and project work both during term and in the Christmas and Easter vacations. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has calculated that the average amount of scheduled teaching in full-time History and Philosophy of Science subjects at the University of Cambridge is 11 hours and 12 minutes per week, with private study of approximately 33 hours and 18 minutes per week. Therefore the average amount of work expected per week by each student during term time is around 45 hours (900 hours in total during the course of the year). NST Part III History and Philosophy of Science is a full-time course. Students have 22 hours of formal teaching and up to 13 hours of supervision, leaving 863 hours free for private study and preparation for supervisions (43 hours per week).

Applying for the PhD

Part III students who would like to apply for the PhD should submit an online application. The application should include a research proposal of at least 600 words. The deadline for applying is 16 May, but you will need to apply earlier than this if you wish to be considered for funding.

The Director of Postgraduate Education is happy to advise Part III students planning to apply for the PhD, and there is a postgraduate training workshop about this in Michaelmas Term.

Please see our postgraduate study pages for more information about the PhD, how to apply and how to get funding.

Postgraduate study