MSt in Philosophy of Physics | University of Oxford
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MSt in Philosophy of Physics

About the course

This one-year taught graduate course offers graduate education in philosophy of physics of the highest possible quality, and aims to provide a foundation on which you can go on to pursue doctoral work in the area. It is likely to be of particular interest for candidates whose background is in physics rather than in philosophy and it presumes an undergraduate-level physics education.

This course consists of core courses in the philosophy of physics and philosophy of science and one elective subject. You are examined on the basis of four essays. Tuition is offered in the form of one-to-one supervisions, lectures and classes.

Please note that this course is not a research degree.

Philosophy of physics

During the first two terms, you will attend the undergraduate (intermediate) lecture courses on the philosophy of physics, participate in a dedicated graduate class running once per week and should receive a total of twelve hours of one-to-one supervisions, eight hours in the first term and four hours in the second term. 

Supervisions are usually approximately two hours long so you should normally receive six two-hour supervisions in total, four in the first term and two in the second term. The subject of discussion during the supervisions will be chosen by you in consultation with your supervisor, normally on an issue arising out of the class and lectures.

You will write an essay for each supervision and discussion of this essay will form the basis of the supervision.

This subject is examined by two essays of no more than 5,000 words, to be written over the Easter vacation, on topics that will be prescribed by the examiners. At most one essay may fall under each of the following subjects:

  • the philosophy of quantum theory
  • the philosophy of space, time and symmetry
  • the philosophy of statistical mechanics and thermodynamics
  • other topics in the philosophy of physics

Philosophy of science

You will attend the undergraduate lecture courses in the philosophy of science and the graduate class in philosophy of science and should receive six hours of one-to-one supervisions, usually in the form of three supervisions of around two hours each. This subject is examined by one essay of no more than 5,000 words on a topic of your own choosing, but excluding topics specifically in the philosophy of physics (as specified above).

Elective subject

You will study one of the following subjects:

  • metaphysics and theory of knowledge
  • philosophy of mind and action
  • philosophical logic and philosophy of language
  • philosophy of mathematics

You will attend the graduate class in the elective subject and should receive six hours of one-to-one supervisions, usually in the form of three supervisions of around two hours each. This subject is examined by one essay of no more than 5,000 words on a topic of your own choosing.

In completing the course, it is expected that you will have:

  • pursued a course requiring a high standard in each of the three examined elements, ie philosophy of physics, philosophy of science and an elective subject;
  • studied these subjects through individual supervisions with an expert supervisor and via classes convened by an expert or experts in the relevant field;
  • been examined on your chosen areas by a requirement to write four essays of no more than 5,000 words each;
  • had many opportunities to hear and participate in philosophy and philosophy of physics, by attending an annual Graduate Philosophy Conference, talks by invited speakers, philosophy societies and discussion groups, and especially by attending the philosophy of physics research seminars and graduate philosophy of physics discussion classes; and
  • been a member of a college graduate community, associating with graduates from many countries, cultures, and academic disciplines.

The course has no fieldwork, industrial placement or year abroad element, but you may decide to attend conferences, workshops or research training elsewhere.

You may also attend any undergraduate and graduate classes, seminars and lectures in and outside of the Faculty of Philosophy which are of interest to you, provided those classes, seminars and lectures are open to you.

Graduate destinations

MSt in Philosophy of Physics graduates usually progress to the second year of Oxford's BPhil in Philosophy or to doctoral programmes, either at the faculty itself or elsewhere. Some, however, have pursued non-philosophical academic careers, or careers outside academia.

The faculty aims to assist students and graduates in securing academic jobs. The faculty appoints a Placement Officer who, in conjunction with the Graduate Studies Assistant, runs the faculty’s placement scheme. The Placement Officer helps job applicants with the preparation of their CVs, provides advice about the presentation of material in an application dossier, arranges practice interviews and generally attends the Eastern Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association to support candidates who have interviews there.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2017-18

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in physics (or a closely-related science discipline) or philosophy. 

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.5 out of 4.0.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a GPA of 3.7, a first-class degree or the equivalent. 

Applicants should normally have prior knowledge to (UK) undergraduate level of quantum mechanics, relativity theory, electrodynamics, statistical mechanics and analytic mechanics. They should also have the mathematical background required to study these topics.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

Supporting documents

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Publications

Applicants are not at all required or expected to have any publications in applying for this course.

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Faculty of Philosophy to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Faculty of Philosophy, and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Faculty of Philosophy.

The assignment of the academic supervisor normally depends on the subject being studied, but supervision could be changed during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, maternity leave or change in employment.

4. Disability, health conditions and specific learning difficulties

Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background.

Decisions on admission are based solely on the individual academic merits of each candidate and the application of the entry requirements appropriate to the course.

Further information on how these matters are supported during the admissions process is available in our guidance for applicants with disabilities.

5. Assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgment of at least two members of academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and additionally must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent departmental persons or bodies).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

6. Other information

Whether you have yet secured funding is not taken into consideration in the decision to make an initial offer of a place, but please note that the initial offer of a place will not be confirmed until you have completed a Financial Declaration.

Students who achieve a distinction on the MSt in Philosophy of Physics are automatically eligible for progression to the DPhil in Philosophy, provided only that the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee is satisfied that their proposed thesis topic and outline indicate that they can be adequately supervised by members of the Philosophy Faculty. Students who pass the MSt in Philosophy of Physics without a distinction may be admitted to the DPhil at the Committee’s discretion.

Applications are assessed by the Philosophy Graduate Studies Committee as a gathered field, and offers are made on a strictly comparative basis.

This course is suitable as a conversion course for students changing to philosophy from physics or other related disciplines.

Resources

Oxford is one of the world’s great centres for philosophy, and is widely recognised to be amongst the best. More than 150 professional philosophers work in the University and its colleges, between them covering a vast range of subjects within philosophy, and many are international leaders in their fields. 

Specifically, Oxford is widely acknowledged as containing a leading group of philosophers of physics. Philosophy of physics at Oxford is ranked top in the Philosophical Gourmet Report’s breakdown of programmes by speciality, and through the MSt in Philosophy of Physics the faculty attracts and selects the best possible national and international scholars in the subject.

The Philosophy Centre in the Radcliffe Humanities building on Woodstock Road acts as a focal point for the faculty’s activities and contains, as well as lecturing and teaching space, a graduate computing room and a graduate common room. A wireless network runs throughout the Philosophy Centre.

The Centre also contains the Philosophy Library, with over 25,000 volumes, a collection of approximately 80 periodicals, online access to many philosophical databases, and librarians trained in the specific bibliographic needs of philosophers. Many college libraries also have extensive holdings in philosophy.

Each term more than a dozen graduate classes and research seminars are organised by faculty members in which graduate students are full and important participants. Specifically, MSt in Philosophy of Physics students become part of Oxford’s thriving academic community in philosophy of physics. Each term many seminars, lectures, and classes in philosophy of physics take place, some of which involve visiting speakers. There are also occasional workshops and conferences in philosophy of physics organised by members and graduate students in the faculty, and informal networks of study.

Graduates are encouraged to organise their own seminars and reading groups, and they also run two societies: one invites distinguished speakers from the UK and around the world, while another gives graduates the opportunity to present papers to a graduate audience.

Each year there is an Oxford Graduate Philosophy Conference, in which most graduate philosophy students participate in some way.

Funding

There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available across the University, and these cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. If you apply by the relevant January deadline and fulfil the eligibility criteria you will be automatically considered. Over two thirds of Oxford scholarships require nothing more than the standard course application. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out which scholarships you are eligible for and if they require an additional application, full details of which are provided.

A number of awards are available from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) each year, to support graduate students in a range of disciplines. To be considered for any of these studentships you must apply before the January admissions deadline.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2017-18

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

Home/EU
(including Islands)
£8,715£3,021£11,736
Overseas£18,080£3,021£21,101

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2017-18 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £1,002 and £1,471 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

How to apply

You should not make contact with an academic member of staff before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Statement of purpose/personal statement:
One page

You should submit a one-page statement in English explaining your motivation for applying for graduate study at Oxford, in which you may wish to consider the following questions:

  • what relevant academic and/or research experience do you have?
  • why are you applying to this particular programme of study?
  • which areas of study within the subject interest you?
  • why would you be an excellent candidate for this course?
  • how does this course fit in with your future career plans?

This will be assessed for evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study.

Your statement should focus on philosophy rather than personal details, extra-curricular achievements and interests.

Written work:
Either one essay of 5,000 words or two essays of 2,000 to 2,500 words each

Your written work(s) should be academic essays or other writing samples on philosophical topics. All essays should be recent and not of a primarily expository nature.

The one longer essay or either/both shorter essays may be part of longer pieces of work, but if so, the relevant sections for consideration by assessors must be clearly identified.

Written work should be typed, written in English and clearly marked with your name and the date of composition. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for:

  • depth of understanding of physical theories and concepts
  • clarity and accuracy of thought and writing
  • intellectual independence
  • willingness and ability to reach conclusions by reasoned argument rather than assertion
  • imaginative flair
  • breadth of knowledge of physics
  • knowledge of mathematics and/or of philosophy.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, generally academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Academic references are usually required. However, if you have been out of education for a long time, or if you have substantial relevant working experience, then a maximum of one professional reference may replace an academic reference provided that it speaks to your ability to undertake philosophy studies at graduate level.

Your references should support success in current or previous studies and a likelihood of success in the MSt in Philosophy of Physics. In particular, references should provide evidence of outstanding academic achievement, intellectual ability, strong motivation for the philosophy of physics, and an aptitude for postgraduate study in foundations of physics or philosophy of physics.