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Honors & Awards

Honors in Philosophy

We encourage qualified students to apply to the senior thesis, the honors track in philosophy. It offers a unique opportunity to pursue independent research under supervision, and many students have found this to be an extremely rewarding element of their degree. However, we stress that undertaking the senior thesis is certainly not a guarantee of achieving honors. Moreover, students should understand that the option is demanding. It involves a great deal of preparation and independent work on the part of the student, and the development, also, of skills in synthesis and structure of a longer piece of writing than undergraduates may be used to. It may not be appropriate for students with extensive competing demands. Honors Info Handout 2023


To be eligible for working towards Honors, students must be philosophy majors of junior standing, and have a GPA in the major of at least 3.5. Satisfying these requirements alone does not qualify a student for Honors, only for approval to seek Honors; the criteria for attaining Honors are described below under "Evaluation". It is strongly recommended that students have taken a course at the 300 level in the area of their proposed thesis topic.  Exceptions to these requirements will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

INSTRUCTIONS:  Applications can only be submitted by filling in the online form. BEFORE filling it in, the following are required:
  1. you have already settled on a topic and given it a provisional title
  2. you possess a 150 word Honors Project description.

The following are strongly expected:

  1. you have spoken to a member of the philosophy department's faculty and asked them to be your supervisor
  2. this prospective supervisor knows about your plans and has verbally or by email told you they are prepared to take on your project as supervisor.

Once you're ready to complete your online-application, please fill in the online application and

  1. be sure to select the correct prospective supervisor from the drop-down menu and
  2. check the box at the bottom of the form to receive a copy of the application by email. 

Upon completion and submission of the form, your application to Honors will automatically be forwarded to the selected faculty member together with the "Acceptance to Serve as Faculty Supervisor" solicitation-form, along with a request to fill in the latter on the basis of your application. Should your first choice of supervisor decline, you can re-apply by using the same form choosing a different member of the philosophy department's faculty as supervisor. Communication of the supervisor decision will come from the Undergraduate Coordinator, Emily Berry. Professors from other departments for honors projects will generally not be accepted as philosophy honors supervisors. Students contemplating this possibility ought to seek special case approval by the Honors Convener, who will submit this petition to the departmental Honors Committee for approval. Approval can only be expected under exceptional circumstances. This presumption of rejection obviously does not apply to interdisciplinary honors projects involving philosophers.

The application is due no later than the Monday prior to the beginning of Winter Quarter Reading Week of your Junior Year. This includes final approval for supervision of your project by a faculty member (in terms you propose as regards the quarters and thesis topic). However, if your application needs accommodation of this deadline, please contact the Honors Convener (Prof Mueller).

NOTE: The thesis is a challenging project and unlikely to be completed satisfactorily if pursued in addition to a full schedule. Honors candidates are therefore not to take either 398-1 or 398-2 as a fifth course and are expected to expressly commit in their application to taking no more than four classes while taking PHIL 398. Petitions for exceptions to this policy must be formulated in writing to the supervisor and brought before the Honors Convener and the Honors Committee by the Supervisor.

Honors in Two Departments

A student with two Weinberg majors who is interested in pursuing honors in both subjects should indicate that intent to each department or program in initial discussions about honors and should mention it in department or program honors applications. If the projects are distinct, the student may pursue honors in each department. If, however, the projects overlap and inform each other, the student may do a single, synthetic project designed to lead to honors in interdisciplinary studies. See the Weinberg webpage on Pursuing Honors in Two Departments or Programs if you are interested in either of these options.

Process I: PHIL 398-1,2 Independent study with supervisor

The candidate usually takes PHIL 398-1,2 in the two successive quarters. The standard sequence is to enroll in PHIL 398-1 in the Spring quarter of the 3rd year, and in PHIL 398-2 in the Fall quarter of the student’s 4th year (the “S/F sequence”). It is possible for students to petition in writing for permission to begin the senior thesis sequence in the Fall quarter of their 4th year (“F/W-sequence”). Such a petition requires a statement affixed to the application for honors of the reasons why the applicant is not able to follow the S/F-sequence. This petition is reviewed by the Honors Convener for approval. Common reasons warranting approval would be, e.g., the student's absence from Northwestern in the Spring of their 3rd year due to an international study abroad program, disruptive competing study or work demands in the Spring of the 3rd year, or an agreement between student and supervisor regarding preference for the Fall and Winter quarters of their 4th year (e.g. because the supervisor is on leave in the Spring before).  In very few cases and exceptional circumstances, students may be allowed to undertake honors in non-consecutive quarters (“S/W-sequence”). Permission for this option must be gained in communication with the Honors Convener at the time honors candidacy is declared.

Students who wish to engage in an even longer-term unified research project may enroll in an independent study with the prospective supervisor of their Honors project in a quarter prior to beginning honors. This independent study (PHIL 399) would take place in spring quarter of their 3rd year or over the summer, and the student then would do the honors sequence proper on the F/W sequence. Any student interested in pursuing this option must discuss this with their prospective thesis supervisor (who must agree to supervising the work for the extra quarter) and must apply to follow the F/W sequence.

NOTE: PHIL 398 cannot be used to fulfill the Department's major requirements, including the elective requirement. PHIL 398 is an extra course, just as seeking honors goes beyond completing the major.

Process II: Senior Thesis Research and Advanced Research Methods Honors Colloquium (HONKOL) PHIL 397 with Honors Convener in Fall & Spring

The student's supervisor will oversee the research and writing of the research paper by meeting with the student, as well as by commenting on drafts to the final version of the thesis.

Fall Quarter Part of PHIL 397

The student will also participate in a senior thesis project research seminar colloquium, PHIL 397 (Advanced Research Methods Honors Colloquium or "HONKOL", for short). It is led by the honors convener and divided in two parts. Part 1 consists in one quarter (the Fall quarter of their sequence) of meeting once a week for 2 hours to discuss the research project in a collaborative research-group environment with all other advanced research students in the Honors program and other independent study research projects as well as the Honors Convener.  Part 2 takes place in the Spring quarter of the 4th year in three 2h (minimum) sessions to prepare and organize the presentation of the research results at PHILfest (see below).

Students who enroll in PHIL 397 in the Fall are required to make sure that they are available for the three weeks preceding PHILFest in the Spring for PHIL 397, part 2 (as well as for PHILFest, which is formally speaking the oral examination part of the Honors program). Students desiring to pursue Honors (and already in contact with a potential Senior-Thesis supervisor) who foresee or find difficulties with enrolling in PHIL 398 and PHIL 397 in the way outlined in these rules should speak to the Honors Convener.

In PHIL 397, part 1 students will

  1. acquire advanced research skills in a research-colloquium group environment
  2. present and discuss their thesis project and research up to Fall
  3. get feedback concerning the thesis project and
  4. give feedback on each others’ drafts
  5. receive general advice and introductory instruction in professional research skills relevant to their project from the Honors Convener.

Spring Quarter Part of PHIL 397

Early in the Spring quarter, students pursuing honors who have by then already submitted their theses participate in PHIL 397, part 2. It consists in three further meetings of the HONKOL to prepare presentations of their theses at an annual departmental event called PhilFest. There they present their work to a large audience in a way appropriate to communicate research results to expert and wider audiences. This part of HONKOL finalizes the advanced research skills by

  1. asking and teaching students to prepare a presentation of their findings (which is very different from elaborating their research project into a thesis)
  2. in a brief, publicly accessible yet
  3. expert and professional fashion.

PhilFEST is organized by the Honors Convener in science conference style and aimed at celebrating the accomplishment of the students who worked pursuing honors. It is widely advertised in the university and usually takes place in the 4th – 6th week of the Spring quarter, before the decisions about honors nominations (see below) are made by the Honors Committee.

NOTE: PHIL 397 can be used to fulfill the Department's major elective requirement.

Process III: Senior Thesis Progress and Evaluation

Senior Thesis – Process and Progress

It is recommended that students complete a sizable piece of writing (roughly 10 pp. draft) or an equivalent amount of accomplished research, to be determined by the supervisor, by the end of the first quarter of the sequence they follow. At the end of the two-quarter sequence, the student must submit a long paper or short thesis. The required length is between 6,000 and 12,000 words, or 20 to 40 pages. This final piece of writing should demonstrate an appropriately advanced level of research or reflection. A general rule of thumb is that the thesis be equal or better in quality to that of A-level work in a 300-level course in order for the student to be granted honors.

Evaluation of Coursework: Grading for PHIL 397 by Convener, for PHIL 398-1 & PHIL 398-2 by the supervisor

PHIL 397 is graded by the Convener on the basis of the student’s performance in the collaborative research and preparation and discussion of presentations.

The thesis Supervisor alone determines, on the basis of the student’s work over the course of the two quarters, the grade for the PHIL 398 sequence.  The student does not receive a separate letter-grade for PHIL 398-1 before completing PHIL 398-2. Instead, PHIL 398-1 is graded as “continuing” (“K”) upon the student receiving a positive progress report from the supervisor towards the end of her or his work in PHIL 398-1. The grade for both quarters is determined by the supervisor at the end of PHIL 398-2 when grading the latter. PHIL 398-1 (‘research quarter’) and PHIL 398-2 (‘writing quarter’) do not automatically receive the same grade.

Evaluation of Senior Thesis – Blind review procedure overseen by HONKOM

The senior thesis written in PHIL 398-2 is read and evaluated by the supervisor and another faculty member (“Second Reader”) in a blind review procedure. Their evaluative reports are submitted to the departmental Honors Committee (HONKOM). The HONKOM approves directly as warranting nomination for honors (contingent on fulfillment of the other criteria) those theses that are found excellent by both readers. In case of conflicting reports by both readers, the HONKOM may decide to ask for a third opinion after having reviewed the records and thesis, or to produce itself a third report (or the equivalent in the discussion at its meeting to decide on Honors nominations) to decide the matter.

Process IV: HONORS nomination to WCAS

Any Honors candidate

will be nominated by the HONKOM for Honors to the WCAS Committee on Superior Students and Honors. The latter has the sole authority to make final decisions on Honors.