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MPhil Practical Guidelines

Essays and Dissertations: Practical Guide

These notes deal with the process of choosing a topic, the teaching you can expect to receive, and the presentation of the finished essay. Students may seek further advice on these matters from the Course Director, from the convenor of the module for which the essay is being written, the lecturers and seminar-leaders involved in it, and from the supervisor assigned for your dissertation.

Essays

Choosing a topic
Essays are to be written on a topic chosen individually by each student in consultation with one of the course lecturers or seminar-leaders, and relating to the lectures or seminars on the course. Essays do not have to be 'original' in the sense of discovering new material or presenting previously unpublished ideas, but they should show evidence of independent research, interpretation and judgement.

Students may plan their essays as part of an ongoing research enterprise, fitting in with their other essays and their dissertation, if they wish, but they are also at liberty to write an entirely self-sufficient piece. While there may well be a continuity of ideas between the different pieces of work, each must stand in its own right, and any substantial duplication of argument will be subject to penalty. Students may well find it useful to test out their idea for the essay in a seminar paper.

The Critical Theory essay may be either 'pure' or 'applied', that is, it may study some aspect of a theory at first hand, or it may explore the implications of a theory in relation to a chosen text or texts. The main aim here is to show the critical ability to handle and assess theoretical positions; while references to literary or other cultural material should of course be accurate and well-judged, candidates are not expected to show as substantial a contextual or bibliographical range in this respect as for the module essays. 

Essay topics and title will first require approval from the Course Director. The Faculty Degree Committee then has the final say in approving topics. The deadlines for providing topics and titles are shown at the end of this page.

Language of Essays
All students must submit their Core Course essay in English. In January, after Core Course marks have been received, any student who wishes to submit a module essay in a language other than English should seek formal permission from the course director and the relevant supervisor. The chosen language should be appropriate to the essay topic and there should be good intellectual reasons for submitting the work in that language. The course director should also be satisfied that the candidate has reached a satisfactory standard in written English in the Core Course essay. It should still be recognised that the ability to produce fluent critical work in English is one of the key skills tested by the MPhil.

Teaching
Students may choose to use seminars as a place to test out their ideas for an essay and obtain feedback on them. But they are also entitled to up to one hour individual supervision for each essay, and this may be divided into half-hour sessions, providing advice on focusing the topic, suggestions for relevant reading, and comments on a rough draft. (In the event that an essay is co-supervised, a candidate may expect 30 minutes of individual supervision from each supervisor. Only one supervisor should comment on the full draft of the essay). Usually the supervisor for each essay will be the senior member most obviously identified with the topic in question: for example, the person who gave the most closely related lecture or led the most closely related seminar. If in doubt as to whom to approach, consult the convenor of the module or the MPhil Course Director. If you encounter any difficulty in your contacts with your supervisor please seek advice from the MPhil Course Director.

Dates for submission of essays

Early December for the Core Course essay

Mid-March for the Module essays

Since both of the module essays are due on the same date, you may prefer to submit one of them earlier. Extensions will not normally be granted. If exceptional circumstances mean that you wish to seek an extension, you must do so with the support of your College Tutor who should write a letter making the request to the course director.

Dissertations

Dissertations must, according to the criteria laid down by the Board of Graduate Studies, 'represent a contribution to learning'. They must be written in English. The arrangements for their preparation are similar to those for the essays. Titles are chosen by students, in consultation with module convenors and/or prospective supervisors, and then have to be approved by the Course Director and the Faculty Degree Committee. Topics must be submitted by late January and titles by early March (NB: Minor changes to the title are permitted after this date. Up to this point the course director is the titular supervisor of MPhil students, but once the dissertation topics are approved, a specialist supervisor is appointed for each student. Students are entitled to up to four hour-long sessions with their supervisor.  The word limit for the dissertation is 15,000 words including footnotes but excluding bibliography and the word-count should be indicated at the end of the dissertation. The dissertation is not allowed to exceed the word limit, though it may be shorter. The deadline for submission is early June.