Some brief Notes on the Philosophy PhD Proposal

If you are thinking of applying for a PhD in philosophy at some point, then you will first of all need to put together a research project. The following are a few brief tips as to how this might best be done. Hopefully they will be of some help.
First of all, don’t worry if you haven’t yet published anything. You are not expected to have published anything at this stage. What is necessary, however, is a commitment to reading slowly, carefully and with passion – this is the only worthwhile preparation for a PhD.
Be realistic about your future. Be aware both of the current state of the Humanities in general and of philosophy in particular within academia in the global North today, and of what has been, and continues to be, the massive overproduction of PhDs for profit by universities suddenly expected to function according to an alien business model – it’s not a pretty picture. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was actually the top 25% of candidates getting the small number of jobs around but this is hardly a level playing field, meaning that even the best early career philosopher in the world might still find herself unable to secure a position after completing a PhD. That’s why a passion for philosophy is absolutely key for your own happiness (far more so than for the potential quality of future publications). Put simply, don’t choose philosophy unless you cannot possibly do anything else other than philosophy!
Crazy fees. In the end, it doesn’t really matter just how extortionate the fees are at this or that university in this or that country, simply because most people could never afford to pay them anyway, never mind being able to cover living expenses as well (incidentals such as food, rent and heat, etc.) and therefore require external funding. In other words, forget the cost as there’s nowhere so cheap that funding wouldn’t be necessary.
On the proposal itself:
A proposal does not need to be very structured and detailed as regards the various steps etc. Personally, that’s the last thing I want to see as it suggests a certain closedness towards – and hence a misunderstanding of – research as both process and encounter.
It is far more important to provide clear evidence of:
(a) a keen interest in, and familiarity with, background material;
(b) a clear sense of just what is at stake regarding the question;
(c) prior reading on the subject and an ability to read carefully and closely while still remaining with the text. Clear evidence, in other words, of both having read and been able to read.
(d) knowledge regarding the current state of your chosen area of study and of any articles published recently.
Try to keep the proposal sufficiently open so as to allow for those chance encounters along the way that will inevitably challenge your research to move in directions unforeseeable at the start (after all, where’s the interest in spending years on a thesis the conclusion of which you already know at the start?). Suggest potential lines of thought around the proposed subject that would be interesting to explore further (perhaps rooted in what Heidegger calls a guiding question rather than a fundamental question).
Before starting to think specifically about the where and the how, begin by putting together a paragraph or two that gives a clear sense of the proposed project. This does not have to be long, perhaps just a couple of sentences on each of the following:
(i) your guiding question(s) and what are the stakes of this question;
(b) current state of knowledge as to this question;
(c) why is this question important, why this/these thinkers/texts, and why now?
(d) what possible new avenues or directions of thought might be opened as your research progresses?

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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