MA Handbook

1. Course Requirements and Advising


Complete a program consisting of nine courses selected with the approval of a faculty advisor. Unless special approval is granted, at least seven of the nine courses must be Brandeis Department of Philosophy offerings. All M.A. students must take PHIL 200a and PHIL 299a (see below). Students must receive a grade of “B+” or higher or the equivalent for each course they wish to count towards the nine required courses.



The Proseminar must be taken in the first year of the MA program (in case of special circumstances, permission to take it during the second year must be granted by the DGS). The class often includes frequent short writing assignments, and the mode of instruction emphasizes discussion rather than lecture. The topics are determined by the instructor.


Masters Paper Requirement

Enroll in PHIL 299a (Master’s Project) and successfully complete a master’s paper of professional quality and length. The paper will be evaluated by two faculty members, typically the student’s advisor and a second reader. The student together with the advisor selects a second reader.


Logic Requirement

Demonstrate competence in symbolic logic, specifically, facility in translations between English and propositional and predicate logic and proof techniques (e.g., natural deduction or truth trees). The Director of Graduate Studies will assess the student’s background and determine if the requirement has been satisfied or if an appropriate logic course at Brandeis needs to be taken.


Residency Requirement

Satisfy the university’s one-year minimum residency requirement. Students may enroll on a full or part-time basis. (Part-time = fewer than 12 credits per semester) Students who wish to complete the program on a part-time basis are strongly encouraged to complete all the requirements within four years.


Foreign Language

There is no foreign language requirement for the M.A. degree. However, you can take advantage of ‘reading’ language courses, depending on your interests. Please see the graduate director for details.


Sample Course Offerings

Here’s a list of the graduate student courses that will be offered in the next four semesters:

F 2021

PHIL 200a – Proseminar – U. Sethi

PHIL 231a – Grad Seminar in Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science – P. Epstein

 S 2022

PHIL 214a – Grad Seminar in Normative: “Personal Integrity, Value Pluralism, and the ‘Threat’ of Moral Relativism.” – M. Smiley                 

 F 2022

PHIL 200a – Proseminar – P. Epstein

S 2023

PHIL 231 – Grad Seminar on Mind – J. Samet


100 vs. 200 Level Courses

100 level courses are available to advanced undergraduates and graduate students. In certain 100-level courses, the instructor will have the option of holding an extra hour outside of class that is restricted to graduate students.


200 level courses are graduate level courses. Undergraduates may only enroll at the permission of the instructor. (Usually instructors are careful to limit the number of undergraduates in these courses.)


Auditing Courses

You may audit or “sit in” on classes. If you want to have the course show up on your transcript, you need to actually register for the course as an auditor. If you wish to do this, please contact the instructor and make sure you know what his or her expectations for auditors are. Should you participate in class or sit back and observe? Give presentations?


Choosing Courses
  1. Distributions: There are no distribution requirements (e.g. history, normative, etc.) This gives you a good deal of flexibility in choosing your courses. However, you should strive to be a well-rounded philosopher. Each of philosophy’s sub-fields tends to inform the others, and the more types of courses you can take, the better. Aim to take at least one course out of your comfort area.


  1. Getting to know letter writers: The above said, you should consider letter writers when you register for courses. If you aim to apply to a PhD program in your 2nd year, you’ll need letters by the end of your 3rd semester. The longer you’ve known them, and the more they know your work, the better.


Directed readings/Independent Study

In the past, some professors have agreed to do ‘directed readings’ courses. However, these do not count toward the 9 courses required for the MA. An alternative: see if you can provide some input into what you and your classmates read during ‘extra hours’ or set up reading groups with other graduate students.


Finding an Advisor

The DGS will help you choose courses for your first semester, but you should select a permanent advisor by the end of your first year at Brandeis.


2. Writing the MA Paper

  1. It’s helpful if your MA paper is an extension of a paper that you’ve written for a course. (Though some students have written very successful papers ‘from scratch’).


  1. Consider timing: you’ll probably want to use a very good (if not final) draft of your MA paper for a writing sample when you apply to PhD programs.


  1. Think about a second reader and involve him/her early on. This should not be something you arrange at the last minute.


  1. Your MA paper is officially completed when you receive a grade for PHIL 299a. Receiving a grade presumes agreement by both readers, though the first reader has the authority to sign off without the second reader’s consent, in cases of irreconcilable disagreement.


  1. An oral defense of the MA paper is optional.


3. Course Assistantships

  1. How CA-ships are assigned:

CA-ships are assigned by the director of graduate studies (DGS). It is a difficult task because assignments must be made well before final enrollment numbers are known. Pre-registration numbers, on the basis of which CA-ships are initially assigned (according to GSAS policy), are not a reliable indicator of final numbers. Students should expect re-assignments early on in the semester.


In assigning CA-ships, the DGS will give strong preference to current students, that is, students who have not graduated. The criteria used in assigning CA-ships are the following: competence; student and faculty preferences; fairness considerations and, in particular, even distribution among current graduate students. These criteria are not applied in lexical order; they are used by the DGS to the best of her or his judgment. Other things being equal, the DGS will make an effort to assign CA- ships to students in their third semester, since, in addition to receiving the salary for being a CA, they also receive partial remission of their post-residency fee.


  1. Note that students cannot receive course credit for a course in which they serve as a CA. (That is, they cannot enroll in the course for credit.)


  1. Once you are assigned to a course as an assistant, you should schedule a meeting with the instructor to discuss his or her expectations. The responsibilities of a course assistant will vary depending on the course and the instructor, but may include: meeting with students; reading drafts; holding extra sessions (e.g. before an exam); and grading papers and exams. Course assistants are expected to attend all class meetings.


4. Professional Involvement and Development

It is important to be involved in professional activities outside of class, but be careful not to devote too much time to them at this stage. Your main goals are to do well in classes and write an excellent M.A. paper. There are several opportunities for you to be involved professionally:


  1. Our department's colloquium series. In a typical year we have 6-8 speakers. Given the speaker's availability, we may also organize an extra "office hour" that would be reserved for the graduate students. Plan on attending these talks and the extra hours. It’s a good idea to read the colloquium paper in advance, if it’s available and you have the time. And you should feel comfortable asking questions, both during the colloquium and especially during the extra hour.


  1. Other Boston-area events. The following is an incomplete list of things to keep an eye on:

  1. Grad Student Speaker series. A series of graduate student presentations organized by graduate students. It’s a good idea to practice presenting your work, and to practice giving feedback on others’ work! [Note: here is an opportunity to set a positive and constructive tone with your cohort!]


  1. You should feel free to apply to graduate student conferences (and other conferences) as you see fit. However, you should be careful not to devote too much time to these activities. Ask yourself if the conference is in your area, if it includes people you’d like to meet, and if you have a paper written already. Think of it this way: a graduate student conference on your CV will not compensate for a less-than-stellar writing sample.


  1. You will receive $200/year from the department for professional development. You may use this money to help defray the costs of attending a conference, buy books, etc.

 5.    Graduate Student Representation


Each year, the graduate students appoint a graduate student representative (GSR). The GSR attends faculty meetings and serves as a line of communication between the faculty (especially the DGS) and the MA students. The GSR may also be responsible for initiating the Grad Student Speaker series.


6.    Applying to PhD Programs - What to do Now


  1. Make connections with faculty members: participate in class and extra sessions; go to colloquia; read papers and articles in your area of interest.


  1. Attend department events


  1. Do well in your classes


  1. Think about your MA paper early and discuss ideas with faculty. Plan to have a draft of your MA paper completed by the end of the summer after your first year in the program.


  1. There will be a meeting early in the fall semester devoted to questions about applying to PhD programs. First-year MA students are welcome, and encouraged, to attend this session.



7.    Extended Master’s Fee and Fee Waivers


Students who have completed their program residency requirement, but not their degree requirements, are considered Extended Master’s students. Extended Master’s students pay a fee (significantly lower than the regular tuition rate) and are not eligible for Brandeis scholarships. However, partial fee waivers can be awarded to Extended Master’s students under the following circumstances:

  1. Students registered only for the Masters paper (PHIL 299a) and are not registered for any content course or independent study (in which case they need to request to have CONT 200 added to their registration as a filler course to maintain full-time status) will get 75% of the fee waived.
  2. Students serving as Course Assistants will get 25% of the fee waived.