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Undergraduate Research in Philosophy

1. Undergraduate Research — Overview

  You've already done real research, in many courses. Typical course term papers have students doing original research — investigating an issue, and defending a thesis about it. This counts! Research is not limited to what happens in a physical laboratory. So, research isn't something entirely new to you.

  Why do further research? If you have plans for graduate school, then these plans will eventually have you involved in advanced research. Students who get involved in research as undergraduates give themselves an added advantage going into the grad school application process — including an advantage in securing strong letters of recommendation. Moreover, if you love the subject matter, then focused research provides opportunities to develop your passion, and in constructive ways that will benefit your education and career.

  U of Utah is a research community. With its “R1” status (Research 1), the university is officially devoted to research. Along with an emphasis on faculty research and research programs for graduate students, the university devotes significant resources to undergraduate research.

2. Placing yourself in the undergraduate research community

  Are you qualified to do focused undergraduate research? Almost certainly, “yes”. Not that all undergraduate students have the same abilities — they don't. But unless you're in a fairly small outlier group of students underprepared for higher education (and if you were, it's quite unlikely you'd be taking the time to read this page!), your academic abilities are probably more than sufficient. The additional ingredients that typically distinguish outstanding students from ordinary students are resolve and discipline. Work hard to be an excellent student, and you'll probably earn consistently good or excellent grades. Doing focused philosophy research does not require that you be an advanced philosophy student (as in having already taken loads of philosophy courses). But you should be an excellent student.

  How to connect with philosophy professors who'd support your research. Most of the research opportunities discussed on this page (below) have you working with professors. However, these connections do not just happen, by chance; you'll need to make them happen. How? Generally, you'll want to have established rapport with one or more professors, showing yourself to have excellent academic abilities. Think of each philosophy class you take as a possible stepping stone — an opportunity to establish a relationship with the course professor: do your best work, and make use of office hours to explore issues further. Making yourself known as a curious student who works hard to earn an excellent grade, in the course, is the primary means of connecting with a professor who might support your research.

3. Research Opportunities:   Office of Undergraduate Research

  UROP — Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. UROP unites students with faculty, while paying the students $10/hr for the effort (up to $1,200). Many of our philosophy professors have worked with students in the past (via UROP) and are interested in further such work. Checkout the UROP guidelines and application deadlines.

  SPUR — Summer Program for Undergraduate Research. Separate from UROP, this program provides undergraduate students with an intensive 10-week research experience under the mentorship of a U of Utah faculty member. For further information, checkout the SPUR website.

  URSD — Undergraduate Research Scholar Designation. Upon completing the specified research steps (and both UROP and SPUR count), students receive an official research designation, at graduation time. This provides an impressive talking point for your grad school applications. Checkout the requirements for the Undergraduate Research Scholar Designation.

4. Research Opportunities:   Department of Philosophy

  Further opportunities (beyond UROP and SPUR) to work with philosophy faculty, on research projects, involve official coursework, but in ways allowing for more focused attention to research than occurs in typical undergradate courses (e.g., in producing term papers). Here are two possibilities, both of which earn credit hours that count for Area Requirements (for the Philosophy Major or Minor):

  • Independent study. Upon establishing rapport with a faculty member who works on a topic of interest to you, you will be in a better position to request doing an independent study with that professor. This would have you doing extensive independent research under that professor's guidance, while earning course credit. You must find a professor who has the time and willingness to do an independent study with you, and finding one isn't always going to be easy. But independent student coursework can be a very rewarding experience.
  • Take a graduate level course (i.e., a 6000 or 7000 level course). Typical graduate courses have students doing more independent research than typical undergraduate courses. And it is possible — while an undergraduate — to enroll for graduate level courses. You'll need the instructor's permission. And you'll need not only to have established strong rapport with that instructor, but to have distinguished yourself as an exceptional student, capable of working side by side with graduate students, at their level. It is rare for undergraduate students to be qualified for this. But in those rare cases, it's an superb opportunity for the student.

  Yet other opportunities to develop your research ideas involve no official course credit hours, but instead grow out of informal interactions with other members of the department (both students and faculty). Among other possibilities, here are two:

  • Attend Philosophy Department Colloquia.
  • Attend Philosophy Club meetings.

5. Research Opportunities:   Broader academic discipline of Philosophy

  If you have a paper you're especially proud of — e.g., it received excellent feedback as a course term paper, or you've been otherwise working hard on it — consider submitting it in a venue targeting undergraduate students, whether a conference, a journal, or for an award.

  Conferences for undergraduate philosophy student papers. These conferences feature students who are philosophy majors, like you, and who were brave enough to submit their work. If your submission is accepted, you'll attend a conference with other philosophy students: you'll present your paper and then field questions. This is a great experience. And it's a nice bragging point for your CV/Resume, when it comes time to apply to graduate school.

  Journals for undergraduate philosophy student papers. Again, these journals publish papers written by philosophy students, like you, and who were brave enough to submit their work. How do you find such opportunities?

  Consider submitting your work for an award. Among the options, U of Utah offers the Monson Prize


Last Updated: 6/1/18