Graduate Program Policies and Requirements

Policies for the Philosophy and PNP PhD programs


The Philosophy and Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology (PNP) PhD programs include coursework, teacher training, professional development, and supervised dissertation research. 

Students are not generally required to study any foreign language or fields outside philosophy (with the exception of empirical coursework for PNP students), but students might be individually required to pursue such studies for their particular research program. Some of our students complete coursework in Classics, Political Science, or Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies (WGSS).

Our PhD programs are administered by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) in Philosophy (Allan Hazlett), the Director of PNP (Ron Mallon), and the Graduate Program Administrator (GPA) for Philosophy (Jessica Gibson).

Orientations and Advising

The DGS coordinates a departmental orientation prior to Fall semester for incoming students, to supplement the orientation sessions organized by the Graduate School. At that time, students select a mentor other than the DGS for an additional source of advice, with whom they meet regularly, although of course all the faculty and graduate students serve as unofficial advisors to each other.

The DGS is the academic advisor for Philosophy students and the Director of PNP is the academic advisor for PNP students. Academic advisors meet with students regularly to discuss course enrollment, leaves of absence, and research or study in absentia, and must authorize students to register each semester.

In addition, the DGS coordinates a departmental orientation on teaching, which is required for all students participating in a Mentored Teaching Experience (MTE). This supplements the Graduate School's orientation for first time MTE participants.

Annual Review and Probation

All graduate students are reviewed formally by the faculty every spring, and the DGS shares the individual results of that review in letters to each of the students.

Students who fail to fulfill program expectations or to perform satisfactorily in courses and MTEs may be put on probation, whose terms call for specific achievements by specific dates to avoid dismissal from the program.  Students should familiarize themselves with the Department's graduate probation policy and with WashU's graduate probation policy.

Graduate Study in Absentia

The department supports students who want to study or conduct research at other institutions; students should familiarize themselves with the Department's policy on graduate study in absentia and the Office of Graduate Studies policies on graduate study in absentia.

Leaves of Absence

Program Requirements


Completion of the Philosophy and PNP PhD programs requires:

  1. Regular attendance at departmental colloquium talks.
  2. Completion of coursework, which is expected before the end of the 3rd year.
  3. Completion of 4 semesters of Mentored Teaching Experience (MTE), normally in the 2nd and 3rd years. 
  4. Completion of 6 qualifying examinations, normally before the end of the 3rd year. 
  5. Satisfactory participation in the dissertation seminar, starting in the 4th year.
  6. Preparation and defense of a dissertation prospectus, normally before the end of the 4th year.
  7. Satisfactory presentation of a departmental colloquium talk.
  8. Preparation and defense of a dissertation.
  9. Fulfillment of WashU's graduate degree requirements.

Students on special fellowship (e.g. Olin and Chancellor’s) are subject to the same requirements as other PhD students.

We use a Philosophy and PNP Graduate Programs Requirements Checklist to keep track of student progress.

Students should familiarize themselves with WashU's graduate poilicies and procedures.

Colloquium Attendance

Students are expected to attend departmental colloquium talks. Exceptions may be granted by the DGS when appropriate, e.g. if a student needs to take a class that is scheduled at the same time.


All students are required to take:

  • In the first semester, PHIL 502 Proseminar in Philosophy.
  • 6 semesters of PHIL 514 Survey Seminar, which surveys a different area of philosophy each semester.
  • 4 semesters of PHIL 516 Research Seminar, which focuses on a specific topic, question, or figure each semester, with an emphasis on philosophical research methods and writing.
  • At least one course in formal methods, either PHIL 409 (Formal Methods for Philosophy), which is normally offered once a year, or another course approved by the DGS (for Philosophy students) or the Director of PNP (for PNP students).

PNP students are additionally required to take 5 graduate-level empirical courses: (i) one course in research methods or statistics and (ii) four other courses in the sciences of the mind/brain or behavior.

All students in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd years are expected to maintain full-time status by taking at least 9 units (3 courses) of graduate (400-level or above) coursework each semester. Thus, all students must take at least 18 courses (54 units) in total (although they may take more). In addition to the courses mentioned above, these will typically include 400-level courses in Philosophy or PNP, independent studies (PHIL 500), or graduate philosophy courses at Saint Louis University or the University of Missouri-St. Louis, through the Inter-University Exchange Program.

Students are expected to supplement their required courses by auditing or taking additional courses that are relevant to their research.

To fulfill coursework requirements, courses must be passed with at least a “B-.”

Credits cannot be transferred from other institutions.

Dissertation Seminar

Starting in the 4th year, each semester (when in residence) all students must satisfactorily complete PHIL 501 Dissertation Seminar, which is devoted to research training and dissertation project development. (PHIL 501 is a 0-unit course and does not count towards fulfillment of the coursework requirements.)

Qualifying Examinations

Each section of PHIL 514 Survey Seminar includes a final comprehensive examination, taken at the end of the course (but which may be re-taken in the event of an unsatisfactory performance). The form of the final comprehensive examination (e.g. written or oral, in-class or take-home, etc.) varies and is determined by the instructor. All students must complete 6 such examinations with a grade of at least a “B-” (which grade is distinct from the course grade for PHIL 514).

Mentored Teaching Experience (MTE)

All students are required to complete 4 semesters of Mentored Teaching Experience (MTE), normally in their 2nd and 3rd years. Students should familiarize themselves with the Department’s MTE policy.


All students must successfully defend a dissertation prospectus before a committee of at least three faculty members, one of whom (the “prospectus advisor”) will supervise the preparation of the prospectus, and who will normally go on to serve as the dissertation advisor (see below). (Normally, students defend their prospectus before the end of the 4th year.)

A dissertation prospectus states a problem, a response to the problem, a reckoning of how this response contributes to existing philosophical literature, and an overview of the case for the response. The prospectus should be accompanied by a working bibliography. The structure and length of individual prospectuses varies and is to be determined in consultation and collaboration with the prospectus advisor. 

The possible outcomes of a prospectus defense are Pass and Fail. Students may make additional attempts in the event of a failed prospectus defense. The prospectus advisor will inform the DGS and the GPA that a student has successfully defended their prospectus.

Colloquium Presentation

All students are required to deliver one departmental colloquium talk before graduating. (Normally, students do this in the 6th year.) This talk, unlike the dissertation defense (see below), is open to the public.


All students must defend a dissertation before a committee of at least five people, the chair of which (the “dissertation advisor”) will supervise the preparation of the dissertation. The Graduate School establishes requirements (see below) concerning the composition of the dissertation committees, dissertation defense scheduling, and the nature of the defense itself.

A dissertation is a substantial piece of original philosophical research. The structure and length of individual dissertations varies and is to be determined in consultation and collaboration with the dissertation advisor.

The possible outcomes of a dissertation defense are: Pass, Revisions, and Fail. When revisions are required, the dissertation advisor will provide, in writing, a description of what revisions are required and a deadline for revisions no more than 3 months after the dissertation defense. When the dissertation is resubmitted, the dissertation advisor will determine if the revisions are satisfactory.

Graduate School Requirements

Students are responsible for knowing and fulfilling the Graduate School’s requirements for earning a PhD at Washington University in St. Louis

This includes the timely submission of several forms; there is a page containing all the Graduate School Forms

As well, dissertations and dissertation defenses must conform to the Graduate School's Doctoral Dissertation Guide

MA Requirements

Students in our PhD programs can receive an MA once they have completed their required coursework and the qualifying examinations requirement, by submitting the MA Requirements Form.