Senior Project

Follow these links for more information about the following:

Senior Project for Philosophy Majors

(Revised for Fall 2020) 

For over seventy years Cal Poly graduates have completed a senior project as the culminating experience in their majors. The Cal Poly Catalog describes the senior project as “a high-impact educational practice in which students 

(a) integrate and evaluate the knowledge and skills gained in both the General Education (GE) and major curricula and 
(b) demonstrate career or postgraduate readiness.”

For philosophy majors the senior project consists of a substantial research paper developed and written under the direct supervision of a tenured or tenure-track professor. Students choose their own faculty advisor for their senior project by entering into an agreement about the topic and scope of the research project. The faculty advisor helps the student formulate a research plan and provides guidance and feedback on the project and paper as the student develops it. The student submits the completed senior project to the faculty advisor who assigns its grade. 

Choosing a Senior Project Faculty Advisor

Your senior project faculty advisor is a member of the tenured or tenure-track faculty who has agreed to take on the role of advisor for your senior project. Your advisor should have sufficient expertise in the topic to guide you in conducting your research and drafting your paper. You should also have a good working relationship with your faculty advisor and feel comfortable working within the expectations your advisor will set for the pace of your work and for what counts as a completed project.

You should spend some time in the first two weeks talking with potential faculty advisors about your senior project. If you don’t have a definite idea of your topic, these conversations with potential faculty advisors can help you formulate a topic. You should choose your faculty advisor by the end of the third week of the quarter. Finding a faculty advisor early in the term is prudent. The earlier you commence with your research, the better. Also, in those rare occasions when it is worthwhile to change to a different faculty advisor, it is better to make those arrangements early in the term as well. 

Once you have arranged for a professor to serve as your senior project faculty advisor, fill out the Senior Project Agreement Form and bring it to your faculty advisor for a signature. The professor may provide some comments on the form. Submit the form to the department office for final approval by the department chair, who may also provide some comments. The Senior Project Agreement Form should be submitted to the department office by the fifth week of the term.

The Senior Project Paper

Typically, the formal report submitted for the senior project consists of a scholarly essay of about 15-25 pages in length focused on a well-defined philosophical issue. In general, the essay must conform to standard formatting and style of an academic research paper. For more specific details about both format and grading, it will be necessary to consult with the faculty advisor who agrees to supervise your project. 

Archiving the Completed Senior Project Paper

Students work directly with the faculty advisor on the development and completion of the paper until it is finished and has earned a final grade. Submit a copy of that final graded version of the paper to the department administrative staff by email (PDF format preferred). 

The student fills out and submits to the faculty advisor a completed Senior Project Cover Page for signatures.

You may have your senior project electronically stored in the campus library, though this is not at all required or even expected. If you ELECT to submit a copy to the library, see the instructions at this site:

Hard copies of senior projects completed in or before 2008 are housed in the Philosophy Department (Building 47, Room 37). Projects done in or later than 2008 are available in electronic form. Students are welcome to review these finished products to familiarize themselves with the form and content of past senior projects in Philosophy. Hard copies of past projects may not be removed from the department office. 

Please consult with your senior project advisor, the department chair or the department office staff should you have any further questions regarding senior projects. 

Senior Project Courses

Philosophy majors satisfy the senior project degree requirements by completing three courses taken over two quarters:

First quarter of Senior Project:
PHIL 459: Senior Project Preparation (1 activity unit) (Credit/No Credit)
PHIL 460: Senior Project I (1 unit of direct supervision) (Credit/No Credit)

Second quarter of Senior Project:
PHIL 461: Senior Project II (2 units of direct supervision) (Letter grade)

Students enroll in all three courses by permission of the department chair who serves as instructor of record for each course. The department chair is the instructor for PHIL 459 and assigns credit for its successful completion. The department chair manages the enrollments for PHIL 460 and PHIL 461 and records credit for PHIL 460 and the letter grade for PHIL 461 in consultation with the senior project faculty advisor. 

PHIL 459: Senior Project Preparation is a course held online on Friday 10:10 am – 12:00 pm (one activity unit amounts to two hours of class time). Class sessions include discussion of senior project and guidance in choosing and advisor and commencing with the research project. Class sessions also include the following:

  • Career services workshop
  • Library research workshop
  • Exit interview

The career services workshop is led by CLA career services staff and is tailored for philosophy majors who are nearing graduation, directing the attendees to resources for exploring career options, including career paths already taken by Cal Poly philosophy alumni. Attendees also discuss career services events that are generally open to or that specifically target CLA students, including résumé guidance, assistance in writing statements of purpose for post-graduate applications, career fairs, and meetings with alumni.

Our college librarian, Brett Bodemer, leads the library research workshop presenting library resources that are useful to students starting their senior projects. 

Each of our seniors completes an exit interview with the department chair after filling out a survey covering their experience as a philosophy major at Cal Poly. 

The senior project is an opportunity for philosophy majors to work individually with a faculty member developing and completing a research project. The senior project standardly takes two quarters to complete, and so students commence their senior project by taking PHIL 460 Senior Project I typically one quarter prior to their last quarter of coursework. Students enroll in PHIL 460 concurrent with enrollment in PHIL 459. In the first two to three weeks of the term students meet with potential faculty advisors to discuss ideas for the research project. By the middle of the term students have found their advisor and submitted a completed and signed Senior Project Agreement Form to the department office. The research stage of the project should by then be underway. By the end of that first quarter of the senior project the students submit to their advisor a research plan consisting at least of an abstract of the project, an outline of the research paper, and an annotated bibliography of the research materials with an expected timeline for completion of drafts of the research paper the following quarter. Students earn credit for PHIL 460 by submitting their Senior Project Agreement Form and their research plan.

Philosophy majors conclude their senior project by taking PHIL 461 Senior Project II. Students earn a letter grade for PHIL 461 on the merits of their completed research paper. Students work with their faculty advisor to establish a suitable timeline for submission of the final draft of the senior project paper. The faculty advisor for the senior project informs the department chair of the letter grade the advisor assigned to the successfully completed senior project and the department chair records the letter grades for PHIL 461. 

Senior Project for Double-Majors

All philosophy majors must earn credit for PHIL 459. However, students pursuing philosophy as a second major may substitute the units for the senior project in one major for the senior project courses in their other major. 

To substitute a senior project in another primary major for the senior project requirement in the Philosophy BA, see the department chair who can fill out the necessary paperwork to use the units for the other major’s senior project to substitute for PHIL 460 and 461. 

Double-majors who want to complete a philosophy senior project in lieu of the senior project for their other major must consult with the department chair or major advisor in the other major to ensure that they approve of substituting the philosophy senior project for their major senior project requirement. Note that some majors will not allow for this substitution. 

This prioritization of one major over another might require declaring one major to be “primary” and the other to be “secondary.” Consult the Registrar for information about the process of determining which major is primary and which secondary. 

Related Content