Before I arrived in York, I had many questions about what studying philosophy here would be like. Fortunately, many people also had the same questions and I’ve put down answers to three of the most commonly asked about what studying here is like.
1) How much of my first year is optional?
The first year is designed to introduce you to some of the key foundations that will by the end of it all, give you an idea of what path you want the next two years of your degree to take. Because of this, most modules are compulsory. Modules like Reason and Argument for example, introduce the basics of logic which, if you haven’t studied it before like me, provide a totally indispensable introduction to the way arguments work. This is central to almost every area of philosophy. One module which does give the flexibility of choice is the project essay. This project lets you independently focus on a philosopher of your choosing. After you have chosen your philosopher, you’re given a member of staff to help guide you through the process of writing a summary about a certain area of their thought. So, if you’ve ever wanted to learn more about someone and properly get to grips with their thinking, what better way to do it than with an expert in the field?
After the first year, the rest of your degree is up to you! In the second year you have a choice of modules; a menu of choices from which you select three and then the rest is made up from more particular subjects. This menu of choices always yields an interesting read, there’s plenty up for grabs in all sort of different areas. As second term here comes to a close for me, I have just finished a module on Kierkegaard, which was something totally unexpected and new.
In your third year you can specialise further. The variety is even greater here, and I’m looking forward to looking at all sorts of topics from the nature of the self to the philosophy of film!
2) What are seminars like?
Seminars certainly confused me when I first started here because it wasn’t a way I was used to doing philosophy before. Whilst a classroom format mixes teaching with a bit of debate, the seminar is separate from lectures in that the lectures are designed to teach you about the subject, the seminars are there to discuss what you’ve learnt and debate the ideas that stem from it all. Seminars are small groups where a seminar leader (in second and third year, the lecturers take seminars) helps clear up any confusions you might have, and raises some important questions about the topic. With a subject like philosophy, opinions form the basis of almost every topic you’ll study and as such, the seminars are there to help you get a grasp on the different opinions worth considering as well as to develop ideas of your own.
3) What’s the deal with office hours and supervisors?
Whilst seminars are aimed at a general discussion of a topic, an office hour is where you can talk one on one with your lecturer about any specific questions you might have. Every week, members of staff will allocate a set amount of time for students to come and visit, to talk about any material, questions or general ideas you might have about what it is you’re studying, and beyond! This is one of the best things about the philosophy here. It’s not every day that you can talk about specialist subjects with leading academics in your own field.
A supervisor is a member of the department allocated to you in the first year. Your supervisor is there as your first port of call for whatever questions you may have about university life in general and to help give advice on course specific questions, most particularly exams and modules. It’s up to you how often you choose to see your supervisor, whether it is by dropping in during their office hours or by booking an appointment, and they are there to make sure that everything runs along smoothly during your time at university.