Funding for Undergraduate Philosophy Research

Margaret Atherton (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) writes in asking about how philosophy professors and students can best take advantage of the funding their schools offer for undergraduate research programs.

She says:

My university has what amounts to a considerable amount of money set aside to encourage undergraduate research. However, the way the program is set up, it is very difficult for Humanities disciplines, and certainly for philosophy, to get any of this funding, since they typically presuppose that the undergraduate will be part of an ongoing team of researchers and will be able to do things like data collection. I am wondering, since undergraduate research seems to be a popular buzzword these days, whether others have faced this problem and come up with a way of formulating research programs in which an undergraduate cold be involved that doesn’t presuppose a “team sport” model of research.

This is a good topic, and I’m hoping that people who’ve had success obtaining this kid of funding, or helping their students do so, can share their ideas and experiences.

What people think of when they hear the word "research"

What people think of when they hear the word “research”

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Danny Weltman
7 years ago

When I was an undergraduate, one of my professors hired me and some of my classmates as a researcher to help him improve a class he had taught that we had just taken: he had some topics that he wanted to think about adding to the syllabus, and he each of us research one of the topics by reading some potential reading assignments he had found, researching other potential readings, and writing summaries of them for him so that he could decide whether they were worth pursuing.

7 years ago

I have successfully used undergraduate research funds to hire students to do literature reviews/compile annotated bibliographies, particularly when I had projects that were branching out into new/different areas of research. I have also had students track down relevant empirical literature.

7 years ago

My university offers student summer funding ($3000) for undergraduate research under faculty supervision (over 10-12 weeks). I’ve done three separate projects, with three separate students. I’ll give some detail, and then try to generalize some key elements.

Two were philosophy of science projects. For one, I tasked a biology-philosophy double major with picking a scientific law stated, in major textbooks, without caveats or exceptions (she picked Mendel’s laws of genetics, if I recall); finding, in published scientific literature, conditions under which scientists took the law not to hold; reconstructing their reasoning for such claims; and figuring out the attitude they had toward the law’s truth as a result. The point was to engage a bit with some literature we had read in a phil.sci. course about idealizations, ceteris-paribus laws, and related matters.

For the second in phil.sci., I tasked a philosophy major with finding as many publications as she could in which scientists were visualizing a certain family of models; then trying to find patterns in the visualizations; then arguing whether the visuals might be a good way to track different ways the models diverted from an original simple model. Here the point was to contribute input to a task set to me by a biologist who wasn’t finding citation-tracking to be very useful.

The third project was in Asian philosophy. I had a student interested in dialethic logics and also Nagarjuna’s philosophy. It so happened that, around the time, there was a small debate in the lit about whether Nagarjuna endorsed true contradictions. So I had him gather all the relevant publications he could find; reconstruct the main arguments and objections; and come up with his own evaluation. (This is the only project I supervised that didn’t directly connect with a research interest of my own.)

I think the keys to making my proposals intelligible to the committee deciding on funding were having discrete steps for each project; having one of those steps be the student gathering information of some sort (“data” collection, in a loose sense?); and supervising the student in interpreting the data (we did weekly meetings and occasional progress write-ups). The funding program required each student to do a poster presentation and submit a short research report, but that was after the checks were cashed.

An Undergrad
An Undergrad
7 years ago

For universities that might lack research opportunities for undergraduates, I’d like to give a plug for the Leadership Alliance. It is a program for students from historically underrepresented groups to do research under the supervision of a faculty member at one of their member universities (which include many Leiter-ranked institutions). Though students from any discipline can apply, philosophy is an option. Some students do research related to their mentor’s research, and others do their own project under faculty supervision. Similar programs include SROP and other independently housed REUs. In my own experience, I worked very closely with my faculty mentor and had a fantastic experience. The program also provided GRE prep and other workshops pertaining to graduate school applications, which was a nice bonus.