Capstone courses

This information is for those who will be 3rd- and 4th-year philosophy majors in 2015-16.

Third-year or fourth-year majors in philosophy must complete a senior “capstone” course giving them the opportunity to apply disciplinary knowledge and methods learned in the previous years of study.

Capstone courses are research-based. This means there are no lectures. The task is to complete a research thesis on a topic approved by your supervisor. You will need to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor to discuss your progress and written drafts.

Who can enrol?

  • There are two capstone courses available: PHIL3920 Senior essay (6 credits) and PHIL4920 (12 credits) Senior Thesis. They are only for philosophy majors.
  • PHIL3920 is for 3rd- and 4th-year students. It is a one-semester course and can be taken either in the first or the second semester.
  • PHIL4920 is a full-year course and can only be taken in the 4th year. Normally you should enrol for the course in the first semester for the whole year.
  • A philosophy major should complete only one capstone course. The department generally does not recommend students taking both PHIL3920 and PHIL4920.
  • You cannot be on exchange when you are taking either PHIL3920 or PHIL4920.
    • If you plan to go on exchange for only one semester in your 4th year, you can complete PHIL3920 either during your third year, or in your 4th year when you are at HKU.
    • If you plan to go on exchange for the whole of your 4th year, you should complete PHIL3920 during your third year. Or you might need to extend your study if you failed to do that. Only in very exceptional situations will the Department support requests for credit-transfer of capstone courses. Please contact the undergraduate coordinator if this is an issue.

Finding a supervisor

  • PHIL3920: You need to find a supervisor in the semester before you begin the course. For example, if you intend to take PHIL3920 in the first semester of your third year, you need to find a supervisor in the second semester of your second year. If you intend to complete the course in the second semester of your 4th year, then you need to find a supervisor in the first semester of the same year. You must obtain your supervisor's approval of your thesis topic before you begin the course.
  • PHIL4920: You need to find a supervisor when you are a third year student. You must obtain your supervisor's approval of your thesis topic by 15th June (of your third year), and work on the topic over the summer. If the progress is satisfactory, then your supervisor will allow you to continue.
  • Approach any teacher of the department you want to work with to discuss your plan. The teacher can either agree to supervise you, or refer you to another member of staff if appropriate. Feel free to discuss your plan with other teachers in the department.
  • During term time, you need to arrange regular meetings with your supervisor, e.g. every two weeks. You should not wait for your supervisor to contact you.
  • The department might impose a quota on the number of students a teacher can supervise. So plan ahead and approach your potential supervisor early.

Finding a topic

  • You can write on any topic in philosophy, as long as you have the approval of your supervisor. Try to focus on a specific issue and formulate a question that you will try to answer in your thesis. It can be an extension of an essay that you have written for another course.
  • Coming up with a good topic is very important for a successful thesis. Start thinking early, and discuss with any teacher in the department. They will be happy to assist you.
  • Be sure to work on a topic that you really like!

Length of thesis

  • PHIL3920 - Around 7500-10000 words not counting references.
  • PHIL4920 - Around 15000-25000 words not counting references.
  • Your supervisor will confirm the exact word limit and other citation and formatting requirements.


  • PHIL3920: The last day of class of the semester.
  • PHIL4920: The last day of class of the second semester.
  • Confirm with your supervisor the exact date of the deadline.

Still have questions? Talk to your supervisor or the undergraduate coordinator (Dr Lau).

Note: These regulations might change so check this page for the latest update when you start your capstone course.

Undergraduate Research Fellowship Programme (URFP)

Academically outstanding students can request approval to use the capstone courses to join the URFP programme. You should either take PHIL4920 Senior thesis (12 units), or PHIL3920 Senior essay AND PHIL4810 (6 units each, but both in your final year). Please check with the Arts Faculty for the latest details and official requirements.