Working on a unit with Adam Elga

1. What is a unit?

I think of it roughly this way: a unit represents an amount of work equal to a substantial term paper for a one-semester graduate seminar. Typically one completes a unit by writing several drafts of a substantial paper.

2. Getting started

If you have an idea for a unit paper that you’d like to talk to me about, or if you’ve already written a draft that you want to revise into a unit paper, or if you are in a seminar I’m teaching and might want to do a unit of any sort associated with that seminar, the best thing to do is to stop by my office hour (listed on my web page) for a quick chat. Do this early in the semester. (No need to email in advance for this–just stop by during the office hour.)

During our chat, I can advise you on whether the idea makes sense as a unit paper, and on who would might be good advisors for it. If it makes sense for us to work together topic-wise, then most often you can just get started on thinking about and writing the paper after we talk. On extremely rare occasions I may be working with many other graduate students on unit papers—if so, I apologize in advance if I have to ask to work with you on the unit during a future semester.

3. Timeline

If you are starting from scratch, a good way to work on the unit is to start on it early in the semester, and to give me a substantial draft by about the middle of the semester. That way, you will have time to revise it or write another draft in the light of my comments. The number of revisions necessary varies: sometimes just one round is enough, but sometimes many revisions are necessary. Since there’s no way of knowing in advance how many revisions it will take to get the unit, get that first draft in early.

If you don’t get some kind of draft in around the middle of the semester, you shouldn’t count on getting credit for the unit for that semester (though it is possible that you will). Protect yourself by staying up to date on your units, and avoid the stress of having to scramble at the end of the semester to catch up.

If you don’t get a unit done during one semester, we can resume working on it together once the next semester has started.

4. Oral exam units

Oral exam units require planning. The first step is to talk with me at the beginning of the semester about whether the topic makes sense. If it does, you will need to write a proposal and sign up a second examiner by the middle of the semester (the last day of undergraduate midterm week). That will leave time for us all to schedule and conduct the written and oral parts of the exam.

There are two options. Options 1: you may write a unit paper and then be examined on that paper and surrounding issues. Option 2: you may complete a written examination on a topic and be examined on your exam and surrounding issues.

If you would like to pursue option 2, you should write a proposal. The proposal should cover the topic of the examination, the readings and issues to be covered, and should give some sample questions.

Once I and your second examiner have said your proposal is OK, the three of us will set up a time for the exam. Typically we will give you a written take-home exam to be completed within 3 hours of opening it, and in time for your answers to get to both examiners by email at least 48 hours before the oral exam.

5. Revisions

When you submit a revision of a paper I’ve already read, please send along a version with significant changes indicated. In other words, format in boldface (or another distinguishable way) those passages or regions with significant changes/additions.) Many word processors have a “track changes” mode that will do this automatically if you activate it before making the changes. So immediately after handing in a draft to me, I recommend “accepting” all previous changes (if any), and making sure that the “track changes” mode is activated. LaTeX users may find the latexdiff package useful.

Date: February 10, 2023

Author: Adam Elga


Created: 2023-02-10 Fri 15:01