Carnegie Mellon University
For Master's Degree Students

For Master's degree students

The programs leading to the degrees in Master of Science and Master of Arts are structured for students who wish to gain, at the graduate level, an effective operational knowledge one of the fields covered by the department. These programs prepare students for positions in industry and government, and their completion can also serve as a first step toward a doctoral degree. It takes usually two years to complete the programs: the first year is devoted to satisfying core requirements, while in the second year students take additional courses and (potentially) pursue a research project.

For some, the programs may also be completed in one year, provided the student has an advanced background, for example, given by appropriate B.A. or B.S. degrees at Carnegie Mellon. Students from other institutions have to petition the department to accept previous work as satisfying requirements of the M.S. or M.A. programs.

Master's students who wish to enter the Ph.D. program must complete the standard application process, and completion of a master's degree from the department in no way implies automatic or guaranteed acceptance. Indeed, it is rare for students to move from the master's to the Ph.D. program. Students who are interested in entering CMU's Ph.D. program are advised to persue the thesis based option.


All students are expected to meet with their advisor (or the Director of Graduate Studies, if not advisor has been chosen) once a semester to have their next semester’s schedule approved. If the student is interested in pursuing the thesis option: they are encouraged to talk with many faculty members about possible areas of research for a thesis. After these discussions, the student should select a particular faculty member and engage in reading and research to identify a specific thesis topic. If the supervising faculty believes that the student has successfully identified a viable thesis topic, the student and adviser should select a second reader. Once the adviser and second reader approve of the topic, they should indicate their approval in writing to the Director of Graduate Studies. This permission must be secured prior to the beginning of the fourth semester, but students are strongly encouraged to secure permission well in advance of this deadline.

By default, any faculty member on the research, teaching, or tenure track whose primary appointment is in the philosophy department may serve as an advisor. If the student would like to be supervised by a faculty member who is not in these tracks, or a faculty member from another department, they must secure permission from the Director of Graduate Studies who may consult with other members of the faculty.

Research and teaching

It is not uncommon for M.S. and M.A. students to collaborate with faculty members on funded projects serving as paid research assistants. Furthermore, M.S. and M.A. students who are interested in the thesis option are strongly advised to start identifying a research area early on. Toward the end of the first year, serious thought should be given to topics for the master's thesis.

M.S. and M.A students may also have the option of serving as teaching assistants. This may be done in a variety of ways, e.g., as a grader, or as a course assistant who conducts office hours and/or leads discussion and review sections. The department does not guarantee employment as a TA or grader for master's students. While the department recognizes that not all master’s students desire further academic study upon completion of the degree, it is committed to preparing all students to ably pursue this option because demonstrated teaching ability is an asset for most Ph.D. and other advanced degree programs.

Detailed information on being a teaching assistant can be found in the Philosophy Department Teaching Assistant Handbook. In addition, the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence offers regular seminars to help students refine their teaching methods and also make use of appropriate technology.

?Students working with individuals under the age of 18 may be required to obtain clearances under the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law, known as "Act 153", including the following clearances: (1) a Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) a Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) a Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Background Check (collectively, the "Clearances"). The FBI Criminal Background Check requires you to submit your fingerprints at an authorized fingerprint site. If the University determines that you are covered by Act 153, we will notify you and assist you in obtaining the clearances. Failure to obtain any required clearances may impact your ability to serve as a teaching or research assistant.

Graduate students may also have the opportunity to work as a research assistant (RA) during a semester, instead of as a teaching assistant or grader. Students working as RAs are expected to work 15 hours per week.

Financial support

Financial support awards are made in the initial offer letters admitting students to the graduate program. Please see the graduate student FAQ for information about the regular financial packages offered to students.

Students in their first two years will have departmental support to travel to one conference per year in order to present a paper. If the paper is coauthored, the student must be doing some or all of the presentation at the conference. And, the department will only support one student per paper.

Students must contact the Director of Graduate Studies when they apply to a conference to determine if the department can provide financial support. Financial support for conference travel is not guaranteed. When contacting the Director of Graduate Studies, students should provide the following information:

  1. Name and website of the conference
  2. Title of paper
  3. An estimate of the costs including hotel, registration, transportation
  4. Approximate date for acceptance or rejection

No support for conference travel will be provided to masters students after their second year.