Key Information for Prospective and Current Research Students


What is the difference between a Masters (MSc) and Doctoral Studies (PhD)?

Research degrees are ideal for anyone interested in pursuing further in-depth study in a specialist area relevant to their primary degree. Research degrees involve students carrying out their own research and academic study under the one-to-one supervision of an academic supervisor.

The precise focus of research is agreed between the supervisor and the student. Research can be carried out at Masters or Doctoral level.

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Research Masters degrees provide education and training in a particular subject through original exploration and research. Work for a Research Masters usually takes one to two years full-time study or two to four years part-time. The research culminates in a thesis which sets out the conclusions of the research undertaken. The assessment and award of the degree is on the basis of the thesis. Acceptance on to a Research Masters programme usually requires attainment of at least a 2nd class honours level, or equivalent, in your primary degree.

The PhD is a 3 or 4 year full-time (6-year part-time) programme which provides the opportunity to do advanced, independent scholarly research under the direction of a supervisor. A PhD is required for anyone seeking a career in academia and, more recently, for many non-academic careers in the knowledge economy. Assessment for the award of a PhD is on the basis of a thesis and viva-voce exam.

Acceptance to a PhD programme usually requires attainment of at least a 2:1 honours level, or equivalent, in your primary degree.


What is a 'Structured Research Programme'?

All students registering for a PhD or Research Masters in the College of Sciences Graduate School take part in a structured research programme. The main features of these programmes are: 

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This is the focus and central activity of your programme. Your principal supervisor will be your primary source of information, training, advice and support for your project.

Your School will appoint a Doctoral Studies Panel for you when you are admitted. The purpose of the Doctoral Studies Panel is to support and enhance the supervisor-student relationship, to monitor your progress during the course of your doctoral studies and to provide advice and support both to you and your supervisor(s). This is a panel consisting of your principal supervisor and other advisors (normally two). Reports from you panel meetings, which must be returned to your School’s graduate office, feed-in to your Transfer Assessment (see below)

This is an integral part of the your PhD or Research Masters programme as it helps to ensure that your work is clearly focused on achieving your research and professional goals. Your plans will form the basis of discussions at your meetings with your supervisor and your study panel and will be central to the preparation of the mandatory reports from these meetings.

Your PhD programme is divided into two stages. During Stage 1 you develop advanced knowledge of your area and the research, technical and other skills you require to become an independent researcher in that area. During Stage 2 you carry out original, publishable research - the key requirement for a PhD. While you do this research under supervision, it must be your own independent work.

  • Stage 1 is a period when you define your research plan, develop your research skills and initiate original research work for your doctorate.
  • Stage 2 is primarily dedicated to continuing your original doctoral research but may also include some advanced education and training.

Between 12 to 18 months from the start of your Full Time PhD you will be formally assessed for transfer from Stage 1 to Stage 2. If you are registered for an MSc (Research) and want to transfer to a PhD you also undergo a Transfer Assessment. The purpose of the assessment is to determine if, during Stage 1, you have acquired the advanced knowledge, research skills and competencies required to carry out the independent, original research required for successful completion of a PhD. Read the Progression in Doctoral Programmes Academic Policy (pdf) for more information.

From September 2014, all incoming PhD students must take 30 credits of taught modules over their programme. The aim of these taught modules are to facilitate research as well as to provide you with important transferable skills enhancing your career development. Your School or Programme may recommend or require certain modules, please check with your Supervisor. Unless your School or Programme stipulates specific courses, you may choose from the full range of modules available throughout the University in consultation and agreement with your Principal Supervisor and your DSP. In certain circumstances, students can apply for RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) up to a maximum of 20 credits; this must be discussed with your DSP and will be reviewed by the College of Science Graduate School.

To register for modules, you must complete a module registration form which is available from your School after agreement with the module co-ordinator and your supervisor. This form should be returned to your School office who will register you to your chosen modules. Being fully registered to a module means that you must attend classes, complete assignment and assessment and you will earn credits for this which will be shown on your final transcript. Students can undertake modules for audit which means attending classes but not doing the assessment or assignments but you do not receive credits for this.

Please note that once registered for a module, if for any reason you do not complete and have not officially withdrawn from this module within 6 weeks, an NG grade received will be entered onto your university record and will appear on your transcript. To withdraw from a module, please contact your School office within 6 weeks of the commencement of the module. No retrospective changes can be made. 

For a full list of modules please click the 2016/17 Modules tab on the Course Search page.

These modules are excellent for developing your transferable skills but most do not have credits attached. Visit the Transferable Skills Training portal for a full list of the 2016/2017 Transferable Skills courses.

Changes to Registration

Throughout your programme there may be changes to your registration which you need to apply for; many of which are discussed below:

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Students may apply to change their mode of study from full-time to part-time or vice versa. The student should discuss this with their Supervisor and DSP and if agreed the student will apply to the School Office for a change of Registration. This will be reviewed by the School Graduate Committee and the Graduate School Board. The School will inform the student if this application has been approved. This change in registration status will not be back-dated. Common reasons for this change would be: employment, family or health reasons.

Students may need to apply for a Leave of Absence for a number of reasons such as employment, family reasons. Please note that Leave of Absence must be by semester. Please see the Leave of Absence webpage for information on how to apply.

Students may withdraw from their programme for a number of reasons. Before withdrawing, please speak with your Supervisor and DSP. Please see the Withdrawing from a Programme page for more information.

There are two types of extension:

1. Permission to Continue 

Students who are entering Year 5 FT or Year 7 PT PhD or Year 3 FT or year 5 PT for Masters by Research students must apply for a Permission to Continue in the programme. There are no extenuating circumstances with this extension. These are for a period of semester(s) and fees are payable. The student must apply for this at their School Office.

2. Extenuating Circumstances 

These requests are for a specific period (does not need to be semester length) where the student was unable to attend the programme due to extenuating circumstances and no fees are paid. Supporting documentation must be provided. Common examples of this are medical issues or bereavement. Before applying for an extension please first discuss the matter with your supervisor(s). After discussions with your Supervisor(s), the student must apply for an extension in advance of the thesis submission deadline at the School Office and it must be approved by the relevant School and Graduate School Board. A student is not normally liable for fees. There will be no additional stipend for this period.

See the Academic Secretariat webpage for further information on Extenuating Circumstances.

Working Hours

Due to the range of disciplines across the College, there is no such thing as an ‘average PhD week’ and how a PhD student’s week is arranged will depend on a number of factors including:
  • Subject area (very different work patterns will emerge if you work in a lab or do fieldwork for example)
  • Learning style
  • The stage of the PhD: the week will be structured very differently when you are writing up and there will be peak times in activity
  • What you have agreed with your supervisor.
It is recognised that graduate students are not paid employees and therefore do not have contractual working hours; however students should bear in mind that a public servant’s standard working week is 37 hours1. A PhD student should be self-motivated to work such hours as are necessary to achieve their objectives over the course of 3-4 years1. In cases where a student is funded, there may be additional obligations required by the funding agency in relation to meeting certain milestones that must be taken into consideration when working hours are agreed.
In consultation with the supervisor(s) it is the student’s responsibility to decide the appropriate working structure for them as early as possible in their programme so that a plan can be agreed that suits everyone. Students are expected to develop a professional approach by attending all meetings and other relevant activities that are advised by their  Supervisor and/or beneficial to their programme/research.

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Holidays can be taken at any time in each year, but must be agreed in advance with the supervisor(s), bearing in mind a student’s individual funding terms and any teaching or research commitments. The normal holiday entitlements should be no more than 4 weeks in one calendar year.

In the case of part-time students in paid employment, supervisors should be informed of any of the student's annual leave arrangements that impact on the research programme.

If a student feels unwell and needs to stay at home for a day or two, the supervisor(s) should be informed. If a student is unwell for a longer period of time, they should try to maintain regular email contact with their supervisor(s) to keep him/her informed of their health and they must provide a medical certificate for the period of illness. In cases where students may be requesting a ‘no-fees extension’ due to illness, relevant supporting documentation must be provided.

In some serious cases, it may be advisable for the student to apply for a Leave of Absence.

Where possible, students should apply for a Leave of Absence during their maternity leave. If this causes issues with funding, students can apply for a no fees extension for the period of maternity leave, but must be aware that there is no provision for payment of stipends during this additional time.