Structured PhD

The UCD PhD is an award characterised by a significant original contribution to scholarship, based largely on a major research project which is also complemented by the development of a range of transferable and professional skills.

All PhD students in UCD are registered on a four year structured PhD programme, a diagrammatic representation of which is highlighted below. As a research supervisor, you should familiarise yourself with each aspect of the structured programme and how these components are administered within your college and on a university basis. The structured elements of the doctorate are designed to help both you and your student to manage progression of the research project.

UCD Doctoral Degree Award Descriptor

All UCD doctoral students have a Principal Supervisor and co-supervisor(s) if appropriate. The Principal Supervisor takes overall responsibility for the student’s research training, the conduct of the student supervisor relationship and management of the student’s research progress. The Principal Supervisor provides the necessary intellectual and pedagogical advice and support for the student. The roles and responsibilities of the Principal and any additional supervisors are outlined in detail in the Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Degree Students

Related links

Policy for Split-Site PhD and other Graduate Research Degree Arrangements

Code of Practice for Conflict Resolution for Supervisors and Graduate Research Students

Each UCD doctoral student has a DSP or Doctoral Studies Panel appointed to them at the earliest stages of candidature (within semester one of the student commencing) by their School (or Thematic Doctoral Programme). As supervisor, you are a core member of the student’s DSP. The purpose of the DSP is to support and enhance the supervisor-student relationship, to monitor the student’s progress during the course of their doctoral studies and to provide advice and support both to the student and you as supervisor(s).

Terms of Reference for the DSP

Research and professional development planning is an integral activity in the structured PhD programme at UCD. The purpose of such planning is to ensure that the student’s work is clearly focused on achieving their research and professional development goals. This tool plays a major role in informing the trajectory of the student’s PhD research and in their training and development as a researcher. As their supervisor, you should assist your student in completing their Research and Professional Development Plan (RPDP) which can also be used as an effective, time appropriate snap shot of the student’s progress during the Transfer Assessment Process and throughout candidature.


The skill-set of the doctoral graduate naturally includes the advanced research and analytical techniques required to undertake high level research in their field. In addition, the goal of the UCD PhD is to facilitate creative, critical and independent thinking individuals who, along with their disciplinary expertise, possess a range of transferable, career and life enhancing attributes. The University offers a range of transferable and discipline specific skills workshops and accredited modules at school/ college and university-wide levels. Supervisors should discuss skills training, development and articulation with their students as part of the RPDP exercise. Participation in the Graduate Studies Transferable Skills Programme workshops will be recorded on your student’s academic transcript (Diploma Supplement). This suite of workshops is aligned with the Irish University’s Skills Statement.

Doctoral studies in UCD is comprised of two stages: Stage 1 is a period where the student defines their research plan, develops research skills and initiates original research for their doctorate. Stage 2 is primarily dedicated to continuing the original doctoral research but may also include some advanced education and training. In order to progress from Stage 1 to Stage 2, students undergo a Transfer Assessment examination which helps to establish if students are making sufficient progress and have the competencies and capacity to complete the proposed research. As research supervisor, you are required to submit a written report on your student’s progress to the Transfer Assessment Panel. Please note that a student’s supervisor(s) does not form part of the Transfer Assessment Panel.

Progression in Doctoral Programmes Academic Policy

Leave of Absence Academic Policy

The University requires that students take particular modules or earn a certain number of credits from taking core and optional modules as part of their structured PhD, normally acquiring 30 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) credits during this activity. Schools, Thematic Doctoral Programmes and/or Graduate Schools or Colleges may specify modules to be undertaken, as part of this process. One credit corresponds to 20-25 hours student effort. There are modules available to broaden and deepen the student’s knowledge of their discipline and research skills modules to provide advanced training in relevant research methodologies. All modules must be chosen in consultation between the student and their Principal Supervisor.

Aspects of research supervisory practice in UCD are covered in detail in the UCD Academic Regulations