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Research Student Handbook

Student Academic Progress (including Upgrades)

Student Academic Progress

There are procedures in place to allow formal monitoring of progress. This is to ensure that adequate progress is being made, that the students are capable of a viable thesis and that the work can be completed in a realistic timeframe. Progression through the degree programme is not an entitlement and is not always appropriate. Additionally, progress monitoring is a good mechanism for identifying and solving problems the student may be experiencing early on in their studies.

Your ongoing progress is monitored through the MyPGR system. All students are required to complete AMR to monitor progress, identify and resolve problems and provide feedback, in line with the University’s Code of Good Practice for Annual Monitoring of Research Students. AMR usually takes place in January.

The purposes of AMR are:

  • to assist the University in ensuring parity of provision and treatment for students across the University;
  • to identify problems either in a student's programme of study or in the student-supervisor relationship;
  • to assess student progress in order to give feedback to the student;
  • to monitor the nature and frequency of research supervision and other facilities offered;
  • and to assist in making formal decisions about unsatisfactory progress.

Submission of Forms and Documents

All students (including those on full time, part time, interrupted or continuation status or who have submitted but are waiting to do corrections or resubmission of their thesis this year) are asked to complete a report. You will be asked questions relating to your progress in your studies and your supervision.  The forms are available online via MyPGR and you will receive details on the process via email.

The AMR Process

  • Students and supervisors independently submit reports about progress over the previous year since the last AMR.
  • An AMR Panel for each discipline is held and the progress of each student is reviewed. Follow up actions are taken as appropriate to best support the progress of each student.

Please note that this information is for students who began their studies before the 2019/20 academic year. If you began your studies in the 2019/20 academic year, please see the dropdown below.

Normally all research students studying to obtain a PhD are initially registered for the MPhil. Those wishing to gain a PhD need to transfer to that status.  The process by which you transfer from MPhil registration to PhD is called ‘upgrade’.  Students and supervisors need to be aware that this is a significant milestone in the progress towards a PhD, towards which they should be working.

The Upgrade process

The University’s policy on upgrade / transfer can be found in the relevant section of the TQA Manual.

Students are notified once their upgrade deadline has been added to their contact diary in MyPGR. The system will send two automated reminders, but it is the student’s responsibility to meet the deadline. Students who have missed the deadline to submit their upgrade report and failed to request an extension to this deadline, or if their application has been declined, will receive an initial warning, under the TQA Manual ‘Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement Procedures

Once the upgrade report has been uploaded to MyPGR the PGR Support Office will distribute it to the Upgrade panel for consideration.

The report will be reviewed and a viva will be held not later than 4 weeks after the submission of the report. 

As part of the student’s training in organisational skills, it will be their responsibility to contact all parties and organise the upgrade viva.

The Upgrade Committee will comprise an assessor, the Director of Postgraduate Research (or their nominee Chair) and the student’s lead supervisor (who will attend as an observer only).

At the end of the viva the Committee will ask the supervisor to leave and the student will have the opportunity to make any comments they wish to the Committee without their supervisor being present.  Students will receive written feedback on their submission and performance in the viva. 

The objectives of the assessment are listed below:

  • Review progress and assess status of project and feasibility of experimental targets
  • Determine whether the student is on track for submission of the thesis by the  intended submission date as determined by the student/supervisor (i.e. end of funding period or 3/3.5 years)
  • Determine whether the student can write effectively
  • Determine whether the student can effectively analyse and interpret their experimental work
  • Review student’s awareness of the significance of their work in the wider field

The possible outcomes following the upgrade viva are that the student may be upgraded, or they may be asked to make modifications to their upgrade materials, or they may be asked to re-submit the upgrade materials within a 3-month period (and there may be a need to hold another viva).  If asked to re-submit, in addition to the previous options, the Committee may recommend that the student does not upgrade to PhD.  If the Upgrade Committee recommend that the student is upgraded to PhD, the completion date on MyPGR will be updated accordingly in line with the maximum period of study permitted for PhD study (which is 4 years for full-time students and 7 years for part-time students).

The Upgrade Timeline

The University directs that the upgrade process (i.e., document submitted, viva held, and any corrections or amendments approved) should normally have been completed by the end of the second year of registration for full time students and by the end of the fourth year for part time students. Within CLES, the absolute deadline for submitting an initial upgrade document is not later than the end of 18 months after the initial registration.  In addition, each discipline within CLES has a specific timeframe for submission. Specific information regarding each discipline can be found below. 

If the upgrade procedure has not been completed by the end of the second year of registration for full time students and by the end of the fourth year for part time students, the student will normally lose the right to upgrade and will continue on an MPhil programme.

Extensions to Upgrade Deadlines

Extensions to specific upgrade deadlines are only granted in exceptional circumstances and must be approved by the Discipline Director of Postgraduate Research. Students applying for an extension to their upgrade deadline must follow the following procedure: 

  1. Applications for an extension should be made prior to the upgrade document submission deadline or within one working day.
  2. Late applications for an extension should only be considered in exceptional circumstances, where there are compelling reasons why the application was not made at the time. Examples may include an emerging condition, the effect of which was not clear at the time of the submission deadline.
  3. Students are responsible for making applications for an extension to the College.
  4. Students must submit their case for an extension to the PGR Support Office being explicit in detailing:
    1. The circumstances which have affected them.
    2. How these circumstances have affected them/ their performance.
    3. Evidence which will be supplied to support their application (see Annex E for examples of appropriate evidence).
  5. Students applying for an extension should submit verifiable and/or independent evidence of the circumstances which have affected their performance. Where ill health has been sufficiently serious to have affected performance, the student must have consulted a medical practitioner or Wellbeing professional and obtained supporting evidence (see Annex E for examples of appropriate evidence).

Please note that this information is for students who began their studies from the 2019/20 academic year onwards. If you began your studies before the 2019/20 academic year, please see the dropdown above.

Normally all research students studying to obtain a PhD are initially registered for the MPhil. Those wishing to gain a PhD need to transfer to that status. The process by which you transfer from MPhil registration to PhD is called ‘upgrade’. Students and supervisors need to be aware that this is a significant milestone in the progress towards a PhD, towards which they should be working.

The upgrade process

The University’s policy on upgrade / transfer can be found in the relevant section of the TQA Manual.

The purpose of the upgrade process is to:

  1. Confirm that the student is making satisfactory progress;
  2. Confirm that there is evidence that the student is able to produce work of doctoral quality;
  3. Act as a structural milestone within the student’s research journey;
  4. Provide the student with formal feedback on their work, and a developmental opportunity in the form of a viva;
  5. Provide an opportunity for a detailed review of the research project and plan to take place from experts independent of the supervisory team.

Students are notified once their upgrade deadline has been added to their contact diary in MyPGR. In exceptional circumstances beyond the student's control, applications for extension to the deadline for transfer of registration may be made. These will be considered by the College Director of Postgraduate Research.

It is the student’s responsibility to meet the deadline. Students who have missed the deadline to submit their upgrade report and failed to request an extension to this deadline, or if their application has been declined, will receive an initial warning, under the TQA Manual ‘Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement Procedures’.

The Upgrade Committee will comprise an assessor, the Director of Postgraduate Research (or their nominee Chair) and the student’s lead supervisor (who will attend as an observer only).

The Upgrade Committee will review the upgrade report and a viva will be held not later than 4 weeks after the submission of the report.

As part of the student’s training in organisational skills, it will be their responsibility to contact all parties and organise the upgrade viva.

At the end of the viva the Committee will ask the supervisor to leave and the student will have the opportunity to make any comments they wish to the Committee without their supervisor being present. Students will receive written feedback on their submission and performance in the viva.

The objectives of the assessment are listed below:

  • Review progress and assess status of project and feasibility of experimental targets
  • Determine whether the student is on track for submission of the thesis by the intended submission date as determined by the student/supervisor (i.e. end of funding period or 3/3.5 years)
  • Determine whether the student can write effectively
  • Determine whether the student can effectively analyse and interpret their experimental work
  • Review student’s awareness of the significance of their work in the wider field

Upgrade outcomes

  1. At the first attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available:
    1. Pass;
    2. Require completion of minor amendments within 2 months;
    3. Refer for a second attempt within 3 months and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.
  2. At the second attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available:
    1. Pass;
    2. Remain registered as an MPhil student, where a student has provided satisfactory evidence of their ability to submit work of MPhil quality, within the appropriate time-frame for an MPhil;
    3. Remain registered as an MPhil student and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.
  3. Upon review of a second submission by a student, if the College Upgrade Committee are satisfied that a recommendation of ‘pass’ can be made to the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of College without the necessity for a second viva they may make this recommendation to the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of College without delay.

If the Upgrade Committee recommend that the student is upgraded to PhD, the completion date on MyPGR will be updated accordingly in line with the maximum period of study permitted for PhD study.

The upgrade timeline

The University directs that the upgrade process (i.e., document submitted, viva held, and any corrections or amendments approved) should normally have been completed by the end of the first year of registration for full time students (pro rata for part-time students). Within CLES, the absolute deadline for submitting an initial upgrade document is not later than the end of 9 months after the initial registration. Specific information regarding each discipline can be found below.

Extensions to upgrade deadlines

In exceptional circumstances beyond the student's control applications for extension to the deadline for transfer of registration may be made. These must be approved by the College Director of Postgraduate Research.

Further information about extensions to upgrade deadlines can be found here.

Discipline-specific guidance

The University has a Code of Good Practice which sets out the procedures through which unsatisfactory progress for all students should be handled.

Identifying Unsatisfactory Progress

For postgraduate research students, unsatisfactory progress is usually identified when a student has not met the requirements laid out under Responsibilities of Students in the ‘Code of Good Practice - Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students’, as specified in the College’s own Code of Practice, or as identified by their supervisory team, and in particular might arise from supervisory termly progress review meetings. Unsatisfactory progress or engagement may be identified when a student’s progress is considered as part as of the Annual Monitoring Review process as set out in the ‘Code of Good Practice: Annual Monitoring Review’, or as a result of action under the ‘Statement of Procedures: Periods of Registration and Changes to Registration Status for Graduate Research Students’ such as an application to upgrade from MPhil to Doctoral Study, apply for transfer to continuation status, or apply for an extension to study.

Stages

There are three stages for dealing with unsatisfactory progress (see the University Code of Practice for further details):

  1. Initial Warning:  Concerns with a student’s progress or attendance may be best picked up in discussion with a member of staff, however, to constitute an initial warning a record must be kept and a copy sent to the student concerned. In discussion students should be invited to explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to perform satisfactorily, which they could not reasonably have informed the College of earlier.
  2. Final Warning:  If concerns about unsatisfactory progression are not satisfactorily addressed following an initial warning, or if further concerns about the student arise within 12 months of receipt of the initial warning, the student should be referred to the appropriate Associate Dean of the College (or appointed deputy) who should issue the student with a final warning. The student will be provided with the opportunity to arrange a meeting, where they can explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to comply with the terms of their initial warning or which led to further unsatisfactory progress, which they could not reasonably have informed the College of earlier.
  3. Referral to College Director of PGR and Dean of Faculty:  If a student’s performance and/or attendance remain unsatisfactory following issue of a final warning, or if further concerns about the student’s progress are picked up within 12 months of receipt of the final warning, the College Director of PGR will meet with the student to let them know that they will be reporting them to the Dean of Faculty with a recommendation that they are deregistered. The student will be invited to explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to comply with the terms of their final warning, which they could not reasonably have informed the College of earlier. If the student misses the meeting, they will be directly reported to the Dean of Faculty.

Biosciences: Penryn Campus

An 18-month mid-PhD review.

  • Students should give a 15-minute presentation to their panel outlining progress to that point, followed by 45 minutes of discussion with the panel.
  • In the presentation, students should explain what data has been collected, what analyses have been conducted, what results have been found, and what has been written up.
  • Changes to the original aims and chapter structure set out in the upgrade report should be noted and explained.
  • The panel will provide feedback to the student on their progress, and in exceptional cases may recommend Health Wellbeing and Support for Study Procedures or initiate Unsatisfactory Progress.

Biosciences: Streatham Campus

An 18-month mid-PhD review.

  • Students should give a 15-minute presentation to their panel outlining progress to that point, followed by 45 minutes of discussion with the panel.
  • In the presentation, students should explain what data has been collected, what analyses have been conducted, what results have been found, and what has been written up.
  • Changes to the original aims and chapter structure set out in the upgrade report should be noted and explained.
  • The panel will provide feedback to the student on their progress, and in exceptional cases may recommend Health Wellbeing and Support for Study Procedures or initiate Unsatisfactory Progress.

Geography: Penryn Campus

An 18-month mid-PhD review.

  • Students should give a 15-minute presentation to their panel outlining progress to that point, followed by 45 minutes of discussion with the panel.
  • In the presentation, students should explain what data has been collected, what analyses have been conducted, what results have been found, and what has been written up.
  • Changes to the original aims and chapter structure set out in the upgrade report should be noted and explained.
  • The panel will provide feedback to the student on their progress, and in exceptional cases may recommend Health Wellbeing and Support for Study Procedures or initiate Unsatisfactory Progress.

Human Geography: Streatham Campus

There will be a ‘follow-up’ meeting around 18 months after the Upgrade Viva in the form of a 10 minutes presentation and 20 minutes discussion between the student and upgrade assessor only. The purpose of this meeting is to provide another formal point of contact, to check things are ‘on track’, and to provide an opportunity to reflect on any issues or successes that might have arisen since the Upgrade Viva.

Complex Living Systems

There will be a yearly review with the solely purpose of supporting the students' progress. 

Psychology

PGRs will be required to present to their research group at 18 months from the programme start (pro-rata PT) on progress since the upgrade, with the external member of the upgrade committee present, and feedback provided informally.

Sport and Health Sciences

The following review guidelines will apply for all new PGRs registering at SHS from Sep 2019. The timelines will be adjusted pro rata for part-time students.

Presentation at annual SHS PGR Conference.

  • The timing will be 15 months (year 2) in cases where funding covers 3-years of FT registration, and 27 months (year 3) for those students whose funding covers a 4-year studentship.
  • The presentation will be attended by the DPGR and the same examiner who assessed the upgrade viva as a checkpoint of progress of experimental work towards completion.

Timely completion of the thesis improves the job prospects of successful students by showing that they have the capacity to manage a project and bring it to completion within deadline. Furthermore, research students invest significant resources into their studies, and it is important that research programmes do not take more of these resources than is necessary.

The University is closely monitored by funding bodies and the government to ensure that postgraduate research students –whether publicly funded or not – are completing their work in a timely fashion.

You should aim to submit your research thesis on or before your completion deadline so that you can complete your programme within the maximum period of study. 

Your target submission date and your completion date can be found on MyPGR.  The target submission date is set by default at the beginning of your final year.  This date cannot be altered. Whilst you are registered on a Masters by Research or an MPhil the target submission date and completion date will be the same, but your completion date will be extended if/when you successfully upgrade to a PhD.  You should discuss your personal target submission date with your supervisory team at the outset of your programme as part of your overall timeline for your research.  You should make sure that your discussions take into account your individual financial circumstances (e.g. how would you cover your living costs if you have not submitted once your studentship funding has finished?) and that there is sufficient contingency time built in for unforeseen circumstances.

The University lays down maximum periods of study for different qualifications. Full information on registration periods can be found in the TQA Manual. Unless an extension has been approved, registration is automatically terminated when the maximum period of study has been reached.  In such circumstances students will not be allowed to submit a thesis and will not be eligible for the award of a degree.