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Progress, Examination and Assessment

Guidelines for Assessing Your Progress

The main aid to monitoring your progress is the formal supervision, as well as the formal annual assessments, eas noted below. In addition the supervisor reports on you to the Department, the Degree Committee and your College through  the CAMSIS graduate supervisory system, and these reports are open to you to access, once approved by the Degree Committee.

Assessment of student progress is necessary to assure that you are capable of completing the PhD, but the assessments are intended to have a wider function than a simple examination of the student. They should also function as a forum for discussion about the design, direction and progress of the project, and a focus for offering strategic advice and help to the student and, sometimes, the supervisor.  Do not worry unduly about the assessment.  It should not require revision from you.  It should be regarded as an opportunity, rather than a hurdle.

First year literature review: This is recommended but is not a compulsory part of your assessment.  It should take place within the first 4 months of your arrival.  Discuss the scope and content with your supervisor. In most cases we would expect this to be between 5,000-10,000 words, reviewing in detail the background to, and objectives of, your thesis study.

MPhil Students

Assessment of MPhil students:  There is no formal requirement to provide mid-year assessment of MPhil students, but this Department asks students to produce a short literature review in the first three months as for PhD students, and a thesis plan by the division of the Lent term (i.e. within 5-6 months).

PhD Students

First-year assessment of PhD students: The first-year assessment for PhD students must take place before the end of the first year and leads to a recommendation as to whether the student should be transferred from being a Graduate Student to register as a PhD student.

Objectives: The objectives of the assessment at this stage are first, to check that the student has the ability to successfully complete the PhD; second, to sort out the specifics of the project that the student is pursuing; and third, to ensure that there are no difficulties with the supervisory relationship.

Format of student’s report.  The format of the assessment is as follows.  You will be asked to prepare a report on your first year’s work.  The report should be ± 6000 words in order not to take too much time out of your research schedule.  The exact content of the report will be at your discretion, but clearly it should include an overview of the field in which the research is taking place, assessment of the objectives and achievements of the first year and also assessment of the direction in which the project will progress. You should make three softbound copies so that assessors and you yourself can have one.

Time limit:  You should not spend more than three or four weeks of part-time work preparing the report.   The report must be submitted by the end of the tenth month (i.e. by the end of July for those who started October 1st). This allows time over the summer to get it assessed, so that the process can be completed by end of the first year. But in order to hand in on time you do need to allow time for the supervisor to read and comment on a first draft and to make any revisions that you agree are necessary.  So start working on it in May at the latest.

Assessors: There will usually be two assessors who will be appointed by the supervisor in consultation with you.  There is room for considerable flexibility in the appointment of assessors compatible with student needs; these assessors may come from within or outside of the Department. Make sure that they will be available and willing to read it soon after it is handed in.

Assessment:  Assessment takes the form of a meeting between the student and the assessors to discuss the first-year report and other matters bearing on the project, and last perhaps 1–1.5 hours.  You should discuss with your supervisor whether it is appropriate for him/her to be present.  The assessment is an ideal opportunity for refining the goals of the thesis.

Assessors’ report:  Once an assessment is completed, the assessors compile a report to go to your supervisor.  It is your supervisor who has the responsibility of recommending to the Graduate Office whether or not you should be registered for a PhD with the formal approval of this recommendation being the responsibility of the Degree Committee.  The possible recommendations from a first-year assessment are as follows:

 i)   (most usually) to change your registration from “graduate student” to PhD student

ii)  that you are not yet ready to be registered as a PhD student and should be reassessed in one further term.  (In these cases you will be given                     directions to help you improve your performance, and be reassessed at the end of your fourth term)

iii) (unusually) that you will not be able to achieve the standard required for a PhD.  In these cases the assessors and supervisor will consider the                  possibility of successfully completing an MPhil., and recommend                   accordingly.

Second-year assessment of PhD students:

A short assessment at the end of the student’s second year has the objectives of ensuring that you are continuing to progress appropriately and that you have the best opportunity to complete your studies within the three-year timetable.

Format of second-year assessment report: We believe that it is imperative that this assessment takes up as little time as possible for both you and your supervisor.  We therefore ask that students produce a report, at the end of their second year, of no more than 3-4 sides of A4 paper listing in concise (possibly note) form their major achievements in their first two years of work. They should then move on to consider those experiments that they still have to complete.  This consideration should include a timetable of how completion will be achieved, and an outline plan (chapter headings and rough contents) of the thesis.

Assessment of the report: This short paper will be assessed by your supervisor, and one other person (often the advisor) in a meeting with yourself to allow you to be as sure as possible of completion. A short report will be sent by the assessors to the Graduate Office.

Final Examination of the MPhil Student.

The rules governing the final examination of MPhil students form part of University Statutes, (http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/studentregistry/exams/), and these examinations are administered by the Board of Graduate Studies and the Degree Committee of the Faculties of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. Check with the Board of Graduate Studies (x 32200) to get a full description of what is required, or go to http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/studentregistry/exams/submission/mphil/ for further information.

Examination by thesis requires submission of your thesis report by the end of July to allow examination by the end of one year.   About two months before you are due to submit your MPhil dissertation for examination, you will need to apply for the appointment of examiners.   Please download the appropriate Intention to Submit form from here and submit it together with a copy of your dissertation summary to the Degree Committee office, following the instructions on the form.   The Degree Committee will then set in motion the process of appointment by asking your Head of Department to make nominations; he or she may consult your supervisor at this point. The summary is used to inform the Head of Department and potential examiners about the content of your work. You must also submit two copies of a summary of your work at the time that you apply for your examiners.  This summary is essentially for advising the Degree Committee on the appointment of appropriate examiners and for potential examiners to assess whether they are suitable to examine your thesis.  The maximum report length is 20,000 words excluding appendices, figure legends and references. Note that no more than minor corrections and no re-submission of MPhil theses is allowed so you must get this thesis right the first time.

Final Examination of PhD Student.

The rules governing the final examination of PhD students form part of University Statutes, and these examinations are administered by the Board of Graduate Studies and the joint degree committee of Faculties of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine.  See http://www.admin.cam.ac.uk/students/studentregistry/exams/submission/phd/index.html for  details.

When you are in an advanced stage of writing your thesis, you will need to apply to the Board of Graduate Studies (x 32200) for the appointment of your examiners.  You must do this well in advance of your estimated completion date.  This is particularly important for students expecting to submit their thesis during the long vacation.  A thesis submitted after the last Degree Committee meeting in Easter term (mid-July) will remain on a shelf in the Degree Committee Office until November if examiners have not been appointed!

The other reason for applying early for examiners is that the Degree Committee must approve the title of your thesis.  If you write your thesis without getting prior approval for your title, you risk having the Committee refuse to accept your title (which you may have already incorporated into your thesis). 

Summary of the Thesis: You must submit a summary with your thesis; the requirements are set out in the “Memorandum to Graduate Students.”  Essentially your summary should be roughly 300 words long, fit onto one side of A4, include the approved title and your name.

You must also submit two copies of a summary of your work at the time that you apply for your examiners.  This summary is essentially for advising the Degree Committee on the appointment of appropriate examiners and for potential examiners to assess whether they are suitable to examine your thesis.  The examiners summary of work and the thesis summary NEED NOT BE THE SAME. 

The Postgraduate School Office is happy to help with any queries that you may have on PhD thesis preparation or submission.

Complaints and appeals: The initial point of contact for complaints and appeals is your supervisor, (or for inter-student or student office matters your postgraduate student representative may be more appropriate).  Failing these take matters up with your advisor or with The Director of Graduate Studies in the first instance. See the attached sheet from the Graduate School.