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PhD Milestones

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Welcome Week and IT Tips & Tricks

Peruse the slides from the 2019 induction week chat: Useful Tips.

Peruse the slides from the 2018 induction week PhD tips chat: Intro to IT.

Monitoring Committee

Every six months (12-months for part-time), each PhD student is expected to meet with their Monitoring Committee. This consists of two staff from the department who are not directly involved in your project. The point of this is to ensure that you are on track to submit a complete thesis that makes three-years’ worth of original contribution of knowledge to the field.

Before the meeting:

  • Schedule the meeting: You are responsible for organizing a suitable meeting time and location between the members of the committee and your supervisors. Look to secure one hour for the meeting between everyone, plus half an hour for a debrief with just your monitoring committee members. It can be difficult to arrange a date that suits everyone. It is therefore important to think about scheduling a month or two in advance.
  • Write the report: A report (up to 6 pages) must be sent to your monitoring committee a week before the meeting. Additional material can be included in an appendix. (See below)
  • Action by Supervisors: Your supervisors must write and submit a report on their perception of your progress since the last meeting. This must be shared with everyone prior to the meeting.

What to include in your report:

A good starting point for your report might be to use this template and fill in the blanks. Copy and paste the contents of this ‘.pdf’ into a ‘.tex’ file and change the sections in bold and italics.

  1. Work-to-date (focus on work done in the 6-months*)
  2. How your work relates to literature
  3. The aims of your project, and your plan to achieve them (it may be useful to focus on short-term and longer-term aims separately)
  4. A summary of research skill gained during the PhD from both generic and subject-specific training (e.g. RRDPs, training with the Met Office, Summer Schools)
  5. A bibliography of cited literature

*The first report is often filled with ideas from your supervisors or literature. You will become increasingly independent with each meeting. By your fourth meeting, it might be useful to include a thesis plan as an appendix (e.g. a rough outline of chapters, and sometimes a timeline for their completion). 

Remember that this meeting is meant to provide a chance to get some feedback from people within your field, but not directly involved in your project. This makes it a good opportunity to get somewhat outside feedback on possible paths your project could take.

During the meeting:

The Chair of the committee should remind everyone what the purpose of that specific meeting is (i.e. the first meeting is an introduction, the fourth is transfer). They may also bring up any action points from your previous report. You are then expected to lead the committee through your report.

They will ask questions or comment as you go through the report. Some of these questions might be surprisingly (and intentionally) broad. It is easy to narrow in on your project, but for a PhD it is important to keep the broad background in focus. This type of questioning is meant to be helpful for the viva.

You will also get an opportunity to get advice from your committee. They should also ask you about your supervisors, and you can discuss any concerns you might have with your supervision.

After the meeting:

You did it! Your monitoring committee will complete a form (unique to each meeting) which you must sign. A copy of your report and the signed form must be sent to the Graduate School Office (currently handled via Christine McFarlane).

The Graduate School has different requirements for each meeting. The degree to which you meet these requirements is assessed as being ‘satisfactory’, ‘mostly satisfactory’, or ‘unsatisfactory’ on the form by the monitoring committee. The committee will leave comments or action points for you and/or your supervisors to address before the next meeting.

Transfer Committee

This is usually the fourth monitoring committee. At this stage the committee needs to decide whether you are able to complete your PhD,or whether you should be transferred to an MPhil. At this stage you are expected to have produced a draft of some preliminary work to indicate that you are working at PhD level and are on track to complete your PhD on time. This ‘draft’ could be a thesis chapter draft, or a draft of a paper that could be/has been submitted for review. Please remember that students should always be sent a copy of the supervisors’ report before their monitoring committees.

Quo Vadis

This is compulsory for all second year (3rd/4th year if part-time) students. Quo Vadis is a presentation series that takes place in the spring term of your second year. A prize for best presentation will be awarded.

Tips for your presentations:

You are generally given 12 minutes to present, and 3 minutes for questions. It is highly recommended that you practice your presentation in advance to ensure that it has the correct duration and that the content is concise.

Presentations should demonstrate that you are taking the lead in your project by exemplifying:

  1. Your knowledge of the subject matter and prior research in the field
  2. Appropriate research questions and ability to explain the potential impacts of the results
  3. Your methods and innovation
  4. Any conclusions supported by initial results

Additionally, it is crucial to keep your audience in mind. Nobody will be able to follow a poorly organised presentation with figures that aren’t explained, and nobody will hear you if you mumble or talk too quickly. When practicing, pay close attention to the following:

  • Your presentation style (clarity, pace, connection to the audience, etc…)
  • The structure, visual clarity, and aesthetics of your slides

Keeping the above in mind, you will surely have an engaged audience ready to ask questions. Try to anticipate some potential questions. It can often be helpful to put together some extra slides with materials to help answer these questions. A strong ability to answer questions lends to a strong presentation, however, it is not expected that you will have all the answers at this stage of your project.

3rd year poster

This is compulsory for all third year students and takes place at the start of term. A prize is awarded for the best poster.

Tips for better poster presentations:

A lot of scientists approach a poster and ask the presenter to give them “an overview”. The most effective overviews of posters are brief and include the following information:

  1. What “big question” are you trying to answer and why is it important?
  2. What’s the current state of the art in the field?
  3. What have you done to advance the state of the art?

Interested viewers can then ask you more specific questions. Be careful not to focus on “what you’ve done” at the expense of “why it was important”. You do not have to walk someone through every step of your poster if they have asked for “an overview”, so it’s nice to work up a shorter summary of the three points above before you start a poster session.

It is also good for your poster to include:

  1. The aim of the work (e.g. a single sentence, quite prominently displayed)
  2. Less text, more pictures. Diagrams are very useful!
  3. A set of conclusions

Departmental Seminar

Most people do this toward the end of their third year. The actual date of the departmental seminar is quite flexible so choose it to suite your own personal circumstances. If your project can be easily split into three main research questions, it is common to go through two of the three questions and introduce the third as ‘ongoing work’ during your seminar.

Submission, extension funding etc

Thesis Depository

This is compulsory for PhD students. For more information, click here.

Funding Extension

Extension funding requests for all students near the end of their 3rd year (or equivalent for part-time students) must be sent to the PhD Tutor by the end of July. These requests need to be in the form of an e-mail from your Monitoring Committee Chair stating why the student needs an extension into their 4th year.

Thesis Submission

You need to give the Examination Office at least 4 months notice. Candidates may notify their intention to submit by emailing  who will request you complete a form to supply the following details: Full Name, Student Number, Degree (e.g. PhD), School or Department, Name of Supervisor(s) and the intended month of submission. For more information refer to your PhD handbook or look here.

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