Graduate Studies - Current Students

Forms & Procedures

Milestones in the career of a graduate student

Graduate Handbook 2020-21.pdf

Supervision Requirements

1. Applying for change of status

Students are enrolled as a Probationary Research Student (PRS) in the first instance. You will remain a PRS for your first year and will apply for your transfer of status to DPhil or MSc at the same time as all the other students who started at the same time as you, 12 months after your start date. During the transfer process, you will produce a report on your proposed research and progress to date, give a short public talk and then are examined by academic staff on the strength and feasibility of your research plans. In most cases this will be at the start of Michaelmas Term, however students starting in Hilary or Trinity terms will go through their transfer of status in the same term of the following year. The Graduate Office may make an exception on the timing of your Transfer of status if you have been forced to suspend your status or if there are other exceptional circumstances.


2. Confirmation of status

Confirmation of status is intended to provide an important indication that if work on the thesis continues to develop satisfactorily, then consideration of submission of the thesis within your funded period/four years (for DPhil) would appear to be reasonable. It therefore provides a second stage of formal progress review in the four years of the student's overall research programme.

The requirements for confirmation of status:

  • approval sought (via GSO.14 application form) regarding thesis format
  • all applications must be reviewed by two assessors (usually the same as for your transfer);
  • you will be asked to produce a brief written report about your research achievements to date. Your supervisor(s) will arrange a meeting with your assessors. Prior to the meeting you should submit a 2 page document to include (i) thesis chapters; (ii) very short 3-4 line abstract for each chapter; (iii) short statement about the status of each chapter.
  • an interview with your assessors, which should allow you the opportunity to summarise and discuss your research to date.

Following your confirmation assessment you and your supervisor will be provided with feedback, which will include an assessment of your progress and the likelihood that you will be able to submit your thesis within the planned timescale (as set out by you on the GSO.14 application form).

If your first application for confirmation of status is not approved, you may make one further application normally within one term of the original application. An extension of time of one term will be granted if necessary to make the second application.

Full guidelines are available:

3. Thesis preparation

The doctoral thesis is constantly evolving and there are a few ways to make writing up easier: if you can, try to write as you go along, and try to submit papers to peer-reviewed journals. Recently there has been a tendency in the Department for the thesis to be prepared as a series of self-contained papers (Integrated Thesis), rather than as a monograph. This makes it easier for examiners to read what can be a substantial volume and it certainly facilitates conversion of individual chapters into scientific papers for submission after your thesis viva, which is very important for your career progression in science.

Examination by Integrated Thesis:

An integrated thesis may either be a hybrid of conventional chapters and high-quality scientific papers, or be fully paper-based. Regardless of the format, the content of the thesis should reflect the amount, originality and level of work expected for a conventional thesis. It should not be assumed that the act of publication (in whatever form) means the work is of suitable academic quality and content for inclusion in a thesis, and students should discuss all papers in detail with their supervisor before including. It would be anticipated that the candidate would be a lead contributor, rather than a minor author, on at least some of the papers in order to consider this format. There is no minimum, or maximum, number of papers a candidate is expected/allowed to include as part of such a thesis and it will remain a matter for the examiners to conclude whether the contributions are equivalent to that which would be expected of a standard DPhil.

Any papers utilised must concern a common subject, constitute a continuous theme and conform to the following guidelines:

(i) If a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy wishes to be examined through an integrated thesis, they should apply for permission to be examined in this way when they apply for confirmation of status, as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook. A candidate for the Degree of Master of Science by Research should normally apply for permission to be examined in this way six months before submitting their papers for examination. To revert to being examined by a conventional thesis rather than an integrated thesis, the candidate must inform their department of the change as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook.

(ii) Work can be included regardless of its acceptance status for publication but candidates may be questioned on the publication status of their work by the examiners.

(iii) Any submitted/published papers should relate directly to the candidate’s approved field of study, and should have been written whilst holding the status of PRS or a student for the MSc (by Research), or DPhil.

(iv) The collection of papers must include a separate introduction, a full literature review, discussion and a conclusion, so that the integrated thesis can be read as a single, coherent document.

(v) The candidate must ensure all matters of copyright are addressed before a paper’s inclusion. A pre-print version of any published papers should be included as standard.

(vi) Joint/multi-authored papers are common in science based subjects and thus acceptable if the candidate can both defend the paper in full and provide a written statement of authorship, agreed by all authors, that certifies the extent of the candidate’s own contribution. A standard template is available for this purpose.

The University Offices issue guidelines on thesis preparation and submission and these can be downloaded from Failure to follow these guidelines can result in a waste of an awful lot of time reformatting etc. It is also advisable to discuss as early as possible with your supervisor the appointment of appropriate examiners for your viva. Rely on your supervisor for advice but remember that you should at least discuss your preferences with him/her. To enable the official appointment of examiners you must complete Form GS0.3. To avoid delays in the examination process students are advised to submit this form at least 4 weeks before you intend to submit your thesis. If you need to change the title of your thesis at the time of submitting your thesis you may do this on the "Appointment of Examiners" Form GSO.3 under section 1.

For information on digital copy (in addition to the paper copy) follow the link: The digital copy of your thesis.

Submission Method for Research Degree Theses for Examination

Following the successful roll-out of the Research Thesis Digital Submission (RTDS) application to all divisions in February 2018, and a high uptake in digital usage by examiners, the Research Degrees Panel (RDP) have taken the opportunity to review the policy and regulations surrounding the submission of research degree theses for examination. In Hilary Term 2019, RDP approved several changes, the biggest of which is that, from Michaelmas Term 2019, research students will be required to submit a digital copy of their thesis via RTDS for their examination instead of 2 soft-bound copies. 

Summary of the agreed changes to the Rules and Regulations

  • From Michaelmas Term 2019 onwards, you will be required to submit the official copy of your thesis for examination digitally via RTDS.  The typewritten part(s) of any thesis must be saved in pdf format.
  • Examiners may still request a hard copy of the thesis from the Examination Schools and this will be arranged and paid for centrally by the Submissions and Research Degrees Team. The minimum time between both examiners receiving the official copy of the thesis via RTDS and a viva date remains at 4 weeks (as referred to under ‘the oral examination or viva’ section of the Research examinations web page). 
  • Candidates who have already submitted the hard copies of their thesis for examination but are still awaiting their viva or the outcome of their examination, or are part way through the examination process (ie have been given major corrections or have been referenced back) by the start of Michaelmas Term 2019 will continue to be examined under the old regulations.
  • Candidates with a maximum submission date of Friday 0Wk MT2019 (ie last day of TT2019) will not be permitted to submit under the new regulations. Any candidate who has a later maximum submission date and wishes to submit under the new regulations may do so from Monday 1Wk MT2019 but this will count as an MT2019 submission and cannot be backdated to TT2019.

Further details: If you have any queries about these changes please view the Research Examinations website before contacting the Research Degrees Team (

4. Viva voce

After your thesis has been submitted, you will have an oral examination that will typically last between 2-4 hours. You will be examined by one internal (who is a member of a faculty or sub-faculty) and one external examiner, though if circumstances make that impossible two externals can be appointed to act .The internal examiner is responsible for organising the viva, except when there are two externals when help is available from the Director of Graduate Studies, or his/her deputy (e.g if the Director of Graduate Studies is also the student’s supervisor).

5. Progress

You will find that most of your on-going queries can be answered by a visit to the Graduate Studies Office or by using the Zoology Graduate Handbook:

6. Graduate Supervision Reporting (GSR) and Termly Reports

The Graduate Supervision Reporting (GSR) is used by supervisors each term to review, monitor and comment on their students' academic progress and to assess skills and training needs. Students contribute by commenting on their own academic progress. This forms and important record of your achievements to date and offers an opportunity to reflect on the steps required to meet your personal research and career goals.

Access to the Graduate Supervision Reporting (GSR) system is via Student Self Service Students will be sent a GSR automated email notification with details of how to log in at the start of each reporting window, and who to contact with queries.  

It is mandatory to complete a self-assessment report every reporting period. If you have any difficulty completing this you must speak to your supervisor or Director of Graduate Studies.

Your self-assessment report will be used by your supervisor(s) as a basis to complete a report on your performance this reporting period, for identifying areas where further work may be required, and for reviewing your progress against agreed timetables and plans for the term ahead. The DGS reads – and can comment on – each report, which is also available to discuss any concerns you may have, at any point during the academic year. 

GSR will alert you by email when your supervisor or DGS has completed your report and it is available for you to view.

Use this opportunity to:

  • Review and comment on your academic progress during the current reporting period
  • Measure your progress against the timetable and requirements of your programme of study
  • Identify skills developed and training undertaken or required (via the TNA form in GSR)
  • List your engagement with the academic community
  • Raise concerns or issues regarding your academic progress to your supervisor
  • Outline your plans for the next term (where applicable)

Students and supervisors are reminded that having a positive student-supervisor relationship is an important factor in student success. Research suggests that one of the strongest predictors of postgraduate completion is having expectations met within the student-supervisor relationship.


Training is provided at four levels; coordinated by Stuart West.

(1) Most of your training will be provided by your supervisor and research group, to do with the particulars of your research project. This will cover all aspects of research from collecting and analysing data, to publishing. It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that students are trained in the research skills that they require

(2) The department also provides some introductory level graduate training. This includes training seminars, workshops, courses and online modules. Different training is provided in different years, so there should be something for you in all years of your DPhil. This includes training Statistical Analysis. All students are required to complete unconscious bias training and requested to complete bystander training during their first year.

(3) Training is provided in some areas, especially generic and transferable skills by the University. Details can be found on the University website and/or via the Department website (e.g.

(4) You have access to all the undergraduate courses that we run in our undergraduate biology degree. These go from basic to advanced, on a range of topics, and skills training (e.g. statistics). You can even attend other undergraduate courses (e.g. Mathematics). You should discuss with your supervisor if and which courses would be useful for you to take.

The details for 2020-21 are provided in the training summary, training letter, and calendar of training events.

Training Responsibility  

It is the responsibility of the supervisor to ensure that students are trained in the research skills that they require. This is for all aspects of research from laboratory and field methods, to statistical analysis and writing. While, the department provides some introductory level training opportunities (see above), specialised training requirements are the responsibility of the supervisor. Such training could be from the supervisor, members of their group, or their collaborators.

  • In many cases training will be reciprocal – with students learning from students at a later stage of their DPhil, and then passing on to students at an earlier stage of their DPhil. The giving of such support is in itself an important skill, and a key part of graduate experience.
  • If there is anywhere that you feel you are not getting enough support, this should be raised with your supervisor. This applies to all skills, from data collection to data analysis. In some cases, depending on how much support you obtain from others, it would be appropriate that they become co-authors on the resultant publication – again, this is something that should be discussed with your supervisor.
  • Each year of your DPhil will have a student representative, so if you wish to talk to them about anything, they are there for you. If discussion with your supervisor does not lead to problems being resolved, you should contact one of the Directors of Graduate Studies.
Some other resources:

1. 20 things I wish I'd known when I started my DPhil - by Lucy Taylor

2. 15 things I wish I'd known before my DPhil by two previous female graduate students.

3. Some modest advice for graduate students, by Stephen Stearns

4. Some acynical advice for graduate students, by Raymond Huey

5. 20 Tips for surviving your PhD

6. How do I submit a paper to a scientific journal? By Maxine Clarke

7. The importance of stupidity in scientific research, by Martin Schwartz

8. The PhD Troubles Talk

Note that the above resources are not official, and should be read with caution; for example, 3 & 4 especially were written tongue in cheek as a 'skit', as well as being aimed at students in the very different USA graduate system.