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Institute of Dentistry - Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Research Degree Structure

The majority of your time as a research degree student will be spent in self-directed study, with guidance from your supervisors. Indeed, the ability to conduct your own research and manage your own time accordingly is one of the key skills you will develop during your PhD.

While each degree timetable will vary, dependent on the actual nature of the project, you are expected to fit in with the following broad structure, which coalesces around a number of key milestones.

Two modes of PhD study are accepted within the Institute of Dentistry:
Full-time PhD: usually 3-4 years (max. 4 years)
Part-time PhD: usually 6-7 years (max. 7 years)  

A typical PhD structure is as follows (based on the usual full-time mode of study):

Year one:
 The first year usually includes consolidating the ideas presented in your research proposal, undertaking a literature review and establishing an appropriate methodology for your research. You may also undertake preliminary experiments. You will also be expected to attend 70 hours of training courses over the year, prepare a poster for the annual Institute of Dentistry PhD Day and get involved in journal clubs or other collaborative postgraduate activities.

You will also have to pass the 9 month progression review. See our Progression and Examination section below for more information.

Year two: this year will be spent conducting the major ‘research’ element of your degree. This may take the form of lab-work; gathering statistical data; or some other form of research, dependent on the nature of your project.

You will also have to pass the 18 month progression review. See our Progression and Examination section below for more information.

Year three: this year is predominantly spent analysing the data collected in the second year and writing up the final chapters of your thesis.

You will also have to pass the 30 month progression review. 

Year four: Some students may require a fourth year to complete their thesis. Please note that all full-time PhDs must be completed within four years from initial registration (seven years for part-time students).

Writing up status: If you have completed at least two years of study and your supervisors are able to confirm that you will submit within 12 months, you can apply to transfer to ‘writing up’ status. During ‘Writing up’ status QMUL do not charge tuition fees, on the understanding that you will no longer require access to full College resources and supervision. Note that ‘writing up’ can only last for a maximum of 12 months, even if you are a part-time student.

Throughout your degree, you are encouraged to take full advantage of the training opportunities available in the Insitute and QMUL for PhD students. These provide you with both the specific skills necessary to undertake your research and transferable skills that will be of benefit to you in your later career. More information on training is available by contacting  

Progression and Examination 

Please note that the following is based on a standard full-time PhD of 3-4 years.

Progression is a formal process that permits students to continue to the next stage of their research studies programme.

The first progression point for full-time students occurs between 6 to 9 months after registration. For part-time students, this progression point occurs between 12 to 18 months after registration.

Students are required to submit a report and undergo an oral examination.

The report should be approximately 2,000 words in length and primarily focus on demonstrating a critical understanding of one methodology. In addition, it should include:

  • brief introduction
  • aims of the project
  • how these aims will be addressed (consideration of the methods to be used)
  • plan of future work

There is no requirement that the report will include original data but any method validation that has been carried should be included.

In addition, students should report on the training they have undertaken as part of their Personal Development Planning (70 hours are expected at this stage). Students should also indicate what future training they intend to take.

The report will be considered by a progression panel comprising at least two senior members of academic staff who have been approved by the Institute Director of Graduate Studies.

The examiners appointed to the progression panel will be experienced in supervision and examination. They will normally be internal to QMUL but in a different research centre to that of the student and supervisor.

The examiners should not be the student’s supervisors and cannot examine the student’s final thesis.

The oral examination will start with the student giving a short presentation summarising their project.

The panel will then question the student to assess their understanding of the:

  • project
  • methods to be used (including discussion of the critical review)
  • research process (including ethics, statistics, experimental design etc)
  • feasibility of future research plans
  • likelihood of submitting within four years (full-time students) or 7 years (part-time students)

The possible outcomes of the panel are:

  • Progress – the student may progress to the next stage of the research studies programme
  • Referred – the student must undertake further specified work and be reconsidered for progression within three months
  • Fail to progress – the student may transfer registration to MPhil
  • Fail to progress – the student’s registration should be terminated

If the student is referred, the panel will provide appropriate written feedback.

The student will have one further opportunity to resubmit their report and be re-assessed by the panel.

Transfer to MPhil or de-registration will result in the immediate cessation of any studentship payments and the student will be liable for tuition fees.

The chair of the progression panel will be responsible for ensuring that the student’s SITS record is updated appropriately.

The progression process must be completed by the end of the ninth month of registration. Failure to do this will automatically result in the student being referred.

If a student does not engage with this process it will be considered as the equivalent of failing to attend the examination and the student’s registration will be terminated.


  • Supervisors: nominate assessors via MySIS
  • Students: write the 2000 word report, submit training record, and prepare a 10 minute presentation
  • Supervisors and Students: organise the time and location of the interview
  • Assessors and Students: do the interview
  • Assessors: upload decision on to MySIS either by uploading the assessors form or a free text report and ticking the relevant boxes

Students are required to complete a progress report 18 months after their initial registration. Students should:

1.  Write a report to include either:

  • a fully referenced literature survey setting out the background to the research (this is the bulk of the report and is intended to form the basis of the introduction/ literature review for the final thesis), or;
  • a fully developed chapter of the thesis (for students conducting a qualitative study), and;
  • details of methods and materials, and;
  • an account of any results obtained to date (if a student has a fully-formed results chapter which is intended for the final thesis, it is helpful to include that here) and;
  • a detailed plan of future studies with an outline of the planned thesis and a timetable for its completion.

This report should be no more than 20,000 words. Its purpose is to demonstrate progress and potential. It is likely that it will form a basis of the first chapter of the thesis which, for most students, will be the literature review. It should not require a long period of absence from lab work/data collection to write this report.

2. Provide evidence of satisfactory participation in doctoral development training (students need to complete 210 hours of training before submitting their thesis).

3. Undergo a viva voce examination by at least two independent assessors (these will normally be the same as the assessors for the 9 month report). 

At the viva voce examination the student is expected to give a 15 minute presentation which should include information about all their data collected to date. This will allow assessors to evaluate the likelihood of completion on time.

In addition, the supervisors must each provide a progress report which will be made available to the assessor prior to the viva voce.

Criteria for progression:

In both the submitted written work and the viva examination students must satisfy their assessors that they have:

  •  a deep knowledge and critical understanding of the relevant literature;
  •  developed an appropriate methodology to undertake the required research and made adequate progress with the methodology;
  •  the ability to produce work of an appropriate level in terms of independent research, critical argument, use of sources, clarity of writing, and consistent use of scholarly apparatus;
  •  the ability to complete the thesis within three years and three months from the date of initial registration (six years for part-time); 
  • the ability to defend ideas and to accept constructive criticism;
  • demonstrated that their research will make a clear contribution to knowledge in one or more areas of the topic.

In order to complete the progression requirements a student should ensure that all the relevant forms are completed:

  • Progress form for independent assessors

Completed forms should be sent to the Institute Director of Graduate Studies. 

The possible outcomes of the panel are:

  • Progress – the student may progress to the next stage of the research studies programme
  • Referred – the student must undertake further specified work and be reconsidered for progression within eight weeks

If a student is unable to meet the criteria for progression, the independent assessors can recommend a referral. The student will then have a period of up to eight weeks to make up the deficiency. If at the end of this period, the assessors are not satisfied that the student has made the necessary progress then they will recommend termination of registration.

If a student has not passed this progression point after 24 months of full-time registration it is likely that their registration will be terminated as they will have failed to demonstrate the progress necessary for continued registration.

18 month form for students [DOC 66KB]

18 month panel report form [DOC 90KB]

18 month supervisors report form [DOC 88KB]

Students are required to complete a report on their progress at the 30 month stage. The report should include the following:

  • a review of new results obtained since the 18 month review;
  • a draft version of the contents pages for the thesis which should be in sufficient detail so as to clearly define the thesis;
  • a summary of work that needs to be done in the remaining months (this should be ranked in order of priority);
  • a timetable for the completion of experimental work (this should not include the provision for new work);
  • a timetable for completion of thesis chapters and submission of thesis no later than 39 months;
  • evidence of satisfactory participation in doctoral development training (students need to complete 210 hours of training before submitting their thesis);
  • evidence of submission of examination entry forms.

 30 month report form [DOC 59KB]

A student who has completed all their experimental work and collected all their data and and who, in the judgement of their supervisor, is in a position to submit their thesis within 12 months can apply to transfer to writing-up status.

The maximum period for writing up is one calendar year irrespective of mode of attendance. In exceptional circumstances the writing up period may be extended. In such circumstances an additional fee will be payable. Writing up status counts as part of the overall period of registration. Writing up status ends on the date of submission of the thesis.

Students must have completed the minimum registration period (2 years fill-time or 4 years part-time) and not exceeded the maximum registration period (4 years full-time or 7 years part-time). 

Students with writing up status are not liable for tuition fees. However, students must continue to re-enrol during the period of writing up. 

Transfer to Writing Up Status Form [DOC 55KB]

If the student fails to progress at any of their progression points, either outright or after an unsatisfactory referral period, registration should be terminated.

Students may appeal against the termination of registration using the College Appeal Regulations [PDF 35KB].

Final submission and viva voce examination

Your thesis is submitted for examination to the College’s central Research Degrees Office.

Your thesis will be assessed by two independent examiners (normally one internal examiner and one from another university). Examiners normally fulfil the following criteria:

  • Examiners should be experts in the field of the thesis but not necessarily in all parts of the precise topic.
  • At least one examiner should have experience of examining for a research degree in the UK, and the examiners should have examined at least five research degrees of the same or equivalent level between them.
  • Nominated examiners must have had no direct involvement in the candidate’s research or any close connections or extensive recent (within the past five years) collaborations with either the supervisor(s) or student including joint publications or research grants which might inhibit a completely objective examination. They must not have taken an active role in considering the student’s progression and/or transfer of status from MPhil to PhD.

For the full list of criteria for PhD examiners, see the Academic Regulations, p. 159.

You will undergo a viva with these examiners to defend your thesis and will be awarded your PhD upon successful completion of this viva process.

For further information, see the Institute of Medicine and Dentistry’s Guide to Research Examinations

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