Skip to main content
School of Politics and International Relations

Research Degree Structure

graduate students studying in individual study booths

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. Therefore, each degree timetable will vary, dependent on the actual nature of the project.

However, all research degrees are expected to fit with the following broad structure, which coalesces around a number of key milestones. Please note that the following is based on a standard full-time PhD of 3-4 years.

Throughout your degree, you are encouraged to take full advantage of the training opportunities available in the School and Queen Mary 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

Year one: the first year is usually spent consolidating the ideas presented in your research proposal, undertaking a literature review and establishing an appropriate methodology for your research. You will also undertake extensive training in research methods through the School’s Qualitative and Quantitative methods course and Research Seminar Series.

Progression review: this will take place 6-9 months after you initially enrol and is the first major milestone of your research degree. For this progression review, you will submit a significant piece of written work (approx. 10,000 words) and a detailed thesis plan. This work will be assessed by two members of academic staff who will meet with you to discuss your work, your progress to date and your plans for completing the thesis. The review panel will either recommend that you continue to the next stage of your degree, or you must undertake further specified work and be reconsidered for progression again within 3 months.

Year two: this year will be spent conducting the major ‘research’ element of your degree. This may take the form of fieldwork (either in the UK or abroad); major archival research; gathering statistical data; or some other form of research, dependent on the nature of your project.

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

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. ‘Writing up’ status incurs a reduced fee from Queen Mary, on the understanding that you will no longer require access to full College resources and supervision. Note that ‘writing up’ can last for a maximum of 12 months.

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 (one internal examiner, one from another university) and you will undergo a viva with these examiners to defend your thesis. You will be awarded your PhD upon successful completion of this viva process.

Back to top