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Upgrade Procedures

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  • Upgrade Advice

Monitoring your Progress

The University requires that student progress is reviewed annually for all postgraduate research students. Each year this process requires the student to submit written work, and the supervisor and the student to complete a Progress Review Form. Students in their first year of study will be assessed for their upgrade from MPhil status to full doctoral status, whilst students in Years 2, 3 and 4 will be assessed by the Departmental Graduate Progress Review Panel.

It is possible, that upgrades will be conducted online. If this is the case, students will be informed in advance.

M4C-funded students have their own upgrade and review process administered by the M4C. Completion of this will be accepted by the department so that you do not have to undergo two parallel processes. The details of the M4C scheme can be found hereLink opens in a new window. As the M4C mid-year reviews do not require an Ethics Review, all M4C students should complete the Departmental Ethics Review form and submit this to in order to have their MPhil to PhD officially actioned.

Year One (Part-time Year Two)

All students reading for a PhD are initially registered for the degree of MPhil. Your progress is monitored over the first year (or first two years in the case of part-time students), during which it is expected you will complete the upgrade to doctoral registration (Confirmation of Status). Upgrade to PhD registration is normally expected to take place within the first 9-12 months of registration for full-time students, and 18-24 months for part-time students.

It is the supervisor(s)' responsibility to arrange the upgrade panel within the time set out by the funding body or university regulations.

By Term 2 of the first year (for the full-time or second year for part-time), students must begin the preparation of the written work that is required for the Upgrade Interview. Upgrade interviews will normally take place during the Summer Term, and it is a normal requirement that they are completed before the end of your first year of registration. If you started your research in January rather than October, your upgrade review will normally take place in September/October.

For the Upgrade, you should submit the following:

  • Draft chapter of 5,000 – 6,000 words in length which might either offer a literature review, or a piece of research, or a combination of the two
  • 2,500-word Research Proposal, giving a synopsis of your research project which should set out your research questions/aims; briefly summarise how these relate to existing interpretations (this might be more extensive if your sample chapter is not a literature review); say something about the methodology you plan to use; and briefly outline what sources are important for the project. You should append a bibliography (not part of the word count) of relevant primary and secondary material to the research proposal.
  • A chapter plan and timetable for completion of your thesis (max 1500 words)
  • an Ethics Review Form

The relevant forms are available at 

Upgrade Preparation Advice

At the Upgrade interview, you will be accompanied by your Supervisor, who is present as an observer. The two members of staff who have read the work you have submitted will conduct the interview. They will question you about what they have read, and may also ask you about the general framing of the project, your sources, and the prospects for satisfactory completion. As part of the interview process, they will speak with you alone regarding the conduct of your supervisions, and they will meet with your Supervisor(s) alone to discuss any matters that they may wish to raise.

At the conclusion of the Upgrade Interview, your Assessors will draft a formal report making a recommendation. They may make one of four recommendations:

  1. that you be upgraded to PhD registration
  2. that you resubmit your work at a future date for a second Upgrade Interview, having made changes that they may advise in consultation with your supervisor
  3. that you continue with your project to completion as an MPhil
  4. that your registration as a research student should be discontinued, on the grounds that the planned project will not lead to a research degree. This option will, however, normally only be used after a resubmission and after consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies.

It is our expectation that most students will be successful in their Upgrade interview on the first attempt.

If you are asked to resubmit your Upgrade, this may be with or without a further interview. A resubmission may feel disappointing, but it is important that any weaknesses in your project are resolved in order to allow you to move forward to the completion of the doctorate. Many excellent theses have been successfully completed after a second Upgrade Interview. If asked to resubmit, the points to address will be clearly set out by the Assessors in their report. A second opportunity to upgrade should be held within six months of the initial upgrade meeting (or within one year for part-time students).

Failure to upgrade at the second attempt may lead to either: (i) proceeding to the degree of MPhil; or (ii) the student being required to withdraw their registration. Under University Regulations 13 and 16.3(1) students have the right to appeal against either of these decisions.

Further regulations regarding the upgrade process can be found on the Doctoral College web pages: opens in a new window

    What to include in your Research Proposal

    A formal Research Proposal, with a working dissertation title, will be approximately 2,500 words long, and contain two appendices:

    a) a preliminary chapter plan and timetable for the research and writing up, max 1500 words

    b) a bibliography (not restricted by a word count) of works and research materials to be consulted.

    The Research Proposal will help you to clarify a number of considerations crucial to the design of a successful research project (it is essentially the first draft of your dissertation introduction). You will need to show:

    • central research questions you plan to address and what kinds of answer you are looking for;
    • the ability to situate your work within the existing scholarship and to show how your research engages with this body of research, methodologies or ideas;
    • what methods you plan to use;
    • what your source-base will be (printed primary sources, major secondary works, manuscripts, etc) and where you will be consulting these materials (this may involve letters or reconnaissance trips to relevant archives in advance);

    Try to cover as many of these areas as possible in your proposal. You may find it useful to use these bold topics as section headings in your writing. When your supervisor has read through the Research Proposal, you should go through it together.

    What is the purpose of the upgrade interview?

    The upgrade interview serves five main purposes:

    • it gives you the opportunity, at an early stage of your research, to present your proposal for your PhD to independent academics
    • it provides you with formative feedback alerting you to your strengths and areas for development in your research
    • it introduces your research to other members of academic staff who may be able to provide help and support as your project progresses
    • it gives you an experience of the viva style of examination
    • it provides summative feedback on your progress i.e. an examination of your ability to produce work that merits transfer from MPhil to doctorate level

    When should I present my upgrade?

    If you are a full-time student you should normally present your upgrade paper in the third term of your first year. For part-time students, the upgrade should take place during the first 18-24 months of study. At this point in your research you will have settled on your research questions; undertaken a preliminary literature review; decided your methodology and approach, and considered the primary sources to be used. But it will probably be before you have undertaken much primary research and analysis. The purpose of the upgrade interview is to enable you to get feedback on your research plans before you become too committed, and to give yourself time to use the feedback to change track or modify your plans if necessary.

    Who makes up the panel?

    The panel is made up of two members from the academic staff from the Department of History or in certain cases from outside the Department. Your supervisor will also attend the interview and therefore will be able to debrief you about the upgrade. Your supervisor has no formal role in the upgrade and will not ask questions or help you with replies.

    During the upgrade interview, you will also be interviewed without your supervisor being present. This gives you a chance to talk in confidence with the panel about your supervision and the help and support you are receiving. Your supervisor will also speak to the panel without you being present on their view of your progress.

    The panel members may not be experts in your field but will be able to give you advice from the point of view of an 'interested outsider'. They will approach the upgrade interview in a friendly, supportive fashion but be prepared for a serious exploration of your work: this is a formal examination.

    What will the panel ask me?

    The panel members will have read your upgrade materials and have some questions to ask you. These may take anything from half an hour to an hour, sometimes longer and will cover areas such as the structure and content of your research, your timetable and chapter outlines.

    Questions from the panel will depend of course on your topic area and the approach you have taken but these are questions that are often asked in upgrade interviews:

    • What exactly is your research question?
    • What is your theoretical approach?
    • How will your work challenge or support the existing scholarly literature?
    • Why have you decided on this particular chronology or case study?
    • Which sources are you using for your research and what challenges do they present?
    • Which skills (language, palaeography, computer etc) do you need for your research and are you confident you have (or can acquire) these?
    • How are you defining your terms or research areas and why?
    • Do you think your research is too narrow? Or too broad?
    • How will you achieve your objectives in the timescale allowed?
    • Is your timetable too challenging?
    • Will you be able to provide the in-depth analysis required in the word length allowed?
    • What are the ethical issues in your research?

    Are there frequently recurring difficulties with upgrade papers?

    Each upgrade presents unique strengths and weaknesses but occasionally there are some difficulties:

    • Unclear or too wide a set of research questions

    To address this make sure you can provide a succinct statement of your research question and make sure it is tightly focused and manageable. History PhDs are often very narrowly focused but you must ensure that you are addressing the bigger picture as well.

    • Formulaic presentation of the literature review

    You should demonstrate how your project will engage with the current scholarly literature on your subject and give an analysis of the relevant historiography. You should avoid simply presenting a list of who said what and when.

    • A vague understanding of sources

    You will not be expected to provide a full analysis of the sources you will be using for your research - you will probably be only in the preliminary stages of gathering material. However, you should have a clear idea of the type and scope of sources you will be using, where these are located, and any challenges or problems you foresee. In addition, you may be asked why you are selecting certain sources and not using others so be sure that you have a clear idea of why you have chosen your source material.

    • Unclear research methodology

    Make sure you are clear about your approach to your research and have addressed any methodological issues.

    • Unrealistic scope or timetable

    Are you sure that the outline you have presented is attainable? How might you scale down your project if it became necessary? Have you left sufficient time for writing up your research - this often takes longer than expected!

    Outcomes of the upgrade?

    At the close of the interview, you will be asked to wait for a few minutes while the panel discuss their agreed response. The panel will always provide formative feedback on the strengths and areas to develop in your research. Discuss this feedback with your supervisor. The panel will also agree on a summative judgement based on four options:

    • To agree on an upgrade from ‘working towards an MPhil’ to ‘working towards a PhD’
    • To ask for a resubmission of the paper so that the upgrading can be re-considered
    • To consider the project as working towards an MPhil
    • To advise that the planned project will not lead to a research degree

    If you are asked to resubmit your upgrade, this may be with or without a further interview. This outcome may feel disappointing at the time in view of the hard work you have put in but try to treat this outcome positively. You are being given an opportunity to address key issues before you have become committed to a course of research which was very unlikely to lead to a doctorate. The points to address will be clearly set out and it will in most cases be a manageable task to address them in consultation with your supervisor.


    Have you?

    • Prepared your upgrade materials
    • Discussed your papers with your supervisor
    • Discussed possible panel members with your supervisor
    • Proofread the final papers
    • Completed the Research Ethics form


    Copies of all forms for your upgrade can be found at 



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