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PhD Year 1

The first year of your studies will provide an essential foundation of necessary mathematical and generic tools to enable you to complete a successful and rewarding PhD, as well as preparing you for your future career. During Year 1 you will be required to undergo training ranging from gaining a broader knowledge of mathematics through taught modules, seminars and workshops, to enhancing professional skills. All PhD students are initially registered on the MPhil degree. Subject to satisfactory progress, students will be upgraded to the PhD after approximately 9 months of full time enrolment.

Initial Project Outline

In some cases, it may be possible to clearly define your project at the outset of your studies. In many other cases, a more precise project definition may not emerge until later in your studies. In both cases, the very nature of research means that initial project outlines will necessarily evolve as you gain a deeper understanding of your subject area and as the research proceeds. It is not unusual in mathematics to change the direction of the research if difficulties arise that appear intractable. Nevertheless, it is important that students document an initial project outline/plan in collaboration with the supervisor within the first few weeks of the programme. The outline/plan should identify goals and key tasks for the first year of the PhD studies and should include:

  • A brief outline of the project. For some projects this will be initially quite general. For others, it may be possible to define the project in more detail from the outset. As noted above, deviations from the project outline are possible. Nevertheless, documenting the project outline at this stage will enable you to give some initial consideration to your project and concurrently provide focus for the first year of study.
  • Taught courses that you will attend (see below). All first year PhD students are required to take 100 hours of training, which typically consists of 3 courses with structured examinations or other assessment. These courses should not be directly related to your specific PhD topic. In some cases, your supervisor may require you to take additional courses due to the specific needs of the project, your individual circumstances or for your general broader training. In all cases, you should discuss the choice of courses with your supervisor before registering for them. Note that Term 1 courses start in week 1 and registration is required by the end of week 3 in the Autumn Term. Satisfactory marks on assessed courses will be required for progression.
  • Introductory reading list. These are texts (e.g. journal papers, book chapters, articles) recommended by your supervisor that will help to increase your understanding of the project area and related fields.
  • A list of seminars/workshops/conferences etc that you are likely to attend. Again this should be the outcome of the discussions with your supervisor. Attendance at the Postgraduate Seminar and at relevant Friday Colloquia is expected; the Colloquia being aimed at both staff and postgraduate students. In addition, many research groups also hold their own seminar series which you will usually be expected to attend as part of your training.
  • Other tasks and milestones. This should briefly document what you plan to do in the Autumn, Spring and Summer terms and could include developing your knowledge about a mathematical technique, or working on a specific problem or set of smaller problems. Transferable skills training could be listed under such a heading.

A standard form to capture the above information can be downloaded here. The form should be signed by both the student and the supervisor and returned to the Postgraduate Coordinator by the end of Week 4.

Taught Courses

All first year PhD students are required to take 3 courses (or modules) with structured examinations or other assessment. These courses can be taken from the following:

  • Higher level taught Maths modules (e.g. MA4xx, MA5yy or MA6zz).
  • Masters level modules offered by Doctoral Training Centres (MASDOC, Complexity, MOAC, Systems Biology).
  • PhD level courses given through the EPSRC sponsored Taught Course Centre (TCC). This is a collaborative project between Bath, Bristol, Imperial, Oxford and Warwick that aims to share postgraduate lectures in all areas of mathematics via Access Grid Technology - an advanced interactive video conferencing facility that enables students from remote sites to participate in a lecture in a specially equipped room (B0.06). Up-to-date timetable and links to module information are available from the web-page.

PhD students may additionally be required to take a small number of undergraduate modules from earlier years (e.g. MA3xx) to complete a gap in the student's knowledge. Whilst these may be formally assessed and a satisfactory mark required for progression, these would not count towards the minimum of 100 hours taught course requirement described above.

Professional and Transferable Skills

In your first year, and to a lesser extent in subsequent years, you will be required to undertake professional and transferable skills training detailed here. The focus in the first year is on communication skills, i.e. how to give an engaging seminar, writing skills, time management, networking and team building. New postgraduate research students are additionally required to maintain a personal web-page.

Progress Report

First year PhD students are required to submit a progress report to the supervisor and the Postgraduate Coordinator by the end of week 2 of the Summer Term. Timings will be adjusted for students who do not begin their studies by October. At this stage it is not expected that students will have completed original research, but they should be able to demonstrate an awareness and understanding of the relevant literature.The full report consists of 2 main components:

[A] A report that demonstrates your understanding of your specific research field and of the progress you have made in the initial period of study. It is not expected that you will have undertaken any original research at this stage, but the report should show an awareness of a research field. Where possible, the report should additionally describe where research might lead in the next one or two years. The report is not expected to exceed 20 pages, it may be shorter if you have taken a large number of taught modules. The precise format of this report can vary from student to student and could include one or more of the items from the non-exhaustive list below:

  • review of a book or mathematical papers,
  • notes on a proof of a difficult theorem,
  • description of conducted experiments or simulations,
  • computed examples,
  • draft of a proof of a new theorem.

The report is an important element of your PhD training programme, contributing to for example, the enhancement of both report writing (an essential research skill) and more generic skills (e.g. time management). It is therefore important that the report is well presented and written in LaTeX.

[B] A description of your academic activities including books and papers read, courses and conferences attended (including generic skills training), participation in seminars and study groups, etc. This description should reflect the activities documented in your initial project outline (above).


The purpose of the progress report ([A] and [B] above) is to provide evidence to third parties about your initial period of study. The report is considered by the supervisor, the Director of Graduate Studies and the PhD Progress Board. The Board meets at the end of Term 3 when it will consider your report together with examination results and other assessments from the courses that you have taken. The primary objective of the exercise is to provide feedback on progress and it is part of the supervisor's role to do this on behalf of the Progress Board. Subject to satisfactory progress, the Board will recommend that students will be upgraded to the PhD.

In some cases, the Board may not feel there is sufficient evidence to take a view on the progress of a student. In these circumstances, a student may be required to undergo an oral examination normally conducted by the supervisor and the Director for Graduate Studies and/or another member of staff, usually by the middle of September. The September PhD Progress Board will consider the results of the oral examination in deciding whether a student should then be upgraded to the PhD or remain on the MPhil. Students who remain on the MPhil will after the September Board have 1 further year to complete their MPhil thesis.

Continued registration is subject to satisfactory progress. In exceptional circumstances, the Board may require that a student withdraw from the programme.