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1st Year PhD Students

Deadlines for each of the activities described below appear in the Postgraduate Timetable.

Project outline

Each student should have received a project description and possibly a readling list in advance of their arrival. The outline should be discussed with their supervisor within the first week with a view to writing their PhD Project Outline within the first 4 weeks. This will comprise some highly project-specific material and some background material of general relevance to your project.

By week 4 you are required to submit the PhD outline, a project plan identifying goals and key tasks for the first six months and the list of agreed key texts. This will contain:

  • Thesis Title
  • Brief outline of the project (~200 words)
  • Introductory reading list: 5 key texts (book chapters/articles/review papers) to introduce the general field of research and get the student to start thinking about their project (bearing in mind their undergraduate background). Note that students will be asked to submit a summary of each of the texts as an integral part of the 1st year report.
  • Initial tasks: a list of those things the student will actually do (a) in the period Oct-Dec and (b) Jan-March. These may include such things as learning new experimental or mathematical techniques, programming languages, sample preparation or changing pump oil.
  • 6 month milestones: 2 or 3 targets that should be met in the first half year, to enable the student to gauge their progress.
  • Taught courses that will be attended: MPAGS, CSC, final year undergraduate modules or equivalent training.

You should upload your Project Outline on Moodle.

You should liaise with your Feedback supervisor and let them know that you have uploaded your report. Your Feedback supervisor will then submit feedback for you.

Once your feedback has been uploaded to Moodle, you will get an email advising you that it is there for you to read.

This plan should be agreed between the student and supervisor(s); submission will be taken to mean agreement has been reached. Where the plans are not satisfactory the Director of Graduate Studies may require the student to submit a revised version and/or attend an interview.

Taught Courses

Graduate level modules are offered through the Midlands Physics Alliance Graduate School (MPAGS). All first year students should aim to take four MPAGS modules. The overall requirement is to take six MPAGS modules within the first two years, but the expectation is that a larger fraction of this training should be completed in the first year.

MPAGS modules may be replaced by equivalent training, such Masters level modules offered by Doctoral Training Centres (e.g. CSC, Complexity, MOAC, Systems Biology), fourth year undergraduate modules (e.g. PX4xx or MA4xx) or external accredited courses. In each case these must be agreed with the supervisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.

Additional undergraduate lectures from earlier years may be stipulated by the supervisor(s), or by the Director of Graduate Studies, to augment the student's training and fill in any gaps in their undergraduate knowledge. Supervisors must notify the Director of Graduate Studies of any prescribed lectures and, if it is considered appropriate to monitoring the student's progress, they may be examined.

Moodle Training Portfolio

As part of the PhD training you will develop a whole range of skills, some completely new and some building on your past experience. These skills will include both subject, or even project, specific skills as well as generic skills that can be exploited in many situations. It is important that these are recognised, both by yourself and future employers, so you will build up a portfolio of evidence over your whole time as a graduate student that contains both a list of the various activites attended and your personal reflection on the skill level attained.

You will need to continually update your Moodle Training Portfolio by adding details of all your training activities, to show the time spent and what you got out of them. These may include:

  • academic courses, workshops, summer schools, conferences etc.
  • on the job training from supervisor or postdocs - experimental/theoretical techniques
  • generic skills courses e.g. IT, presentation, time management
  • self study

At the time of the 1st year progress report your Moodle Training Portfolio will also be reviewed. Subsequent reviews will take place with the annual progress reports in the Autumn Term.

Progress Report

After approximately six months students will prepare a report that demonstrates their understanding of the field of study and that they have made a reasonable start to the specific project. This exercise is designed to help students focus on where their work is leading and put it context, as well as practice preparing a substantial scientific report: some of the material may well form the basis of the introductory chapters in the final thesis or serve as a useful reference during the remainder of the training period.

Preparing the report is an integral part of the PhD training programme, so students and their supervisors will need to agree on a working schedule that both allows the student time to complete the report yet does not interfere with the ongoing programme of research. As most of the background reading and data analysis should be completed during the normal course of research, the additional time required to write the report should be approximately one week of full time effort. A 1st year research report is to be submitted by the date requested. It should:

  • review the chosen project field, putting the work in context of the published literature
  • detail the research methodology being used
  • report how the research work is beginning, including results obtained and problems encountered
  • discuss the implications of any results obtained, how they relate to previous work and comment on any anomalies. If the project has not reached the stage of generating significant amounts of data, more emphasis will need to be placed on the relevant design/building/theoretical aspects.
  • show where the research is expected to lead in the next 2 years (1 page)
  • briefly review the 5 key texts. For each, summarise the main content of the text and describe its relevance and importance to the work in your project (0.5 to 1 page each). It is expected that these texts will also appear in the main body of the report as sources/references.
  • Give details on how much of your Doctoral Skills 1 work you have completed and any Transferable Skills modules you have enrolled on.

  • Include any MPAGS modules (or approved alternatives) you have completed.

The report should be approximately 5000 words, in addition to the 5 pages of key text reviews.

You should upload your Progress Report to Moodle.

Once your feedback has been uploaded to Moodle, you will be advised that it is available for you to read.

After the report and the feedback from the feedback supervisor has been submitted, the report will be independently assessed by the Director of Graduate Studies and an interview will be scheduled to discuss progress. Performance in the report and this interview will be graded as “Satisfactory” or “Not Satisfactory” against the criteria on the marking form. Students graded “NS” will be required to take further tests, the outcome of which will determine whether they can proceed to the second year of the PhD.

Departmental Colloquia and Research Group Seminars

Physics Colloquia are open to the whole department are held each fortnight during full term, on Wednesday starting at 4:30pm in PLT. These aim to bring a wide variety of cutting edge research from high profile speakers to the attention of a general audience of physicists. The level is suitable for all staff, postgraduates and final year MPhys students.

Attendance at these colloquia is compulsory for all PhD students as part of their general training programme.

In addition, the various research groups have their own seminars and it is usual practise for PhD students to attend.

Students already holding an MSc

Students who hold an MSc qualification directly relevant to their research area may be exempt from some parts of the above programme. The training requirement for these students will be decided by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the PhD supervisor. In all cases PhD students will be required to undertake the directed reading course and produce the first year report as detailed above.


On the basis of all the evidence of achievement to date the Head of Department will decide whether a student can continue into the second year with a PhD registration. In cases where progression is not allowed students may be allowed to write up their work for an MSc or be asked to withdraw. The student will be informed of this decision before the end of the Summer Term.