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4: Research

The nature of a thesis

It is not possible to define a passable thesis precisely. By its nature, research is hard to pigeonhole. University regulations talk about the thesis being in principle publishable, but that criterion relies on the judgment of the examiners. If you work on the basis of producing correct and original analysis of a well-defined problem, and rely on your supervisors’ advice as to when the work has reached the right standard, you should succeed. The period of full-time study for a PhD is normally a maximum of four years, although earlier submission is possible. You will be strongly encouraged to complete the work within the four-year period and will be expected to be ready to submit by the end of the third year.

Although there are no set rules (other than the fact that you should aim to do your best), the following points should be kept in mind:

1. A thesis often consists of a number of essays on a related subject. Many students believe that three essays are required, but this is not necessarily the case. Furthermore, it is usually possible to trade quality for quantity. In other words, one large project that embodies the highest research standards can substitute for several more modest efforts. However, it is up to the discretion of your advisors initially and the examiners subsequently to decide whether the thesis is sufficient to pass.

2. Our preferred model is the following: a thesis with three significant pieces of work, one of which would be designated the 'job market paper.' The third chapter may be less developed than the other two, e.g. some limited exploration of a third idea. Co-authoring of aspects of the overall package is not ruled out, but you must clearly state your contribution to the work at the beginning of your thesis.

3. Once you submit your thesis for examination, you are NOT permitted to make any changes and you must be examined on the work you originally submitted. For job market purposes, however, you may continue to work to improve the job market paper after submission of the thesis but this will be for job market and not for the examination.

Most research students in the department will be awarded a PhD in Economics; however, it is possible for the degree to name more than one subject if the research covers not only economics but also another field. In this case the University's regulations 38.1 (2) require that the student has a supervisor and also an examiner in each of these subjects. A degree in multiple subjects can only be awarded if the examiners recommend this and therefore no firm decision can be made until after the student defends their thesis at the viva. Where a student is aiming for a joint degree, it may be possible for training or coursework undertaken in another department, to replace part of the MRes. Where the second year of the MRes is partly or wholly 'replaced' by other training, the student may be awarded a PhD in Economics plus another subject. However, if a student seeks to undertake training in another department to replace the first year of the MRes, the student can only be awarded PhD in 'Subject (of choice)' plus economics. In all cases you should let the department know as early as possible if you are considering a joint award, so that we can assess the equivalence (to the MRes) of the training proposed.

One advantage of the Internet is that it is now possible to obtain copies of theses that were submitted to other universities. You can, for example, go to the web page of one of the top economics departments to see if that department has hired someone in your area in the recent past. If they have, you could try to get a copy of that person’s thesis by consulting his or her personal web page. Alternatively, you could ask the Director of the PhD to suggest examples of outstanding recent work.

We are not particularly concerned with the precise details of the formatting, paragraphing and other matters of style relating to the thesis and set no more specific requirement on this than the general University requirements. The main thing is that the content is good and clear, that readers can navigate the thesis and that you fully reference sources and document your data carefully.

The hardest part of doing research is to stay focused. The most successful researchers are not (necessarily) the smartest ones, but the ones with the most drive to keep trying. It is important to find a way to motivate yourself. Everyone goes through a hard time. Research is intrinsically a lonely job and everybody has to deal with problems of self-motivation, self-esteem, discipline etc. Your first contact for these (or any other issues) is your supervisor. If you feel you could use some additional help, the University offers various resources: PG Hub; Café Scientifique et Academique; workshops in self-motivation, time management, working effectively with your supervisor, as well as counselling services (Research Student Skill Programme).

Research supervision

What you can expect from your Supervisors

Students are independent researchers and are responsible for their own work. You should expect your supervisor to take a relatively passive role, where you are expected to take the initiative in arranging meetings and driving the direction of the research. You are expected to meet with your supervisor on a regular basis (at least every four weeks). During these meetings you should present your research ideas and receive advice on possible directions that you can take or fruitful extensions that you can make. A supervisor should also be able to suggest appropriate literature that you can read. It is important to prepare written documents at an early stage and to continue to polish and extend those documents. This helps you organise your ideas and gives your advisors a better feel for what you are doing. Supervisors are expected to comment on what you have written and to make suggestions for improvement. Supervisors should also indicate when your research is sufficiently advanced so that you can defend it. Finally, they are expected to write letters of recommendation when you are seeking employment.

The University expects you to meet with your supervisor on at least a monthly basis. You should keep a note of what is discussed at these meetings and what you are advised to do before the next meeting. These notes will form the basis of your supervisor meeting reports, which you need to upload to Tabula on a regular basis to fulfil your contact points as a PhD student.

Your supervisor will have many other things to do apart from supervising you and may forget details. Amongst other things, this means you should keep them regularly updated with a brief written plan of the thesis as a whole, so they can see where individual pieces of work fit in. Remember, you are driving your research, not them.

View the detailed responsibilities of your supervisor.

Allocation of Supervisors

Students who achieve the required standard in the MRes (please see progression requirements in section two of this handbook) will proceed to PhD research and it is at this point that the student will be allocated research supervision. You should make sure that you consider the research interests of faculty in the Department when you choose your research topic, to ensure that suitable supervision exists within the Department.

All students will have at least one supervisor by the time they enter the PhD programme. The decision regarding who will supervise you will be made by the panel that assess your dissertation presentation at the end of the MRes. Up until that point you will be encouraged to engage with a wide group of faculty, in formulating your research proposal/dissertation. You will do this to get input to your proposals and to build interest in your proposed research. You will be expected to fully participate in the departmental research environment. It is expected that you will have identified a potential supervisor by the end of the MRes. This supervisor will take primary responsibility for you. In some cases, for example where your research interests cut across two or more fields, it might be appropriate for you to have more than one supervisor (i.e., between one and three). This is allowed and would be decided either at the beginning of the PhD or later in your research career. In the latter case, the onus would be on you to negotiate the additional supervision arrangements with the faculty members concerned and then to update the MRes/ PhD office. In all cases it is preferable that you have a lead supervisor, who takes primary responsibility for you.

Changes can be made to supervision arrangements on the initiative of either the supervisor or the student, but in all cases, changes must be communicated to the MRes/PhD office. Special permission from the Director MRes/PhD will be required where a student in the third year of PhD, wants to change supervisory arrangements. If you do wish to make changes to your supervisory arrangements, please contact Maryanne Heafey (Teaching and Learning Manager PGR), in the first instance.

View the University’s guidelines on the monitoring and supervision of research degree students.

Every effort will be made to ensure that the supervisory arrangements put in place for your doctoral work continue to work as well as possible throughout your period of study. However, the Department is aware that difficulties do sometimes arise between doctoral students and their supervisors, often through no fault on either side. If you should have any concerns relating to your supervision, please feel free to raise the matter directly with your supervisor or, if you prefer, to discuss the matter in confidence with the Director of MRes/ PhD or the Teaching and Learning Manager (PGR). Any difficulties raised relating to supervision will not prejudice you in any way. However, it is important to note that it is your responsibility to bring the difficulties to the attention of the Director or, in the last resort, to the University Graduate School Office, in good time. The University cannot remedy difficulties or failings of which it was not made properly aware. If, for any reason, your supervisor should become absent or unavailable to direct your work for a period of four weeks or longer, the Director of Mres/ PhD or Director PhD will meet with you at the earliest available opportunity to discuss the support you need. They may assign a replacement supervisor, on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Alternatively, if return of your supervisor is expected within a short period and you find that you have adequate support (e.g. from second supervisors, tutors or other members of the research group), the Director will agree a support plan with you. Be sure to advise us fully of your requirements; it may be difficult to recoup time lost if your research falls behind schedule.

It is important to remember that the thesis is your work so you need to drive progress on it, seeking out assistance from your supervisors. Constantly discuss your research ideas and the ideas of others with other fellow PhD students and with other fellows and faculty members.

The MRes dissertation and presentation

The MRes dissertation is submitted in early September of the second year of study. Later in September, you are required to make a presentation based on the dissertation. Detailed guidance on the presentation of the dissertation is available on the module web page. In addition to the body of the text, and a short abstract, the dissertation or research proposal should contain a complete set of references. The reference section must contain citations for all papers that you mention in the text and footnotes, no more and no less. References should be typed in a standard journal style. For example, you might choose the style that is used by the Economic Journal.

A 20-minute slot will be allocated for your presentation, after which you will receive questions and feedback and the staff present will consider the strengths and weaknesses of your work. There is no unique formula for making a presentation. Different people do it in different ways. The most important thing is to stress your ideas and how you intend to develop them and to indicate that you have a sensible plan. The following points might be helpful:

  • If there are specific staff members whom you think could provide you with useful comments, arrange to meet with them prior to your proposal. You can give them a hard copy of your paper and ask them if they will read it and attend your presentation.
  • Begin your presentation by explaining, very simply, why your problem matters. Do not start with technical issues. Instead, state what economic question you hope to answer and why it is worth addressing. If an audience starts off thinking that the presenter’s topic is of minor interest, it is hard for a presentation to go well. Remember that the audience will contain economists who work in different research areas. This means that it is very important to motivate your work before you go into details.
  • You should prepare PowerPoint-type slides that are uncluttered and easy to read. They should contain the central ideas, not all of the details.
  • After motivating your problem, you should give your audience an indication of how you will address your question. This normally means presenting a few key equations, not an entire model. If you have regression equations, focus on one or two that really matter, rather than putting up so many that you confuse your audience. Present only those equations or tables that you plan to discuss in detail, so that your listeners can understand the information that they are meant to convey.
  • It is a mistake to prepare slides by duplicating pages from your proposal. Such slides are too detailed and usually impossible to read. You should use a magnification factor of at least 1.5. When you know what room has been chosen for your presentation, you can make a few sample slides and take them to the room. Then stand at the back and decide which magnification/font size is most legible.
  • Do not be afraid to start and end by stating the essential idea (perhaps using the same slide twice). If you have something worth saying, your listeners need to hear it more than once if it is to stick in their minds.
  • When you have worked out how you will make your presentation, stop and ask yourself how you would feel about it if you were sitting in the audience and knew virtually nothing about the topic. Then make the necessary changes. Most presenters greatly overestimate what an audience is able to absorb.
  • Do not read from your proposal. It is important to be prepared but still be able to give a spontaneous presentation. Try to look the audience in the eye and do not spend too much time looking at your slides. If you point at your slides, it is better to point at the screen rather than at the projector. Some people find it useful to use a pointer for this purpose. However, the most important thing to remember is that you should not get between the projector and the screen. If you do, your audience will see only your shadow.
  • Try to enjoy the presentation. Remember that you are learning about us at the same time as we are learning about you. Hopefully there will be people in the audience who can be of use to you in the future. It is also a good idea to meet with everyone who was present at your presentation to see if they have comments that they did not have time to make.

(Further guidance on presentation skills is available from the Research Students Skills Programme)

Direct entrants to the PhD programme will be expected to undergo an upgrade process by the beginning of the second term in the first year. The arrangements will follow those used for the MRes dissertation presentation (described above).

Your progress

Once you embark on the PhD, your progress will be monitored closely as it is very important for both the Department and the University that you complete within your four-year period of registration. Progress will be assessed in a number of ways. Departmental monitoring consists of an annual presentation (the PhD Forum), a six-monthly written progress report and documented monthly meetings with your supervisor. These monthly meetings also form part of the contact point system. You can meet with your supervisor more frequently if desired and the monthly meetings should be seen as a minimum.

The end of year PhD forum

Your annual progress presentation is a key event in your PhD career. At the beginning of the academic year in the second year you will present a very clear idea of your first substantial chapter. This will give you an opportunity to present your work to each other, to your supervisors and to other faculty and students. Your supervisor will attend your presentation and will be expected to submit a statement on your progress. The format for your presentation will be as follows: 15 minutes presentation; five minutes discussion led by a formal discussant; 10 minutes general discussion; making 30 minutes total per student. You will be required to send your paper to your named discussant some weeks prior to the event to allow her/him to carefully read your work and prepare a discussion. You will receive formal written feedback from the review panel and supervisors will be informed of the outcome so that they can support you. The panel will highlight areas of best practice and concern and will offer advice and guidance to enable you to better undertake your research. The panel will also highlight areas where you may benefit from further professional development. A formal note of the outcome of the review, including any notes of guidance given, will be kept on your file. The forum is repeated at the end of the second year, when you present your second paper.

Your six-monthly progress report

You will be asked for a written progress report in November and May of each year. Reports, which are placed in your files, help us keep track of your progress and provide information to prospective employers or scholarship bodies. Your supervisor will read your progress report and be asked to add his/her comments. The Director of the PhD will then make a judgement as to whether you are making sufficient progress in order to submit on time and will write to you to confirm this.

Where a student is identified (by their six-monthly progress report) as making unsatisfactory progress, in the first instance an email will be sent to the student and the supervisor by the Director of PGR, noting concern about the student’s progress. A follow-up meeting will then take place between the student and supervisor to ascertain whether there are any extenuating circumstances that are impeding progress. If there are no extenuating circumstances the supervisor should attempt to identify the academic reasons for poor progress and agree with the student measures to improve and a plan of written work to be done. A written record will be kept, which will be copied to the Director of PGR. If progress continues to be unsatisfactory by the time of the next scheduled review, the Director PGR and the supervisor will meet with the student and set a further deadline for review of progress. If the situation does not improve, ultimately the student will be advised to withdraw or to submit the thesis for award of a lower degree (e.g. MPhil).

The University’s guidelines on the Supervision and Monitoring of Research Students

Monthly meetings with your supervisor

You are required to meet with your supervisor on a monthly basis and to record these meetings on your Tabula profile page, under the heading ‘Record of Meetings’. You should include details on the subject of discussion, the length of time of the meeting and actions to be completed before the next meeting with your supervisor. Your supervisor will be prompted via Tabula to read the report and to approve/add a comment.

In addition to the PhD Forum presentation, you are also required to make at least one presentation per year. This could be in the form of a workshop, or a poster, and you will be asked by the MRes/PhD office to confirm your intention with regard to this. It is an important check that you are making progress, as well as a self-disciplining device – unfortunately, it is easy for a PhD student to drift. In addition, some problem whose solution has eluded you for months may be solved (or be on the path to being solved) through a thoughtful comment from an economist in another field.

Sometimes students may be based away from Warwick for all or part of their studies because of the nature of their research project or to enable them to make best use of research facilities associated with the scholarship of their Warwick-based supervisor. In these circumstances you are required to inform the MRes/PhD Office (either Natalie Deven or Maryanne Heafey) before you make arrangements to leave Warwick. Arrangements for supervision of your research while you are away will be discussed, monthly meetings with your supervisor will still be required (although these are likely to take place over Skype) and you will be expected to complete the regular six-monthly progress reports as normal.

Early submission of theses

Early submission of theses is permitted. If you wish to submit more than one month ahead of the end of your fee-paying registration you should first seek your supervisor’s support, then complete the relevant form and pass it to the Director of PhD for approval. If you wish to submit the thesis more than five months early, then an additional statement from you explaining the reasons for this request should be attached to the form.

You are able to access the University's Guide to Examination for Higher Degrees, which contains all of the guidance you will need when you come to submit your thesis. Leading up to submission, your supervisor should discuss potential examiners with you and take the lead in seeking the agreement of the chosen examiners to act.

Please note that the version of the thesis, which you submit to the Graduate School on your required submission date, is the version that you will be examined on. You are not permitted to send an updated version of the thesis to the examiners after the submission date. This is viewed as cheating and is taken very seriously by the University. Suspected instances of cheating will be referred to the Academic Registrar and on to the Investigating Committee of Senate.

How to be an effective researcher

An introduction to the Research Student Skills Programme (RSSP)

This is an introductory programme designed especially for research students at the University of Warwick. The programme enhances effectiveness as a postgraduate researcher by: providing opportunities to build understanding of skills and raising awareness of support services available at the university allowing you to grow in confidence as a member of the postgraduate community.

You will learn more about RSSP during the induction programme organised by the Department. The programme will enhance your effectiveness as a postgraduate researcher by providing you with an opportunity to build your understanding, skills and confidence in the following areas:

  • communication
  • planning and time management
  • problem solving
  • leadership
  • assertiveness

It will help you to a greater self-awareness of the support services available to you as a researcher at Warwick. When you have completed the introduction programme you will be allocated to an Action Learning Set which will continue to help, guide and support you through your first year as a research student at the University of Warwick. For further details and to book a place, please follow the link on the RSSP homepage. Please note: you can only book once you are fully enrolled and have received your IT username.

The PGR Professional Development Framework was introduced by the University in September 2017, when it became compulsory for PhD students to spend at least 10 days per year on activities that support professional development. However, there is a lot of flexibility around the type of activity (e.g. attendance at conferences, workshops and masterclasses would count) and the University recognises that the majority of training for an economics PhD student is contained within the MRes programme. The University has an online portal, Warwick Skills Forge (skillsforge@warwick.ac.uk ) to support your PGR development. Both MRes and PhD students in the department of Economics can access SkillsForge.

Departmental seminars

There are weekly departmental seminars in most fields in economics. These talks are an indication of current areas of research interest and methods of analysis. You are expected to attend at least one seminar series in your field of interest. Find out more on the Department's event page.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that because a seminar topic is outside your area, it is of no interest or importance to you. Often, you can learn how best to do things by seeing how others do them. Also, in seminars, speakers will commonly explain the 'tricks' in their paper- the things that are omitted from the published version. One or more PhD seminars will be organised by the PhD students, the structure (i.e. who attends other than students, who presents, and what they present) will be determined by the students themselves. The aim of this seminar is to provide a supportive atmosphere where all students can learn about and make suggestions concerning each other’s research. An organisational meeting will take place early in the autumn term.

Annual PhD Conference

This is a two-day event organised by research students of the Warwick Economics Department, supported and attended by the Warwick Economics Department and Faculty, that takes place towards the end of Spring term each year. Anyone can attend, but only PhD students can present. Presentations from PhD students from the top Economics departments across the UK and the rest of the world are invited. There is no restriction on what topic within economics can be presented. MRes students are strongly encouraged to attend this event.

Ethical scrutiny and Risk Assessment

Please do consider whether you might require ethical approval at an early stage of your research and discuss with your supervisor. It can be very stressful to discover at a late stage, perhaps just before you submit, that you need ethical approval. At Warwick, any research proposals that involve “direct contact with participants, through their physical participation in research activities (invasive and non-invasive participation), or that indirectly involve participants through their provision of data or tissue or that involve people on behalf of others (e.g. parents on behalf of children)” require ethical scrutiny. Certain types of primary research, where you are collecting or using individual level data may also require scrutiny, and it is always best to check. It is your responsibility to ensure that ethical approval is secured. Note that your research does not require ethical scrutiny if it does not involve direct or indirect contact with participants. For example, most research involving previously existing datasets where individual-level information is not provided, or where individuals are not identified, or are anonymised, or using historical records, does not require ethical scrutiny. This is likely to include most research conducted in the Department.

Where your research work may require ethical scrutiny and approval; checks are conducted within the Department in line with rules approved by the University’s Humanities & Social Sciences Research Ethics Committee. When you submit your thesis, you will be asked to declare on the submission form that you have considered whether ethical approval is required. If you are in any doubt or you consider that ethical approval may be necessary, please consult with your supervisor and complete the Department’s form for ethical approval of student research and submit to Maryanne Heafey (Room S0.91). Ethical approval (if relevant) must be obtained before you embark on any fieldwork. For more information on research ethics, please consult the web page above.

Further information on research ethics in general is available in the ESRC Framework for Research Ethics.

Please see also the University Research Code of Practice.

If you are planning to spend a period of time outside the UK during your PhD, perhaps to collect data or to spend time in another department you must complete a risk assessment before departing. Further information and a copy of the form which should be completed can be obtained from the MRes/PhD Office.

Extensions/leave of absence

It is important to point out that studying for a PhD is not something that can take an indeterminate amount of time. You should not assume (whatever your supervisor may say) that you can easily get an extension to your period of study as this will only be considered in truly exceptional circumstances. If you do need to apply for an extension, then you will need to make a reasoned case, setting out a timetable to completion. Your supervisor and the Director of PhD, will add a supporting statement (assuming it is a credible case) before it goes to the Director of the Graduate School, who will make the final decision.

It is tempting to believe that because of the length of the PhD programme as a whole, you will not need to apply for leave of absence if, for example, you have a period of illness or a new baby. Nevertheless, experience shows that this can affect progress and that, in retrospect, many students wished they had applied for such leave, given that they come up against such deadlines later on, and cannot then apply retrospectively. If such circumstances arise you should apply for a period of Temporary Withdrawal (TWD). You can do this via your student record online (see the tab ‘student requests’ and choose temporary withdrawal). TWD stops the clock on the registration period and ensures that you are not disadvantaged if you need to take a break. It does, however, have particular implications for Tier 4 students, who will be required to return home and if you have a studentship this cannot be paid during a period of TWD.

The University recognises that in some circumstances it would be preferable for a student to be able to take a short period of time away in order to deal with a personal issue or undertake minor medical treatment, without their visa being curtailed. Where the time needed is quantifiable and equates to less than a total of six weeks in an academic year, it is possible for the University to record this period of time as an Authorised Absence rather than TWD. However, a student will not be able to apply for extension to their registration as a result of Authorised Absence. If you need to apply for a period of TWD or Authorised Absence or an extension, you should speak to the Postgraduate Teaching and Learning Manager (Maryanne Heafey) in the first instance. During a period of Temporary Withdrawal (or resit without residence), you are not permitted to attend classes either formally or informally. However, in order to help students prepare for their return to study or sitting examinations, access to University IT facilities and the Library will normally continue during these periods. You are able to view the University guidance on the supervision of students based away from the University online.

Contributing to teaching and marking (and UKVI restrictions).

Acquiring teaching experience is extremely valuable for students who think that they might want to pursue an academic career. You are therefore encouraged to take on a reasonable amount of undergraduate class teaching from the first year of the PhD. Three or four classes a week (in one course) normally takes up the equivalent of one day, after allowing for preparation and marking. This seems sensible for most students, although those students on Teaching Assistantships have a somewhat heavier load.

Please note that the UKVI places restrictions on the number of hours a Tier 4 student can work: Tier 4 students should not work more than 20 hours per week (this includes, teaching, marking, invigilating, research assistant work- and also unpaid work). It is incumbent on the student to ensure they do not breach the 20 hour rule, as this is treated as a criminal offence by the UK authorities. Please note that hours cannot be averaged over more than one week and a week in this case runs from Monday to Sunday.

During the two years of the MRes there are opportunities to undertake limited marking (100 scripts) and invigilation duties (nine hours) in order to boost your departmental scholarship. As you will still be attending classes during the MRes, we advise that you restrict any marking and invigilation duties to these levels.

Note that teaching training and guidance is given and it is mandatory that you attend the training sessions offered. These will be made available and you will be notified of the relevant times and dates by the MRes/PhD office. Also, the lecturer in charge of the course should consult with you regularly and give every help he/she can. Before undertaking any teaching, please familiarise yourself with the Tutor’s Handbook, a copy of which will be provided to you before you start teaching.

View the University’s policy on employment of postgraduates as teachers.

The Learning and Development Centre at the University provide support and training for PhD students involved in teaching, which you will be expected to attend.

Support for Research Expenses

The Department of Economics will fund some research expenses of our MRes/PhD students including, journal submission fees and participation in conferences and workshops. Journal submission and conference attendance fees may be funded at 100%, travel and accommodation at a maximum of 80% of the actual eligible expenses. The amount of funding available will vary from year to year and eligible applications will be awarded by the (deputy) director of the programme, subject to sufficient budget being available. We will prioritise high-quality conferences where the student presents her/his research in a plenary or parallel session. If you are seeking funding to attend a conference or workshop, please contact Maryanne Heafey (Teaching and Learning Manager- PGR) for further details, as funding must be agreed in advance (retrospective claims will not be considered).