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4: Research - The PhD

Research - The PhD

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 expected to go on the job market at the beginning of the fourth year and to submit by the end of the academic 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 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. Depending on when exactly you submit, for job market purposes 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.

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 requirementsLink opens in a new window. 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 HubLink opens in a new window; Café Scientifique et Academique; workshops in self-motivation, time management, working effectively with your supervisor, as well as counselling services (Research Student Skill ProgrammeLink opens in a new window).

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 monitoring 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. Remember, you are driving your research, not them.

View the Doctoral College list of detailed responsibilities of your supervisorLink opens in a new window.

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 start to form a research supervisor committee. 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 research students are required to have a supervisor committee (sometimes referred to as an advisors committee) made up of up to three members of faculty. You will spend the two years of the MRes talking to members of faculty about your research interests, in order to build your committee. By the time you submit your MRes dissertation, you would have a main supervisor (who will be the first marker of your dissertation). In most instances this supervisor would carry over to become your supervisor at the beginning of your PhD. If this is not the case, please let the Department know who will become your main supervisor. Please also inform the Programme Officer (PGR) of any co-supervisors you wish to add to your committee. Supervision arrangements will be approved by the Director of MRes/PhD shortly after you enter the PhD.

Changes can be made to supervision arrangements on the initiative of either the student or the supervisor, but in all cases, changes must be communicated to the Programme Officer (PGR). Special permission from the Director of 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 or you are experiencing difficulties with finding a supervisor, please contact the Programme Officer (PGR), in the first instance.

View the University’s guidelines on the monitoring and supervision of research degree studentsLink opens in a new window.

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 Programme Officer (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 Doctoral College, 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 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.

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), six-monthly written progress reports and documented monthly meetings with your supervisor. These monthly meetings also form part of the monitoring point system. You can meet with your supervisor more frequently if desired and the monthly meetings should be seen as a minimum.

The 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 onwards you will present a very clear idea of your first substantial chapter. In each subsequent year you will present on the work you have undertaken over the preceding year. 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 uploaded into Tabula and to the Director, are held on file and 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 PhD will then make a judgement as to whether you are making sufficient progress in order to submit on time.

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 PhD, 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 PhD. If progress continues to be unsatisfactory by the time of the next scheduled review, the Director of PhD 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). For further information see the University Guidelines for the Supervision and Monitoring of StudentsLink opens in a new window.

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 Programme Officer 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, a problem where the 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.

Working away from Warwick

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 Programme Officer 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 Teams or similar) and you will be expected to complete the regular six-monthly progress reports as normal. Guidelines on supervision of students based away from the University are available hereLink opens in a new window.

Submission of your thesis

You will be expected to submit your thesis during your fourth year of PhD registration and early submission of a thesis 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 Doctoral College Guide to Examination for Higher Degrees by ResearchLink opens in a new window, which contains all of the guidance you will need when you come to submit your thesis. Answers to frequently asked questions regarding submission are available hereLink opens in a new window . 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 that you submit to the Doctoral College 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.

The recommendationsLink opens in a new window open to the examiners are:

  • Award the PhD degree
  • Pass with minor corrections (e.g. typographical errors, minor errors of logic or referencing). The examiners must specify the time available for completion of the corrections up to a maximum of three months.
  • Pass with major corrections (first submission only and not available for a re-submitted thesis). The examiners will specify the time available (up to a maximum of six months).
  • Re-submission of thesis (i.e. that the degree not be awarded but the student be permitted to submit a revised thesis, within 12 months of notification by the University).
  • Award a lower degree (e.g. MPhil rather than PhD, if the examiners believe it is not possible to bring the thesis upto the required standard within 12 months).
  • That no degree be awarded.

After your viva and once you have completed any corrections to the examiners satisfaction, your internal examiner will confirm this to the Doctoral College. The Doctoral College will send you instructions for submitting the final thesis. Once that is received, your name will then be placed on the pass list and you will be invited to the next GraduationLink opens in a new window ceremony.

How to be an effective researcher

An introduction to Warwick Researcher Development

The University's Researcher Development Programme is designed to support the personal and professional development of all postgraduate researchers at the University of Warwick. Selected highlights include: How to be an Effective Researcher (an essential 1 day workshop for new research students). For further details and to book a place on any of the programmes offered, please follow the link on the researcher developmentLink opens in a new window web page. All courses offered are free of charge. Individual coaching and advice on academic-related issues is also available. You can email to request an appointment.

The University's postgraduate Researcher Professional Development FrameworkLink opens in a new window requires that PhD students 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 Link opens in a new window( to support your PGR development. SkillsForge allows you to:

  • complete a Development Needs Analysis (DNA)
  • book on to training
  • record your development activities for future reference.

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 required 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.

There are also regular workshops in each of the major research group areas (where students present work in progress), as well as reading groups for you to attend. The aim of these workshops 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 and further information on the work in progress Link opens in a new windowworkshops is given on the departmental web page.

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

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. Research involving laboratory or field experiments, or the collection of new individual level survey data, always requires ethical scrutiny. If in doubt, you must consult your adviser. The burden of responsibility for seeking the necessary scrutiny and approval lies on you.

Where your research work may require ethical scrutiny and approval; all Academic and Research Staff, which includes PhD students, should address their application for ethical approval to the Humanities & Social Sciences Research Ethics CommitteeLink opens in a new window. The HSSREC will carry out a risk-assessed triage process to decide if a Full Review is necessary and this will be referred to the next Committee meeting, or if a Light Touch approach is appropriate.

The University's Research Support Services provide a fuller account of university policies and procedures for ethical scrutiny and approval, including a Warwick University Research Code of PracticeLink opens in a new window, a statement on the ethical conduct of research, and other guidance. The application for ethical approval should be addressed to the HSSREC following the procedure specified on the website and queries addressed to

Ethical approval (if relevant) must be obtained before you embark on any fieldwork. In order to support the community’s understanding of the principles and practices that protect the integrity of research, the University provides online research integrity trainingLink opens in a new window relevant to all those involved in delivering or supervising research. The University expects all staff and PGR students delivering research to complete the training.


Risk Assessment

If you are planning to spend a period of your 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 University's health and safety web pageLink opens in a new window. Once completed please return your form to the Programme Officer (PGR). Your supervisor will be required to sign off your Risk Assessment, so please ensure you discuss this with them.

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 Doctoral College, 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 Link opens in a new window(TWD). TWD stops the clock on the registration period and ensures that you are not disadvantaged if you need to take a break. Further guidance on student maternity leave, parental leave and adoption leave is available hereLink opens in a new window. It does, however, have particular implications for Student Visa holders, 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 Programme Manager (MRes) or Programme Officer (PhD) in the first instance. During a period of TWD (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 onlineLink opens in a new window.

Contributing to teaching and marking (and UKVI restrictions).

Acquiring teaching experience is extremely valuable for students in securing an academic career. You are therefore encouraged to take on a reasonable amount of undergraduate class teaching from the first year of the PhD and may be able to do so from the second year of the MRes. 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.

Please note that the UKVI places a restriction of a maximum of 20 hours that someone on a Student Visa can work. This includes teaching, advice and feedback hours, marking, invigilating, research assistant work - and also unpaid work and any work outside of the University. It is the responsibility of 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 Graduate Teaching Assistant Coordinator. You will be paid for attending the training sessions and this therefore counts as work hours 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 teachersLink opens in a new window.

The Academic Development Centre at the University provide support and trainingLink opens in a new window for PhD students involved in teaching, which you will be expected to attend.

Support for Research Expenses

The Department of Economics has a PGR Research Funding policyLink opens in a new window to fund some research expenses of our MRes/PhD students, including journal submission fees and participation in conferences and workshops. Eligible applications will be considered by the Director (and Deputy Director) of the programme. We will prioritise high-quality conferences where the student presents her/his research in a plenary or parallel session. Please refer to the PGR Research Funding ProcedureLink opens in a new window before applying. If you need any further clarification, please contact the Progamme Officer (PGR) for further details. Note that funding must be agreed in advance (retrospective claims will not be considered). All expenditures must comply with the University Financial Regulations and ProceduresLink opens in a new window.