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The First Year

Assessment: Exercise

Formal registration for the Ph.D. degree occurs only after satisfactory completion of the first-year assessment exercise, which involves the completion of an approximately 10,000 word report, to be submitted by the end of June in the first year of study. The precise deadline will be confirmed nearer the time along with instructions for the on-line submission process. The report is not to exceed 10,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, footnotes and appendices, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography and acknowledgements.

The report will always contain a proposal for the research to be undertaken during the remaining period of study for Ph.D. but the content of the bulk of the report is not closely defined. Students should agree the title and outline content of their report with their primary Supervisor during March/April of the first year of study. Examples of the basis for the content of the report include: i) a complete, or almost complete, research project, ii) a submitted journal paper, or iii) an extensive critical literature review related to the proposed Ph.D. topic.

Assessment: Interview

Following appointment, two IoA researchers will each make a brief independent report to the Degree Committee on the evidence provided by the progress report and then hold an interview with the student to discuss the content of the report and the plan for future research. The assessors will then submit a joint report and recommendation to the Degree Committee, covering the quality of the report and the student’s registration, including any feedback they wish to provide for the student and supervisor(s).

Assessors’ and Supervisor’s reports

The student’s Principal Supervisor will comment on progress in the light of the assessors’ feedback and make his/her recommendation to the Postgraduate administration department. If the recommendation is straightforward the Department will register students for the PhD, otherwise the Degree Committee will contact the student and supervisor and advise what steps they need to take next. For more information see here.

The student will see the assessors’ report and the Supervisor’s report when the assessment has been completed.

Monitoring Progress After the First Year

To help the student monitor progress towards completion of their Ph.D. thesis, a progress report is also requested in the second year. Finally, a final thesis-plan is requested six to nine months ahead of the planned thesis submission date. In each case the report will be read by two members of staff and an interview with the student will be held to discuss the report. Written feedback to the student and supervisors is then provided.

Recording Progress

While the ultimate result of your time at the IoA should be an impressive bound dissertation, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Research Councils and the University now expect an on-going record of achievement, progress and development throughout your period of study. All IoA Ph.D. students are required to keep a Progress Log, covering activity relating to their Ph.D. research and a record of astronomy-related courses and presentations (both attended and given). The relevant paperwork and further information will be handed out in October and collected at the end of the academic year. Students are also required to complete a Transferable Skills log which will be collected towards the end of May each year.

The Ph.D. Submission and Viva

Finally, the most important assessment of them all, your Ph.D. oral examination! The degree of Ph.D. is awarded primarily on the quality of a dissertation of not more than 60,000 words constituting a substantial contribution to original research. The thesis is assessed critically by two examiners who then conduct an oral examination upon the subject of the thesis and the general field within which it falls. One of the examiners will be a member of staff of the IoA (but not your supervisor) and the other will be from another institution. Most Ph.D. orals last between two and four hours. At the end of the viva, normally you will be told whether the examiners are going to recommend the award of the Ph.D. or would like you to make some corrections to your thesis before making such a recommendation.

The administration of registrations, submission and examination are handled by the Degree Committee of the Faculty of Physics and Chemistry. The Faculty consists of the departments of Chemistry, Materials Science, Physics and Astronomy. The Degree Committee webpage provides details of the Ph.D. submission process and should be the first port of call if there are any queries regarding procedures.

Preparing to submit your PhD thesis | Degree Committee for the Faculty of Physics & Chemistry (

Final approval for the PhD is conditional on you submitting a hardbound copy of the final version of your thesis for deposition in the University Library, and an electronic copy to the University's institutional repository Apollo. When submitting your electronic thesis you will need to confirm the appropriate level of access both it and the hardbound should be given.

You are advised to wait until all your corrections have been completed and approved by your Examiner(s) before producing the final version.

In addition to the hardbound copy for the University Library it is also a requirement that you submit an additional copy for the Institute of Astronomy's own library.  Funding is available for this and an expenses claim and receipt should be submitted to Postgraduate Student Administration who will arrange reimbursement.



All new Ph.D. students at the University of Cambridge are formally registered for a Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) degree only at the end of their first year, subject to satisfactory performance, thus the first year is to be regarded as a probationary period.

All of us, that is the University of Cambridge, the IoA, your supervisors and yourself, share a common goal: that you complete your thesis work and obtain your Ph.D. within the period of your funding. The majority of Ph.D. students, including those with funding via STFC, will be aiming to submit their theses within three to three and a half years. Only the occasional student with funding from the Royal Society or overseas, that extends to four years, will be aiming for a somewhat longer timescale (but very definitely within four years). Finishing within the allotted time will also be viewed favourably by potential employers. This is not an easy task and will require dedication and hard work on the part of every one concerned. The aim of the first year assessment is to ensure that you are well on your way to achieving this goal. Thus the formal registration process is an important threshold in your studentship, second only to the Ph.D. examination itself.

A more formal description of you and your supervisors’ responsibilities in terms of assessment and feedback can be found in the Code of Practice for Research Students, which it is recommended you read.

The University has a formal student complaint and procedure. Each Department will have a ‘Responsible Officer’ and a deputy who will respond to local level postgraduate complaints. The Responsible Officers for the IoA are Professor Anthony Challinor and Professor Mark Wyatt.