Postgraduate research

The structure of a PhD at the School of Biological Sciences

Student with notes, petri dishes and bunsen burnerIt is anticipated that a PhD at Reading should be 3 years full-time study, although it is possible to submit up to 4 years from the beginning of the programme. To help you get there, you have your supervisor and your supervisory committee and the following intermediate milestones:

  • 6 months: a literature review and report on any pilot experiments
  • 12-16 months: an upgrading report and viva, to confirm PhD registration
  • 24 months: a second year presentation and review
  • 30 months: thesis plan

Initially all students are registered for a PhD. After 12-16 months students submit a progress report and, on the basis of this, the supervisory committee either issue a Confirmation of Registration for a PhD (between 3 and 4 years after starting) or recommend switching to an MPhil (between 2 and 3 years after starting). In practice, it is rare for students not to have their registration for PhD confirmed, occasionally after submitting a revised report.

Training for our PhD students

PhD training has two components. First, the specialist knowledge and skills involved in your personal research project. Second, the transferable skills that you will need to function at a high level in any organisation that employs you.

Specialist training will be worked out with your supervisor and supervisory committee. It may be appropriate to work in other labs for a time to acquire specific skills. You should reflect on your progress from time to time to ensure you acquire the technical knowledge employers will need - for example, ensure you understand the principles of any machine you use and learn to use it yourself from the staff who manage it.

Transferable skills training should take place throughout your time here. There are components organised by the School, and also a programme organised by the Faculties of Science and Life Sciences. You should maintain a record of your training and development in the log-book provided when you start, and periodically reflect on areas you need to develop. It is good practice to maintain a Personal Development Plan.

Working Away

Sometimes it is appropriate to do part or much of a research project away from Reading. The two common cases in the School of Biological Sciences are:

  • To work in a UK research institute
  • To do field work in a "split" programme

An example of a successful "split" programme is the study of bird populations.

In these cases, the university charges half the normal applicable fee for the time a student is working away. However, the School needs to make a charge to cover travel and subsistence if the supervisor comes to visit a student during the time they are working away from Reading - the expectation of the University is that the student will visit the supervisor instead, but this is often inappropriate for a biological project. The minimum period spent at Reading in a split programme is six months at the beginning and six months at the end, but a good integrated programme will usually involve 1-2 years at Reading. A local partner institution and supervisor have to be appointed at the location of the fieldwork.

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