Research Student Handbook

Upgrade from MPhil to PhD

Upgrade from MPhil to PhD

The University’s policy on upgrade / transfer can be found in the TQA Manual.

For upgrade forms and further specific guidance please see the Business School Upgrade resources page.

It is important to pay particular attention to the date that you first registered as there are differences for students who registered prior to or after September 2019. 

Please note that upgrade mini vivas primarily take place remotely over Microsoft Teams or 'blended' with some attendees in the same room but others attending via video link. Face-to-face vivas are possible, but are subject to room availability, social distancing guidance at the time of the upgrade viva, and the personal or health circumstances of attendees. If any aspect of the a remote or blended upgrade viva is a problem or a concern, please contact your supervisors and/or the Support Team who will be able to help you. 

The TQA defines that the purpose of the upgrade is to:

  • Confirm that the student is making satisfactory progress;
  • Confirm that there is evidence that the student is able to produce work of doctoral quality;
  • Acts as a structural milestone within the student’s research journey;
  • Provide the student with formal feedback on their work, and a developmental opportunity in the form of a viva;
  • Provide an opportunity for a detailed review of the research project and plan to take place from experts independent of the supervisory team.

All new students who register for doctoral study with the University of Exeter Business School are required to register initially as MPhil students, with an expectation that they will be upgraded to PhD registration, subject to meeting certain requirements, completing a formal assessment and making satisfactory academic progress.

The purpose of the upgrade process is to assess your progress and ability to complete your PhD programme in a reasonable time frame. The panel will establish whether you have produced work of sufficient quantity and quality to suggest that you can achieve the standard required for a PhD. In particular they will consider if you:

  • understand the research question(s);
  • have an appropriate understanding of the relevant scholarly literature;
  • have demonstrated capability to conduct the research;
  • have a realistic research plan and schedule;
  • and can deliver at PhD level.

The upgrade process is intended to be a ‘formative’ process for you. That is, the upgrade panel should aim to use the process to help you develop and improve your thesis and professional skills, rather than simply to sit in judgment. The viva voce is in particular an opportunity for you to experience presenting, speaking about and defending your work in front of an academic panel, in preparation for your final viva voce.

Applications to transfer registration should take place early enough to allow a decision about changes to registration status to be made within this timeframe.

  • Entrants registering before the 2019-20 academic year

Requests to transfer from MPhil to PhD are normally considered on the recommendation of your first supervisor, although the PGR Support Team will prompt you and your supervisor at the appropriate time. Normally all requests to upgrade should be made during the first term of the second year (the 4th term) of full-time study or the third year (the 7th term) of part-time study. The upgrade should be completed by 24 months of full-time registration, or 48 months of part-time registration. Those who start at other times of the year will have their upgrades scheduled as appropriate.

  • Entrants registering from the 2019-20 academic year

Transfer of registration should normally take place not later than 12 months after full-time registration, or the pro-rata equivalent for part-time registration. Normally all requests to upgrade should be made by the end of April in the first year of full-time study or pro-rata equivalent for part-time study. In exceptional circumstances beyond the student's control applications for extension to the deadline for transfer of registration may be made.

For PGR students in UEBS, the upgrade portfolio should be submitted to MyPGR by the end of the 9th month after the student’s start date, to give enough time for the mini-viva to take place, to return reports and feedback to the student, and allow enough time for an upgrade resubmission, should it be necessary, by the end of the first year. A second attempt at upgrade (resubmission) must take place within 3 months of the student receiving the outcome of their first attempt. 

For students starting their studies at other points in the academic year, the submission deadline will be set on a pro-rata basis, in line with the above. 

Students are allowed two possible attempts at upgrade to PhD, the period between the first and second attempt should normally be no more than 3 months. A second attempt at the upgrade must have taken place by the end of the second year of full-time study or the fourth year of part-time study.

Funded students

Doctoral students in receipt of funding, either from the Business School or a Research Council, for their studies are required to have upgraded to PhD before they enter their final year of funding, or by 12 months of full time registration, depending on their year of entry, or their funding will be withdrawn.

In exceptional circumstances beyond the student’s control applications for deferral of the deadline for transfer from MPhil to PhD may be made.  Details about the circumstances in which a deferral of the deadline for transfer may be considered can be found online in the Code of Good Practice: Periods of registration and changes to registration status for graduate research students. You should read through this guidance before applying for a deferral.

Time-frames for application

An application for deferral should normally be made 6 weeks before the expected submission deadline for upgrade. In exceptional cases, i.e. when serious and unexpected circumstances occur closer to the deadline, an application can be made later, provided that it is prior to the College Upgrade Committee’s scheduled meeting. If serious and unexpected circumstances arise after the student’s first attempt at upgrade these may also be considered.

Making an application for a deferral

You must download and complete the upgrade deferral form (available at the top of the link page) and must return to the PGR Support Team as soon as possible, and once you have discussed with your supervisors. Your supervisors are expected to sign the form to note their approval.

An application for deferral must be supported by:

  1. verifiable and/or independent evidence
  2. a statement by a supervisor, and, where appropriate, pastoral tutor;
  3. a work-plan with a proposed date by which the work will be submitted; 

The evidence provided must give a clear indication of the length of time by which progress was delayed: if deciding to accept the application for deferral this will inform the College’s decision about what period of deferral might be considered reasonable, which shall not exceed a period of three months.

Where an application for deferral is made on the basis of especially sensitive information this should be treated confidentially. If a student prefers the reasons for the application may be considered by their pastoral tutor, with whom the student may have discussed their circumstances, who will report to the College Director of Postgraduate Research, without sharing the detail of the evidence provided to them.

Applications for deferral will be granted by the College Director of Postgraduate Research, in collaboration with the relevant discipline DPGR and the PGR Support team.

Where a period of deferral to the deadline for transfer is approved:

1.  This will be added to the student’s record, however, it will not lead to an extension to the thesis submission deadline. It is expected that the time elapsed by the point at which thesis submission would take place would normally mean that a student would have had sufficient opportunity to get back on track with their studies.
2.  No further deferral of the transfer deadline will be permitted without further agreement. Without agreement, any failure to transfer by the deadline given will normally result in action being initiated or progressed under the relevant unsatisfactory student progress procedures, unless the College has concerns that a student’s health, wellbeing and/or behaviour is significantly impacting their ability to successfully complete the upgrade process by the deadline – in these cases it should then be determined whether it is appropriate to take alternative action under the procedures for health, wellbeing and support for study.
3.  Depending on the nature of a student’s funding, it may be necessary to report any delay in successfully upgrading within the first year (pro-rata) of study to a student’s sponsor.

Failure to Apply for or Have a Period of Deferral Approved

If an application for deferral is unsuccessful failure to transfer by the deadline given will normally result in action being initiated or progressed under the relevant procedures for unsatisfactory student progress and unless the College has concerns that a student’s health, wellbeing and/or behaviour is significantly impacting their ability to successfully complete the upgrade process by the deadline, where it should then be determined whether it is appropriate to take alternative action under the ‘Health Wellbeing and Support for Study Procedures’.

If a student has not applied for deferral, failure to transfer by the deadline given will normally result in action being initiated or progressed under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’ unless the College has concerns that a student’s health, wellbeing and/or behaviour is significantly impacting their ability to successfully complete the upgrade process by the deadline, where it should then be determined whether it is appropriate to take alternative action under the ‘Health Wellbeing and Support for Study Procedures’.

Entrants registering before the 2019-20 academic year

Each student’s MyPGR record will confirm the date that their upgrade documentation submission is due. The submission date is unique to each student, dependent on start date, mode of attendance and any interruptions. Students are required to submit the following for consideration by the upgrade panel:

  • A completed and signed Training Needs Analysis Form for the current academic year with evidence that you have completed your Research Training Programme as agreed with your supervisor.
  • A 2-3000 word research report comprising of:
    • A working title of the proposed thesis;
    • A contents page for the thesis, with a paragraph to outline the contents of each chapter (including number of words submitted already and planned chapter word length);
    • A statement that explains how your research is expected to be original and to be a distinct contribution to knowledge (either for each chapter or the proposed thesis as a whole);
    • A draft timetable for completion of the thesis within your period of study.
  • A completed and written-up substantive piece of original research (i.e. a chapter or briefing paper), or substantial research-based draft chapter (depending on the final structure of the thesis). Very exceptionally a published note or paper which relates to, or forms part of the thesis may be considered, but this must be discussed with the discipline DPGR prior to submission.
  • Have evidence of an oral presentation at the annual Doctoral Research Students Conference or internal equivalent (i.e. PowerPoint slides).
  • Have submitted an Ethical Approval Form and received approval from the Ethics Committee for the research, if applicable to your topic. 

You will upload these documents to MyPGR, as prompted by the PGR Support Team, at least two weeks before the upgrade mini-viva.  These will then be forwarded on to your panel by the PGR Support Team. The PGR Support Team will also request a report on your work from your lead supervisor and they will send this on to your panel in advance of your upgrade mini-viva. The lead panel member will contact you within one week of receipt of your upgrade documents, to agree a date for the review meeting. The panel meeting will normally take place within one month of the panel receiving the documents.

Entrants registering from the 2019-20 academic year

You should submit one or more pieces of written work in good presentational order as detailed in the sections below. The work required to meet this standard varies by discipline and is therefore detailed per discipline below. If you have any questions or concerns about the requirements for your discipline, you are encouraged to discuss with your supervisor and/or your Discipline Director of PGR.

All disciplines

All students, regardless of their discipline, must include the following in their upgrade portfolio submission:

  • Evidence that you have successfully completed your Research Training Programme and any modules as agreed with your supervisor. This is evidenced by a completed and signed Training Needs Analysis form for the current academic year;
  • Submit an Ethical Approval Form for your research, if applicable to your topic.

Discipline specific upgrade requirements

IN ADDITION TO THE ABOVE, you should submit one or more pieces of written work (as defined by the College) in good presentational order as detailed in the sections below. The work required to meet this standard varies by discipline. If you have any questions or concerns about the requirements for your discipline, you are encouraged to discuss with your supervisor and/or your Discipline Director of PGR.

Accounting

The submission is expected to include the following sections (indicative 5000 words, excl. refs, appendices and timeline):

1

Identification of research questions and objectives and discussion of the expected contribution to prior knowledge.

 

2

A literature review. The presentation of the literature review will depend on how the final thesis will be presented:

a) ‘Big book’ thesis: the literature review is related to part of the thesis OR

b) ‘Paper-based’ thesis: the literature review is completed for at least one of the papers

3 A summary of the work to be developed in the remaining of the thesis and a draft timetable for completion of thesis within your period of study. It is intended that this draft timetable will be regularly reviewed and updated at the regular progress review meetings which take place each year.

Economics and Finance

The submission is expected to include the following sections (indicative 5000 words, excl. refs, appendices and timeline):

1 Identification of research question(s) and discussion of the expected contribution to prior knowledge
2 A critical literature review pertaining to the main research topic (this may include specification of hypotheses)
3

Summary of research progress:

a) In the case of an empirical thesis, methods and evidence (this may be pilot / in progress) pertaining to the first chapter/study;

b) In the case of a theoretical thesis, a model and at least one proposition;

4 Overview of remaining studies/chapters, including proposed design and methods if these have been planned (note: for some students, this may be tentative. The intention is to facilitate discussion and feedback on ideas that may be at different levels of development)
5 A timeline for remainder of work, including the preparation of manuscripts for publication. It is intended that this draft timetable will be regularly reviewed and updated at the regular progress review meetings which take place each year

SITE and Management

The submission is expected to include the following sections (indicative 5000 words, excl. refs, appendices and timeline):

1

A working title of the proposed thesis

2

A 1000-1200 word outline of your aim(s) and objectives that explains:

a) What are you looking atat?

b) Why is it important?

c) What are the core arguments being put forward in your thesis

AND/OR

d) What are the central research question(s)/hypotheses/objectives?  

3

A 2000-2500 word overview/review of your literature. This section should address:

a) What literature(s) you are drawing from?

b) What are the core debates within these literatures?

c) What is the gap within these literatures?

d) How do you expect your thesis to contribute to this literature?

4 A 1000-1200 word outline and justification of your planned research design and method(s)
5 A 1-page outline and brief description of the chapters in your thesis (use of bullets is acceptable). Include planned chapter word length.
6 A draft timetable (1 page maximum) for completion of the thesis within your period of study. It is intended that this draft timetable will be regularly reviewed and updated at the regular progress review meetings which take place each year.

Entrants registering before the 2019-20 academic year

Following the upgrade mini-viva, the panel will complete an upgrade report form stating their recommendations and submit this to the PGR Support team. The three possible outcomes at the first attempt are that the candidate be:

  1. Allowed to transfer their registration to PhD
  2. Be allowed to transfer their registration to PhD subject to the completion of the identified corrections and/or amendments by the following date___________* (to be within two months)
  3. Refer for a second attempt within 3 months and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.

If the outcome is a second attempt (3) the form must indicate the conditions to be assessed by the re-sit transfer process and whether a second viva voce is required. A viva would not normally required for a second attempt at upgrade, however it is at the discretion of the panel should they wish to hold one. A second upgrade viva must be held however if the panel are inclined to recommend that you must remain at MPhil level. 

You will be informed via email, by the PGR Support team, of the outcome of your upgrade mini-viva.  Your supervisor will be copied in on this correspondence.

The three possible outcomes at a second attempt are that the candidate be:

  1. Allowed to transfer their registration to PhD
  2. Be allowed to transfer their registration to PhD subject to the completion of the identified corrections and/or amendments by the following date            *(to be within two months)
  3. Required to remain registered as an MPhil student

You will be informed via email, by the PGR Support team, of the outcome of your upgrade interview.  Your supervisor will be copied in on this correspondence.

Students are allowed a maximum of two attempts to upgrade.

Entrants registering from the 2019-20 academic year

Students may have a maximum of two attempts at upgrade in their period of study.  Students will have a mini viva for the first attempt at upgrade. They may have a viva at the second attempt, at the committee’s distraction.

At the first attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available:

  1. Pass – transfer registration to PhD;
  2. Require completion of minor amendments within 2 months;
  3. Refer for a second attempt within 3 months and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.

You will be informed via email, by the PGR Support team, of the outcome of your upgrade mini-viva.  Your supervisor will be copied in on this correspondence.

At the second attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available:

  1. Pass - transfer registration to PhD;
  2. Remain registered as an MPhil student, where a student has provided satisfactory evidence of their ability to submit work of MPhil quality, within the appropriate time-frame for an MPhil;
  3. Remain registered as an MPhil student and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.

Upon review of a second submission by a student, if the Upgrade Panel are satisfied that a recommendation of ‘pass’ can be made to the College DPGR without the necessity for a second viva, they may make this recommendation without delay. If the Upgrade Panel feel that a second viva is needed, arrangements must be made through the PGR Support Team. The second viva shall follow the same guidance as the first viva. The same upgrade panel which reviewed the first submission shall review the second submission.