Supervisory Arrangements: The Research Degrees Committee (RDC)

The student’s institute is responsible through its Research Degrees Committee (RDC) and by other appropriate means, for ensuring that appropriate administrative procedures are followed, including the maintenance of records of meetings (of the RDC or of other bodies or persons in the institute if appropriate) and reports concerning progress of MPhil and PhD students.

The supervisors for each student will be appointed by the institute where the student is registered, by decision of each institute’s RDC. Only in exceptional circumstances will a student be assigned to a single supervisor. A team of at least two supervisors will be appointed; the main (or ‘subject’) supervisor must be appointed before the student registers; the co-supervisor(s) may be appointed after registration, but within the first term of study. Monitoring and review will thus be undertaken by a supervisory team of academics with defined responsibilities.

The Role of your Supervisors

Supervisor of Record

The Supervisor of Record will usually be the Director, or another member of the academic staff of the institute with appropriate seniority and experience. The Supervisor of Record has formal responsibility for students registered in the institute in particular to ensure that students are properly supervised, that appropriate records are kept and that proper reporting is made within the institute, the School and beyond.

The Supervisor of Record may be the subject supervisor or co-supervisor of particular students in the institute. Where a student’s subject (main) supervisor does not have an appropriate position in the institute (e.g. if he or she is not a full-time member of the institute’s staff) the Supervisor of Record will be part of that student’s supervisory team and therefore will be one of the named supervisors for the student.

Main Supervisor (‘Subject’ Supervisor)

The main supervisor is formally responsible for supervision of the student, with primary responsibility for the student’s academic progress. The main supervisor will be one of the named supervisors and will be the normal point of contact for the student. In the case of interdisciplinary studies, two co-supervisors may have equal responsibility. However, one must always be assigned as main point of contact for the student.


A co-supervisor is appointed to provide particular expertise, or to support the subject supervisor in other defined ways. Co-supervision allows the formal involvement of academics from Colleges and from outside the University. The proportional responsibilities of main supervisor and co-supervisor will vary according to the requirements of each case.

Frequency of supervision

You should maintain contact with your supervisory team through regular personal supervision in arrangements agreed with your supervisor(s) at intervals of not less than two weeks during term times in the first year of study and at least every four to six weeks thereafter. It is recognised that face-to-face meetings are not always possible, and occasional personal contacts (such as videoconferencing or telephone) may be sufficient.

These meetings should normally be based upon the prior submission of written work and will be concerned primarily with discussion of that work as well as with general issues of progress and direction.

Supervisory Meeting Record

You are required to maintain a record of supervisory meetings by completing this form. This is to provide a record and stimulus for regular discussion of the student’s progress and development.  A copy of the Supervisory Meeting Record form is available online.

You should complete this form after each supervisory meeting and send it to the supervisor present for their sign off. A signed copy of the form should be sent to SAS Registry at  A copy should also be kept by you and your supervisor.

Progress Reports

The Institute Research Degrees Committee considers twice a year the progress being made by research students, to ensure that you are making good progress in your studies, and to identify any problems you are encountering, either collectively or individually. We take our responsibility for monitoring your progress very seriously; and as a research student you are also responsible for keeping us updated.

As well as seeking a report from your supervisor(s), as part of the monitoring process we require students to describe their own progress - to highlight any difficulties encountered, make a note of anything which has gone well, and to set out plans for next steps. 

Your progress reports are the main source of evidence for monitoring progress. The submission of these reports is a mandatory requirement, as part of your degree. For Students Visa (formerly Tier 4 Visa) students, non-completion of research progress reports will be  classed as a missed contact after 2 missed reports and our support of your visa  will be in jeopardy.

The Research Student Progress Form can be found online here

Safety, Risk Assessment and Research Ethics

The School of Advanced Study expects students undertaking a taught or research degree involving any research to comply with the research ethics policy. 

In order to comply with the Government’s Prevent agenda and to safeguard our researchers who may be studying ‘sensitive’ topics, all students are required to self-assess topics and methodology against the ethics guidelines.

Research Training (including Online training)

Over the course of a doctoral programme, a research student is expected to take approximately 30 days of training. To serve as a cumulative log during your studies and to help us track your progress towards this goal, please maintain records of any training, formal or informal, which you have undertaken during your studies. This may include but is not limited to: 

  • Training courses or sessions you have attended or completed online. Please include personal development training (e.g. ‘how to write an academic cv’), as well as discipline-specific training, or language or IT training
  • Other skills development. Examples include delivering a paper at a seminar, organizing an event, attending a conference.

Our discipline-specific, generic and online research training programme draws on the research and teaching expertise of our institutes and the University of London.

We offer well-established discipline-specific research training (most notably in history, law, English, modern languages and music) as well as in specialist areas (palaeography, book history, Renaissance culture, medieval manuscript studies).

Our workshop programme of generic research and transferable skills training provides the transferable and employability skills necessary for wider preparation for careers in academia and elsewhere. These are complemented by research methodologies courses for students in the social science disciplines, and in the software and management information tools required to enable students to complete their research effectively. Training covering research promotion through social media (Social Scholar seminars) is also available.

Most of our research training is available to postgraduate students and early-career researchers across the UK, much of it free-of-charge. 

We are also a member of the Bloomsbury Postgraduate Skills Network, a shared skills training programme that enables research students in participating institutions to attend training sessions at other member institutions, including UCL, Birkbeck and SOAS.

The School is, together with King’s College London and UCL, part of the London Arts & Humanities Partnership (LAHP) – the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) consortium under which the School is able to offer funding for doctoral studentships.

Online Research Training

The School and its institutes offer a variety of online research skills tutorials. We have also listed below selected online research training offered by providers external to the School that you might find useful.

Study online

An internal resource, for students of the School.

Postgraduate online research training (PORT)

The PORT website provides a useful training reference point for all postgraduates studying in the arts and humanities. Its online research skills tutorials cover a variety of topics including: building databases, palaeography, digital tools, studying a PhD, and languages resources.

Academic Writing Skills

The School hosts a Royal Literary Fund Fellow, to assist our research and masters students to adjust to the demands of academic writing of various kinds. Gwendoline Riley in this role. Gwendoline is based in Senate House room 203, two days a week during term-time. Students are welcome to book hourly tutorials or consultations with her on those days, using an online sign-up schedule.

The Royal Literary Fund Fellow offers our students the opportunity to access writing advice from a professional, published writer. She will offer confidential, one-to-one tutorials during which students can discuss any aspect of their academic writing.

The idea behind the scheme is that, although writers do not have expert knowledge of the subject matter students are studying, they know a lot about the process of writing and - simply by being available to students to respond to their questions and listen to their concerns - are able to help them find ways of improving their written work. 

Typical problems discussed in tutorials include struggling to start writing after a long period of research; being overwhelmed by one's materials; difficulties with editing down an overlong piece of work; difficulties structuring an argument; not knowing how to write an effective introduction or conclusion; difficulties with ‘flow’ - getting from one paragraph to another; planning and organisation - leaving things too late, uncertainty about how to plan a piece of written work, not leaving enough time for drafting; questions of grammar and punctuation - apostrophes, semi-colons and commas; questions of style - overuse of academic jargon, overcomplicated sentence structure, lack of clarity.

External online research training

A multiplicity of online research training is available elsewhere:

  • Vitae is a national organisation that exists to 'realise the potential of researchers' and offers lots of online advice and guidance, plus occasional face-to-face training opportunities, to researchers at all levels. There is a particular emphasis on employability and careers, which you might find helpful.
  • Birkbeck offers online training and its packages on research ethics, for instance, are especially helpful.

We are happy to add to the list above. Please email Elaine Walters if you come across anything you think might be useful for others.

Attendance requirements

Students should centre their academic activities on the institute, and are expected to be resident in the UK for the entire period of their research degree. Notwithstanding this requirement the minimum time a student must be resident in the UK is for the first two years (full time) or first four years (part time). Subject to this, the RDC may permit you to spend part of the programme in ‘off-campus’ study in order to carry out research for your thesis on the condition that you keep in regular contact with your supervisory team.

If for any reason you are unable to attend the required academic activities or maintain contact with your supervisory team you should inform your supervisor (via the appropriate administrative officer or directly). Prolonged absence caused by sickness must be reported to the institute, and medical evidence must be provided.

Length of Registration

The normal minimum period of full-fee registration in the School shall be three years full-time for PhD and two years full-time for MPhil, or the equivalent in part-time study.

The maximum period of study for PhD, including interruptions, shall be six years for full time and eight years for part time students. A student’s period of registration may only be extended beyond the maximum years through successful application to the AQSC. In such instances the maximum period of registration may only be extended for a period of one academic year at a time to a maximum period of no more than seven years for full time and nine years for part time students.

Timetable for PhD

It is difficult to set out a fixed timetable for PhD work as there are many variations but, however it is structured, it is essential that some planned programme of work be followed. The School and your Institute will impose certain formal milestones.

The School strongly advises students to plan for completion of the PhD by the end of the third year or the equivalent in part-time study.

  • Year 1 
    • Progression at the end of by the end of June in Year 1
    • Progression assessment - a substantial piece of written work of at least 5,000 words based on original research and a brief outline of the whole thesis
  • Year 2
    • Upgrade from MPhil to PhD at the end of Year 2
    • Upgrade assessment - a substantial portion of the draft thesis (usually a chapter - at least 10,000 words), to an upgrade panel for consideration, a thesis outline and an introduction. An interview with the upgrade panel
  • Year 3
    • Final year of research
    • Final assessment - Full thesis to be bound and sent in to registry and a viva voce examination
  • Continuation (Year 4) – subject to successful application to the RDC
    • Final year if needed. Often called ‘Writing Up Year’
    • Specific criteria needs to be met to enter this stage.


There is a formal review of progress in the first year, to formally monitor a student’s progression to Year 2 of the programmes (this process is called Progression). A student may only Progress if the School is satisfied that the student is working at an appropriate level.

The Progression Process provides a valuable opportunity:

  1. To consider whether you are working to a standard and a pace that can reasonably be expected of a student having completed 12 months of a full time programme (or equivalent) and whether the written submission provides evidence that you have the potential to upgrade to PhD in Year 2.
  2. For your supervisors to provide you with constructive feedback on your work
  3. To make suggestions in respect of the further development of the research project.

Progression requirements and procedure

In order to progress to a second year of study, students will be required, by the end of June in year 1, to submit to their supervisor(s):

  • a substantial piece of written work based on original research and at least equivalent to a chapter in length
  • a brief outline of the whole thesis The work submitted must demonstrate the student’s ability to:
  • engage critically with a range of primary sources and to provide an independent interpretation of them
  • synthesise information and demonstrate that it provides context for the study
  • organise arguments and ideas in a logical fashion

Having considered the written work the supervisor(s) may recommend:

  • that the student progress to year 2
  • that the student’s registration be terminated
  • deferral of a decision for an agreed period, up to a maximum of six months, to allow the student time to rectify problems identified by supervisor(s). Deferral of a decision may only take place once per candidate.

The supervisory recommendation is then submitted to the RDC of the institute for consideration. All recommendations are subject to the approval of the institute’s RDC.

Progression Form

You will need to complete a Progression Assessment Form and submit this to your supervisor long with your written work. The Progression Assessment Form can be found here. Once the assessment has taken place your supervisor should forward a copy of the form to

Upgrade to PhD

Initially you are registered for the MPhil degree. Most students wish to proceed to a PhD (although it is possible to stop at MPhil), your registration needs to be changed accordingly. The purpose of the upgrade is to assess your progress and ability to complete the PhD programme in the required time frame. For full-time students, the upgrade to PhD occurs within 12-24 months from the start of your MPhil. For part-time students, the upgrade to PhD occurs within 36-48 months from the start of your MPhil.

The Upgrading Process provides a valuable opportunity:

  1. To consider whether you are working to a standard and a pace that can reasonably be expected of a student having completed 12 to 24 months of a full-time programme (or equivalent) and whether the written submission and your responses at the meeting of the Upgrade panel provides evidence that you have the potential to complete a successful thesis within the normal maximum period of registration.
  2. To provide you with constructive feedback on your work from an academic expert in addition to your supervisor(s).
  3. To make suggestions in respect of the further development of the research project.

The upgrading interview provides an opportunity for you to receive feedback from, and to discuss your work with, an academic (or academics) not previously involved in the research. It is also an important form of early preparation for the viva.  The interview should be constructive and offer critical evaluation and feedback.

The Panel will expect to find evidence of your ability:

  1. To identify, understand and engage critically with relevant research literature
  2. To formulate clear and cogent lines of argument
  3. To articulate a coherent research focus
  4. To produce a high standard of presentation in respect of language and by referencing your work accurately and consistently
  5. Potentially to make a distinct contribution to knowledge in your field in your final thesis

Upgrade requirements and procedure

In order to upgrade from MPhil to PhD, students should be required to:

  • submit written work - a substantial portion of the draft thesis (usually a chapter -  at least 10,000 words), demonstrating capacity for PhD level writing and research, to an upgrade panel for consideration;
  • to assess their research via the UoL research ethics proccedure and submit their REC number as part of the upgrade process;
  • a thesis outline setting out the research question or questions to be addressed, indicative chapter headings with a brief synopsis of the content of each chapter, and an indication of the research methodology to be employed;
  • a timetable for completion of the thesis (which may be done by annotating the chapter outline with indicative dates for completion of the first draft);
  • attend an interview with an upgrade panel.

The composition of the upgrade panel should be as follows:

  • an external assessor;
  • an assessor with knowledge of the topic;
  • the student’s supervisor(s).

Having considered the written work and performance at interview, the upgrade panel may recommend to an Institute's RDC:

  • that the student be upgraded to PhD registration;
  • that the student should be advised to proceed towards a less substantial thesis for the degree of MPhil;
  • that the student should be allowed to reapply for upgrading, within a specified period (not more than nine months), to allow time to rectify problems identified by the panel. Reapplication for an upgrade decision may only take place once.

The upgrade panel's recommendation is then submitted to the RDC of the Institute for consideration. All recommendations are subject to the approval of the RDC of the Institute and the usual Academic Appeals processes of the University of London.

Upgrade to PhD registration is conditional upon the RDC of the Institute being satisfied that the work is of a sufficiently high standard.

Deferral of the upgrade procedure may be made for six months in exceptional cases (for example, if students are away for long periods of fieldwork).

In exceptional cases, the upgrade process may allow the student to submit written work (as specified above) to an upgrade panel without the accompanying interview. In these cases, the panel recommendation, once it has been endorsed by the Institute's RDC, must be considered by the AQSC, accompanied by (a) a statement from the supervisor(s) as to why an upgrade interview is not necessary and (b) approval from the RDC of this exemption

Upgrade Form

You will need to complete an Upgrade Assessment Form and submit this to the upgrade panel long with your written work. The Upgrade Assessment Form is available here. Once the assessment has taken place your supervisor should forward a copy of the form to