More than a thesis…

On Monday and Tuesday of this week the Archaeology Department held its annual postgraduate workshop. Over the two days current first- and third-year PhD students present their projects to other students, researchers, and staff (and let me tell you, there are some crazy smart people kicking about in our Department).

While I was waiting for one of the presentations, Twitter informed me that fellow PhDer Jon Tennant was preparing for his nine-month viva. I had been through a similar process last year and so although he’s studying the bones of dinosaurs, not the bones of dinosaur-riders – humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time, right? – I of course sent all of the lucks.


Thankfully upgrades (involving dinosaurs or not) are rarely like this…

However, this did get me wondering. People are often surprised when they find out that my PhD requires more than a thesis. But is the ‘more than a thesis’ stuff the same at different universities?

I thought maybe I’d give a brief summary of everything that’s required of me other than a thesis and viva, in order to successfully complete my PhD.

Year 1:


Initial meeting report (research proposal, month-by-month timetable, etc) and ‘training needs analysis’.*

Monthly meeting reports (minimum eight – at least two with all supervisors present).†

Progress reports (at six and twelve months).‡

Graduate workshop presentation (15 minutes, 5 minutes of questions).

Research ethics and integrity module (lecture and seminar).

Required for upgrade (at twelve months): thesis chapter (minimum 8000 words), chapter list, research summary, timetable, training needs analysis – followed by a mini viva approximately one hour in length with one ‘internal’ (a supervisor) and one ‘external’ (a non-supervisory staff member).

Year 2:


Monthly meeting reports (minimum eight – at least two with all supervisors present).

Progress reports (at six and twelve months).

Research ethics and integrity module (lecture and seminar).

Required for graduate school progress review: thesis chapter (minimum 8000 words).

Year 3:


Monthly meeting reports (minimum eight).

Progress reports (at six and twelve months).

Graduate workshop presentation (25 minutes, 5 minutes of questions).

Research ethics and integrity module (lecture and seminar).

Submit yer damn thesis draft.


Submit yer damn thesis.





If you’re currently doing a PhD and you have to do more than a thesis too (and I suspect you do), then why not share the similarities and differences of this ‘more’ in the comments (or link to a blogpost if you’ve written about this already).

Hopefully, you all recognise that I have been super accurate in my representation of graduate students in this post.

Oh and if you’re interested in a bit more detail on some of the requirements I mentioned above, then here’s some:


Right. The ‘training needs analysis’ (the acronym is TNA, but I can’t in all seriousness use it) is a part of what is called the ‘doctoral development programme’ (DDP). This was introduced in its current form the year before my studies began (replacing the ‘research training programme’ or RTP). Each is meant to cover the ‘skills and experiences that a PGR student should obtain by the end of their higher degree studies’. However, RTP was largely module-based whereas DDP includes almost no modules (unless they are deemed necessary).

It covers four areas, which are:

Becoming an effective researcher (things like research methods, advanced literature review, plagiarism and copyright, ethics and good practice, etc).

Advanced research and career skills (things like presenting at conferences, preparing for publication, presenting research in different formats, preparing for the viva, post-degree options, etc).

Subject specific skills (things like any necessary modules, training courses, lectures and seminars from other departments, etc).

Broad scholarship and engagement (things like teaching and demonstrating, understanding research ‘impact’, knowledge of academic and non-academic careers, etc).

This form is completed to indicate your current level of experience/ability against each of the criteria in these areas (on a scale of 1-3 or 1-5). Your supervisor then specifies any training to be undertaken, and it gets signed off. This form is completed again for the upgrade – and eventually you should be rocking 3s or 5s across the board and your DDP is considered ‘complete’ (although you can of course keep doing relevant non-thesis things).


These cover work completed since your last meeting, supervisor’s comments on your progress to date, details of agreed work to be undertaken before the next meeting, and any approval given for conference attendance. They also record whether which supervisors were present (you need to have a meeting with both supervisors at least once a semester).


These reports cover the work you have completed in the last six months and whether it meets your timetable (and if not, why not) and if you research project has changed at all (aims, methods, materials, etc). The month-by-month research timetable is updated and you provide an update on DDP progress.

3 responses to “More than a thesis…

  1. Hi Alison,

    As a researcher working in the public sector on time- and funding-limited projects, this structure and schedule seems great to me. Do you find it onerous or useful?


    • I honestly find it quite useful. I am a self-motivated worker, but I find assessing every month what I’ve achieved really helpful for maintaining an idea of the overall progress of the project. The upgrade process was very helpful too, as the ‘external’ helps you to see your research from a different perspective. I was asked questions I hadn’t prepared for, but I could justify my answers, which will help in the viva process (even if just in confidence). Every progress point, whether minor or major, is intended to ensure you can realistically complete your PhD in have timescale you’ve set out with your supervisors. If for any reason you haven’t met a milestone, it means the issues are raised early so they can be addressed. This system is probably responsible for saving my sanity when I was seriously ill early on in my PhD…!

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