The first year review

The typical duration of a PhD at Bristol University is 3 years. This sounds long to start with, but it often turns out that getting to grips with a topic and developing research skills takes up a long time. Hence, it is important for students and supervisors to determine as early as possible if a student is likely to successfully complete a PhD (or not). The first year review is the benchmark used in the CS department for this purpose. The result of this review determines if or not you may continue with your PhD.

To be informed about your rights and responsibilities as a PhD student you should read the rules and regulations for postgraduate research students. You should have received these in form of a booklet by the University per mail. These rules and regulations are important because they tell you explicitely which rights you have, and what support you are entitled to.

In a nutshell, the first year review requires you to submit (3 weeks prior to the review date) a substantial piece of academic writing (a report/thesis of 10k words), which you present in a 30 minutes presentation to the department, and to which you will receive more questions by a panel in a session which can last up to one hour. The rest of this website explains what you need to prepare as a student for your first year review, how we support you, what actually happens during the review, and the possible results of a review.

What you need to prepare

You need to prepare a report/thesis of around around (but preferably not much more than) 10,000 words. The components of the this report must at least include:

This report must be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to the review meeting to the supervisor and the independent reviewer.

How to find support

A good starting point for any kind of question is to talk to your supervisor and/or PhD tutor. You can also talk to the person who is assigned as your independent reviewer. It is o.k. to ask supervisor and reviewer for opinions/feedback on drafts of your report. Over time, as the department collects examples of first year reports we will make them available on this website.

If you are unsure as to what level you should aim your report, think of it as being a thesis for an advanced Msc degree. There are example Msc thesis available on the Teaching section of the CS web. If you are unsure which audience to aim for, then bear your independent review in mind. She/he will be an established researcher, with a general CS background, but probably not be an expert in your field. Hence, you must make clear that you explain why your research is usful and exciting, but you must not turn this into a marketing show.

If you are unsure about your academic writing abilities, you are advised to make use of training courses offered by the University and/or student union.

What happens during the review

A review will only take place if you have submitted your report to the supervisor(s) and reviewer 3 weeks before the set review date. The review report also needs to be uploaded to the review system.

The review meeting consists of a public and a private part. In the public part of the meeting, you give a 30 minutes presentation outlining what you have done and achieved in your first year. Everybody can attend this presentation, and we expect other PhD students to attend these sessions. Your supervisor(s) and reviewer will be in the audience of this presentation as well.

In the private part of the review meeting your reviewer, and another member of academic staff (normally from the same research group where possible, chosen by supervisor in consultation with reviewer) will be present and form a panel. The panel members will ask you questions about your research, e.g. the significance of results you might have already achieved, techniques you have used, skills you have demonstrated. Expect to answer these questions in detail, be prepared to explain techniques and theory, and be informed about the wider literature of your research topic.

The public and private meeting will normally take place at the same day, interrupted only by a (short) break. It is the responsibility of your supervisor, you, and your reviewer to find a slot that fits you all, and to make sure that another member of the department can come along. Whereas the public meeting should be in a room that has enough space to host a number of people, the private meeting can be in the office of reviewer/supervisor/additional staff provided there is enough space and other necessary facilities (e.g. a board to write on).

Your supervisors will normally also be part of this private meeting. However, they are expected not to speak unless invited. If for whatever reason student or reviewer prefer the supervisor not to be present for all or a part of this meeting, then the supervisor can be asked to leave. It is important though that for the final outcome of the review, the supervisor's assessment of the student is taken into account.

The outcome of this review will be based on the student's seminar, on the submitted report, and it will be determined in the private meeting. When the private meeting is finished, the panel members will, with consultation of the supervisor(s), determine the outcome of the review and inform the student without further delay. In case that no consensus can be reached in the meeting, the student will be informed about the next step(s).

What happens after the review

A review has 4 possible outcomes.
  1. Pass. Your report, presentation, and hence your overall progress have been satisfactory. You can continue with your PhD studies.
  2. Resubmit. Your report, presentation, or overall progress haven not been satisfactory, but the panel recognises that you have the potential to catch up to the necessary standard within a reasonable amount of time. You will be given detailed information (in writing) what you need to improve, and you have to resubmit and re-present your work within 3 months time. If after these 3 months your work still is not up to the expected standard, the department will set, in this next review meeting, the `at-risk' procedure (see guidelines and procedures for postgraduate research students) in motion.
  3. Submit dissertation for MSc by Research. Your report, presentation, and overall progress have been unsatisfactory and way below standard. Probably, you have already had a chance to resubmit your work, but you haven't been able to improve it, and also the `at-risk' procedure has not helped.
  4. `At risk' status. If you refuse to submit a report, or if your report has been not up to standards after resubmission, we will consider all options including the `at risk' procedure or disciplinary actions.
The outcome will be justified in form of a written report explaining the decision. This report will be available for comment to the student, the report will be signed off by HoD (or a named proxy) on behalf of the department.