skip to primary navigationskip to content
 

Writing, Submitting and Examination of PhD

Research Best Practice

Best practice in research requires both high quality research and academic integrity. The University supports this with clear policy, guidance and support.

Guidance on research integrity is available on the University’s Research Integrity Website: http://www.research-integrity.admin.cam.ac.uk/.

Research Students should be particularly aware of the University’s Research Integrity Statement  and Guidelines on Good Research Practice.  A Research Integrity checklist has been provided to assist students and supervisors in addressing these issues. 

How do I avoid plagiarism?

Information on what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, together with guidance for examiners on how to deal with cases of suspected plagiarism can be found on the University's plagiarism website.  It is the responsibility of all students to read, understand and comply with the University-wide Statement on Plagiarism and guidance issued by their Faculty or Department.

Plagiarism (the passing off of the work of others as your own) can arise from poor acknowledgement and referencing of the work of others. It is your responsibility to find out and use the referencing conventions in your discipline. Cheating by deliberately plagiarising or by falsifying data is an offence against University discipline and will be treated very seriously, and can result in failure of the degree.

Your Supervisors will ensure you are aware of both the requirement for scrupulous honesty in presenting your research and the conventions required for acknowledging the work of others in your particular subject. These requirements are made clear in the Course Handbook and during your induction.

You are required to comply with these conventions. Ignorance of the rules will not be accepted as a defence, unless it is demonstrated that the relevant information has not been made available to you. The University reserves the right to require the submission of work in both electronic and paper format.  Your Faculty or Department may also scrutinise work with plagiarism detection software.

Students are not to make use of commercial 'ghost-writing' services and 'essay banks'. The submission of material purchased from these sources for examination will be regarded as collusion in potential plagiarism.

 

How do I include work I have undertaken in collaboration with others?

The appropriate acknowledgement of the contribution of co-workers and others is an essential part of your research training; your supervisor should make your responsibilities in acknowledgement clear to you and assist you in accessing training as necessary. Examiners will expect the original contribution of the candidate to be made plain in the dissertation and may explore any areas of doubt in the oral examination. 

You will be required to state in your dissertation:

  • the sources from which information is derived
  • the extent to which you have availed yourself of the work of others; and
  • the portions of the dissertation which you claim are original work.

The following statement should be included in the preface:

'This dissertation is my own work and contains nothing which is the outcome of work done in collaboration with others, except as specified in the text and Acknowledgements'.

The Student Registry recognises that research degrees are frequently now carried out in groups and, in almost all subjects, you are likely to have made use of the help of others to some extent. If you have undertaken collaborative work during the course of your research, you must ensure this is declared in the Preface and specified in the text. The Declaration Form and Deposit and Copying of Dissertation Declaration submitted with the soft bound copy of the thesis both require a signature to confirm this.

You must indicate clearly which portions of the dissertation describe work undertaken by others or in collaboration with others, and give the names of those persons with whom you have collaborated along with an indication of the extent to which you have availed yourself of their assistance.

Students working with others should also refer to the information below on Intellectual Property.

 

How can I include work already submitted for another qualification?

You are required to declare that the dissertation submitted is not substantially the same as any that you have submitted for a degree or diploma or other qualification at the University of Cambridge or any other university or similar institution and to identify any parts which have either been - or will be - submitted for any degree, diploma, or other qualification at the University of Cambridge.

A signed declaration in support of this must be submitted along with the soft bound dissertation and be included in the dissertation. For further details and forms for this declaration visit the Submitting the Dissertation page.

You are not permitted to include the whole or the major part of the text of a previous dissertation within the PhD, MSc or MLitt degree dissertation. However, you may include some parts - including tables, diagrams etc. - from your previous work.

If you have previously been approved for the MPhil/MRes/MSt degrees, a Diploma, or Certificate of Postgraduate Study, and have been allowed to count up to three terms towards the requirements for the PhD, MSc or MLitt degree, you may include suitable elements of this work, as long as it is clearly identified as such and forms a connected part of the argument within the new dissertation.

 

Who owns the Intellectual Property (IP) of my research?

The University's policy concerning Intellectual Property Rights can be found on the Research Office website:

The University of Cambridge recognises the right of graduate students to own Intellectual Property (IP) that they have generated during the course of their studies. However, there are possible exceptions to this - as listed below:

  • if you are funded by a sponsor, the University may enter into a contract with the funder which governs the research. These contracts are negotiated by the Research Office of the University and may require you to assign your IP to either the University or to the sponsor
  • your supervisor may have research funding from external sponsors with terms and conditions which require you to assign your IP either to the University or to the sponsor
  • if you are working in collaboration with others, or if the IP generated in the course of your study involves significant University resources such as input from your supervisor or other members of staff, and shared inventions arise, the University may require you to assign your IP to the University or place the results in the public domain without restriction
  • if you are based in an 'embedded' or independent laboratory, special IP conditions apply. Such institutions include the Cancer Research Institute, the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Sanger Institute and the Babraham Institute
  • if you are an employee of an organisation either full or part-time, your employer may have certain rights to IP generated during the course of your studies. You should check your contract of employment to verify this. Notwithstanding the employment contract, an agreement may be made between the University and your employer which overrides the employment contract.

Where any of the above apply, you will normally be recognised and rewarded for your contribution in the development of the IP in accordance with University policy and/or your contract of employment.

New agreements may be required if the direction of your research changes and as a consequence you change to a different research group.

If you have entered into a formal agreement under any of the circumstances described above, you should check whether this commits you to any particular arrangement concerning the submission and examination of your dissertation and access to your work and results. This may involve you, your examiners or the University making certain undertakings. For example:

  • you might be required to assign copyright to another party or parties
  • you might be required to submit the final draft of your dissertation to your funder before submitting for examination by the University
  • your examiners might have to agree to keep the work confidential during the examination process; or
  • the University might agree to restrict access to the dissertation for a period of time.

You should discuss the implications of your contract with your supervisor; who may draw on the expertise of the University's Research Office.

Further information on IP and collaborative working

In the course of almost any research project, you and your supervisor will exchange ideas such that it is often very difficult in retrospect to ascertain to whom any given idea belongs. If you, your supervisor or other member of a research group feels that misunderstanding may arise in future over the ownership of an idea or piece of work, he or she should make notes (whether in a laboratory notebook or other progress log) at the time and ask the other person or persons concerned to confirm their agreement.

Particular care is needed if your funder is not the same as the group's principal sponsor: there may be conflicting claims on IP and special arrangements for confidentiality may be needed. To avoid any possible misunderstanding, students and supervisors should make themselves aware of any conditions attached to funding agreements and arrangements for participation in group research.

As noted above, appropriate acknowledgement of the contribution of co-workers and others is an essential part of your research training and must be clearly explained in the dissertation.

 

Who owns the Copyright of my dissertation?

Under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, ownership of the copyright of unpublished dissertations and theses and their summaries rests with the author for the duration of his or her lifetime and a given number of years thereafter, unless he or she specifically transfers it to another person.

When you submit your dissertation for examination, the Board will request you sign a statement acknowledging your ownership of copyright in the dissertation and asserting your right to be identified as the author of the dissertation. It is your responsibity to check whether you have entered into any agreement to reassign the copyright.

 

Who needs to see my dissertation before I submit?

You should check what is required by any funding agreement. The dissertation may need to go to the funder before it is submitted for examination. In this case you will be expected to provide written confirmation from your funder (or industrial supervisor, as appropriate) that they have seen and approved the final version of the work.

In the normal course of study, the Board would expect your supervisor to have seen the final draft and approve the submission of the work under the terms of any IP agreement you may have with him/her or the group in which you are working.

Please note, however, that you are ultimately responsible for the work submitted and that approval under the terms of your IP agreement cannot be interpreted as a guarantee that the work is adequate for the degree sought.

 

How can I ensure the confidentiality of the dissertation while under examination?

Examiners can be asked to sign a confidentiality agreement if your sponsors require that the contents of the dissertation must remain confidential for the period of the examination. The Degree Committee will arrange for this to be done when they appoint the Examiners. Candidates are asked to apply for this to be arranged when they request the appointment of examiners.

For further infomation about restricting access, see the pages on final dissertation submission. You will be able to apply for Restricted Access to your dissertation at the point you upload an electronic version of your final thesis to the University's online repository, using the upload form.

 

Who has access to my dissertation?

An important outcome of your examination for a research degree is that your work is made available for consultation as soon as is reasonably possible.

The University requires that each dissertation approved for the Ph.D., M.Sc., M.Litt., together with its summary, shall be available for consultation in the University Library. The abstract is photocopied for the ProQuest abstracts for Index to Theses. People wishing to consult your thesis for their own private research from elsewhere, i.e. not at the university library, have to purchase a copy - while institutions requiring a copy for their own libraries need your permission first.

Anyone seeking access to or requesting a copy of your dissertation, will sign a library declaration recognising that the copyright of the dissertation and summary belongs to the owner. The declaration states that a substantial part of the dissertation will not be copied without the copyright owner's written consent and undertakes that any copy made will be used for private study and not for the purposes of commercial exploitation. In addition, the dissertation and summary themselves, and any photocopy supplied by the library, will contain a prominent notice drawing attention to the same points.

All dissertations will be considered to be in the public domain, unless they have been granted restricted access, catalogued by the University Library.

Preparing to Submit

Applying for Appointment of Examiners

When should I apply for the appointment of Examiners?

You should apply for the appointment of Examiners at least two months in advance of submitting your dissertation. Contact your Degree Committee for information on how to do this.

If you expect to leave the UK soon after submission you will need to return to the UK to attend the oral examination (viva). You should state on the application form for the appointment of Examiners the proposed date of your departure, allowing at least eight weeks between the date of the submission and the proposed date of departure.

The Degree Committee will do its best to arrange an oral examination as quickly as possible. A delay may result if there is any difficulty in finding an Examiner. Longer delays may be experienced during vacation periods.

Approval of Dissertation Title

When do I need a precise title for my thesis?

The research subject is provisionally approved at the point of admission to the degree and confirmed more specifically when you are formally registered for a research degree.

When you apply for Examiners to be appointed, the Degree Committee may ask for a precise dissertation title to be proposed. The supervisor may also be invited to indicate his or her support for this title which will need to be submitted to the Degree Committee for approval.

The Summary

The summary must be written in English and should consist of a piece of connected prose forming an abstract of the dissertation and be about 300 words in length. If at all possible, it should be accommodated on one side of A4 sized paper. It should bear the candidate's name and the exact title of the dissertation at the head of the page.

The summary will be considered by the examiners and, if the dissertation is approved, be deposited in the University Library for consultation and inter-library loan.

When submitting the final hard-bound copy of the dissertation you will need to provide a further loose copy of this summary, identical to that bound into the final version. This is for the University Library file.

Submitting your PhD Thesis

Submitting the Soft Bound Thesis

The thesis you submit will be the thesis submitted for examination.  It is not possible to 'retract submission' or to send a revised copy directly to your examiners.

Examiners are not expected to edit work. They will deal with errors of fact and typographical errors that affect the meaning, as well as larger, structural issues. The extent to which the text has or has not been properly prepared may influence their recommendation concerning the award of the degree.

What format does my thesis have to be in?

The thesis must:

  • be written in English, apart from quotations and recognised technical formulae

  • be thoroughly checked to ensure clear, formal English has been used throughout and that there are minimal typing errors and/or spelling mistakes

  • be typescript on A4 paper

  • be portrait format

  • use double-sided printing where possible

  • use one-and-a-half spaced type

Any photographs or other illustrations should be scanned or printed into the text. Originals, not photocopies may be used, in which case these must be secured permanently inside the thesis (not by use of adhesive tape).

How do I present my thesis?

You must submit two bound copies of the dissertation for examination.  Candidates for the MD degree must submit three copies of their dissertation.  Soft-bound thesis must be bound in such a way for the contents to be securely fixed within the covers, i.e. spiral bound.

You may submit a hard bound thesis as your first submission, along with all the paperwork listed below for a first submission. However, if corrections to your thesis are required, you will need to produce a new, corrected, hard bound edition. Should you decide to submit a hard bound thesis at this stage please also follow the guidance on the minimum requirements for a hardbound copy of thesis for Hardbound Submission.

Further information and guidance about printing and soft binding your dissertation can be found on the website of the Graduate Union.

What paperwork is needed?

Bound inside the thesis you must include the following:

1. A title page displaying:

  • the full title of the thesis,

  • your full name (as it appears on your passport),

  • your college,

  • the date of your submission (month and year)

  • and a declaration stating: "This dissertation is submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy/Master of Science/Master of Letters (as appropriate)."

2. A declaration in the preface stating:

  • This dissertation is the result of my own work and includes nothing which is the outcome of work done in collaboration except as declared in the Preface and specified in the text.

  • It is not substantially the same as any that I have submitted, or, is being concurrently submitted for a degree or diploma or other qualification at the University of Cambridge or any other University or similar institution except as declared in the Preface and specified in the text. I further state that no substantial part of my dissertation has already been submitted, or, is being concurrently submitted for any such degree, diploma or other qualification at the University of Cambridge or any other University or similar institution except as declared in the Preface and specified in the text

  • It does not exceed the prescribed word limit for the relevant Degree Committee.  For more information on the word limits for the respective Degree Committee. Please see Word Limits and Requirements Page. 

Loose with the thesis(not bound inside) you must provide the following:

  1. One completed thesis submission checklist

  2. Two copies of the Title Page

  3. Two copies of a Summary/Abstract of about 300 words in length, with your name and dissertation title on it.

  4. One completed statement of length form (not needed for Mathematics or Biology)

  5. One completed Addresses for Examination Purposes Form

  6. One signed Declaration Form

  7. One completed Deposit and Copying of Dissertation Declaration Form

Return completed forms to the Student Registry.

Including a CD-Rom (or other item)

You may seek permission through the CamSIS Self Service page to submit a CD-Rom or other item with your dissertation. Datasets supplied on a CD as a separate item or an additional volume connected to the printed thesis but not included within it require this permission. This process should be initiated prior to the soft bound submission.

How do I submit my thesis?

You can do this:

  • in person

  • through a third party

  • by post

Where do I submit my thesis?

Your thesis should be submitted to the following address:

Student Registry
Academic Division
University of Cambridge
4 Mill Lane Cambridge
CB2 1RZ

I have submitted my thesis to the Student Registry, what happens next?

When you submit your thesis, either in person or by post, you will be given/emailed a document, Acknowledgement of soft bound thesis, which contains useful information on what happens next regarding your examination process and what rules apply to you at this time. 

The Student Registry updates your CamSIS record and then sends your thesis to the appropriate Degree Committee, who arrange the oral examination When you (viva voce). If you have not heard from the Degree Committee within six weeks of submitting your dissertation, do contact them. Any questions with regard to your thesis at this stage should be directed to the Degree Committee.

When do I need to submit by?

You will be have a date and time by which your thesis must be submitted to your Degree Committee - see Dissertation and Submission Arrangements more information. 

When will I find out my results?

Results are usually posted after your Degree Committee has met and this can vary widely, as such you should contact your Degree Committee for further information.

Word Limits and Requirements

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted prior to October 2017.

A PhD dissertation must not exceed 80,000 words, and will normally be near that length. The word limit includes appendices but excludes footnotes, references and bibliography. Footnotes should not exceed 20% of the dissertation. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text, and thus to circumvent the word limits. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the dissertation, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the dissertation. Any dissertation that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

Applicable to the PhDs in Politics & International Studies, Latin American Studies, Multi-disciplinary Studies and Development Studies for all submissions from candidates admitted after October 2017.

A PhD dissertation must not exceed 80,000 words, including footnotes. The word limit includes appendices but excludes the bibliography. Discursive footnotes are generally discouraged, and under no circumstances should footnotes be used to include material that would normally be in the main text. Statistical tables should be counted as 150 words per table. Only under exceptional circumstances, and after prior application, will the Degree Committee allow a student to exceed these limits. A candidate must submit, with the dissertation, a statement signed by her or himself attesting to the length of the dissertation. Any dissertation that exceeds the limit will be referred back to candidate for revision before being forwarded to the examiners.

 

Viva Examination and Corrections

The Oral Examination (viva)

I have submitted my soft bound dissertation - how long will I have to wait for my oral examination date?

If you have not been given a date for your viva within six weeks of submitting your dissertation, you are advised to contact your Degree Committee.

I am leaving the UK - do I have to return to undertake the oral examination?

The examination procedure can take several weeks and frequently much longer. If you are expecting to leave the UK after completing your course of research, you must submit your dissertation early enough for your Examiners to have a reasonable time in which to read it and to hold an oral examination before you leave. If you leave before having the oral examination you will need to return to the UK.

If you require a visa to return to the UK, please contact the International Student Team. You must not return for your viva on a general visitor visa.

Can I have my oral examination via video conference?

The Degree Committee may exceptionally approve that an oral examination is undertaken by video conference.  Applications must be made to the Secretary to the Degree Committee.

Can I request adjustments to my oral examination on the grounds of disablity?

If you wish to notify examiners of any disability or request adjustments on account of such disability for your viva voce examination (either for your first year assessment or final examination), you can do this via your Degree Committee by completing and submitting the voluntary disclosure form.

Once you have submitted the form, your Degree Committee will contact the University’s Disability Resource Centre (DRC) who will advise the Degree Committee on the appropriate course of action. You may be contacted by the DRC if additional information is required or to provide you with an offer of additional support.

The information provided on the voluntary disclosure form will be kept confidential and will not be used for any other purpose 

What happens at the oral examination ?

  • The oral examination will ordinarily take place in Cambridge
  • It is carried out between yourself and the two Examiners
  • It may include an Independent Chairperson if the Degree Committee requires this
  • There is no set duration, but expect it to last between 90 minutes and three hours

What is the purpose of the oral examination?

The oral examination gives the opportunity for:

  • you to defend your dissertation and clarify any matters raised by your Examiners
  • the Examiners to probe your knowledge in the field
  • the Examiners to assure themselves that the work presented is your own and to clarify matters of any collaboration
  • the Examiners to come to a definite conclusion about the outcome of the examination

What is the process following my oral examination?

The steps following your oral examination are as follows:

  • Your Examiners complete a joint report and make a recommendation which is sent to your Degree Committee;
  • Your Degree Committee consider the reports at their next available meeting and send their recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies;
  • Recommendations from all Degree Committees are added to the agenda for the next available meeting of the Board of Graduate Studies.

When will I know the result of my oral examination?

Your Examiners are asked not to give any direct indication of the likely outcome of the examination as the official result can be confirmed only by the Board of Graduate Studies. Following the meeting of the Board of Graduate Studies the Student Registry will email your reports, copied to your Supervisor.

What are the possible outcomes from the oral examination?

Possible outcomes:

  • Unconditional approval
  • Conditional approval - subject to submission of a hard bound copy for the library, or subject to minor or major corrections
  • Revision and resubmission of the work for a fresh examination
  • Revision and resubmission of the work for a fresh examination or acceptance of the MSc/MLitt without further revision
  • Not to be allowed to revise the thesis, but offered the MSc/MLitt without further revision or examination
  • Outright failure

 

Making Corrections to a Dissertation after Examination

The Board of Graduate Studies may confirm that you need to make corrections to your dissertation before full approval can be granted for your degree. This decision will be emailed to you by the Student Registry within two days of the Board of Graduate Studies meeting.

Once you have received your reports you need to undertake the following:

  • Check the joint report (PhD2) from your Examiners to see if corrections need to go to the Internal/External or both Examiners.
  • Ask your Examiners if they will accept an electronic copy of the corrected thesis - some prefer a new soft bound thesis.
  • Put the original and new page numbers on a separate list of corrections for the Examiners. For the convenience of the Examiners, the list of corrections should describe precisely how the earlier text has been amended - with page, paragraph and line references. The list should be in page order.
  • You are expected to make all the corrections required by your Examiners. If a change has been suggested, rather than required, you should indicate, as part of the list of corrections made, the extent to which you have taken account of such suggestions.

If you have been told directly by your Examiners or Degree Committee (and not the Student Registry) that you need to undertake corrections, you will need to follow their instructions taking note of the points above.

A brief overview of the corrections process is shown on this corrections map.

Corrections Map

How long do I have in which to submit my Minor Corrections?

You have 3 months in which to submit your corrected dissertation and list of corrections to your Examiner(s). Check your reports to see if corrections need to go to the Internal/External or both Examiners. The 3 month deadline begins from the date of the Board of Graduate Studies meeting. Count on three months from the date of the meeting to work out the due date for corrections.

How long do I have in which to submit my Major Corrections?

You have 6 months in which to submit your corrected dissertation and list of corrections to your Examiner(s). Check your reports to see if corrections need to go to the Internal/External or both Examiners. The 6 month deadline begins from the date of the Board of Graduate Studies meeting. Count on six months from the date of the meeting to work out the due date for corrections.

Do I need to go through another Board of Graduate Studies meeting?

Once you have received a conditional approval subject to corrections from the Board of Graduate Studies you do not need to be considered at a further Board of Graduate Studies meeting.

 

Revising and Resubmitting the Dissertation

If the Board has confirmed that you need to revise and resubmit your dissertation for examination, you must respond to the email sent by the Student Registry to confirm that this is what you wish to do.

The Email will state the deadline for submission of your revised dissertation.

You must then begin work on revising your dissertation, taking full account of what your Examiners require you to do.

The examination of a revised dissertation begins afresh, possibly with new Examiners, and may include an oral or written examination on the revised dissertation.

On completion of the revised dissertation, candidates will have to submit two copies to the Student Registry along with all the submission paperwork - as if this was a first submission.  See the pages on Submitting the Dissertation for further information.

If candidates are unable to meet their new submission date, they must apply to extend it; for more information see Extending Your 'End of Registration Date'

 

Reinstatement to the Register for Graduate Students

If you are unable to undertake corrections or revisions by the given deadline, your name may be temporarily removed from the Register of Graduate Students.

When you have completed your work and wish to submit your corrected or revised dissertation, you will need to apply to be reinstated to the register using the Reinstatement to the Register of Graduate Students Application Form. The application needs to be forwarded with all accompanying documents to the appropriate Degree Committee for consideration. The Degree Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Graduate Studies who will communicate its final decision to the candidate and all interested parties.

If you require a visa to return to the UK for reinstatement, or to complete your studies thereafter, please contact the International Student Team as early as possible. You must not return undertake your viva and/or complete corrections on a general visitor visa.