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  • The ARI PhD Study Programme


    This short document provides PhD students with information on the PhD programme of study in the Astrophysics Research Institute. The aim is to list in one place the duties and responsibilities of PhD students and supervisors. Please feel free to discuss any aspect of the facts discussed here with your supervisor or any member of the academic staff, and to remind them if you feel that something listed here is not happening when it should be.

    The university's research degree regulations are given here.

    This gives the official university regulations concerning registration, supervision, transfer from MPhil to PhD, thesis regulations and final examination(s), and is a good place to check the small details, many of which have not been included in this document. The Research Support Office will arrange an induction day for you during the first couple of months of study.

    Choice of project

    Many PhD students arrive at the university with a good idea of what their project will be and who will be supervising it. New students unsure of the area in which they wish to work will be given a list of PhD projects in the first few days of their arrival and encouraged to speak to all potential supervisors to find out more about each project. It is important that students talk to as many potential supervisors as possible during this period. You should also consider spending a longer period with a staff member (perhaps 1 day) in an area of research area you are particularly interested in. You can spend this time doing: literature search, discussions with potential second supervisors, consideration of observing facilities required, explanation of any new data reduction techniques or theoretical methods, discussions with colloborators. On the basis of this process, students will be expected to have chosen their PhD topic after approximately one month. In certain circumstances it may be desirable for a student to change project, and even to move to a new supervisor. This can be done, after suitable consultation of all concerned, but it is clearly important that any such change should take place as early as possible in the PhD. If you have any doubts about your project, discuss them with your supervisors without delay.


    You will have two official supervisors: the first will act as the director of studies and will be the primary person with whom you will interact during the course of your degree. A second supervisor will be allocated to you, whose role it will be to monitor your progress and provide additional detailed scientific input where necessary. Experience shows that meeting with supervisors at least once a fortnight is beneficial, and in general you will meet your director of studies more frequently than this. The LJMU code of practice for students and supervisors can be found here.

    Lecture Courses, Seminars & Journal Clubs

    You will be required to attend monthly discussions of key astrophysical papers on a broad range of research fields.

    There is also the opportunity to take courses run by the university, on, for example, computing, research skills, presentational skills and languages. You also have the opportunity for teaching experience through demonstrating on Liverpool University and distance learning undergraduate courses.

    You will be required to attend all of the group seminars and journal clubs, and will be put on the journal club rota. The latter involves giving a short talk outlining a paper of current interest, and leading subsequent discussion of the results presented. This comes around approximately once per year.

    Progression Through The Degree

    On arrival (and annually thereafter) you will be required to complete an enrolment form on arrival at the ARI. Anna Hodgkinson is the ARI's Enrolment Officer and you can obtain the form from her. She will organise for your photo to be taken and for you to be issued with a student card which will give you access to JMU facilities such as the library etc.

    VERY IMPORTANT: You are paid quarterly in advance from when you start your research programme. On arrival at the ARI you need to complete a cheque request form in order to receive your bursary payment on time. This form must be authorised by your designated Director of Studies. You need to submit a cheque request every three months and can get the form Maureen Pattullo (Finance Officer) who will explain how to complete it. This is your responsibility and if you do not fill out the cheque request on time it may delay your bursary.

    As a separate process, you will also need to register for your course of study by filling in the appropriate form (RD9R here) and submitting it to the Research Degrees Committee, within three months of the PhD starting date. Your Director of Studies should assist you with this. You will be initially registered as an MPhil student, normally just for the first year of your studies. The university then requires that all students write a transfer report at the end of their first year detailing their research progress and future plans. An independent referee will review the report and examine you by a viva voce examination, together with your Director of Studies. Both referee and Director of Studies will then make a joint recommendation to the Research Degree Committee about whether you are progressing well enough to transfer to a PhD, or whether it would be more appropriate to write up for an MPhil. The transfer report should be submitted 12 months after the date of initial registration.

    Comprehensive information about PhD progression and procedures can be found here

    Writing up

    At the end of your second year, the project should be sufficiently advanced that you will have a good idea of what the final form of your thesis will be. Thus, at this time you should write an outline of your thesis chapters, in as much detail as possible, and a plan for completion of the thesis, listing individual tasks and giving a deadline for their completion. This plan should be agreed with both your director of studies and second supervisor, and they will check your progress against the plan at subsequent meetings.

    Submission and Examination Organisation

    The student is responsible for submitting a thesis satisfying the university regulations, whilst still registered with the university. Your director of studies will decide on who the examiners will be, usually one internal examiner and one external, and recommend to the appropriate university committee when and where the viva should take place. This should be done using form RD9E (here), 3 months before the expected submission of the thesis, a deadline which is very easy to overlook.

    After a successful viva, you will need to submit a final electronic version of the thesis (typically a pdf file), with any changes required by your examiners. It is the responsibility of the internal examiner to ensure that the changes are satisfactory.

    Details about the examination procedures can be found here.