Year 1 timeline

A breakdown of 1st year key milestones in a timetable.

When What Sept Start
Month 1

First Supervisor Meeting: Identify career aspirations and training needs

The student and supervisor should:

  • Ensure the student is acquainted with the first year programme, and in particular the milestones (see months 4, 9 and 10)
  • Identify training needs (e.g., time management, particular research skills or methods, oral or written presentation), and strategies for meeting those needs, including courses where relevant. The courses could include: MSc courses taught in Informatics, and/or courses in other Schools and/or transferrable skills courses that the student should attend during the first year.  All students should be pointed towards the recommended list of courses that all Informatics students should take.
  • Discuss the student’s career aspirations, and his/her reasons for doing a PhD and how the degree will help them meet those aspirations.
  • Ensure that the student is aware with the Code of Practice for supervisors and students.
  • Ensure that the student is aware of whom to contact in the case of problems.

In particular, ALL FIRST YEAR STUDENTS SHOULD TAKE THE IAD COURSE How to do an Informatics PhD, which is held in November and February each year.

Month 4

Submit Outline Proposal and Literature Review

The outline proposal needs to identify the research area as something rather more specific than (say) Neuroinformatics, Natural Language Processing or Automated Reasoning. For those students who started the programme with no topic, one would expect an outline proposal of around 2-3 pages, detailing the specific research area and problem to be addressed, plus a very brief description of the idea the student will pursue for solving it. 

For those students who started their PhD programme with a specific research proposal already, this proposal should be much more fleshed out (e.g., 15 pages), providing more details of both the research problem and research methods, a more detailed justification of the approach and how it will be evaluated, and a scheduled work plan. If the student is in a position to write this more detailed proposal at this point in the programme, then this can be used as part of the deliverable (perhaps with minor amendments) for the formal First Year Review in month 9, together with a separate document that describes the research achievements to date and how they relate to the work plan described in the proposal. Details of the documents to be submitted for the First Year Review are given below under “Month 9”.

The literature review that forms a part of this submission must be relevant to the research area defined in the proposal and serve to justify the approach taken in the proposed thesis. The course notes for the MSc "Informatics Research Review" course has some notes on the form and content of a literature review and how to go about tracking down relevant publications.   

The student should submit his/her document as follows:

If your proposal is in the file MYPROPOSAL.pdf, then:    cp MYPROPOSAL.pdf sMATRIC-thesisproposal.pdf    cp sMATRIC-thesisproposal.pdf /afs/  where MATRIC is your student number. You cannot overwrite the file, but you should be able to see that the file is there by:     acroread /afs/  If you want more technical information, see:

The student should either concatenate two separate documents (the 2-3 page proposal, and the longer literature review) into one pdf for submission, or if appropriate the proposal and literature review can be written as a single coherent document (which approach is appropriate will depend on how much of the proposal is developed by this stage).

The supervisor should provide detailed feedback on this document as a part of their supervision, no later than 2 weeks after receiving it.
Month 9

Submit the First Year Review Document


In month 10 (see below), the student will be reviewed formally by a panel consisting of his or her supervisors plus at least one member of staff that is external to the supervision team.  The review is based on a document that is submitted in month 9.

This document should be include:

1.     A detailed research proposal, which includes:

  • Research Topic: What is the problem? Why is it interesting? What has already been done by other people to address it? Why are these existing approaches / solutions inadequate?  
  • Your Approach: What new approach / angle / idea are you proposing to pursue? Why does it seem promising?
  • Your Plan: What are the sub-goals that need to be achieved? What is your planned order of attack, and how long do you expect each task to take? Does the schedule make it plausible that you will achieve the required work within the prescribed period of the PhD programme?  And what are the risks in this plan and how will you address them (contingency plans)?

2.     A section on the work achieved so far in executing that proposal.   

  • For example: production and study of a substantial example; design, running and analysis of a preliminary experiment; design and perhaps partial implementation of a system; main definitions of a theory completed with some of their properties established. 
  • This part of the document should include a description of how this work is relevant to the thesis proposal (i.e., to part 1).

The literature review produced earlier in the year could be included as a section or as an appendix as part of the answer to the "What has already been done by other people?" question.  This document will typically be around 15-25 pages long.

For those students who started their PhD programme with no well-defined research topic, one would expect item 1 (the research proposal) to form the main part of their submission; indeed, item 2 may be only a couple of pages.  But for those students who started their PhD programme with an already well-defined proposal, one would expect item 2 (work achieved so far) to form the major portion of the document. 

The form of the document is much less important than its content, provided the above questions are clearly answered in some way (but note that a simple question-and-answer format is not appropriate).   For instance, if the work achieved to date (item 2) is already described in a workshop or conference submission, then the student can submit that, together with (a) the thesis proposal (i.e., item 1 above); and (b) a brief description of how the workshop or conference paper relates to the work plan described in the proposal.  On the other hand, for those students who have not executed a large portion of the work plan yet, the work achieved so far can be described within a section of the research proposal.

The thesis proposal is a very important reference point for both the student and supervisory team. Once this document has been reviewed and agreed, research should focus on the identified topic according to the proposal’s work plan. Future progress reviews will make reference to the plan, making explicit adjustments as required by circumstances.

The work plan should be for completion at the end of year 3, including write-up, regardless of the period of funding, under the assumption that no serious obstacles arise. If it is not feasible to complete the research within this time period then the topic is too ambitious.

The document(s) on which the review is based should be submitted electronically as follows: where appropriate concatenate the documents into one pdf file. If your document is in the file MY-FIRST-YEAR-REVIEW.pdf, then:    cp MY-FIRST-YEAR-REVIEW.pdf sMATRIC.yr1review.pdf    cp sMATRIC.yr1review.pdf /afs/  where MATRIC is your student number. You cannot overwrite the file, or even read it, but you should be able to see that the file is there by doing    ls -l /afs/   

Please also email your pdf file to your review panel as your documents are not passed onto the review panel by ISS (the online version of your documents is for College access).

If you want more technical information, see:

Examples of previous thesis proposal submissions include:


Month 10

Formal First Year Review

The principal supervisor will convene a review panel of at least 3 members, including the supervisory team and at least one independent member of staff who has not been involved in the supervision of the student involved.  The review should take place in month 10 whether the student has submitted the 1st Year Review Document on time or not, as inability to produce the document is itself a sign that progress needs to be reviewed.

Objectives of the Review

The main objective of the review is to check that the student has a clearly defined and appropriate research topic together with an appropriate research plan. The feedback must clearly indicate the extent to which this milestone has been achieved. The discussion and feedback may additionally explore other topics including proposing alternative approaches and pointing to related work.

Here are some points that the reviewers should consider:

Plan and Resources: Is there an explicit plan, at an appropriate level of detail? Is the plan appropriate, realistic, and achievable? Are risks identified and do contingency plans seem appropriate? Are the resources required to carry out the plan available? If some required resources are not currently available, are they guaranteed to be available in time? Is any further training required?

Research Topic and Approach: Is the topic well-defined and focussed? Is it interesting and timely? Does it suit the student's abilities / background / inclinations? Is it likely to lead to an acceptable PhD thesis (making an original contribution to knowledge etc.)? Does the student have a good grasp of the topic area? Is the proposed approach to the topic appropriate and promising?

Progress and Related Work/Approaches: Is the quality and quantity of progress so far adequate (bearing in mind how specific the student’s proposal was before they entered the programme)? Do results so far look encouraging? Is there relevant work and/or alternative approaches that the student should consider?

Dealing with Problems:  Where a serious problem is identified in the thesis proposal review, the panel may recommend a further review on the basis of a revised thesis proposal or a specified piece of work after an appropriate additional period, typically 3 months. Confirmation of candidacy for a PhD would be delayed until after this additional probationary period, provided that this is the outcome of the additional review. Alternatives are re-registration for a MPhil (normally following review of a revised proposal containing a plan for completion at the end of year 2) or discontinuation.

Extension of the probationary period should be seen as a last resort, not as a routine way of providing time for remedial action.  Only in truly exceptional circumstances should a further extension be contemplated.

The Form of the Review: Presentation to panel and feedback 

There is some variation in the details of arrangements for reviews across Informatics, but in general the review will begin with an oral presentation by the student, briefly outlining what is in the document, which the reviewers are expected to have read beforehand. This will be followed by questions and discussion. 

There should then be a private discussion among the panel members, to discuss (in broad terms) what written feedback should go to the student and what actions to recommend (e.g., which option for progression to pursue). The panel will provide written feedback to the student, with a copy to the Graduate School office. This is typically drafted by the principal supervisor and agreed, perhaps after amendment, by the other reviewers. It should be completed within one week of the panel meeting.

The independent member of the panel must also meet with the student without the supervisors present for the student to discuss their take on her progress so far and to provide an opportunity for the student to raise any issues they wish.
Month 12

Complete the formal first year report : the possible outcomes

Formal annual reports are the University's main official record of the progress of a PhD student.

The online form has parts to be completed by the student, and parts to be completed by the supervisors: see for guidance on how to complete the form.

The report is then signed off and acted on by the Director of Graduate School. The first year report is particularly important since it forms the basis for the decision on confirmation of degree registration.

The first year report is a record of achievement to date as well as providing an opportunity to confirm that the original conditions of registration (if any) have been met, and to make a recommendation concerning degree registration. The topic of study, as described in the thesis proposal, should be indicated on the form.

The supervisors must make a recommendation to the Head of Graduate School on the course that registration should take, in the light of the student's abilities and aspirations and based on the outcome of the first year review. The student has no formal right to be involved in this decision, although it should come as no surprise since the review panel that examined the student's thesis proposal will have provided written feedback following the first year review and the report should be consistent with that feedback.

A variety of recommendations are open to the supervisors:

1. Confirmation of registration for PhD;

2. Registration for a lower degree (MPhil);

3. Extension of the probationary period. (Save for part-time students, such extension is considered to be exceptional and in no circumstances should the probationary period last for more than 18 months from date of first registration);

Should the supervisor choose this course of action, then the annual report must include the written details of what the student must achieve so as to pass the extended probationary period. The student will have to submit a revised thesis proposal, which must be formally reviewed by the review panel again (the proposed date for this formal review must be included in the annual report form that recommends extended probation). A new first year annual report will  need to be completed at the end of the probationary period, detailing the outcome of extended probation and what the next stage should be (which can be any of the options 1, 2, 4 or 5).

4. Registration for a postgraduate taught degree (MSc) or diploma can be contemplated if the student has been undertaking the coursework for that qualification in the first year of study; 

5. Discontinuation of registration at the end of the first year.

Assuming that progress is satisfactory, the student's degree registration should be confirmed (option 1). If there are doubts about a candidate's ability to complete a PhD successfully then options (2) or (3) should be considered. If there are serious doubts as to the candidate's research capability, then options (4) or (5) should be considered.

Although these may be painful decisions to take, it is not in anyone's interest to allow a student to continue on a course of study that is unlikely to lead to a successful conclusion. If the recommendation differs from the outcome of the first year review then the student should be given, in writing, an explanation of the reasons for the recommendation. 



Months stated in the column 'Sept Start' are indicative for full-time students who commence study in September. Students with other start dates should adjust these accordingly.

Each PhD student is on probation during their first year, and progressing to full PhD status depends on the supervisor's evaluation in the first annual report; this report takes into account the panel's evaluation of the student's thesis proposal; there is a section in that report for providing a written record of the feedback the panel gave to the student.  The research institute, and in particular the student's supervisor, is responsible for ensuring that the student submits the thesis proposal and that it is presented and reviewed by the panel within this time frame.  

Note for part-time research students

For part-time students, milestones in first year and subsequent years are delayed according to the extent of part-time studies. For instance, for a student with prescribed period of 60 months rather than the usual full-time prescribed period of 36 months, the thesis proposal is due in month 9*60/36 = 15. An exception is that formal reports from the supervisor are due at 12-month intervals for part-time students, just as for full-time students.

Note for CDT students

The Graduate School milestones are intended for all PGR students who are registered to do a PhD, including CDT students who are in the “+3” portion of their “1+3” programmes.  The monitoring and milestones for the first year of the CDT programmes, in which students should complete an MSc by Research, varies across the different CDTs.  Please consult your relevant CDT programme for details.  When CDT students are accepted onto the PhD programme (that is, the “+3” portion of the 4 year programme), they are expected to follow the standard PhD milestones process, supported by the relevant research institute. All information held on this and other milestones pages is therefore relevant to CDT students. Please also note that the document that is evaluated as part of the First Year Review is not the same as the post-MScR PhD Proposal (for instance, the review panel would expect to see a substantial piece of work under item 2, which describes the achievements so far towards completing the work plan).