All students must undergo an assessment of their research potential at 9 months to determine whether registration for the PhD can continue.  This means, at the 9-months-mark, the ESA report, the seminar and potential viva voce examinations need to be completed. Hence the ESA report is submitted at 8 months.

The purpose of the ESA is to confirm that you have:

  • An understanding of your field of research and the direction of your project
  • The potential to pursue independent research  

Data presented at this stage may be minimal but should be indicative of your ability to perform.  Where appropriate, the assessment will also consider whether you need English language support.

Additional ESA information

Bioengineering ESA requirements

Bioengineering ESA requirements are:

  • Submission of a written report
  • Giving a seminar
  • If necessary, undertaking a viva voce examination  

Your report should be no more than 20 pages in length -and no more than 9,000 words including captions, appendices and references.  Please ensure you keep to this limit as reports over the word limit will not be accepted; you will be asked to re-write the report to meet the requirement.  You should include the word count on the front of your report.  

Reports with inadequate quality of written English and poor structure will be returned, and you will have 3 days to rewrite/correct the report. Use spellchecking, and make sure that you are consistently using the version of English spellchecker i.e. do not swap between US and British spelling conventions. All symbols must be defined and equations should be dimensionally correct. Figure axes must be correctly labelled.

Get feedback on your writing style from a colleague or friend. Any scientists (and many non-scientists) can give constructive feedback on writing, so impose on friends, family and office-mates to look at your report with a critical eye. Ensure that you allow sufficient time to send a draft of the report to your supervisor(s), so that you can get critical feedback from them as well.

Report structure

The proposed structure of the report is the following, unless your supervisor asks to use another one:

  • Title page (not included in page count)
  • Abstract
  • Background/literature review
  • Research strategies/methods
  • Progress to date
  • Plan to completion (Gantt chart)
  • References (not included in page count)

When writing your report, please ensure you are familiar with the College policy on plagiarism.

The ESA report should be submitted via Blackboard. Your section of the electronic ESA form should be fully completed, including your project title and the names of the professional skills development courses you have attended.  

You should discuss the submission deadline with your supervisor and ensure that you send a draft report to them to get feedback well in advance of the deadline.  Extensions will not be given to accommodate those whose supervisors are on leave from the College.

Your report will examined by two independent academic staff (assessors). The assessors will be selected by the Director of Postgraduate Studies, with input from your supervisor and considering the involvement of other departments in the project. You are encouraged to get feedback on your report from your supervisor at an early stage in the writing process


Seminars will be 20 minutes in duration, plus 15 minutes questions and will normally be part of a research day where other ESA talks are also heard. 

Your supervisor(s) and assessors will be present at the seminar and question session, along with other members of the Department’s academic staff, potentially including members of the Postgraduate Committee, to ensure consistency. 

Assessors and the Postgraduate Committee meet directly after the seminars to discuss the reports and presentations and decide upon results.  Final decisions will be made by the two assessors – sometimes in agreement with academic staff present during the ESA presentation and question session.

Possible outcomes of the ESA

There are four possible outcomes of the ESA:
1)    Pass (continuation of PhD registration)
2)    Resubmission/re-assessment within 2 months
3)    Transfer registration to MPhil status
4)    Failure (withdrawal from College)

An interview or viva voce examination will be required only if the two assessors are dissatisfied by the report, talk, or handling of questions at the talk, or if the supervisor requests this.  Interviews will be conducted by the two assessors.

If a student is asked to resubmit, this must be done within 2 months at the most.  Only one resubmission will be allowed.  Resubmitting students will be provided with a clear written statement on which areas of the report were below standard and why.

In the event of failure, the student may be required to withdraw from College or transfer to MPhil status, in which case they will be given guidance on how to write up for MPhil within a 24-month deadline.  Failure decisions will require consultation with the supervisor and Director of Postgraduate Studies.

Results will normally be communicated to the student within a week of the seminar. Once students have been informed of their result, they should arrange to meet with their assessors to obtain more detailed feedback on their report, presentation, and their proposed work

Doctoral Academic Communication Requirement (DACR) at the ESA

Students who are required to take the DACR Assessment 1 should have done this as soon as possible after beginning their PhD studies. Students who are required to take the DACR Assessment 2 should do this prior to the ESA seminar, if possible.

More information about these assessments can be obtained from the Centre for Academic English.

Graduate School Professional Skills Development requirements

You must fulfil the Graduate School Professional Skills Development and Online Plagiarism Awareness course requirements before the Early Stage Assessment.  Failure to do so may result in transferring your status from PhD to MPhil.