Information for new students
Welcome to the Department of Physics. We hope that you will find your time here studying for your PhD degree both stimulating and enjoyable. This note contains some information that we hope will assist you in settling in and starting your research. Good luck with your research!
Professor Stefan Maier
Director of Postgraduate Studies
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1. Sources of information
This note, together with other information and useful links, can be found on the Physics Postgraduate web pages by following links from the main Physics pages at www.imperial.ac.uk/physics.
People are a very good source of information:
- Within your research group there will be many people you will get help and advice from; lecturers, fellows, research students, postdoctoral research assistants, probably technicians and engineers and, of course, the group secretary. It may be that you will work closely with some of them on a daily basis. You should remember particularly the significant resource of advice and help available with in your own group and in the rest of the Physics department. There may be occasions when your supervisor is away for some time or when for other reasons you feel unable to discuss a problem with him/her and you should not hesitate to ask other staff members for help. All members of your research group and also others in the department regard it as part of their job to aid the progress of the research in the department, and helping research students is one way of doing this.
- Your supervisor: your research supervisor is your most direct contact, a source of information and guidance and a close colleague; he or she should advise and provide constructive criticism at all stages of your work; we hope that you will develop a good working relationship with your supervisor. For your particular research project you may have more than one supervisor, however, if you only have one supervisor, another staff member will be appointed as a research advisor. This person acts as back-up if your supervisor is away, or as an alternative source of research advice.
- Postgraduate Secretary: Ms Loli Sanchez is the postgraduate secretary (room 316, tel. 47512, firstname.lastname@example.org ). She is responsible for keeping postgraduate records and is an excellent point of contact for students who are unsure of whom to contact with specific questions; in particular she will know when various formal steps, such as sending exam entry forms etc., have to be taken.
- Director of Postgraduate Studies: At a more formal level there is Professor Stefan Maier, Director of Postgraduate Studies for the Physics department (tel. 46063, email@example.com ), who has overall responsibility for postgraduate matters.
- Departmental Postgraduate Advisor/Welfare Officer: Dr Arnaud Czaja (room H726, tel. 41789, firstname.lastname@example.org) is the postgraduate welfare advisor for the department and is available to discuss any matter, personal or academic, in confidence. In addition each research group has a postgraduate welfare advisor.
- Postgraduate Student Representative: The departmental representative is Michael Rutherford (room 729 Blackett building; tel: 41962 email@example.com). He represents students on various departmental committees. In addition there are postgraduate representatives in each of the nine research groups. The representatives have a PG Reps committee meeting each month and meet with the Director of PG studies each term. The current group reps are: Astrophysics, Mr Sebastian Hoof, (firstname.lastname@example.org); Condensed Matter Theory, Mr Simon Lieu, (email@example.com); Experimental Solid State, Ms Elysia Sharma, (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Jon Sit, (email@example.com); High Energy Physics, Mr Ibles Olcina, (firstname.lastname@example.org); Institute of Shock Physics, Mr Stephen Ball (email@example.com); Photonics, Ms Cheryl Seow, (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Mr Jack Maxwell (email@example.com); Plasma Physics, Mr Elias Gerstmayr (firstname.lastname@example.org); Quantum Optics & Laser Science, Mr Sydney Wright (email@example.com);Space & Atmospheric Physics, Mr Luke Phillipson (firstname.lastname@example.org); Theoretical Physics, Miss Arianna Renzini (email@example.com)
- Registry: David Ashton (Registry, Student Hub, Level 3, Sherfield Building) is the Academic Registrar with the main responsibility for postgraduate matters. The Registry web pages contain most of the information and forms that you will need in your time as a postgraduate student; the pages are accessible at: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/admin-services/registry/
Help and advice are also available outside the department. Some useful contacts include:
Student Counselling Service
Level 4, Sherfield Building
The Advice Centre, Imperial College Union, Beit Quad
Disability Advisory Service
Disability Advisory Service
Disability Advisory Service
Health Centre, Princes Gardens, London SW7 1LY
Other sources of information:
- The online "Success Guide contains a wealth of information about matters affecting students from safety and welfare through to regulations and procedures. You are strongly advised to read this booklet and use it for reference throughout your time at Imperial College. It is available at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/students/success-guide/. You can also check the blog.
- The online booklet Students' Handbook, http://www.imperial.ac.uk/students/ also contains much useful information on College facilities.
- The online Postgraduate Prospectus, http://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg, also contains useful information.
- The College Regulations and procedures for Students can be seen at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/admin-services/registry/
- The Registry web pages, contain much useful information for students: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/admin-services/registry/
- Information on Research Council funded studentships can be found on their web pages: http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/. They are all dealt with directly through the university/departments.
Initial registration. All students will be registered directly onto the PhD program. Online registration is required each year of study. Review of registration status will be made at the 9M and 18-24M progress meetings with your supervisor and usually with at least one independent examiner.
The minimum registration period for a PhD degree is 24 months (full-time), however, the standard period of full-time study for a PhD degree is 3 years or more.
A Procedural Timetable giving students details of forms/documents they must complete is included in this booklet, please read it.
Transfer from PhD to an MPhil registration: If you have been transferred from the PhD onto an Mphil programme at the 9M review, the minimum registration period to submit an MPhil is 12M.
Other formal procedures that research students are required to complete are described in the Registry site at http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/registry. Such procedures include annual registration, submitting research plans and progress reports, etc.
Absence. The College requires students to inform their department if they are absent from College, for whatever reason, for more than three days. It is recommended that the student should inform at least his/her supervisor and the group secretary. If the absence is due to illness a certificate must be produced. (See Regulations for Students http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/registry/proceduresandregulations)
Change of address. Students must update their details straight away on their Student e-service (http://www.imperial.ac.uk/studenteservice) (see Regulations for Students at http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/registry/proceduresandregulations). They should also inform the PG office and their group secretary. If they are in receipt of funding from the Department, they should also upload their bank details on the Studente-Service page.
Annual Leave. The departmental guideline is that students may take up to 8 weeks annual leave including College closures and Bank Holidays. This is in line with Research Council studentship conditions. Before taking any leave, students should agree the dates with their supervisors.
Information for students with disabilities, specific learning difficulties or long-term health issues Studying at university can be a challenge, especially if you have a disability. We are keen that you have every opportunity to fulfil your potential and graduate with the degree you deserve. It is therefore important that you let us know about any disability, specific learning difficulty or health problem as soon as possible so that we can give expert advice and support to enable you to do this.
Some people never think of themselves as having a disability, but students who have experienced any of the issues listed below have found that some help and support has made all the difference to their study experience.
- Specific learning difficulties (such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, AD[H]D)
- Autistic spectrum disorder (such as Asperger’s)
- Deafness or hearing difficulties
- Long term mental health difficulties (such as chronic anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression)
- Medical conditions (such as epilepsy, arthritis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease)
- Physical disabilities or mobility impairments
- Visual impairment
Where to find help:
Your Disability Liaison Officer (Andrew Williamson. firstname.lastname@example.org). Andrew Williamson is your first point of contact within your department and is there to help you with arranging any support within the department that you need.
Disability Advisory Service: http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/disabilityadvisoryservice. The Disability Advisory Service works with individual students no matter what their disability to ensure that they have the support they need. We can also help if you think that you may have an unrecognised study problem such as dyslexia. Our service is both confidential (information about you is only passed on to other people in the university with your agreement) and individual in that any support is tailored to what you need.
Some of the sorts of things we can help with are:
Being an advocate on your behalf with others in the College such as your departmental liaison officer senior tutor or exams officer, the accommodation office or the estates department
Checking that your evidence of disability is appropriate and up-to-date
Arranging a diagnostic assessment for specific learning difficulties
Help with arranging extra Library support
Disabled Students Allowance: http://www.imperial.ac.uk/disability-advisory-service/ From this year the College is introducing a new process for disability support. If you believe that you would benefit from further support, at first please contact the Disability Advisory Service. A Disability Advisor from the DAS will make an assessment of your eligibility and needs, and prepare a ‘Suggested Reasonable Adjustment’ (SRA) document. This will identify the appropriate support; the Advisor may suggest, for example, a referral for SpLD study support or mentoring, or make recommendations for reasonable adjustments the Department may make to support your studies. The DAS and the DDO will be responsible for arranging any funding necessary (which may include a request for Disabled Students Allowance).
Blackboard Some of the material for the MSci and MSc lecture courses you attend may be delivered using Blackboard http://learn.imperial.ac.uk, a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) which (among other things) can be used to access material such as lecture notes and problem sheets. Different lecture courses use Blackboard to differing degrees (and some MSc courses do not use it at all); you will be advised by each lecturer what material they have made available. You will need to register before you can access the material, please contact email@example.com if you wish to gain access to a course.
You will need to self-enrol for the Risk Assessment Foundation Training course (RAFT) via the Learning and Development website at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/staff-development.
3. Working space and general facilities
You will be allocated laboratory and/or office space, and the secretary of your research group may give you a locker and arrange for you to have a key to your lab or office (for a deposit of £10). The College has many facilities for students and staff, including libraries, refectories, sports facilities, a bank, shops etc. Information about the facilities can be found on the College web pages www.imperial.ac.uk/ - see for example the link under ‘Students’, or ask other students or staff.
The Physics department Common Room (which sells sandwiches, snacks and drinks etc.) is on level 8 of the Blackett laboratory and is open for most of the day.
Information on the College libraries can be found under http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/library. Your research group may have its own library, probably used with less formality than the College libraries.
4. Safety and security
There are quite detailed regulations and procedures about safety and your group safety officer will know about these. Here we simply stress the first rule about safety: "Everyone in the department has a personal responsibility for his or her own safety and for the safety of those affected by his or her activities".
The Physics Department Safety booklet is available from the College Safety Unit https://share.imperial.ac.uk/fons/operations/safety/Physics/SitePages/Home.aspx
Regrettably it is necessary to advise you to keep personal belongings locked up or otherwise secure as there are occasional outbreaks of petty theft; this seems inevitable in a department whose buildings are necessarily open to the public with little control during normal working hours.
Access to the department is unrestricted on weekdays between 8:30am and 17:30pm. Outside normal working hours access to the department is restricted. All are allowed and encouraged to work at whatever times are necessary and suitable for their work, but the checks on access to the department are necessary for security and to ensure that all in the buildings are accounted for in case of fire or other accidents. Details of out-of-hours access can be obtained from the secretary of your research group; out-of-hours you cannot get into or out of the department without a security swipe card.
5. How to work
Subject to the points in section 4, the Physics department is always open for research students. Sometimes your working hours may be constrained by the conditions of an experiment, but usually the time you devote to research can only depend on your own judgement and that of your supervisor. This applies to ordinary working hours and to holidays too. Nevertheless, it is good to make a fair proportion of your working time correspond to formal College hours because this facilitates contact with others and it ensures that you are around for colloquia, seminars etc., especially those arranged by your own research group.
Library work involving general reading and study specific to your research problem is an essential part of research. Also you should never hesitate to discuss your problems and ideas with others and similarly you should help them by discussing their problems. A weekly perusal of the latest journals and preprints (mostly now available in online databases via the web) is a very good way of keeping up to date in your subject area.
Recreation and participation in Union activities are good things; on the other hand your spell as a research student is probably the first time in your life that you have been entirely responsible for guiding all your own activities, so you may find that some self-discipline is necessary to get your work done in time. For most research students the three to three-and-a-half years, which is the usual period of a grant, goes by all too quickly and it is always later than you think.
6. Workshop facilities
Unless your work is purely theoretical, it is almost certain that you will have to build some new apparatus or modify some existing apparatus, and this is part of your research training. The Main and Research Workshops are located on Levels 0 and 1 in the Blackett lab. Many research groups also have their own specialist workshop facilities. Departmental workshop facilities are available to all researchers.
Formal Courses. Your supervisor will want you to attend some postgraduate lecture courses (or some undergraduate special option courses) in your first postgraduate year, unless you have previously taken a relevant MSc, and you may be asked to sit examinations on these or to write an essay or report. The purpose is partly to acquire the necessary background for your research and partly for the formal assessment which takes place at the end of the first year. The postgraduate courses available in the physics department are listed on in the PG pages of the department’s website and in the ‘Postgraduate Courses for Research Students 2012/2013’ booklet which is part of this welcome pack.
Professional and transferable skills. You will have opportunities to develop many skills during your research training. These skills range from the more obvious ones, such as communication skills, to career management, teamworking and entrepreneurship. The Graduate School webpages at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg/graduate-school/) will increasingly provide courses in transferable and professional skills, and you will be required to complete two of these courses plus either the plagiarism awareness course or the Graduate School retreat. To find out about courses you will need to visit their website. The courses only run up to July, and you are encouraged to book onto them soon. Many skills are also developed during the course of research through supervisor support, mentoring or self-direction. The Research Councils run 3-5 day workshops on personal transferable skills for postgraduate students. Further information about the workshops and online booking is available via the webpages http://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg/graduate-school/. You may also have opportunities to attend short schools, workshops or conferences where you will learn more about your subject and possibly have to give a talk, or present a paper on your research.
English. Postgraduate research students who are not native speakers of English must fulfil the Imperial College London English Requirement as soon as possible after registering for their PhD. This requirement is separate from and in addition to meeting the College entry requirements (IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) It is compulsory from for any student that did not do their undergraduate degree in the UK, even if they did their Masters at Imperial or at any other university in the UK. A second assessment at the Early Stage Assessment may be required depending on the result of the earlier internal assessment. These courses are all FREE for PhD students. Information about the requirement can be found at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/academic-english/phd-students/postgraduate-english-requirement/
Information about the writing courses and speaking courses offered by the Centre for Academic English to support students at different stages of their PhD can be found here:
Plagiarism Awareness Online Course. It is compulsory for all students to complete the course before their 9M registration. Please self-enrol at http://www.imperial.ac.uk/study/pg/graduate-school/professional-skills/doctoral/onlinecourses/.
Risk Assessment Foundation Training (RAFT) Online Course. It is compulsory for all students to complete the course before their 9M registration. Please self-enrol at https://www.imperial.ac.uk/staff-development/safety-training/safety-courses-/risk-assessment-foundation-training-raft/
8. Timetable of your research
The standard period of full-time study for a research degree at Imperial is three to three-and-a-half years and students should aim to complete their work within this time. The minimum registration period for a research degree is 24 months. There will sometimes be unavoidable delays in construction of equipment, access to outside facilities etc., but you should aim to submit in three to three-and-a-half years if only because financial support is often not obtainable for longer. At the latest, you should submit your thesis within 4 years of registration. No thesis submission is allowed after 48M unless a case to support late submission is made by your supervisor jointly with the Director of PG Studies.
In order to get an idea of the amount and level of work required for a PhD it can be useful to look at recent theses in your research area, and your supervisor may recommend that you read some theses as part of your literature survey. The Regulations for the Degree of PhD state that the thesis shall "form a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and afford evidence of originality shown by the discovery of new facts and/or by the exercise of independent critical power". Your examiners have to decide whether your thesis fulfils this and other requirements but, for example, if you succeed in publishing or getting accepted for publishing a paper on your work in a reputable research journal you could regard this as evidence of your "distinct contribution" and as an indication that you have the material for a good thesis. Your supervisor and others can advise you about this.
Of course individual student timetables will vary, depending on the nature of the research, but whatever the structure, it is essential that some planned programme of work is followed. Failure to complete a PhD is often not due to lack of talent, but more to do with a failure to plan work sensibly and tackle the more mundane activities, such as writing up. The College imposes certain formal milestones, which are described in the booklet “Study Guide”, but much self discipline and monitoring is required if the work is not to drag on past the allotted three to three-and-a-half years. It is very important to plan the thesis early enough to show up gaps where more results are essential and so that you do not find yourself up against your funding deadline.
You should not, if possible, leave and take a demanding full-time job until the thesis is written. Students have done this with the best intentions of writing up in their spare time, but it is very difficult to write up at the same time as taking on a new job where your employer will expect hard work and commitment. Writing up your results and meeting deadlines are essential components of research training.