All students must undergo an assessment of their research potential before twelve months to determine whether registration for the PhD can continue.  This means, by the twelve-month mark, the Early Stage Assessment (ESA) report and the oral assessment both need to be completed and the ESA form needs to have been filled in and signed by all required parties, including the Director of Postgraduate Studies.

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.

Results and data presented at this stage may be minimal but should be indicative of your ability to perform at an appropriate level to carry out PhD research.  Where relevant, the assessment will also consider whether you need English language support.

The ESA is completed via report and oral assessment with an independent assessor. Optionally your supervisor may also be present at the oral assessment. 

All students are now required to submit their Early Stage Assessment report (and final PhD thesis) via an online text-matching service called Turnitin to check for potential plagiarism. You can access the Turnitin submission box via the ‘Aero PhD ESA Submission’ in your list of BlackBoard Courses. Guidelines and instructions on how to upload your file can be found in the course content.

It is your responsibility to upload your ESA report in a timely fashion so that your assessor can access it via BlackBoard.

Once the assessment has been completed, download the Early Stage Assessment form (Oct 23)‌ for your assessor and supervisor to fill in and submit via email to Clodagh Li

You may also find the Early Stage Assessment Guidance useful.

Additional ESA information

ESA requirements

ESA requirements are:

Your report should be no more than 20 pages in length and no more than 9,000 words including captions, appendices and references. An excellent report may be shorter than these guidelines.

Reports should demonstrate an appropriate quality of written English and formatting. Get feedback on your writing style from a colleague or friend. Anyone 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

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

  • Title page
  • Abstract
  • Background/literature review
  • Research strategies/methods
  • Progress to date
  • Plan to completion (Gantt chart)
  • References

When writing your report, please ensure you are familiar with the College policy on plagiarism.  Students who started their postgraduate research degree on or after the 28 September 2019 will need to follow the College’s policy on using Turnitin as part of the Early Stage Assessment.

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 supervisor or assessor is on leave from the College or otherwise unavailable.

Your report will be examined by an independent assessor who will be an academic member of staff. The assessor will be selected by your supervisor. You are encouraged to get feedback on your report from your supervisor at an early stage in the writing process.

Possible outcomes of the ESA

There are four possible outcomes of the ESA:

  1. Pass (continuation of PhD registration)
  2. Resubmission/re-assessment within 3 months
  3. Transfer registration to MPhil status
  4. Failure (withdrawal from College)

If a student is asked to resubmit, this must be done within three months at the most. Failure to meet this deadline will result in automatic transfer to MPhil status. 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.

English language requirements at the ESA

Students who are required to take an English test at ESA should do this as close to the date of the ESA as possible (before the ESA seminar if possible). 

Progression will not be confirmed until the results of the English test have been received. 

Please contact the Centre for Academic English ( to check the date of their next test at ESA.

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.