All students must undertake an assessment of their research potential no later than 9 months (full-time) after their start date in order to determine whether registration for the PhD can continue. This is done through the Early Stage Assessment (ESA), which confirms that you understand your field of research and the direction of your project, and that you have 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 support for academic communication, i.e. writing and/or presenting.

For the ESA, you must submit a written report and give a seminar-style presentation.

Students are notified of the deadlines associated with their ESA at the start of their programme. As such, extension requests and seminar date changes are highly unlikely to be accommodated.

Additional ESA information

ESA Report Requirements

Your report should be no more than 9000 words in length excluding captions, appendices, references/bibliography, and the title page. Please ensure you keep to this limit as reports over the word limit will not be accepted; you will be asked to revise 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 officemates 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 structure of the report is as follows, unless your supervisor specifically asks to use another:

  • Cover page (available in the Blackboard folder)
  • Abstract
  • Background/literature review
  • Research strategies/methods
  • Progress to date
  • Plan to completion (uncluding a Gantt chart)
  • References (not included in word count)

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

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.

Blackboard Submission

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.

Reports must be submitted in PDF format via Blackboard. The file name should adhere to the naming convention of SURNAME F CID -ESAReport, e.g. SMITH J 01234567 -ESAReport

Seminar Assessment

Your report will be read by your primary supervisor and by two independent academic staff (assessors). The assessors have been selected by the Director of Postgraduate Studies, with input from your supervisor and considering the involvement of other departments in the project.

Seminars will be 20 minutes duration plus 15 minutes questions. 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.


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. 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 transferred to MPhil status, in which case they will be given guidance on how to write up for MPhil within the 24 month deadline. Failure decisions 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)

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

Students must complete two credits of the Graduate School’s Professional Development courses before their ESA and a further two credits before their LSR. Find out more about the requirement from the Graduate School’s website. Students must also complete the online Plagiarism Awareness course before the ESA. Please send completion confirmation to the Bioengineering PGR Team at least one week before your ESA.

Before your scheduled seminar, you must complete Section A of the ESA form and click on 'Student View' and then the ESA tab to complete your section of the form. You will be able to view feedback from your assessors and supervisor as soon as they upload it to their respective sections, which they must complete by two weeks after the seminar.