A male researcher initiate lab equipment through a computer

At the start of a student’s research degree, you should provide appropriate guidance about:

  • The nature of research
  • The standard expected
  • How to plan the programme to ensure that candidates will complete their research and experimental work within three years, with one year of writing up (if needed) to meet the maximum four-year submission deadline.  

The following sections highlight the College’s research degree milestones and information about progression.  However, your department may also have additional specific requirements for students to complete such as a research plan confirmation at three months or six monthly reports.  You are advised to check with your Director of Postgraduate Studies or Postgraduate Administrator if you are unsure.

IMPORTANT: Details of the PhD timeline are covered by Unit 3 of the Fundamentals of Supervising PhD Students online course (unit takes approx. 30 mins to complete) and follows the typical full-time route of a PhD student registered from October 2021. Students registered before October 2021 must follow milestone deadlines from previous regulations.
*Supervisors based at Crick should follow the PhD progression timeline for the Crick Thesis Committee.
**Supervisors of e.g. Centre for Doctoral Training Programme (CDT) /Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) students should follow the progression requirements and submission deadlines for ESA and LSR as set out in their CDT/DTP programme handbook.

A summary of the College’s updated milestones is provided below:

The College requires assessment of a student’s research potential to be carried out through the ESA to determine whether registration for the PhD can continue.

This involves your student to submit a written report and complete an oral examination (by 12 months for full time students, and 24 months for part time students), which may include one opportunity for re-assessment.

ESA Requirements

  • You must have discussed and agreed with your student how your partnership will work using the College’s Mutual Expectations
  • Students must have completed the online Plagiarism Awareness course by their ESA.
  • Prior to the ESA, your student’s ESA report should be submitted to Turnitin through your department’s Blackboard Thesis submission centre.
  • Students should have obtained a minimum of two Graduate School Professional Skills credits.
  • Students that are not exempt from Imperial’s Doctoral Academic Communication Requirement who score level 1 or 2 are required to take a progress check to complete the ESA. Students who score level 3 or 4 are considered to have fulfilled the requirement.

Following the ESA, you should provide formal feedback to the student on their performance (Students will be asked to comment on the quality of the feedback they receive in the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey, which is used to benchmark institutions). You should also discuss future training (internal and external) and professional skills development. For students starting on or after the 24 September 2019, you should also discuss the outcome of the Turnitin Similarity Report.

Access Guidance and forms for the ESA (plus guidance on giving effective feedback) and information on Advice on Graduate School Course Selection.

The College requires that a further review of a PhD student’s research ability be carried out through the LSR to determine whether registration for the PhD can continue.

The form of the review will be determined by the student’s department (and approved by the College) and must be completed by 24 months for full time students/48 months for part time students, which may include one opportunity for re-assessment.

LSR Requirements

  • Typically, as a minimum, students will be required to submit a research plan by 24 months which shows how they will complete their programme by 36 months and start writing up.
  • Students should have obtained four Graduate School professional skills credits (two by ESA plus two more by LSR)

You should encourage your student(s) to produce written work which may often provide them with the basis for the preparation of their final thesis.  Be prepared to read these and provide students with feedback on their examination, progress and final year research plan, making it clear when progress is inadequate or when standards fall below that which is expected.  Where students are experiencing difficulty with their English, you should require them to attend English classes and support from the Centre for Academic English. You may also wish to discuss professional development and skills training (internal and external), including thos suited to your students’ future career plans.

Access Guidance and forms for the LSR (plus guidance on giving effective feedback) and information on Advice on Graduate School Course Selection.

A formal monitoring point – the Progress Review - must be completed at 36 months (or equivalent part-time) to ensure that students who have not submitted within 36 months have a realistic plan for submitting the thesis within 48 months of their start date. The outcome of this assessment is to determine whether students have completed all experimental and data gathering work, and can move into the Writing up period.

A student who still has experimental work to perform at this stage cannot move into Writing up status and will continue to pay full fees.

Writing up

The writing up period will last for a maximum of 12 months, but will terminate at 48 months from your student’s start date if earlier. During the writing up period the student will remain registered and no fees will be charged.

Students may request to enter the writing up period before 36 months. Any such request must be recommended by the Main Supervisor and approved by the DPS (or nominee) and will bring forward the expected thesis submission deadline accordingly.

Further details can be read in the College’s Writing Up procedure [Pdf].

It is common for students to need support when the begin writing up (first 3-6 months). During this time, you should expect to provide regular feedback on draft chapters and student written work. You should continue to have conversations about research integrity and plagiarism awareness and provide guidance to your students on these matters.

Supervisors are reminded that the Graduate School has a special Thesis Writing Retreat available to students who are due to submit within the next six months.

It is the student’s decision to enter for examination, however, full-time students are required to enter for examination no later than 44 months after initial registration for the research degree. Part-time PhD students are required to enter for examination no later than 88 months after initial registration for the research degree.

At least 4 months prior to thesis submission, your students can intitate the examination entry process through the PGR milestones section of My Imperial. Upon entry from examination, the primary supervisor will be prompted to nominate an examination panel in accordance with the College’s Procedure for Appointment of Examiners for Research Degrees, which will be subject to review and approval by the student’s DPS and Registry Assessment Records Team.

Read further information on the Conduct of Oral Examinations for Research Degrees.

Research degree vivas should take place on-site, in person.  Exceptionally, where travel restrictions make it difficult for external examiners or students to attend, mixed mode or remote vivas can be scheduled.  Directors of Postgraduate Studies are responsible for deciding whether, in exceptional circumstances, a mixed mode or remote viva can take place. 

The thesis must be submitted by 48 months for full-times students (96 months for part-time students). When the thesis is ready for submission and examination, your student will need to formally submit this via the PGR Milestones section of MyImperial.

Once this has been done, the Main Supervisor and their student will receive confirmation of receipt by the Registry Assessment Records Team, and will be notified as soon as the thesis has been sent to the examiners for review.

Other important information:

External Study Leave is defined as a period of time away from the College (minimum of two weeks) to undertake research which counts towards the degree registration. Ordinarily, this is either field work or a placement, but also covers split-PhDs. It will be recorded as an External Study Leave Milestone. Before taking a period of External Study Leave, supervisors and students are advised to check the terms and conditions of the student’s funding body which may stipulate restrictions on taking this type of leave and may impact on the stipend.

The College is required to notify the Home Office immediately if a student on a Tier 4 visa is taking a period of time away from the College. This will be reported to the Home Office as a Change of Study Location but will not impact on their visa status in the UK.

Read Guidelines for doctoral students wishing to take External Study Leave [pdf]

An Interruption of Study (IOS) is available for students who require a temporary break from their studies and plan to resume their studies at a future date.

Students do not have an automatic right to interrupt their studies and the College expects that student will normally complete their studies in a single continuous period. An IOS should be requested for any period of time in which the student will not be engaging with their studies (e.g. due to health difficulties or work commitments etc).

An IOS can be taken at any stage of the PhD, with no penalty to the student, and the confirmed thesis submission deadline will be updated to reflect the duration of the IOS period. Students and supervisors are advised to check the terms and conditions of their funding body prior to applying for an interruption.

Taking an interruption means:

  • PhD milestones and registration will pause and will resume once the IOS has finished.
  • The thesis submission date will be adjusted for the period of time interrupted.
  • Tuition fees will not be charged for the duration of the interruption.
  • Stipends will not be paid for the duration of the interruption – except where a funder provides financial support for students interrupting on medical grounds/health reasons.
  • There will be implications for student visas. Queries should be directed to the international student support office before students proceed to interrupt.
  • Student ID cards wil become inactive for the period of interruption, which will affect access to resources including the Library.

Read more in the Interruption of Study Guidelines [Pdf].

In cases where students are unable to submit within four years (or equivalent part-time), a thesis extension application can be submitted by the department for consideration by the Imperial College Graduate School. The thesis extension request procedure is available to postgraduate research candidates in cases where mitigating circumstances have affected their progress towards their final submission deadline.

All thesis extension requests are subject to departmental approval by the Director of Postgraduate Studies prior to submission to the Registry Research Degrees Team. Upon submission to Registry, the request will be submitted to a Special Case Panel for review and approval on behalf of the Postgraduate Research Quality Committee.

For further information on submitting a thesis extension request, please consult the relevant departmental administrator in the first instance and the College's Thesis Extension request guidance.‌ Guidance and the request form are available on the administration pages.

The primary purpose of the Graduate School is to develop and deliver a world-class, innovative and engaging provision ensuring all postgraduate students are provided with excellent professional development training to complement their academic studies and providing opportunity to develop skills for a range of careers.

As supervisor, you should have regular discussions with your students about their professional development and work together to select courses which are of most use and benefit to each student.  Advice on Graduate School Course Selection and an overview of the programme of professional skills courses for Doctoral students can be found in the For your students section of Cornerstone.

The Graduate School’s programme also includes Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) training courses for students who teach.  Attendance at these courses contributes towards the portfolio of work required for Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.  You should discuss with your student(s) teacher training and opportunities within the department to teach. More information can be found on the GTA webpage.

As a supervisor, you are responsible for developing students’ research skills. Some key research skills are academic writing, planning, presenting, critical thinking, statistical analysis and computing skills.


To develop student’s academic writing skills, it is recommended that supervisors advise doctoral students to ‘write early and write often’. It is important to make writing integral to the research process and not a final “write-up” task. Maintained engagement with writing throughout the research process promotes making-meaning through writing. This engagement encourages the development of the doctoral student’s professional identity and the production and communication of knowledge in their discipline. Hence it is important to see academic writing as integral to the research process and not only a product. Furthermore, engaging with writing only at the assessment stages (i.e. ESA, LSR and final thesis stage) may lead to doctoral students to associate writing with assessment and performance which in turn may lead to stress.


Planning skills play a central role in maintaining a student’s motivation. Hence, it is important that supervisors and their students and are advised that doctoral researchers can build their self-efficacy by setting smaller, achievable goals. Staff and students should be aware that there is research evidence to show the link between goal setting, self-efficacy, and motivation. Supervisors and students should plan together so that extended tasks such as thesis writing are broken down into smaller achievable goals hence building self-efficacy and motivation at critical stages of the doctorate.


Presenting skills develop through practice, you should provide opportunities for students to present to others whenever you can, for example at group meetings or departmental research seminars.

Data processing and analysis

To help with research data analysis and processing, Graduate School has introduced an extensive range of data science and computing skills courses.   You can find out more about the Graduate School’s programme and guidance on supporting students to choose the most appropriate courses in the ‘For your students' section of the Cornerstone website.

Other skills

There may also be other taught courses being delivered in the College which may be of benefit to the student to develop their research skills.

You should also provide training in requisite techniques and ensure good practice in research data management and support students who wish to publish. Supervisors should also have good knowledge of issues around plagiarism and copyright. The Graduate School has an online course in plagiarism awareness and copyright which supervisors are free to enrol on if they wish.

Supervisors should also be familiar with the College’s policy on, and procedures for, the investigation of allegations of research misconduct.

In partnership with academics, students across the College and the Graduate Students’ Union, the Graduate School provides opportunities for students to meet each other at a variety of social and academic events, promoting interdisciplinary knowledge exchange, encouraging collaborations and creating supportive global research communities and peer groups.   

Cohort building aims to enhance support for research students and help improve the research environment. Research students working in cohorts can improve their understanding and gain access to professional and personal development as well as pastoral care.  The Postgraduate Community Fund is available to students who wish to apply for money to support cohort building activities.

The Graduate School also offers a coaching programme to postgraduate students with a focus on developing effective working relationships and self-development issues. 

Additionally, the Graduate School is able to offer dedicated one-to-one support for students who have particular challenges they would like extra support with, for example, presentation skills.   Please advise your students to contact graduate.school@imperial.ac.uk if they would like to have this support.

Students should be encouraged to take part in the wide range of opportunities available to them, including Graduate School events and courses.  Students should be reminded that the Union’s clubs and societies are also available to postgraduate students. 

Information about these and more is available on the making the most of your Imperial experience webpages.

The Enterprising students webpages offer a range of opportunities for students interested in gaining entrepreneurship experience.  Opportunities for extra-curricular learning available via the Imperial College Union and the Outreach team are detailed below. 

The scheme supports students to identify and articulate the skills and experiences gained through volunteering.  All training workshops can be accessed by anybody recording their volunteer hours toward Imperial Plus.  Postgraduate roles which can count towards the scheme are:

  • Any elected roles with the Graduate Students’ Union
  • Any volunteering through college schemes such as Pimlico Connections or President’s Ambassadors
  • Hall seniors
  • Any role through Community Connections

The Volunteer Certificate rewards the hours volunteered, from 25 up to 500 hours, and also gives access to all of the training workshops linked to the programme.

The Volunteer Accreditation offers students more scope to reflect on the skills they have developed during the hours they have spent volunteering in a more structured way.

Finally, once a year, volunteers are invited to apply to undertake a Volunteer Qualification, an Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM) Level 5 Award in the Management of Volunteers, a valuable leadership qualification for any career path they choose.

Student Lifecycle

The Student Experience on the College’s milestones

Ahmed Shamso, Zaynab Jawad, and Yu Xia, PhD Candidates at Imperial College London, explain what they find valuable about the research degree assessment milestones.

Three students talks about the College’s milestones

The Student Experience on the College’s milestones

Three students talking about why they value the research degree assessment milestones.

Ahmed Shamso, Zaynab Jawad, and Yu Xia, PhD Candidates at Imperial College London, explain what they find valuable about the research degree assessment milestones.

Dr Zafeiriou shares his top tips for supervisors.

Dr Stefanos Zafeiriou's top tips for supervisors

Dr Zafeiriou shares his top tips for supervisors.

We asked Dr Stefanos Zafeiriou,  Department of Computing and winner of a Student Academic Choice Award for Best Supervisor, to share his top tips.