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, and  how to plan the programme to ensure that t 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:  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 and Thesis submission process. Students who started their postgraduate research degrees prior to this date should follow their local departmental policy on submission requirements and any measures and guidance they may have in place on good academic practice.


As a reminder, the College’s milestones are:

Early Stage Assessment

Early Stage Assessment (ESA) is at 9 months for full-time students and at 18 months for part-time students.  Guidance for early stage assessment‌ [pdf].

When the outcome of this assessment is known, you should discuss it with your student, providing them with formal feedback on their performance.  This is important not only to provide support and guidance to students to help them to progress with their research but also because students will be asked to comment on feedback they receive as part of the national Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES).  The College uses the results of this survey to benchmark with other institutions.   As part of this conversation you should also discuss further professional development opportunities both within the College and externally, for example, attendance at conferences.  For students starting on or after the 24 September 2019, you should also discuss the outcome of the Turnitin Similarity Report.

There are also Professional Skills Attendance requirements and English language requirements for non-native speakers which will need to be met by the ESA.  

Late Stage Review

Late Stage Review (LRS) is at 18 to 24 months for full time students or 30 to 36 months for part-time students.  Guidance for late stage review [pdf].

By 24 months students must have a plan for completing their work and submitting the research.  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 your feedback and make 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.

As part of the LSR, students are also required to complete a further two Graduate School Professional Skills courses.


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.

Preparing to finish up:

Writing up and Preparing for the Viva

Full-time students are expected to submit their thesis for examination no later than 48 months after the initial date of registration.  For part-time students this is no later than 72 months.  

A formal monitoring point 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. In order to transfer to writing up status, a student is expected to have completed all experimental work or collection of material related to their thesis and, in the judgement of their supervisor(s), to be in a position to submit their thesis within 12 months. Students must have completed 3 years of full-time study (or equivalent part-time) and have completed the Late Stage Review (LSR) in order to be eligible for writing up status. 

Further information on the College’s Writing Up policy and the options available to students for their fourth year of study can be found here

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.  

Nominating External Examiners and Exam Entry

It is the student’s decision to enter for examination*. Students can enter for examination using My Imperial, by selecting the Research Degree Milestones tile and clicking on the Examination Entry milestone. The primary supervisor will then be tasked with the nomination of examiners; a notification is sent to primary supervisors upon the student’s entry to examination, and the examiner details must be provided via the Supervisor Dashboard in My Imperial. The student’s entry for examination and the examiner nominations will then be submitted to the Director of Postgraduate Studies (or other person specifically nominated for this role by the Head of Department) for review, via the My Imperial application.

Supervisors will be informed by the Registry Research Degree Examinations Team once the examiner nominations have been processed and examiner invitations.

*In accordance with College regulations, please note that 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 68 months after initial registration for the research degree

Thesis Submission

Students must submit their thesis electronically via the Research Degree Milestones tile in My Imperial. Students must submit their thesis in accordance with the instructions set out by the College Registry (Theses for Imperial College Research Degrees – Guidance). Under no circumstances should students provide their examiners with a copy of their thesis, and examiners are advised not to accept a thesis from any other source other than the College Registry.  

The viva examination must not take place until the examiner appointments have been processed by the College Registry, and you have received confirmation of these arrangements

Thesis Extension Requests

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.‌ All requests will be made using the appropriate form.  

Other important information:

External Study Leave

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 PhD, MPhil, MD[Res] and EngD students wishing to take External Study Leave [pdf].

Interruption of Studies

An interruption is a period of time away from the College to undertake activities which do not directly contribute towards the degree registration.  This should be recorded as an Interruption of Studies using the category Alternative Research/Internships.  If a student wishes to take in interruption, you should discuss this as early as possible because there could be financial and visa implications for the students.  If your student holds a Tier 4 visa, you should contact the International Student Support Office Immediately (international@imperial.ac.uk).

Guidelines for Interruptions of Studies for PhD, MPhil, MD[Res] and EngD students [pdf].

Students may need to take an interruption away from their research for a variety of reasons including sickness or for mental health reasons.  In both cases, you should refer your student to the College’s Health Centre and note that the student must be re-assessed before they return to the College.


Professional Development

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.  Informed by an External Advisory Board comprising industry representatives, and the newly established Annual Postgraduate Roundtable Debate which brings together colleagues from other UK higher education institutions (HEIs), industry, Vitae, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and professional accrediting bodies, the Graduate School’s professional skills programme offers students the chance to develop skills which are of most value to many employers.  Additionally, the Graduate School’s College-wide events provide opportunities for students from across all disciplines to network and engage in interdisciplinary discussions. 

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 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.  The Graduate School has prepared some guidelines for supervisors to support students to select the most appropriate courses - Advice on Graduate School Course Selection

View the programme of professional skills courses for Doctoral students.

Watch the Graduate School's welcome video.

Research Skills

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.

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 following document [Pdf].

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:

  • Guidelines for Proper Scientific Conduct in Research
  • Policy and Procedures for Investigations of Allegations of Scientific Misconduct


Cohort Building

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 Research Community Fund is available to students who wish to apply for money to support cohort building activities. 

Coaching and one-to-one support

The Graduate School also offers a coaching programme to doctoral students with a focus on developing effective working relationships and self-development issues.  Read about the Postgraduate Student Coaching Programme

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.

Extra-curricular activities

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.