Most commencing research students are registered as Probationer Research Students (PRS), and/or for a preliminary research training master’s course. Regulations governing applications for transfer of status are set out for each subject within the Examination Regulations or in course handbooks.
The assessment for transfer of status is a formal requirement, and success should not be considered a foregone conclusion by either the candidate or the assessors.
In addition to the regulations governing applications for transfer of status, course handbooks must provide information on the process. The relevant Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) and/or the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) should ensure that the transfer procedure in a subject includes:
- criteria against which applications for transfer to doctoral status (or for the relevant lower degree) will be assessed
- instructions about the materials required for the transfer application
- instructions to the student as to the nature of the required assessment process and the role of the assessors
- information for students about the range of possible outcomes that may be recommended by the assessors, including transfer to the relevant lower degree, subject to opportunity for further application
- instructions to assessors as to the nature of the required assessment process and of the assessment report
- a review of the assessment report by the Graduate Studies Committee (GSC) and/or the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
- (for non-native English speakers) an indication of the assessors’ view of the student’s ability to present and defend the work in English
- appropriate feedback to the applicant, especially where an application has been unsuccessful
- the University procedure for appeals
- the timeframe for the return of assessment reports to the department (as a guide, three weeks after the assessment is considered a reasonable maximum)
In addition, for PRS who are required to take a master’s course during the course of the first year, departments should ensure their own policies are clear. If the transfer depends on achieving a specified level in the initial master’s course, a clear definition of the required level should be provided to students.
Students who began their research degree course on or after 1 October 2011 must transfer status before the end of their fourth term (the eighth for part-time students). Students who began their research degree course before October 2011 must transfer before the end of their sixth term. It is possible for the responsible board to stipulate variations within these limits. Exceptions, where they apply, are set out in Special Regulations.
Subject to the approval of the responsible divisional or Continuing Education board as appropriate, and for good cause, a full-time student may be permitted to hold the status of PRS (prior to the first application for transfer of status) for a further one or two terms (a part-time student for a further one to four terms). Applications for extension should be made to the relevant board using form GSO.2b.
To apply for transfer to D.Phil. status, students must submit a completed GSO.2 form (GSO.2 MSD for Medical Sciences), available from the Graduate Progression Forms page. Students of some subjects will also need to submit an additional subject-specific form, also available from this page.
It is the University’s expectation that assessments for transfer of status will be undertaken by academic staff employed within the collegiate University, neither of whom should be the student’s supervisor. On rare occasions, in all subjects, there may be a strong case for having assessors who are external to the University. Where a division, board or department is willing to approve this, external assessors may be used, any fee to be paid by the board.
The appointment of the assessor is formally the responsibility of the relevant board, but the supervisor may make recommendations where appropriate.
Transfer applications must be considered by two assessors. Although arrangements for assessing applications vary from subject to subject, and may involve a committee including the supervisor, it is essential to ensure a significant independent element, especially where there may be any doubt about the outcome. The process of assessment must always include an interview with the student. The supervisor may not be present at the interview, but may be present at the student’s presentation where this is separate to the interview. Where a department wishes to establish a procedure involving an exception to this requirement, permission must first be sought from the relevant division and Education Committee.
The assessors’ report should be returned to the relevant board within three weeks of the date of the assessment interview.
The identification of areas of skills training and development is a regular aspect of a student’s work with his or her supervisor(s). As part of the process for application for transfer of status, supervisors are asked to ensure that students:
- record those subject-specific and personal and professional skills which the student has already acquired in the course of PRS status
- identify any such skills which might require further development or refinement
- note any other related activities which have made a contribution to the development of the student’s work
This information is then viewed by the transfer assessors and those who approve applications for transfer, not in order to make skills training a formal hurdle within the transfer process, but as a means of acknowledging the importance of such activities in a research student's training and to provide a fuller picture of a student’s progress. It also aims to help students cope with the increasing expectation on the part of research councils and other funding bodies that, in conjunction with their supervisor(s), they will maintain a record of such skills and achievements throughout the course of their career as a research student.
A student whose first application for transfer is not approved (including where the outcome is a recommendation to transfer to the M.Sc. or M.Litt.) is permitted to make one further application, and should be granted an extension of one term if necessary. After a second unsuccessful attempt, if transfer to the relevant lower degree (having been considered by the assessors) has not been recommended, the student should be removed from the Register of Graduate Students. Particular attention should be paid in such circumstances to the importance of informal counselling, involving the student’s college, as an integral part of any procedures.
Information on the procedure for complaints and appeals may be found in Section 7.4.