These notes are meant to provide an overview of the graduate training programme for PhD students registered in the Department of Haematology of the University of Cambridge, supplementing the general advice given by the Graduate School of Biological, Medical and Veterinary Sciences, available from its web page at http://www.biomed.cam.ac.uk/gradschool.

Supervision

Each PhD student will have a supervisor (sometimes referred to as the “primary supervisor”) and an adviser (sometimes called a “mentor” or “second supervisor”). Your supervisor guides you in the choice of research project, in defining aims and strategies, and in acquiring the skills you need for this project and to prepare you for your future career.

Your adviser will usually be a member of the academic staff outside of your research group, possibly but not necessarily in the Department of Haematology. The role of the adviser is to complement the supervisor, being available when the supervisor is absent or providing expert advice on specific areas of the research project. The adviser should be chosen by the time you arrive in the Department, and Amanda Goldsmith should be informed at that time.

You may also have a bench supervisor, a member of your research group with day-to-day responsibility for supervising the practical aspects of your project, but this is optional and it is not necessary to inform anyone.

Personal Progress Log

The Personal Progress Log is used to keep track of supervisory meetings and training in transferable skills. The Research Councils now expect the new students they fund to engage in the equivalent of ten days a year transferable skills training; the Graduate School suggests that each student should average one half-day per week. A system of credits (see here) has been developed to evaluate how activities such as presenting a seminar contribute to skills training. A wide variety of useful training activities is available in the Clinical School and in the University as a whole, and you should take advantage of it.

Strategic meetings

The Personal Progress Log gives guidelines on the minimum requirements for formal meetings, which will address training needs (once each year), project feasibility (about three months into the PhD) and progress at suitable intervals. Of course, most students will have much more frequent informal and formal discussion of their project with their supervisor and possibly their adviser.

First year assessment

Students are not formally registered for the PhD until the end of the first year. The recommendation to approve students for formal registration is made on the basis of the first year assessment, which considers the first year report prepared by the student, the performance of the student in a viva defending the report, and the Personal Progress Log. The assessment will address whether the student has made sufficient progress and shows sufficient ability to proceed to a PhD degree, whether the project is feasible and whether it is suitable for a PhD degree.

The first year report should be in standard scientific format:

  • Introduction, describing the background and rationale of the project
  • Experimental methods and results
  • Discussion of initial results
  • Experimental plan for year 2 (and possibly year 3)

The report should be about 4000 to 6000 words in length. It should not be necessary to take more than three weeks in total to prepare it, and your supervisor should give you about two weeks of protected time to work on it. The written document must be completed and distributed at least two weeks before the assessment, and the assessment must take place before the end of the student’s first year. It is the student’s responsibility to prepare this report, and the supervisor should only be responsible for general guidance.

The first year report will be considered by the supervisor and adviser, and by an external assessor, who should be a member of the University outside the Department of Haematology. The format of the assessment is flexible, but should include a short oral presentation summarising the report and an opportunity to discuss progress, plans and other concerns. The external assessor then prepares, for the supervisor, a short report on the student’s progress and abilities, and the feasibility and suitability of the project. The supervisor is responsible for forwarding to Amanda Goldsmith copies of this report, the supervisor’s own report to the Board of Graduate Studies, and the Personal Progress Log.

Second year assessment

Only the first year assessment is mandatory, but the student and the supervisor may find it useful to carry out a second year assessment, attended by the adviser and the external assessor, to consider whether the student is on track to finish on time and to discuss plans for the final year of PhD research. It should not be necessary to produce another written report; an oral update of the student’s progress and plans should be sufficient.

Dissertation and viva

The guidance given on the Graduate School and Board of Graduate Studies webpages should be sufficient. Remember to submit the Appointment of Examiners Application Form to the Board of Graduate Studies at least two months before you expect to be ready to submit your dissertation (further ahead in the summer, when the committees meet less frequently), so that the forms will have enough time to go through the necessary committees and you will not be held up.

If you have any suggestions for this document, including other aspects of graduate supervision that are not clearly explained in the material available to you, please contact Prof Randy J Read, the graduate training coordinator for the Department of Haematology.