Submitting your thesis
This section contains essential information and guidance for the preparation and submission of your thesis.
Preparation and Submission of your Thesis
IMPORTANT - When preparing your thesis please ensure that you have taken into account any copyright or sensitive content issues, and dealt with them appropriately.
COVID-19 Additional academic support – Supporting Students to Submission
Additional academic support is available for postgraduate research students impacted by the pandemic. If your research has been disrupted by COVID-19, it will now be possible to have this taken into account in viva examinations.
Tips on planning your thesis
At an early stage you should:
- Prepare a detailed work plan for your research in consultation with your supervisor.
- Build some flexibility into your plan. It is difficult to give general advice about the allocation of time on theory‑oriented projects, because the nature of these is so variable. In the case of experiment‑based research projects, you should normally allow up to six months to write a DPhil thesis, or three to four months for a corresponding MSc by Research thesis.
- Consider attending available skills training courses, for example Thesis and Report Writing.
It is not advisable to leave all the writing to the end, for several reasons:
- You will need practice at writing over a period of time in order to develop a good style.
- There will inevitably be hold‑ups in experimental work and it is better to use that time to work on part of your thesis, rather than to waste it. If you do some writing earlier the final completion of your thesis will not seem such a daunting task.
- Approaching your submission date will become more stressful than necessary.
About your thesis
The best way to find out what is required for a successful thesis in your subject area is to look at some written in recent years. You should obviously look particularly closely at theses written by previous members of your own research group, which are available in the University library.
The formal requirements for obtaining your degree are set out in detail in the ‘Examination Regulations’. The standard required for success in the DPhil examination is defined as follows: that the student present a significant and substantial piece of research, of a kind which might reasonably be expected of a capable and diligent student after three or at most four years of full‑time study in the case of a full-time student, or eight years in the case of a part-time student. For the MSc by Research the standard required is that the candidate should have made a worthwhile contribution to knowledge or understanding of the relevant field of learning after a minimum of one year or two years of full-time study.
With effect from Hilary Term 2018 students applying for confirmation of status in the following departments; Physical & Theoretical Chemistry, Earth Sciences, Engineering Science, Plant Sciences, Statistics and Zoology can now apply to submit their thesis in an alternative format, as an integrated thesis. MSc by Research students in these departments may also apply to do this, and should submit a request direct to the Director of Graduate Studies.
An integrated thesis may either be a hybrid of conventional chapters and high-quality scientific papers, or be fully paper-based. Regardless of the format, the content of the thesis should reflect the amount, originality and level of work expected for a conventional thesis. It should not be assumed that the act of publication (in whatever form) means the work is of suitable academic quality and content for inclusion in a thesis, and students should discuss all papers in detail with their supervisor before including. It would be anticipated that the candidate would be a lead contributor, rather than a minor author, on at least some of the papers in order to consider this format. There is no minimum, or maximum, number of papers a candidate is expected/allowed to include as part of such a thesis and it will remain a matter for the examiners to conclude whether the contributions are equivalent to that which would be expected of a standard DPhil.
Any papers utilised must concern a common subject, constitute a continuous theme and conform to the following guidelines:
(i) If a candidate for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy wishes to be examined through an integrated thesis (in the departments listed above), they should apply for permission to be examined in this way when they apply for confirmation of status, as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook. A candidate for the Degree of Master of Science by Research should normally apply for permission to be examined in this way six months before submitting their papers for examination. To revert to being examined by a conventional thesis rather than an integrated thesis, the candidate must inform their department of the change as detailed in the relevant departmental handbook.
(ii) Work can be included regardless of its acceptance status for publication but candidates may be questioned on the publication status of their work by the examiners.
(iii) Any submitted/published papers should relate directly to the candidate’s approved field of study, and should have been written whilst holding the status of PRS or a student for the MSc (by Research), or DPhil.
(iv) The collection of papers must include a separate introduction, a full literature review, discussion and a conclusion, so that the integrated thesis can be read as a single, coherent document.
(v) The candidate must ensure all matters of copyright are addressed before a paper’s inclusion. A pre-print version of any published papers should be included as standard.
(vi) Joint/multi-authored papers are common in science based subjects and thus acceptable if the candidate can both defend the paper in full and provide a written statement of authorship, agreed by all authors, that certifies the extent of the candidate’s own contribution. A standard template is available for this purpose.
The length and scope of theses, including word limits for each subject area in the Division are set out in Departmental guidelines.
In all departments, if some part of the thesis is not solely your work or has been carried out in collaboration with one or more persons, you should also submit a clear statement of the extent of your contribution.
Thesis page and word limits
Several departments place a word limit or page limit on theses. Details can be found in the Examination Regulations or GSO.20a Notes of Guidance for Research Examinations.
Permission to exceed the page and word limits
Should you need to exceed your word/page limit you must seek approval from the Director of Graduate Studies in your department. You and your supervisor must submit a letter/email requesting approval, giving reasons why it is necessary to exceed the limit. This must be sent to the MPLS Graduate Office.
It is your responsibility to ensure your thesis has been adequately proof-read before it is submitted. Your supervisor may alert you if they feel further proof-reading is needed, but it is not their job to do the proof-reading for you. You should proof-read your own work, as this is an essential skill in the academic writing process. However, for longer pieces of work it is considered acceptable for students to seek the help of a third party for proof-reading. Such third parties can be professional proof-readers, fellow students, friends or family members (students should bear in mind the terms of any agreements with an outside body or sponsor governing supply of confidential material or the disclosure of research results described in the thesis). Proof-reading assistance may also be provided as a reasonable adjustment for disability. Your thesis may be rejected by the examiners if it has not been adequately proof-read.
See the University’s Policy on the Use of Third Party Proof-readers. The MPLS Division offers training in proof-reading as part of its Scientific Writing training programmes.
Examiners and Submission Dates
You are strongly advised to apply for the appointment of examiners at least four to six weeks before you submit your thesis.
Appointing examiners for your thesis
Approval of the proposed names of examiners rests with the Director of Graduate Studies. Two examiners are normally appointed. It is usual for one of the examiners to be a senior member of Oxford University (the ‘internal examiner’) and the other to be from another research organisation (the ‘external examiner’). The divisional board will not normally appoint as examiners individuals previously closely associated with the candidate or his or her work, representatives of any organisation sponsoring the candidate’s research, or former colleagues of a candidate. Your supervisor will make suggestions regarding the names of possible examiners. Before doing so, your supervisor must consult with you, in order to find out if you have any special views on the appointment of particular examiners. Your supervisor is also allowed to consult informally with the potential examiners before making formal suggestions. Such informal consultation is usually desirable, and is intended to determine whether the people concerned are willing in principle to act, and if so, whether they could carry out the examination within a reasonable period of time. (For example, there may be constraints if you have to return to your home country, or take up employment on a specific date).
See information on examiner conflicts of interest, under section 7.3.3 Examiners.
What forms do I need to complete?
You will need to complete a GSO.3 form. Supervisors are required to complete Section 4 of the form to indicate names of the proposed examiners, and they should provide alternatives in case the preferred examiners decline to act.
Timing for appointment of examiners
You are advised to submit your GSO.3 form for the appointment of examiners in advance of submission of your thesis to avoid delays with your examination process. Ideally you should apply for the appointment of examiners at least 4-6 weeks before you expect to submit your thesis for examination.
There are currently no University regulations requiring examination to take place within a certain time limit after thesis submission. However, your examiners would normally be expected to hold your viva within 3 months. If you need to have your examination sooner than this, you may apply for an early viva, by completing section 8a 'Application for a time specific examination' on the GSO.3 form, this section must be endorsed by your supervisor and DGS in addition to their approval in the main body of the form. The request must be made at the time of completing and submitting the GSO.3 form, it cannot be done after this.
Please bear in mind that the examination date requested must not be earlier than one calendar month after the date on which the thesis has been received by the Research Degrees Team or after the date on which the examiners have formally agreed to act, whichever is the latest. The actual date of the examination will depend primarily on the availability of both examiners. In the Long Vacation, a longer time is normally required. It is therefore essential that you leave sufficient time for your forms to be formally approved, and for your examiners to be formally invited. If sufficient time has not be given this could impact on your early examination request.
If, for any reason, examiners wish to hold a viva within four weeks of receiving their copy of the thesis, notification should be sent to the relevant board, and the permission of the Proctors must be sought. The internal examiner will need to give details of the proposed arrangement and the reasons for the request. Under no circumstances will a viva be permitted to take place within 14 days of receipt of the thesis by the examiners.
Your supervisor is permitted to indicate to the Director of Graduate Studies if there are any special factors which should be taken into account in the conduct of your examination. For example, a scientific paper may have been produced by another researcher which affects the content of your thesis, but which was published too late for you to take into account. The Director of Graduate Studies will also need to be told of any special circumstances you may require or need to inform your examiners of which may affect your performance in an oral examination, or if any part of your work must be regarded as confidential. The Director of Graduate Studies will then forward (via the Graduate Office), any appropriate information that they think should be provided to the examiners. The Graduate Office will also seek approval from the Proctors Office if required.
Change of thesis title
If during your studies you want to change the title or subject of your thesis, you must obtain the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies using form GSO.6. If you are requesting the change at the time of submitting your thesis, you may do this on the application for appointment of examiners form GSO.3, under section 1. A change of title is quite straightforward; it is common for students to begin with a very general title, and then to replace it with a more specific one shortly before submitting their thesis. Providing your supervisor certifies that the new title lies within the original topic, approval will be automatic. A change of the subject of your research requires more detailed consideration, because there may be doubt as to whether you can complete the new project within the original time‑scale.
If following your examination your examiners recommend that your thesis title be changed, you will need to complete form GSO.6 to ensure that your record is updated accordingly.
Submitting your thesis
From MT19 you must submit your digital examiners’ copy of your thesis online, via the Research Thesis Digital Submission (RTDS) portal, no later than the last day of the vacation immediately following the term in which your application for the appointment of examiners was made. If you fail to submit by this date your application will be cancelled and you will have to reapply for appointment of examiners when you are ready to submit. Your thesis should not be submitted until your application for confirmation of status has been approved (this applies to DPhil students only). For MSc by Research students you should ensure that your transfer of status has been completed.
If you are funded on a research council studentship, you will have a recommended end-date before which your thesis must be submitted. If you do not know this date, please consult your supervisor.
Please note that you must not submit copies of your thesis directly to your examiners as this could result in your examinations being declared void and you could be referred to the University Proctors.