Frequently Asked Questions
What is a thesis?
A doctoral thesis is usually the way a doctorate, e.g. a PhD, is assessed at the end of the period of research study. They have many different forms around the world and also there are different guidelines at different institutions. You can find out about the Requirements for UCL in Ch.5, Section 5.1 of the Academic Manual.
You can also read all students’ previously examined theses online on UCL Discovery. Looking through a few theses of students in your department or research group is a great way to get started and to learn more about your end goal.
What is a PhD?
You can find out more about what a PhD is in UK culture on the FindAPhD website.
Prof David Bogle, Pro-Vice-Provost of the Doctoral School, also wrote a blog piece on the short history of the PhD.
What are the main milestones?
Milestones will vary depending on what type of research degree you’re pursuing. Your DGT should be able to tell you the main milestones you need to hit during your studies and when—if not, you should ask. It’s good to have a timeline planned all the way to the end of your studies even if it needs updating a lot along the way—you are the project manager for your own research! Your Research Student Log should help with this, too.
For PhDs, there are two main milestones: the upgrade and the final assessment. You are originally registered as an MPhil student and need to upgrade/transfer via a written report and oral viva. This usually takes place around 12 months in but can range from 9-18 months. This is meant to mirror your final viva in some ways; but also, it’s a great opportunity for you to get feedback and input on your work to date from outside your immediate supervisor team. If you pass your upgrade viva, it means the department and the upgrade panel feel the student is able to progress and complete their PhD programme.
The final assessment (thesis) can be handed in anywhere between the end of the normal period of registration and the end of the Completion Research Status (CRS) period. However, different funders and departments have different expectations for when they want you to hand-in. You should find out exactly when you are expected to hand-in at the beginning of the programme and keep this date firmly in mind in your project plan.
On the inside back cover of the Graduate Research Degrees Code of Practice is a typical timeline for a Full-time 3 year PhD student.
If you have any queries about what milestones you should be hitting, you should speak to your DGT who will ensure you’re meeting any departmental requirements too.
What do I have to do / how do I get started?
Make sure you have at least 2 supervisors listed in Portico (they should pull through automatically into your Research Student Log).
You should meet with your Primary Supervisor at least once a month- when you get started you should set up an understanding with your supervisors for when and how to meet and how you should contact them should you need anything.
All research students need to ensure they complete their Research Student Log throughout their studies.
Research students should also take advantage of the training and skill courses offered by the Doctoral Skills Programme for free. You need to ensure you receive Research Integrity training via your department or centrally.
You also need to ensure you’re hitting the appropriate milestones for your programme (see under Milestones above). On the inside back cover of the Graduate Research Degrees Code of Practice is a typical timeline for a Full-time 3 year PhD student with tips on milestones.
I don’t know what’s expected of me in my programme.
You should speak to your PGR Admin, Programme Manager, or your DGT. If you receive funding from somewhere, you may also need to ask your funder about any terms & conditions of your award or what they expect from you.
What if I am not getting on with my supervisor?
If you are having an issue with one of your supervisors, you should try to discuss this with them or a member of your supervisory team, e.g. a subsidiary supervisor first. If you don’t feel you can, or you have tried and are still having an issue, you should discuss this with your DGT. Your DGT can help advise on the best course of action. If you still are not happy with the outcome, your FGT or UCL’s Student Mediator might be able to help.
I don’t have a desk. Where can I work on campus?
We offer many study spaces for Research Students. You can find and book all these spaces on the Library pages.
How do I open a bank account if I’m not British?
Information on how to do this can be found on the International student pages.
How do I get paid my stipend?
At the beginning of your studies and at the beginning of each academic year, your PGR Admin will process something called a Form S for you. If you have correctly entered your UK bank account details into your Portico account, you will automatically be paid each month on the 1st of the month once your Form S has been processed. Once your funding has been approved at all levels, you will receive an email from SFS@ucl.ac.uk confirming the payment amounts and dates. If you don’t receive this email at the beginning of each academic year and believe you should or if you have any other queries, you should contact your PGR Admin in the first instance.
What if I run out of money?
If you feel comfortable doing so, it is a good idea to speak to your supervisory team and/or your DGT about your issues so they know what you’re going through and can offer you support and guidance.
In addition, you may find the following helpful:
- The Students’ Union has an advice service which includes support re money, debt, and finances.
- If you have a change in your funding circumstances, e.g. if you had a funded studentship but your funder suddenly was unable to keep their commitment, you could apply for the Doctoral Fellowship.
- UCL also offers a Financial Assistance Fund which is open to all but gives priority to self-funded students, those with caring responsibilities, and those with disabilities.
- The Doc Skills Development Programme offers courses on financial wellbeing.
What if I can’t find housing?
Most PGR students find private/shared accommodation during their studies. It is a good idea to ask around the department if your peers/colleagues are looking for roommates. You can also find private and shared accommodation at sites like SpareRoom and OpenRent. (Please be mindful when using these sites- there are tips on how not to be scammed on the Student’s Union page.)
UCL also offers some Postgraduate accommodation.
Goodenough College offers year-round Postgraduate accommodation in central London (don’t be fooled- it’s student accommodation, not a different college as its name would suggest!)
The Students’ Union offers support and advice on accommodation.
I’m new to London. How can I meet people?
London is a big place with a lot going on (see TimeOut London for ideas), but sometimes it can still feel lonely.
At UCL, there are loads of clubs, networks, and societies you can get involved in. See the UCL Students’ Union society pages, the University of London Students’ Union (called Student Central), and the Doc School society pages
We also have two student gyms you can join which have classes and other activities: EnergyBase and Bloomsbury Fitness.
If you can’t find a society you like, you could always start your own! The Doc School provides funding support for researcher networks.
How do I find a doctor (GP)?
If you are a British student and need to find a new GP in London, you can use the NHS Find a GP website to find practices close to your home- the entries include reviews. If you live near UCL, you may be able to register with Ridgmount Practice, a local practice located near the main Bloomsbury campus.
If you are an EU student, you should be eligible for free NHS healthcare through your EHIC card.
If you are an international student, you will need to pay a fee as part of your visa to have access to the NHS.
Regardless, you should find a doctor (called a General Practitioner or GP) as soon as you get to the UK and go through a registration process (usually a form and a standard check-up with a nurse) to get an NHS number. Having an NHS number means that you are set up to book appointments in future or to be admitted to hospital if you need. You can use the NHS Find a GP website to find practices close to your home- all GP practices have ‘catchment areas’ which means they can only see people within certain postcodes close to them. You can also read reviews of the practices on this website; if you don’t like the first GP you register at, you could explore other options in your area and re-register. If you live near UCL, you may be able to register with Ridgmount Practice, a local practice located near the main Bloomsbury campus.
Where can I find mental health support?
It is very common for PGR students to feel stressed or anxious at some point during their studies. If you feel comfortable doing so, we strongly encourage you to talk to other students and your supervisory team or DGT about any issues you may be having—you are not alone in these feelings.
If you feel you need additional support, UCL has a large Wellbeing team which includes access to many online resources as well as in-person psychological services. To gain access to UCL’s Psychological services, you need to fill out a form online and then you will be contacted and added to a waitlist. If you feel your situation is urgent, you can contact the office directly for advice on what to do or ask your supervisor to do so on your behalf.
You can also self-refer yourself to NHS mental health support via a service called IAPT. Similar to the UCL service, you will be asked to fill out an online form and then get a call back and added to a waitlist for the service they decide you require.
If you would like to pay for private care, you can search for a BPS accredited psychologist. They sometimes offer reduced rates for students or those on low-incomes, it's worth enquiring.
Finally, if you are having a crisis and need emergency help, you can call the Samaritans on 116 123.
What do I do if a staff member or another student is bullying or harassing me?
UCL has a zero tolerance policy to bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. All UCL students and staff can report anonymously, or contact an advisor for support via the Report + Support service.
You can also speak to your supervisory team, DGT, Student Mediator, Cultural Consultation Service, or a Dignity Advisor (they are for PGR students as well as staff). The most important thing is not to suffer in silence.
Can I take holiday/annual leave?
Yes, we recommend you take leave in line with UCL staff holiday entitlements, which are: Full-time staff are entitled to 27 days annual leave. In addition, there are public holidays plus additional days when UCL is customarily closed.
However, you should always let your supervisor know as far in advance as possible, and considerations should be made around your assessments, and the needs of your research, e.g. experiment timing; if you will need cover, then arrangements will need to be made in line with the needs of the rest of your research team.
What if I get sick?
Hopefully if you’re sick, you will recover quickly and it won’t affect your studies. You should still tell your supervisor or PGR admin where you are though as they might worry about you otherwise.
If you are sick, physically or mentally, for a prolonged period, you may wish to apply for an interruption of studies. This means the clock pauses on your degree, as well as any tuition fees due; however, if you are paid a stipend, you need to ensure you discuss payments while on sick leave with your funder or department as stipend payments automatically pause while you’re on leave unless specific arrangements have been made with your department or funder. Many funders will cover up to 13 weeks.
What if I get pregnant?
You should apply for an interruption of studies when you wish to take maternity leave. You may apply for an interruption of up to one year in the first instance and for a maximum of two years in total. While on maternity leave, you will still have access to your single-on sign, i.e. your email and library services, as well as training opportunities.
If you are a funded student, you should speak to your funder about support available while you are on maternity leave.
We also realise it is important to continue to support you when you return to your studies. The Students’ Union has a " Parents and Carers network. PGR students are also able to access the staff carers network, PACT.
It is also possible to switch to part-time study if you need, although this could affect your funding if you receive a stipend—you should speak to your PGR admin about this in the first instance.
What if I need to pause my studies?
You may apply for an interruption of studies of up to one year in the first instance and for a maximum of two years in total. This means the clock pauses on your degree, as well as any tuition fees due. However, interrupting will usually pause your funding. Please ensure you read the Funding Information for Interrupting and Withdrawing Students.
If you are an international student with a Tier 4 visa, you may be required to leave the UK for the duration of your interruption. For queries regarding your Tier 4 visa, please contact the UCL Visa Compliance team.
Where can I find career support, especially if I don’t want to stay in academia?
Research studies are meant to support many different career paths, both inside and outside academia. Although your supervisors can often be an excellent source of support in this area, sometimes supervisors may not know that much about careers outside of academia. This is why we have a Careers service—it is there to support you through your research degree and also after you finish if you become a postdoc a UCL. They have a wealth of experience advising students on different types of opportunities, and many of them have PhDs themselves and have been exactly where you are now.