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Research Student Guide: General

Management of the research programme

It is essential that the research programme is effectively managed from start to finish – from the initial definition of the project and the student’s acquisition of the necessary research skills to the final drafting of the thesis. Key features of a well-managed research project are:

  • clear definition of the aims of the project – it is important that these are not too ambitious: a student should not take on a challenge that cannot be completed in three years;
  • identification of training needs and skills and the acquisition of these by the end of the first year;
  • building up a close and productive working relationship with the supervisory team;
  • effective time management;
  • dealing with problems quickly – it is a mistake to assume that they will solve themselves.

Each student has at least two supervisors. A good and productive relationship between the student and their supervisory team is essential for the management of a successful research project. It is a partnership: the supervisors are initially leaders but, as the student’s skills grow and mature, they will increasingly take the lead in working out the next steps and solving their own problems. The supervisory role thus gradually becomes one of consultants rather than mentors. Students experiencing personal difficulties with their supervisor should consult their co-supervisor or their Institute Directors of Graduate Studies.

There are therefore three elements to a well-managed research project – the student, the supervisors and the Institute/School framework:

Roles and responsibilities of the student

Each student should:

  • work diligently on their programme of research;
  • aim to complete the programme and submit the thesis within the agreed time frame;
  • discuss with the supervisory team the type of guidance and comment that is most helpful: this is likely to vary during the course of the research as the student becomes more skilled and confident;
  • agree a schedule of meetings with the supervisory team and attend these promptly;
  • inform the supervisory team of any problems or difficulties when they arise;
  • maintain progress in accordance with the research plan;
  • submit written material in sufficient time to allow for comment and discussion. Respond constructively to comments and suggestions (although this does not alter the student’s overall responsibility for the work);
  • submit reports as required;
  • agree the proposed date for thesis submission with the supervisory team;
  • review with the supervisory team possibilities for discussing the work with third parties;
  • discuss any work proposed for publication with the supervisory team;
  • attend any programme(s) of research training, taught classes and research seminars as agreed with the supervisory team;
  • seek permission before accepting any paid work (full-time students only);
  • enrol as a student at the beginning of the programme of study and subsequently at the start of each academic year.

Roles and responsibilities of the supervisory team

All supervisors must have completed the Centre for Academic and Professional Development course on ‘How to be a PhD supervisor' (or equivalent course in another Institution) and must undertake update training at least every three years.

If the supervisor is new to Queen Mary, or about to supervise for the first time, they should consult their Institute Director of Graduate Studies regarding expectations and training.

Established supervisors who have not yet received training should also make arrangements for training via their Institute Director of Graduate Studies, or contact The Learning Institute directly for information.

At least one, and in most cases both, members of the supervisory team will be experienced in all aspects of postgraduate research in the discipline, including the research techniques required; the standard of work needed for a PhD; the costs and sources of funding; how to plan the research programme; the facilities available in the department, the College and more widely; the literature and other sources of information. They will be able to provide advice on which classes to take; which seminars, conferences and colloquia to attend; publication; intellectual property rights, and the need to avoid plagiarism and scientific fraud.

In particular, the supervisory team will:

  • meet the student frequently, both formally and informally, according to a mutually-agreed schedule, to monitor progress to date and review the programme for future work (meetings are likely to be more frequent during the early stages of the research and thereafter less so);
  • give advice on scheduling work so that the thesis will be submitted in time and provide advice and help when difficulties occur. It is the supervisors’ responsibility to ensure that students do not to take on a project that cannot be completed within four years;
  • request written work as appropriate according to an agreed timetable and return such work promptly with constructive criticism. This not only monitors progress but helps the student to develop communication skills and provides useful material for when the thesis is being written. Written work must be returned reasonably promptly; students are advised to raise lack of feedback with their Institute Director of Graduate Studies;
  • provide the student with opportunities to develop communication skills – for example, by presenting work to research group seminars or having practice oral examinations
  • monitor the student’s progress and inform them if it is not satisfactory;
  • provide regular reports on student progress to the Graduate Studies Committee
  • advise the student on discussing work with third parties and introducing them to other scholars in the field;
  • give advice on the availability of English language classes if necessary
  • give information on the Institute’s health and safety regulations;
  • monitor the student’s general welfare;
  • inform the Institute, the Research Degrees Office and any funding body if the student ceases to attend regularly or fails to progress over a prolonged period;
  • advise the Institute when the thesis is ready for submission and suggest the names of potential examiners.

Research Ethics Committee

In most cases where human participants are involved a student’s proposed programme of research study will require research ethics approval. Many Research Councils now require ethical review for funded projects and studentships. The College has a Research Ethics Committee that reviews proposals and grants approval. For research that involves NHS patients and/or facilities are likely to require ethical approval from the National Research Ethics Council.

Guidance on research ethics can be found at: http://connect.qmul.ac.uk/research/ethicscommittee/

Complaints Procedure

Research students should use the College Complaints Procedure which provides for complaints to be dealt with by the Head of Department (stage 2), with problems that could not be resolved at departmental level being referred to the Academic Registrar (stage 3). On the other hand, research student appeals against upgrading required a separate hearing before a Panel chaired by the Chair of the Graduate Schools’ Management Committee. The new arrangements provide a single procedure for dealing with all complaints and appeals by research students, whatever their source.

Stage 1

Problems should initially be raised with one or both of the supervisors, and it is hoped that most difficulties can be settled at this stage.

Stage 2

Complaints that cannot be settled in this way should be referred to the Institute Director of Graduate Studies who will investigate the matter and seek to resolve it.

Stage 3

Complaints unresolved at stage 2, which will include all appeals against the decision of an upgrading panel, should be referred by the Institute Director of Graduate Studies to the Dean for Postgraduate Studies who will convene a Panel consisting of themselves (Chair), with one member of the Graduate Studies Committee from the complainant’s department who has not been previously involved with the issue, and one other Institute Director of Graduate Studies. If all members of the Graduate Studies Committee within the Department have had previous involvement in the case, the Chair will appoint a member from the Graduate Studies Committee of a cognate department.

The Panel will interview the complainant, the supervisor(s), and any other person they consider appropriate. The Panel may ask for any documentation it considers relevant.

The Panel will take a decision by majority vote. It may decide:

  • To reject the complaint in its entirety
  • To accept the complaint in part
  • To accept the complaint in full

The Panel will give its decision, with a summary of its reasons, in writing to the complainant and all relevant parties.

If the Panel accepts the complaint either in part or in full, it will then proceed to consider what further action, including any remedial action, to propose. Before taking a final decision on remedial action, the Panel will consult the Dean of Graduate Studies and the Academic Registrar. If the complaint concerned upgrading the Panel shall have the authority to upgrade the student’s registration to Ph.D.

Stage 4

If the Panel rejects the complaint in whole or in part, the complainant may appeal against its decision on one or more of the following grounds:

  • That the Panel did not follow the above procedures
  • That the student was denied natural justice

Appeal against the decision of a Panel will be in accordance with Stage 4 of the Complaints Policy, the appeal being considered by a Vice-Principal.

Stage 5

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of Stage 4, they may petition the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education). Details are provided in paragraphs 24-25 of the College’s General Complaints Policy.

Academic Offences

Plagiarism

All work submitted in connection with your thesis, including the abstract, must be your own work, expressed in your own words. Plagiarism – the presentation of another's thoughts, words or experimental results as if they were your own – must be strictly avoided. Where you use quotations from published or unpublished works of other persons, they must always be clearly indicated by being placed inside quotation marks, with the source indicated in some way (for example, in a footnote), and the source work listed in the bibliography at the end of your thesis. Equally, if you refer to another person’s ideas, judgements or experimental results, you must acknowledge their origin in the same way. The average person reading your thesis should be able to distinguish quite clearly between your own contribution to the research, and the ideas and information that have been obtained from other sources.

If you ignore these rules, and fail to acknowledge material or ideas obtained from other sources, you could be accused of plagiarism (the theft of another person’s work, with the intent to pass it off as your own). There is no need to prove that you intended to plagiarise: the fact that you have used another person’s words or ideas without acknowledgement is the offence. Therefore sloppy referencing or poor proof-reading can have potentially serious implications. All cases of plagiarism will be treated extremely severely: the punishment for plagiarism in a major piece of work such as a thesis would normally be expulsion.

Scientific Fraud

Scientific fraud is defined as one of the following:

  • the falsification of results
  • the ‘invention’ of experiments or surveys
  • the invention of source material in order to support the argument in your thesis

This is a one of the most serious of academic offences: a person who is prepared to fabricate results shows that they cannot be trusted to undertake independent research. This will be regarded extremely seriously by the College and, if proved, will almost certainly result in your expulsion.

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