Computer Laboratory

Research students' CPGS First Year Report: the PhD Proposal

All candidates for the PhD Degree are admitted on a probationary basis. A student's status with the Board of Graduate Studies will be for the CPGS in Computer Science. At the end of the first academic year, a formal assessment of progress is made. In the Computer Laboratory, this takes the form of a single document of no more than 10,000 words in length, exclusive of tables, bibliography and appendices.

The document is principally a PhD Proposal. That is, a document that demonstrates a clear path from the candidate's current position to a complete PhD dissertation at the end of the third year. The document has two purposes: (i) to help the candidate to reflect on and plan their research project and (ii) to allow the Computer Laboratory to assess the student's progress and planned research.

Content

In the document, the candidate should do the following:

  • Identify a potential problem or topic to address for the PhD.
  • Demonstrate that they are familiar with background literature. This may take the form of a survey of existing literature. This should be more than a list of papers that the candidate has read; there must be some critical assessment of past work, which will include identifying the key prior research, and identifying the strengths and weaknesses in previous work. This section of the document might be expected to form the basis of part of the candidates final PhD dissertation.
  • Describe initial work that has been done on the topic. Candidates should have already done some preliminary research. This may be early attempts at proofs, a detailed analysis of existing methods, a critique of existing systems, assembly and testing of investigative apparatus, conduct of a pilot experiment, etc. This section of the document may form the basis of a chapter of the final PhD dissertation. If the candidate has already produced an academic paper, this can be submitted as an appendix to the document; in this case the material in the paper should not be reproduced in the document but should be summarised briefly.
  • Describe the research that will be undertaken in the second and third years of the PhD. This needs to show that there is a viable route to a dissertation in two years' time. In particular, it must state the specific research question that is being addressed, with a brief discussion of why it is an important question, why it is new, and why it is interesting. It is also necessary to describe the proposed method of attacking the question and list the major steps to completion through the next two years. Some candidates find it useful to structure this as a one-page summary of the proposed dissertation, with a tentative title, a paragraph setting the context, and three or four paragraphs describing chunks of the proposed research, each of which could be the basis for an academic paper and each of which could be expected to be a chapter of the final dissertation.
  • Provide a detailed timetable, with explicit milestones against which the candidate will measure their progress.

The document should be checked by the supervisor before it is submitted. The document will be read by two other members of staff, who will interview the student about the content of the document. It should therefore give sufficient information that the assessors can satisfy themselves that all is well. It is expected that the interview will take place before the end of the first year.

Submission deadlines

  • For students admitted in Michaelmas Term, three copies, soft-bound, by June 30
  • For students admitted in Lent Term, three copies, soft-bound, by September 30
  • For students admitted in Easter Term, three copies, soft-bound, by January 10

All submissions should be made to the Secretary of the Degree Committee in Room FS03 of the William Gates Building.

Students intending to take up internships during the vacations which begin on, before or shortly after the submission deadlines must submit their report one month before departure to enable the examination process to be completed before the internship begins. No other extensions will be permitted unless otherwise authorized by the Secretary of the Degree Committee.

Oral examination

The student will be invited to discuss the documents with two assessors appointed by the student's principal supervisor. Neither of the assessors should be the student's principal supervisor though one may be the student's second advisor. Occasionally, the principal supervisor may be invited to clarify elements of the PhD Proposal and to attend the viva as an observer.

Where the initial PhD Proposal document is unsatisfactory, the assessors must ask for a revised submission and arrange a further discussion. Where the PhD Proposal is acceptable, it may still help the student to record suggested modifications in a final version of the Proposal. A copy of the revised document must be submitted to the Secretary of the Degree Committee.

The PhD Proposal document is internal to the Laboratory. However, since it is the basis for formal progress reports including registration for the PhD Degree and those made to funding bodies, assessors should endeavour to arrange a meeting where the documents should be assessed and discussed by the end of the student's first year at the latest. The Secretary of the Degree Committee should be informed of the result by the assessors via a CPGS report and by the supervisor on the Cambridge Graduate Supervision Reporting System as soon as possible thereafter.

The report will be considered by the Degree Committee which will make its recommendations on the registration of the student to the Board of Graduate Studies.

In those cases where the student's progress is wholly inadequate, the supervisor should give them a written warning, by 15 September (or the appropriate corresponding date - 15 December or 15 March), that they are in danger of termination, with copy to the Secretary of the Degree Committee.

Word limit

The word limit is a maximum; it is not a target. Successful PhD Proposal documents can be significantly shorter than the limit. Writing within the word limit is important. It is part of the discipline of producing reports. When submitting reports (and the final PhD dissertation), students will be required to sign a Statement of Word Length to confirm that the work does not exceed the limit of length prescribed (above) for the CPGS examination.

Originality

Attention is drawn to the University's guidance concerning plagiarism. The University states that "Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one's own work that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement. It is both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity." The Faculty's guidance concerning plagiarism and good academic practice can be found at https://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/teaching/exams/plagiarism.html.

Reports may be soft-bound in comb-binding or stapled.

Secretary of the Degree Committee
September 2013