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Milestones, Progress and Assessment

The Research Ethics Framework provides a clear and consistent standard of governance for ethical review procedures across the University of Exeter. 

It represents the benchmark for considering existing, or implementing revised, review procedures. 

‌If research (at any level) involves one of the following, it will normally require ethical review: 

  • Research involving human participants, or the use of material derived from human participants (this includes questionnaires and interviews). 
  • Research involving the use of any personal data. 
  • Research involving animals (this applies to all animals, including invertebrates, fish, and other non-protected species, and includes behavioural and observation studies). 
  • Research that has the potential to raise social issues or have any environmental impact. 

Ethical approval should be carried out prior to starting research. 

Postgraduate Researchers should use Worktribe Ethics for new applications. Most staff and PGRs will have automatic access to Worktribe. However, if you experience difficulties in accessing Worktribe please see the further support page for help. 

Each department has its own ethical review process; please refer to your intranet or contact your project supervisor, Ethics Officer or Gail Seymour, the Secretary to University Ethics Committee.

Your ongoing progress is monitored through the MyPGR system. All students are required to complete AMR to monitor progress, identify and resolve problems and provide feedback, in line with the University’s Code of Good Practice for Annual Monitoring of Research Students. AMR usually starts in January and is completed by May. 

All students and supervisors are encouraged to read the Doctoral College AMR Webpage for further information about the AMR process, outcomes and to confirm the relevant dates per cycle. The questions that will be asked are also available on the AMR Webpage.

The purposes of AMR are: 

  • to assist the University in ensuring parity of provision and treatment for students across the University; 
  • to identify problems either in a student's programme of study or in the student-supervisor relationship; 
  • to assess student progress in order to give feedback to the student; 
  • to monitor the nature and frequency of research supervision and other facilities offered; 
  • and to assist in making formal decisions about unsatisfactory progress. 

Submission of Forms  

All students (including those on full time, part time, on short interruptions, continuation status or who have submitted but are waiting to do corrections or resubmission of their thesis this year) are asked to complete a report. You will be asked questions relating to your progress in your studies and your supervision.  The forms are available online via MyPGR and you will receive details on the process via email. 

Students and supervisors independently submit reports about progress over the previous year since the last AMR. Supervisors cannot see the reports that students submit, and vice versa. 


An AMR Panel for each department is held and the progress of each student is reviewed. Follow up actions are taken as appropriate to best support the progress of each student and students will receive an email once AMR is complete. 

The University has a Code of Good Practice which sets out the procedures through which unsatisfactory progress, engagement and attendance for all students should be handled. 

Identifying Unsatisfactory Student Progress, Engagement and Attendance (USPEA) 

For postgraduate research students, unsatisfactory student progress, engagement or attendance is usually identified when a student has not met the requirements laid out under Responsibilities of Students in the ‘Code of Good Practice - Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students’ or the PGR Attendance Policy, as specified in the Faculty’s own Code of Practice, or as identified by their supervisory team, and might arise from supervisory termly progress review meetings. Unsatisfactory progress, engagement or attendance may be identified at any point during a student’s period of study when concerns are raised by a supervisory team about the pace or quality of a student’s work, if there are concerns about a student’s engagement with the programme, or if a student fails to meet their attendance requirements as agreed with their supervisors and as defined in their supervisory agreement. Concerns may also be picked up  as part as of the Annual Monitoring Review process as set out in the ‘Code of Good Practice: Annual Monitoring Review’, or where additional time is needed, such as an application to defer the upgrade from MPhil to Doctoral Study,  or application for an extension to study. 

Unsatisfactory Student Engagement: is considered in instances where the student has not engaged with supervisory sessions or has not responded to communications from their supervisor. Other missed contact points may include lack of engagement with MyPGR, training/research events, upgrade or annual monitoring processes. For students on ‌Tier 4/Student visas warnings can also be given under USPE - see Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement.

Unsatisfactory Academic Progress: is considered in instances where students are having difficulties in meeting reasonable requirements in their work. Deadlines may be missed, or the quality of work does not meet the expectations for the stage you are in your degree. There may also be concerns about the pace of your work and concerns that you may not meet your upgrade or submission deadlines. 

Unsatisfactory Attendance: is considered in instances where students fail to meet arranged events relating to their research degree. This may include virtual or physical (on-campus) attendance to scheduled supervisory meetings, research seminars, training, laboratory sessions, fieldwork etc.

The purpose of the Unsatisfactory Student Progress, Engagement and Attendance procedures is to inform students where there are concerns about either their academic progress, engagement or attendance and to set clear and achievable deadlines for the student to help them get back on track. Although it is a formal procedure, the goal is to ensure that students know what actions need to be taken to address concerns with their study.

If a supervisor has concerns about a student's academic progress or engagement, they should contact the faculty PGR support team who will provide support through this process and issue the letters at each stagePlease contact your PGR Support Team for specific advice. 


Before USPEA is triggered, a progress check letter may be sent to students who are falling behind with their progress, have not met deadlines or are not engaging with their studies or supervision. It may also be issued where students registered on an on-campus programme or students with a Student/Tier 4 visa fail to attend their on-campus sessions as required by their programme or visa. It should be noted that a progress check is not a formal warning of unsatisfactory progress, engagement or attendance. Students should be invited to share any concerns that they may have, or invited to discuss matters affecting their progress, engagement or attendance of which their supervisors or the University may not be aware. There are three stages for dealing with USPEA (see the University Code of Practice for further details): 

  1. Initial Warning:  Concerns with a student’s progress, engagement or attendance may be best picked up in discussion with a member of staff, however, to constitute an initial warning a record must be kept and a copy sent to the student concerned. In discussion students should be invited to explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to perform satisfactorily, which they could not reasonably have informed the Facultyof earlier. 
  2. Final Warning:  If concerns about unsatisfactory progress, engagement or attendance are not satisfactorily addressed following an initial warning, or if further concerns about the student arise within 12 months of receipt of the initial warning, the student should be referred to the appropriate Pro-Vice-chancellor (or appointed deputy) who should issue the student with a final warning. The student will be provided with the opportunity to arrange a meeting, where they can explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to comply with the terms of their initial warning or which led to further unsatisfactory progress, engagement or attendance which they could not reasonably have informed the Faculty of earlier. 
  3. Referral to Faculty Director of PGR and Dean of Postgraduate Research:  If a student’s performance, engagement and/or attendance remain unsatisfactory following issue of a final warning, or if further concerns are picked up within 12 months of receipt of the final warning, the Faculty Director of PGR will meet with the student to let them know that they will be reporting them to the Dean of Postgraduate Research with a recommendation about the next action. The student will be invited to explain if there are any circumstances, which were unavoidable, and which prevented their failure to comply with the terms of their final warning, which they could not reasonably have informed the Faculty of earlier. If the student misses the meeting, they will be directly reported to the Dean of Postgraduate Research. 

Some of the qualifications awarded by the University lead to a professional qualification, statutory (legal) registration or admission to a professional body. You are expected to behave in a manner appropriate to the Code of Conduct (or equivalent) of the regulatory body for your profession, and to the University's regulations. 

Examples of such qualifications include teaching qualifications and diagnostic radiographers. When we award such a qualification, we must be sure that not only have you demonstrated appropriate academic achievements, but also that you have demonstrated the appropriate professional skills and attitudes required for entry to your profession and that you will be a safe and suitable entrant to the profession. Physical or mental health reasons may also be a cause for someone being deemed to be unfit to practise. 

Where there are concerns about your suitability for the award of a qualification leading to such a profession, the University will consider your case through our Fitness to Practise procedure. 

Details of the procedure can be found by clicking on the following link: 

Fitness to Practise procedure

Please note that this information is for students who began their studies from the 2019/20 academic year onwards. If you began your studies before the 2019/20 academic year, please contact your PGR Support Team for specific advice. 

Most research students at the University of Exeter studying to obtain a PhD are initially registered for the MPhil. Those wishing to gain a PhD need to transfer or ‘upgrade’ from MPhil to PhD. Students and supervisors need to be aware that this is a significant milestone in the progress towards a PhD, towards which they should be working. Some students who initially register for a Masters by Research programme may also consider upgrading their research to PhD, and will go through a similar process as the MPhil to PhD upgrade. 

Full details about Upgrade from MPhil or MByRes to PhD are available in the 9 - Upgrade from MPhil or MByRes to Doctoral Study 

Read about the experiences of some of our past students who have completed their upgrade through the Doctoral College Blog

Upgrade from Masters By Research (MByRes) to PhD

MByRes students considering extending their research and who wish to apply to upgrade to PhD should first speak to their supervisor and PGR Support team to discuss further. Students will need to complete an MByRes Intention to Upgrade form and submit to their PGR Support team no less than 4 weeks before the Faculty upgrade deadline (pro-rata for part time students). Your Faculty upgrade deadline will be approximately 7.5-9 months after a full time student’s start date and you must check with your PGR Support team for the exact date as the deadline varies between Departments.

Students wishing to upgrade from Masters by Research programmes must demonstrate that they have met the entry requirements for the doctoral programme. Exceptions to the entry requirements for upgrade to the doctorate may only be considered as an exception by the Faculty Director of PGR.

MByRes students who hold a Tier 4/Student Visa and students who are in receipt of funding including Student Loans should note that they may not be able to upgrade due to the limitations of their visa or funding. They are encouraged to discuss further with their PGR Support team in the first instance and are encouraged to refer to the International Student Support Office webpages and the PGR Student Loans pages for further information.

The Upgrade Process 

The purpose of the upgrade process is to: 

  1. Confirm that the student is making satisfactory progress; 
  2. Confirm that there is evidence that the student is able to produce work of doctoral quality; 
  3. Act as a structural milestone within the student’s research journey;Provide the student with formal feedback on their work, and a developmental opportunity in the form of a viva; 
  4. Provide an opportunity for a detailed review of the research project and plan to take place from experts independent of the supervisory team. 

Students are notified once their upgrade deadline has been added to their contact diary in MyPGR. In exceptional circumstances beyond the student's control, applications for deferral to the upgrade deadline may be made. These will be considered by the Department Director of Postgraduate Research. Students upgrading from MByRes to PhD will receive an email confirming the upgrade submission deadline after their MByRes Intention to Upgrade form has been received. MByRes students will submit their upgrade documents by email to their PGR Support Team as upgrade is not currently available in MyPGR for MByRes students.

It is the student’s responsibility to meet the deadline. Students who miss the deadline to submit their upgrade report and fail to request an extension to this deadline, or if their application has been declined, will receive an initial warning, under the TQA Manual ‘Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement Procedures’. 

Generative AI statement: all students must include a statement in the title page of their upgrade portfolio submission which confirms if and how they have used Generative AI in the creation and preparation of their work. Full details are available under Section 6 at in the TQA: 9 - Upgrade from MPhil or MByRes to Doctoral Study - Teaching Quality Assurance Manual - University of Exeter

The Upgrade Committee will normally comprise an assessor and the Director of Postgraduate Research (or their nominated Chair). In some cases, an additional assessor may be required. The student’s lead supervisor should attend as an observer only.

As a part of the process of upgrade, your Upgrade Committee will engage you in a verbal examination of your work, called a viva (from viva voce). We consider this an important milestone in your studies, providing you with the opportunity to explain your work to the committee and receive independent feedback. It is a process which will help you prepare for your final thesis examination. 

We offer flexibility in the format for upgrade vivas: 

  • Virtual viva: where every attendee uses an online platform to attend the viva – no two attendees are in the same room 
  • Blended viva: where at least one attendee joins by video link, but two or more attendees are in the same room 
  • In-person viva: where all attendees are in the same room and there are no remote attendees 

When you are preparing to submit your upgrade documents, you are encouraged to discuss your preferred format of attendance for the viva with your DPGR or upgrade assessment panel. Whilst we will do our best to accommodate your preferences, there may be circumstances where one or more attendees must participate remotely. It is expected that decisions about attendance at the upgrade viva will be made in the contact of the University’s Sustainability Policy and with particular regard to prioritising low-carbon solutions such as video link as opposed to travelling to campus. 

To agree that an examination may proceed with a virtual or blended viva, your Faculty DPGR needs to: 

  • make sure that it is feasible for all participants to proceed in the proposed format, which includes appropriate communications technology access, which must be satisfactorily tested in advance, to minimise the likelihood of any disruptions to communications in the viva; 
  • If you have an ILP: make sure that any adjustments to the viva required can still be made. 

At the end of the viva the Committee will ask the supervisor to leave and the student will have the opportunity to make any comments they wish to the Committee without their supervisor being present. Students will receive written feedback on their submission and performance in the viva. 

The objectives of the assessment are listed below: 

  • Review progress and assess status of project and feasibility of experimental targets 
  • Determine whether the student is on track for submission of the thesis by the intended submission date as determined by the student/supervisor (i.e. end of funding period or 3/3.5 years) 
  • Determine whether the student can write effectively 
  • Determine whether the student can effectively analyse and interpret their experimental work 
  • Review student’s awareness of the significance of their work in the wider field 

Upgrade Outcomes

At the first attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available: 

  1. Pass; 
  2. Require completion of minor amendments within 2 months; 
  3. Refer for a second attempt within 3 months and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’.

At the second attempt at upgrade, the following outcomes are available: 

  1. Pass; 
  2. Remain registered as an MPhil or MByRes student, where a student has provided satisfactory evidence of their ability to submit work of MPhil/MByRes quality, within the appropriate time-frame for an MPhil/MByRes; 
  3. Remain registered as an MPhil/MByRes student and normally recommend initiation or progression of a case under the 'Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement: Code of Good Practice’. 

Upon review of a second submission by a student, if the Upgrade Committee are satisfied that a recommendation of ‘pass’ can be made to the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Faculty without the necessity for a second viva they may make this recommendation to the Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Faculty without delay. 

If the Upgrade Committee recommend that the student is upgraded to PhD, the completion date on MyPGR will be updated accordingly in line with the maximum period of study permitted for PhD study.  

Funded students should be mindful that their funding end date does not usually change following successful upgrade to PhD, and should check the conditions of their funding in their financial offer letter or directly with their funder. 

The Upgrade Timeline

The University directs that the upgrade process (i.e., document submitted, viva held, and any corrections or amendments approved) should normally have been completed by the end of the first year of registration for full time students (pro rata for part-time students). Specific information regarding deadlines for each department can be found below. The deadline to submit your upgrade portfolio will be shown in MyPGR (or confirmed via email if you are an MByRes student who's MByRes Intention to Upgrade form has been approved). Your upgrade viva will take place after your upgrade portfolio has been submitted and reviewed by the Upgrade Committee. Arrangements of the upgrade viva vary by department, see the department specific upgrade guidance. 

Deferral of Upgrade Deadlines

In exceptional circumstances beyond the student's control applications to defer the deadline for upgrade may be made. These must be approved by the Faculty Director of Postgraduate Research. 

Further information about extensions to upgrade deadlines and to download a copy of the deferral form, please refer to Appendix 1 in the TQA, Chapter 5 - Periods of registration and changes to registration status for graduate research students.


Reasonable Adjustments

If you have a disability or chronic health condition and feel that you may be eligible for reasonable adjustments, please discuss your needs and requests for reasonable adjustments to learning or examination with the AccessAbility Team (Exeter campuses) or the Accessibility Team (Cornwall campuses) prior to your examination/assessment being scheduled.

For Faculty of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) please see detailed requirements here: Other Discipline and Programme Specific Requirements |   | University of Exeter

For Faculty of Health and Life Sciences (HLS), please see detailed requirements here: Other Department and Programme Specific Requirements |   | University of Exeter

For Faculty of Environment, Science and Economy (ESE) please see here: Other Department and Programme Specific Requirements  |   | University of Exeter