Life as a research student FAQs

Here are some frequently asked questions about life as a research student. For more detailed and more authoritative answers to your questions please consult the Faculty's postgraduate research student handbook.

Who will be my supervisor?

A supervisor will be assigned to you by the Faculty before you arrive to start your research. The Faculty will not admit students for whom an appropriate supervisor cannot be identified in advance.

Your wish to work with a particular person cannot always be honoured. There is no reason to expect your supervisor to be attached to your own college. Sometimes, depending on the direction of your work, you may end up with two supervisors, in series or in parallel. Substitute supervision will be arranged if your supervisor goes on leave.

  • Please see our 'People' section for details of faculty member's research interests

What will be my supervisor's role?

He or she will advise you on the initial selection and framing of your topic. Then he or she will read your draft chapters, meet to discuss them, and give advice on how to develop them into to a satisfactory thesis. In the early stages, you might expect to meet your supervisor as often as weekly. In the middle phases, no less than monthly. Towards the end, when the whole project is coming together, the frequency might well increase again as the final draft is read.

Do I have to take any taught courses as a research student?

Only the compulsory course in Legal Research Method in your first year as a research student. This course has no examination. You pass it by attending and participating.

What is the 'qualifying test'?

A test taken during your third term to qualify you as a full MLitt or DPhil student. Until then you are a probationer. In the Law Faculty version of the qualifying test you submit a thesis outline and a sample of your work (e.g. a draft chapter) to two assessors, who check that you are making progress at the right pace and level and report back to the Faculty. Their report will also assist you and your supervisor in making progress afterwards. If you take a one-year research degree MPhil, and want to proceed to DPhil, you can arrange to have your proposal for DPhil work assessed at the same time as your MPhil thesis; the MPhil examination then doubles as your qualifying test.

Can I attend seminars and lectures that interest me?

You may attend anything you like that appears on the printed lecture list for any faculty or department, unless special indications are given to the contrary. In small group seminars it is polite to ask since these may have a more personal dynamic that you might upset.

What part does my College play in the programme?

Typically the College's academic role is more limited in the case of research students than in the case of students on taught courses. That is because every research student has a University supervisor with overall responsibility for his or her academic progress. However the college retains an interest. The law tutors (if any) and the tutor for graduates will typically be available to provide extra advice and support. The college also has various administrative, disciplinary, domestic, and pastoral functions. It may also be the place where you live, for at least part of your time as a research student.

Will I have my own desk or workspace provided by the Faculty?

There is a dedicated Graduate Reading Room, although without individually assigned seats. It has 40 reader workstations: 24 of which have power and ethernet connections available (the rest are covered by the wireless network) and several sofas for more relaxed reading. Those in college accommodation will normally find that their room is set up as a live/work space. Colleges also have their own libraries, and many have separate law libraries where you will find extra workspaces.

Are there any discussion groups for research students?

Many subject areas have active discussion groups. Often members of the Faculty attend alongside research students. Some of these have occasional visiting speakers as well as showcasing the work in progress of regular attendees.

Does the Faculty make any grants to its research students?

The Faculty awards an increasing number of scholarships and bursaries annually to new or continuing research students. The Faculty also has a budget to help pay for its research students to attend conferences or otherwise travel in connection with their work. Some colleges will match this money. Some colleges also have further small grant programmes for research students.

Will I be able to do paid non-academic work during my research degree?

Graduate students in the Faculty of Law are permitted to work up to 8 hours per week, or a reasonable average. 

The University guidelines stipulate that students on research courses (such as a DPhil) are advised that any paid work should still allow them to spend at least 40 hours per week for a minimum 44 weeks of the year on their studies.

Will there be any opportunities to teach or act as a research assistant?

Work opportunities offered by the Faculty include research assistance, teaching assistance, conference assistance and blog editing.  Wherever possible these opportunities are advertised on the Vacancies page on the Faculty website.

Please see the Graduate Teaching Assistantship page for information about this Law Faculty programme, which covers undergraduate teaching for colleges as well as teaching assistance to Subject Convenors.

The Faculty provides a short training programme for research students at the end of their first year so that they are qualified to make themselves available for tutorial teaching in the following year (please visit the Preparation for Teaching and Learning page for further information).

You must not exceed the guidelines above for the number of hours per week you spend in paid employment, and you should always obtain your supervisor's approval before engaging in paid work of any kind.

Can I get involved in any pro bono legal work through the Faculty?

The Faculty plays host to a voluntary organisation called Oxford Pro Bono Publico, which provides a range of pro bono support services to solicitors and banisters who are themselves working on a pro bono basis. Research students in the Law Faculty are encouraged to volunteer for Oxford Pro Bono Publico, so long as they have the consent of their supervisors, and subject to the guidelines above for extra-curricular work.

Is there research student representation in Faculty decision-making?

Yes, there is research student representation on the Faculty's graduate studies committee and on the Faculty Board. There is also a graduate student representative on the Committee for Library Provision in Law. The Faculty's graduate student society organises the election of representatives. There is a senior faculty officer ¬the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (Research) - with whom issues can also be raised.

Who deals with research student records and administration?

The Law Faculty has its own Graduate Studies Officer who helps law graduate students with all the formalities. There is also central Graduate Studies Office in the University which handles certain aspects of admissions and support for all of the University's postgraduate students.

Where can I find the answer to my other questions?

Try the Faculty's postgraduate research handbook, or the University's graduate academic guidance webpage. Ask your supervisor if one has already been allocated, or your college law tutor if you have already been admitted to a college. Or contact the Faculty's Graduate Studies Officer, who will pass your query on to the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (Research) if necessary.

Got a question about admission for graduate study? Graduate admissions FAQs are here

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