Transfer from Probationer Research Student (PRS) Status to DPhil or MPhil

You are first registered as a Probationer Research Student (PRS). While you hold this status you will further define and focus your research project, become accustomed to the rhythm of graduate work, and acquire any specific skills relevant to your research.

As a probationary student within a DPhil programme you need to formally transfer to full DPhil student status. Please consult the formal examination regulations for detail: you need any further advice on this or any other procedural matter at any time during your research degree Geraldine Malloy  will be able to provide it.  

Occasionally you may encounter a discrepancy between the requirements of the CSLS and the Faculty. In those cases you should follow Centre directions. When in doubt, please consult your supervisor or the Centre DGS.

The Examination Regulations state that PRS status can be held for a maximum of four terms. Departments and Faculties are strongly encouraged by the University’s Education Committee to require students to transfer status sooner.  A Faculty student is expected therefore apply for a Qualification Test (QT) assessment by the end of the fourth week of the third term as a probationary student. Although CSLS also encourages students to work within that timeline, we recognise that in the case of a student who is developing a project that requires extensive preparation for fieldwork (as many socio-legal projects do), it is more realistic to expect  QT submission closer to the end of the TT.  In exceptional circumstances, and with the support of the supervisor, a student may apply to defer the date of transfer from PRS to DPhil status for one more term. However, in no case may the materials for the Qualifying Test be submitted after the end of the fourth term from admission as a PRS.

The purpose of the Transfer of Status assessment is to ensure that you are making satisfactory progress in the development of your research; to ensure that the work is of potential D.Phil. quality; and to ensure that the methodology of the research is appropriate and practicable. The transfer process provides an opportunity for you to discuss your work with two independent members of staff (not including your supervisor) and to receive feedback.

How to Apply for Transfer of Status (the Qualifying Test)

Applications for transfer of status (QT) should be made using the GSO.2 and Law 2 forms obtainable from Students are required to complete the forms and to provide supplementary information on development of both research-specific and personal and professional skills during their time as a Probationer Research Student. Students are also required to indicate whether their work requires research ethics approval.

The transfer (QT) submission should include two copies of:

- Part A: a research proposal (of no more than 2000 words), together with a provisional outline of the thesis attached, plus a timetable for completion, and a bibliography.
- Part B: a chapter related to the thesis.  Maximum of 10,000 words for DPhil or 6,000 words for an MLitt.
- A fully completed Research Ethics form (if applicable).

Part A :  The statement must map out a thesis that will make a significant and substantial contribution to its field, and the proposed work on it must fit comfortably within your remaining two or three years of research. It should clearly articulate a central research question and present a well thought-out methodology showing how you intend to address your question. The question should be grounded on an extensive review of the relevant literature and be theoretically sound. In Part A you might wish to say what you hope to achieve and why it matters.

The provisional thesis outline or contents page should display the titles of the chapters and give a brief account of what each will contain.  The assessors will understand that you cannot at this early stage be bound by this, also that there may be some chapters which you are not yet able to see into with much clarity. However, being able to provide a provisional structure of the thesis is a strong indication of a developed research proposal

Part B:   A substantial piece of written work which will generally be intended to form part of the proposed thesis (or if not, at least to be relevant to the subject of the thesis).  It must be written using the approved format for theses.

Your crucial task in the Part B submission is to show the reader that you can carry out the sustained argument that will be needed to accomplish the project you propose in your Part A statement. The best way to do that is usually to engage in an important part of the argument that the DPhil will present. The assessors will look to Part B for evidence that you have mastered the craft of serious academic writing and that you can forcefully engage in scholarly debates and conduct a complex argument in an orderly, structured and lucid manner. The argument should be clear and cogent, and not written so as to be intelligible only to a tiny number of insiders. Keep in your sights a notional reader who is well-informed and well-grounded in socio-legal studies but not an insider within your own particular field. Alternatively, the imagined reader might be yourself, reading someone's article in a journal in order to understand what it is that the article contributes.  

The application forms plus all the material must be submitted in two copies to Geraldine Malloy at the Law Faculty. Copies of part A and B must be securely and firmly bound in either hard or soft covers. Copies which are not securely bound will not be accepted.

The QT Assessment procedure

The candidate's supervisor is asked [in consultation with the student] to suggest the names of appropriate assessors and to inquire whether they are willing to act. The prospective assessors will normally be academic members of staff working in the University of Oxford; only in exceptional circumstances will an external assessor be appointed.

Students can normally expect to be interviewed within 5 weeks of submitting their transfer application, though the QT may take longer to arrange during vacation periods depending on the availability of the assessors.

The transfer assessment is a formal requirement, but the interview is not an official examination or viva and subfusc is not worn.  Following your interview the assessors will write a report and submit their recommendations to the Graduate Studies Committee. You should normally expect to hear the outcome of their assessment within eight weeks, though it may take longer during the vacation periods. Assessors will consider whether the student is capable of carrying out advanced research, and will aim to provide constructive criticism and advice to enable the student to identify and address deficiencies and thereby strengthen their proposed research project.  

Outcomes of Transfer of Status

The assessors may recommend one of five outcomes, which must be considered and approved by the Graduate Studies Committee.

(i)  Successful transfer. This recommendation is normally accompanied by suggestions and advice for future progress.

(ii)  Revision of the application. The assessors may request further minor clarifications before making a recommendation. In such cases it is usually possible to complete the additional work within the current term of assessment.

(iii)  Referral back to the student for a second attempt at transfer. This should normally involve the same assessors and take place within one term of the first attempt. If the first attempt is made in the fourth term or later of PRS status, a one-term extension of PRS status is automatically granted to allow time for the second attempt. This extension of PRS status does not affect the total amount of time permitted for registration for the D.Phil. The assessors should provide clear guidance on what needs to be done to improve the application prior to the submission of a second attempt at transfer. This may require additional written work or other evidence, and possibly the appointment of an additional assessor.  Referral should not be seen as a failure.  It may represent an attempt by the assessors to ensure that the student’s work is enhanced so that it is set on the best possible course. 

(iv) Transfer to the M.Litt.  In a case in which the work presented is not suitable for transfer to D.Phil. status, the assessors may nonetheless judge that it is strong enough for the MLitt degree programme.  The M.Litt award is a research degree that is less demanding than a D.Phil. or M.Phil. and has a shorter time-scale

(v) Rejection of the application.  In this case the assessors cannot recommend transfer to either D.Phil. or MLitt status.

At the first attempt at transfer only options (i)-(iv) will normally be chosen. At the second attempt, options (i), (ii), (iv) or (v) may also be considered.

If a student fails to transfer to D.Phil. status or to the status of the applicable lower degree after two transfer applications, she or he shall cease to hold the status of a PRS student and his or her name will be removed from the Register of Graduate Students. In such circumstances, informal counselling, often involving the student’s college, should be an integral part of the procedures.

Deferral of Transfer of Status

Any student who has not applied to transfer their status by the end of their fourth term will be required to attend a formal academic review meeting involving their supervisor(s) and the Director of Graduate Studies (or at least one other member of academic staff who may or may not be a future assessor for Transfer of Status). The purpose of this meeting will be to review progress to date, and to draw up a clear timetable to ensure that Transfer of Status is successfully achieved within six terms as required by the Examination Regulations. The student will also be required to apply for a formal deferral of Transfer of Status for one or two further terms using the form GSO.2b available online via Student Self Service.

The student is required to complete the form, which should then be signed by the student’s supervisor and appropriate College officer, and also be approved by the CSLS Director of Graduate Studies. In exceptional cases only, an extension of PRS status may be granted beyond six terms. Applications for such extensions require the approval of the University’s Education Committee for formal dispensation under the Examination Regulations. Students should contact Geraldine Malloy, Graduate Studies Officer, for details of the application process. Any extensions to PRS status do not affect the overall time permitted for registration on the D.Phil.