The Probationer Research Student (PRS) status is intended to be used constructively, permitting a wise choice of the research topic to be made in the context of broader reading as well as preliminary research, helping the student to become accustomed to the rhythm of graduate work, and allowing for the acquisition of any specific skills appropriate to the research.
The Transfer of Status assessment is to ensure that you are making satisfactory progress in the development of the research, to ensure that the work is of potential D.Phil. quality, and that the methodology of the research is appropriate and practicable. The procedures are intended to reduce the risk of failure and referral as far as possible, and must therefore be as rigorous as is necessary to achieve this.
When to Apply
The Examination Regulations state that PRS status can be held for a maximum of four terms. However, Departments and Faculties are strongly encouraged by the University’s Education Committee to require students to transfer status sooner, and in the Law Faculty, students are normally required to submit their transfer of status by the end of the fourth week of your third term as a PRS student.
The materials will be read by two assessors, who will conduct interview with you. You should normally expect to be interviewed within six weeks of submitting your transfer application, though this may be longer during the vacation periods due to availability of the assessors. If you haven’t heard from anyone within four weeks of the date on which you submitted the application, you are advised to contact Geraldine Malloy, the Faculty's Graduate Studies Officer.
You may, in exceptional circumstances, and with the support of your supervisor, apply to defer the date of PRS to DPhil status by writing to Geraldine Malloy. In no case may the materials for the Qualifying Test be submitted after the end of the fourth term from admission as a PRS.
How to Apply (the Qualifying Test)
Applications for transfer of status (QT) should be made using the GSO.2 and Law 2 forms.
Your transfer (QT) application should comprise the following items:
1. Thesis Title
2. Thesis Outline
3. Research Proposal (Part A - no more than 2,000 words (two copies))
4. Written Work (Part B - 10,000 words for DPhil, 6,000 words for MLitt - two bound copies)
5. Timetable for Completion
7. Research Ethics Forms (if applicable).
Part A -The statement must map out a thesis which will make a significant and substantial contribution to its field, and the proposed work must fit comfortably within your remaining two or, at most, three years. Many candidates use up about a third of their 2,000 word allowance in a general description of their proposed thesis, saying what they hope to achieve and why it matters. It is a good thing, though not essential, to be able to say briefly how things stand in your field, so as to show what advance you hope to make. The remainder of the word allowance can usefully be devoted to a provisional contents page, showing the titles of the chapters and giving a short account of what each will do. Everyone understands 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. Feel free to say that that is the case, if it is so; if you can outline the reasons for your uncertainty, so much the better. It is good to link this provisional contents page to a timetable. You need not go into great detail, but it is sensible to say roughly where you hope to be after one more year and how long you have set aside for writing up your final version. When it comes to confirmation of status towards the end of the second year, you will be asked for more a more detailed schedule leading to completion.
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 be relevant to the subject of the thesis) and must be written using the format for theses (10,000 words for DPhil, 6,000 words for MLitt). Two copies must be securely and firmly bound in either hard or soft covers. Loose-leaf binding is not acceptable. Copies which are not securely bound will not be accepted. 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 legal writing and that you can 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 the law but not an insider within your own particular field - as it might be, yourself when reading someone else’s article in a journal.
All submitted material and forms should be sent to Geraldine Malloy at the Law Faculty.
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. Both the student’s supervisor and College should then sign the form. Students in the Law Faculty will also be required to complete the supplementary LAW 2 form. Supervisors are asked [in consultation with their student] to suggest names of appropriate assessors and their willingness 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. On the Law 2 form, you are also asked to indicate that you have successfully completed an appropriate course in Research Methods (normally, Theory and Methods in Socio-Legal Research. If you haven’t successfully completed the course at the point of applying for transfer, you will need to do so before your transfer can be approved).
The Transfer assessment is a formal requirement, but the interview is not an official examination or viva, and sub fusc is not worn. The assessors will write a report and submit recommendations to the Graduate Studies Committee. Following your interview, you should normally expect to hear the outcome of their assessment within eight weeks, though this may be longer during the vacation periods. The joint assessors’ report should be 1-2 pages in length, providing a permanent record of advice given to the student at this stage and a permanent indication of the student’s progress. It should normally include a summary of the points raised in the interview, feedback on the written work submitted prior to the interview, comments on the positive aspects of the student’s work, as well as any concerns about the student’s progress and suggestions for the research going forward. Finally, for non-native English speakers, the report should indicate the assessors’ view of the student’s ability to present and defend the work in English. Significant differences of opinion between the assessors will be adjudicated by the DGS and/or Graduate Studies Committee, in consultation with the assessors and supervisors.
Criteria for Success
For transfer of status to be approved, the student will need to be able to show that their proposed thesis and treatment represents a viable topic and that their written work and interview show that they have a good knowledge and understanding of the subject. Students must show that they are competent to complete and present their thesis in English. Below are examples of possible success criteria:
1. All required coursework materials have been submitted
2. Competence in both written and spoken English
3. The aims of the research are realistic and focused
4. Evidence of wide reading and critical analysis
5. Appropriate methodology and research techniques are proposed
6. Limitations to the research are addressed
7. It is clear how the research will develop for a D.Phil
8. There is a suitable timetable for the research
9. The candidate demonstrates the progression of an argument
10. The candidate shows a scholarly and rigorous approach to research issues
11. The research topic and treatment meet the Division’s ethical standards
12. The written work and interview show that the candidate has a good overall knowledge and understanding of the subject
13. The University has adequate facilities (including supervision) to enable the research to progress
14. The student is capable of carrying out advanced research
15. The proposed schedule of work can be completed within three or at most four years
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 – Accompanied by suggestions and advice for future progress
(ii) Revision of application – The assessors may request further minor clarifications before making a first recommendation. In such cases it should be possible to complete the additional work within the term of assessment
(iii) Referral for a second attempt at transfer (with or without a further interview) – 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 the second attempt. This extension of PRS status does not affect the total amount of time permitted for registration on the D.Phil. The assessors should provide clear guidance on what needs to be done to improve the application prior to the second attempt at transfer being submitted. This may require additional written work or other evidence, and possibly the appointment of an additional assessor
Referral may simply represent attempts to ensure that the student’s work is enhanced so that it is set on the best possible course, and should not necessarily be seen as a failure.
(iv) Transfer to the MLitt Although the work presented was not suitable for transfer to D.Phil. status, nonetheless, the assessors felt it was strong enough for the lower award which is a less demanding and shorter time-scale research degree.
v) Reject the application – The assessors cannot recommend transfer to either D.Phil. status or the lower award.
At the first attempt at transfer only options (i)-(iv) will normally be chosen. At the second attempt, options (i), (iv) or (v) can be considered.
If at the first attempt a student is transferred to the lower degree s/he may accept this, or may choose to retain PRS status and make a second transfer application the following term. If a student accepts transfer to the lower degree at the first attempt, or is transferred to the lower degree at the second attempt, s/he may exceptionally be permitted one further opportunity to transfer to D.Phil. status provided that sufficient time has elapsed (normally at least six months) to allow the possibility of significant improvement, that significant progress has been made, and that the student’s supervisor supports the application. A student who is not granted transfer on the second submission is permitted to request that she or he be allowed to register retrospectively for the MSt.
If a student fails to transfer to D.Phil. status or to the status of the applicable lower degree after two transfer applications, s/he shall cease to hold the status of a PRS student and his/her name shall be removed from the Register of Graduate Students.
Deferral of Transfer of Status
Any student who has not applied to transfer status by the end of their fourth term will be required to attend a formal academic review meeting involving their supervisor(s) and 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. Application for a formal deferral of Transfer of Status for one or two further terms using the form GSO.2b is required.
Admission to DPhil status after completion of MPhil or MSt
You can apply for readmission via the graduate application form. Full information on how to apply can be found here.
You will need to submit the on-line form (by the stated late January 2017 deadline: we appreciate this is very early in the year, and that you might not be quite sure at that point whether you do or don’t intend to carry on to doctoral study; we would recommend that if in doubt, you do at least submit an application– if you then decide you don’t want to carry on to DPhil status you can simply withdraw.
As well as the form, you will also need to submit by the January deadline what is known as Part A of the application for readmission - a statement of the subject of your doctoral project in no more than 2,000 words. Again, we appreciate that it is asking quite a lot of students to require them to have a doctoral proposal finalised so early and consequently, we will allow you to make minor revisions to the proposal before the Qualifying Test itself, which happens later in the year; but bear in mind that the proposal will be used to determine whether they can provide supervision and provisionally offer you a place (conditional upon you obtaining either the MSt or MPhil and your performance in the QT). Later in the year, before unconditional admission can be approved, you will need to demonstrate to your college that you have the requisite funds for your doctorate, in the same way as you were required to provide financial assurances prior to admission to the MPhil or MSt.
You are required to submit your MPhil or MSt thesis, GSO 27 form (appointment of examiners) and new DPhil proposal to the Research Degree Office at the Exam Schools, no later than the last day of the vacation following Trinity Term (usually a date in early October). Once submitted, your thesis and proposal will be sent to your examiners and you will be transferred to Probationer Research Student status (this is to ensure that you continue to hold student status whilst the examiners read the thesis and assess your application for transfer). NB If you are able to do so, it is advantageous to submit your thesis significantly before the deadline; that way, it may be possible for the assessment to take place and for your admission to DPhil status to be approved before the start of Michaelmas Term rather than our having to admit you to Probationer Research Student status – this can help in terms of simplifying your fee position and avoiding some complications regarding obtaining visas (for those who need them). The assessors will seek not only to determine whether you should be awarded the MPhil or MSt but whether they can recommend that you be transferred to DPhil status.
If you are admitted to DPhil status, then you may incorporate your MPhil or MSt thesis into your final DPhil thesis (students are generally not permitted to submit materials for more than one degree but this is an exception to that rule).
If you are referred back on your thesis, your PRS status will be suspended, and your MPhil or MSt status will resume. You may make a further application for admission to DPhil status following the same procedures as outlined above.