The research thesis is expected to be an original piece of empirical work of relevance to clinical psychology, demonstrating the candidate’s ability to apply scientific principles and undertake rigorous investigation. It should be of publishable quality, making a distinct contribution to the knowledge of the subject and affording evidence of originality.
The work done for the thesis must not have been submitted in fulfilment of the requirements of any other degree, and it must be the candidate’s own work. If the candidate is working in a team or analysing previously collected data the candidate’s personal contribution must be clearly defined. The criterion of acceptability is that the candidate is making a substantial independent contribution to the study.
The course supports a pluralistic approach to research. The candidate is free to choose from a range of approaches and paradigms as long as the research methods are appropriate to the research questions or hypotheses being investigated.
It should be borne in mind that, due to the multiple demands of clinical training, trainees are allotted relatively little time in which to do their project. We therefore do not hope for large or flawless studies, but we do expect that the research will be executed in a rigorous and professional manner.
Theses are normally sent out to examiners in July for the September vivas. Before the viva, the internal and the external examiner each independently complete a report on the thesis.
The purpose of the viva is for the examiners to understand the candidate’s thinking about the material in the thesis (and also to establish their claim to independence of work). The candidate should be given the opportunity to explain any deficiencies or clarify any issues raised by the examiners.
Following the viva, the examiners compile a brief joint report. This includes an agreed evaluation of the written thesis and an assessment of the candidate’s performance in the viva. The result of the examination must be assigned to one of the five categories below. This is a recommendation subject to ratification by the Board of Examiners.
Outcomes of the viva
In arriving at an overall evaluation, examiners will bear in mind that strengths in some areas of the thesis may compensate for weaknesses in others. The more important or innovative the topic or method, the more forgivable are shortcomings: it is relatively easy to do methodologically sound but trivial research; harder to do innovative research that is scientifically or professionally significant.
The following categories are not “marks” in the sense of corresponding to A, B, C, etc.; rather they are to be thought of as specifying what is needed to bring the thesis up to an acceptable standard. It is possible, for example, that a generally excellent thesis may have some flaws requiring corrections, or that a competent but rather uninspiring thesis be awarded a pass.
The indicative times given next to each correction type (i.e. one month, three months, one year) represent the maximum time the candidate is given to make the corrections. However, it is possible that candidates may be able to submit their corrections earlier, and indeed the requirements for HPC registration put them under some pressure to get their thesis finally approved. Ultimately, the examiners will judge how well the corrections have been completed, rather than how long they have taken to be completed.
A well-conducted and well-presented study. Any small deficiencies in conceptualisation, measurement, design or execution are counterbalanced by positive qualities and a thorough discussion of methodological limitations. Minimal typographical or stylistic errors.
Pass conditional on minor corrections (one month)
A thesis which meets the criteria for a pass, but has some weaknesses that are fairly readily correctable. Corrections might include adding some further material; rewriting several pages; some re-analysis or re-presentation of the data; or correction of a large number of typographical or stylistic errors. (Theses with minimal presentational errors can, at the Board of Examiners’ discretion, be awarded a Pass.)
Referred for stipulated revisions (three months)
A thesis which has several substantial flaws in the analysis or write-up. Stipulated revisions might include the addition of substantial new material; a significant amount of rewriting, often in several parts of the thesis; or an extensive re-analysis of the data, which will usually necessitate revising the discussion of the findings.
Referred for major revisions (one year)
A badly thought-out or extremely poorly presented piece or work with serious flaws that are not convincingly explained in the viva. The thesis requires a very substantial re-conceptualisation, rewriting, or re-analysis to be brought up to passing standard. Revisions that require the collection of a significant amount of new data also fall under this category. A further oral examination, following resubmission, may be held at the examiners’ discretion.
A Fail should be given when the work undertaken by the candidate is irredeemable, i.e., the thesis has major flaws in conceptualisation, execution or presentation, which are not adequately accounted for in the viva. A Fail should also be given if the candidate’s viva performance reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of the rationale underpinning the work. In other words, either the thesis or the candidate’s viva performance indicates an absence of expected competencies and suggests that the candidate is not going to be able to undertake independent work as a clinical psychologist in the NHS. No resubmission is permitted.
Resubmission of the corrected thesis
The deadlines for the one-month, three-month and one-year resubmissions will be decided at the exam board. The revised thesis usually will be seen only by the internal examiner, unless the external examiner requests to see it.
If the required corrections have been made to the thesis, it is passed. If it falls short of meeting the required corrections, it will be referred to the chair of the exam board. (The one exception to this is when only a small number of very minor corrections still need to be made; the internal examiner can, at their discretion, contact the candidate directly, requesting that these changes be made.) If the candidate is unable or unwilling to make the corrections required, the thesis may be failed. The course regulations state that all course requirements must be completed within four years.
It is a pre-condition of HPC registration that candidates have completed all elements of the course, which includes all of their thesis corrections. Once the final hard-bound copy of the thesis, plus the electronic copy, have been submitted, the department will inform HPC so that registration can go ahead. The course makes every effort to streamline this process, so that potential employment is not affected.