Information on the upgrade process, which students must complete in order to progress to a PhD degree

What is the upgrade?

All postgraduate research students at UCL History apply to the MPhil/PhD in History. Initially, students are registered for the MPhil degree. However, the goal is ultimately to obtain a PhD. In order to change your registration from the MPhil to the PhD, you must complete the upgrade process. The purpose of the upgrade is to make sure that you are progressing as you should be in order to complete your PhD to a suitable standard and in a timely manner.

When does it happen?

For full-time students the upgrade to PhD occurs within 12-18 months from the start of your MPhil (in most cases that means an upgrade during the first or second term of year two). Part-time students, whose programme of study is typically five years, should upgrade within 20-30 months of beginning their research, usually during the first or second term of the third year.

You have two possible attempts at upgrade. The period between first and second attempt should usually be no more than 6 months for full-time students and no more than 10 months for part-time students.

If you are transferring from other universities or departments, you are expected in normal circumstances to complete an upgrade at UCL regardless of whether you were upgraded at another institution.

How should I prepare for the upgrade?

Your upgrade materials will be assessed by a panel of academics including your supervisor and your subsidiary or secondary supervisor. You need to make sure that you have met with both supervisors in the term preceding your upgrade.

You will also need to make sure that your Research Log is up to date and that you have participated in the Graduate School's skills training programme. This includes attending the department's Research Training Seminar (RTS) as well as relevant seminars at the IHR, ICS or other institutions.

Before your upgrade, your principal supervisor will need to complete a formal report on your work. They will submit this to the graduate tutor who will then forward it to you and to the rest of the upgrade panel.

Who sits on the upgrade panel?

The upgrade panel will be composed of your secondary supervisor, one other academic (usually from UCL; they may come from within the History department or from other departments such as the Institute of Americas), and the graduate tutor. Your principal supervisor will participate but is only permitted to observe proceedings.

What do I need to do?

The upgrade procedure has three elements:

1. Submission of written work to the upgrade panel

This must include:

  • A short statement describing the project as a whole. Many people present this as part of the outline document (below).
  • An outline of the chapters of the thesis.
  • A substantial piece of written work based on primary research and historiography (usually a chapter of about 10,000 words).
  • A bibliography of essential primary and select secondary sources
  • A timetable for completion

The project outline should be a draft, about 5-10 pages long, of what will eventually become the introduction to your thesis. Typically, this would include the following sections (not necessarily in the order given):

  • a short statement of the research question and its importance; 
  • a historiographical discussion of previous research on the topic and period, explaining what the key issues and debates have been, and the strengths and weaknesses of the various 'schools' of thought;
  • an explanation of the methodological principles underlying the thesis, and how they differ from and/or build on previous historians' work;
  • the types of sources used in the thesis, and their evidential strengths and weaknesses; 
  • a synopsis of the thesis as a whole, explaining how the chapters fit together to construct an argument.

You should aim to write 1-2 pages on each of these topics.

All the above must be approved by your principal supervisor prior to submission, and submitted by email to the postgraduate research administrator Oana Borlea at least one week before your presentation to the RTS.

2. Twenty-minute oral presentation to the Research Training Seminar

As well as your postgraduate peers, this presentation will usually be attended by all the members of your upgrade panel. Your presentation should last 20 minutes and should answer these specific questions:

  • What is your thesis about? You should prepare a 150-word summary that will make sense to those working on different periods or in different subdisciplines. Make sure that you explain the time frame and geographical scope of your work, as well as your key research questions.
  • Why does this subject matter? Explain how your thesis relates to existing historiography or contributes to current debates. Will it be of interest outside the academy?
  • What key sources are you using?
  • What are your methods of analysis.
  • Provide one illustrative example from the material on which you have worked.

You must discuss your presentation with your principal supervisor before you prepare it and you must inform the postgraduate research administrator, Oana Borlea, at least one week in advance if you need technical assistance. 

Please prepare a handout with your name, the title of the thesis, the main points of your presentation, important dates and names, essential bibliography etc. You may also wish to include a map or maps if this is relevant to your work.

After you have presented your work and answered audience questions, the upgrade panel will decide whether your presentation was satisfactory. If so, you may proceed to stage 3. If not, you may be asked to attend presentation skills training or to submit a revised written presentation before you proceed.

If you are asked to complete additional requirements and fail to do so, you will have failed the upgrade and will continue to work towards an MPhil. This is a lesser research degree which requires a shorter thesis of only 60,000 words.

If you are asked to complete additional requirements and you do complete them, but your performance is still considered to be unsatisfactory, you will be granted one further attempt. If you are still unable to perform to a suitable standard, you will have failed the upgrade and will continue to work towards an MPhil.


3. An interview with the upgrade panel

After you have completed your presentation to the RTS, you will meet with the upgrade panel to discuss your written work (1). This meeting should usually take place within two weeks of the presentation. The upgrade panel will have read your work and seen your presentation, and will ask questions and offer advice about your research. The goal is to support you in completing your thesis successfully.

At the end of this meeting, the committee will agree one of the following options:

  • Option 1 - you are recommended for upgrade to PhD status (the most common outcome)
  • Option 2 - you are referred to a specific date for a second attempt, and you have to resubmit written work as specified by the panel and pass a second interview
  • Option 3 - you are referred to a specific date for a second attempt, and you have to resubmit written work as specified by the panel, which it will assess without the need for a second interview

The panel will inform you of their decision at the end of the meeting. The graduate tutor will also compile a short report, which is kept in your file.

For Options 2 or 3, the second attempt must normally take place within six months (for full-time students), or ten months (for part-time students).

If you do not meet the prescribed deadline and there are no extenuating circumstances, you may continue to work towards an MPhil. If you have complied with the conditions, but your performance is still not satisfactory, you may make one further attempt, or continue to work towards an MPhil.

You may appeal on procedural grounds, but not against the committee's academic judgement. See this webpage for details of the appeal procedure.