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 end of year one). Part-time students, whose programme of study is typically five years, should upgrade within 20-30 months of beginning their research, usually during their second 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 the Graduate Tutor 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 ask you to submit a report at the 6 months mark (FT) or 12 months mark for part-time students. They will then add thier notes to it and submit this to the graduate tutor.

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 (students enrolled after September 2022):

1. Submission of written work to the upgrade panel

This must include:

  • A chapter by chapter overview of the thesis: i.e. paragraph or so for each chapter, explaining coverage.
  • A plan for completion, i.e. a timeline, breaking the remaining tasks (research for each chapter, writing, revising, etc.).
  • A more substantive piece of writing: a case study based on primary evidence, no longer than 5,000 words.
  • An indicative bibliography (i.e. a work in progress, including things already consulted, as well as things to be consulted. Primary and secondary sources.)
  • A timetable for completion.

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.

More information on the PGR Handbook. 

2. Oral presentation to the Research Training Seminar

The department will organise a presentation session for upgradees at the end of the academic year. PGR students upgrading are encouraged to give a presentation on their work, totalling about 15 minutes. Your presentation should focus on the following:

  • What is your thesis about? 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. 

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

After you have presented your work, the audience will have 15 minutes to ask questions. 

3. An interview with the upgrade panel

As part of the upgrade process, you will meet with the upgrade panel to discuss your written work (1). The upgrade panel will have read your work, 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.