Benchmarks for review of postgraduate progress in research-only degrees


This document aims to set up time-lines for MA and PhD research degrees in English, Creative Writing, and Australian Studies that will give students and supervisors a useful map of where they ought to be. The rates of progress are meant to suggest averages rather than minimums. They are suggestive rather than prescriptive.

Actual satisfactory progress will not always (or ever?) conform perfectly to this "normal" model. No research project is entirely "normal". Every research project takes shape according to its own rules, and that will usually be taken into account in the rapport that builds up between a student and her/his supervisors over time.

However, significant divergences from this model will need to be explained (through the annual reporting process) and may be used as grounds for defining progress as unsatisfactory.

This document contains these sections:

  • MA timetable
  • PhD timetable
  • Upgrading from MA to PhD
  • On giving papers and getting published

MA timetable

(part-time students should progress at approximately half this pace)

By six months and first review

  • You should have a concise outline of research completed and approved by supervisors.
  • Your topic and plan should be worked out and agreed to with your supervisors. The feasibility and scope of the project should now be understood and agreed by all parties.
  • Note: the topic may still be revised and will not be binding at this point, though very substantial changes of direction will require Faculty approval.
  • You should have surveyed the literature resources and put in orders for document delivery, etc, and constructed a longish bibliography, though by no means a complete one; it will contain many source materials yet to be investigated.
  • You should have generated a goodly pile of notes, and some students may have started preliminary drafts of a chapter. (This is certainly not required at this stage and, depending on your style of work, may even be inadvisable).

By Six Months to a Year: Postgraduate research proposal to be presented to the department.

For details of this: Postgraduate Research Proposals (PDF 72KB)

At eighteen months and second review

  • You should have a thoroughly defined topic and a clearly articulated plan of the thesis.
  • Research should be substantially complete, leaving only some peripheral matters to fill out. .
  • You should have 30 000+ words in draft form (which amounts to 2-3 fairly complete chapters, and some other substantial parts of chapters).
  • You should have presented one paper, either to the staff/postgraduate seminars, or at a conference, or in some other forum.

At twenty-one months

  • Notification of intention to submit.
  • Examiners should be lined up — students may object to specific potential examiners, but may not otherwise have input into the selection of examiners.

At two years

  • Thesis complete, in accordance with all the statutes.
  • A MA (research only) thesis in English will normally be 35 000 - 50 000 words long.

PhD timetable

(part-time students should progress at approximately half this pace)

By six months and first review

See above under MA benchmarks.

By six months to a year: Thesis proposal to be presented to the department

For details of this: Postgraduate Research Proposals (PDF 72KB)

At eighteen months and second review

  • The topic should be thoroughly established and finalised, subject to minor changes.
  • The structure of the research should be clearly defined and substantially underway.
  • Approximately 20 000 words should be drafted.
  • One seminar paper should have been presented.

At thirty months and third review

  • The research should be substantially complete.
  • 60 000 words should be drafted, and some of this should be in revised form (that is, close to submission-quality draft).
  • The structure of the thesis, its division into chapters and a thorough content outline of all chapters, should now be clear and acceptable.
  • A second seminar paper should have been presented (preferably at an external venue, such as a conference).

At three years to forty-two months

  • Examiners should be lined up, three months' notice have been given, final revisions made, the notes and bibliography completed. Students may object to specific potential examiners, but may not otherwise have input into the selection of examiners.
  • It is time to move on to other things, by submitting your thesis: a work of 70 000 - 100 000 words.

Upgrading from MA to PhD

Upgrading should normally occur between the first and second reviews (in practice, at some time between nine and sixteen months into the project). It may take place as part of the thesis proposal process (see above).

The crucial requirements for upgrading are that you need to provide evidence:

  • that you are capable of working at doctoral level, and of producing a doctoral thesis; and
  • that your project is of doctoral scope and value.

The final judgment on these matters rests with the Research Higher Degrees Committee on the advice of the supervisors and the Head of School.

The process normally requires you to present a package of material to an independent reader (not one of the current supervisors, but normally from within the School of Humanities) for assessment.

That package can include various sorts of evidence, such as:

  • Drafts of chapters (a total of 20 000 words is a desirable target).
  • A thesis plan that demonstrates how the project can be converted to one of doctoral length. The plan will be subject to review later, but it is important to demonstrate that you can conceive of a 70 000 - 100 000 word project).
  • A print-out of your bibliography (divided into read and unread sections), so that the breadth and depth of the research may be assessed.
  • Notes that you have made may be taken into account (eg if the work is heavily archival a great deal of note-taking may need to be done before writing-up is feasible).
  • Copies of any seminar papers you may have given or articles you have prepared or published.

On giving papers and getting published

  • MAs should do a minimum of  one seminar paper in the course of their candidacy, PhDs a minimum of two. You have the right to give at least one paper to the staff / postgraduate seminars in the School, but it is up to you to apply to the convener of the series in time to get on to that semester's program.
  • PhDs should aim to give at least one paper in a forum outside the school (eg to a conference — check through your supervisor and the staff and postgraduate noticeboards for information about conferences).
  • You should also look at getting into print, either in journals (either scholarly journals or those which take postgraduates' work). Success here is not essential, but is both rewarding and informative. For one thing, you will learn how rigorous the refereeing process can be for reputable journals.
  • Don't overlook internet journals, scholarly forums and so forth. Some of them have enormous archives and the discussion is of high quality to which you can contribute or post queries. (For an example, look at the formidable VICTORIA forum for 19th century scholars.) Remember that, in practice, anything you post on the web is likely to be lifted and used, or at least cited, by others: copyright has little force in cyberspace.