4. Completing an MPhil to PhD upgrade
At UK universities it’s common to register new PhD students for an MPhil before ‘upgrading’ them to ‘full’ doctoral candidates. This usually takes place after one year of full-time study (or its part-time equivalent).
Forcing you to register for a ‘lesser’ degree may seem strange, but it’s actually an important part of the training and development a PhD offers:
- As an MPhil student you’re able to comprehend your field and produce new research.
- As a PhD student you’re able to go that crucial step further and produce the significant original contribution to knowledge that defines a doctorate.
The MPhil upgrade is when you take the step from the former to the latter.
The MPhil upgrade exam
Upgrading from MPhil to PhD registration usually involves a form of oral exam – similar to the viva voce that concludes a PhD. But, unlike a full viva, the MPhil upgrade is less formal and only covers part of your thesis.
In most cases you’ll submit a small amount of the material you’ve produced so far. This could be a draft of your first chapter (or part of it) and / or your literature review. You could also be asked to reflect on your progress in general.
You’ll then sit down with your supervisor and someone else from your department (familiar with your field, but unrelated to your project). They’ll offer feedback on the quality of your work and ask questions about your findings.
The aim of the process won’t be to examine your drafts so much as to confirm that your project has the potential to justify a PhD – and that you’re on track to complete it on time.
‘Failing’ a PhD upgrade is actually quite rare. Your university may ask you to repeat the procedure if they are concerned that you haven’t made sufficient progress or established a viable plan for the rest of your project.