Studentship Policy

KMi Policy Statement on Research Degree Students

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Goals of KMi Research Degree Policy
  3. Research Degrees Offered
  4. Recruitment and Induction
    1. Research Student Qualities
    2. Full Time PhDs
    3. Part-time and/or Distance Learning PhDs
    4. Recruitment Process
    5. OU Induction Process
  5. Resource Infrastructure
    1. KMi Resources
      1. Office Environment
      2. Computer Facilities
      3. Conference Attendance
    2. OU Resources
      1. Library
      2. Occupational Health
      3. Counselling Service
  6. Supervision Support
    1. Supervision Team
    2. Suprvision Meetings
      1. Informal Meetings
      2. Formal Planning and Milestone Meetings
    3. Third Party Meetings
  7. Training
    1. Formal Training
      1. Research School and Staff Training Programme
      2. Inter-faculty Training Programme
      3. Specialist Training and Personal Development
    2. Informal Training
      1. Seminars
      2. Tours and Demonstrations
      3. Teaching Experience
  8. Degree Milestones
    1. Year One
      1. Literature Review
      2. Pilot Project Work
      3. Give an Internal Seminar
      4. Formal Research Proposal
      5. Submission of First Year Report
      6. First Year Review Viva
    2. Year Two
      1. Workshop or Conference Submission
      2. Give an Internal Seminar
      3. Thesis Overview
      4. Submission of Second Year Report
      5. Second Year Review Viva
    3. Year Three
      1. Conference Submission
      2. Give an Internal Seminar
      3. Thesis Submission and Viva
      4. Third Year Progress Review

1. Introduction

This policy document sets out KMi's research degree policy. The purpose of the paper is two-fold. First, it serves as a publicly available document detailing the quality and scope of postgraduate student support provided within KMi. Second, it will be used within KMi in assessing current practices and evolving new policies, to ensure the quality of the student research degree programme.

The presence of research degree students is vital to KMi's long term success as an active research institute. For this reason it is our goal to have a steady stream of research students passing through the institute. We believe that postgraduate research in KMi offers an excellent opportunity for students to actively engage in a research culture that promotes participation and personal development through apprenticeship.

2. Goals of KMi Research Degree Policy

The KMi research degree policy provides a set of guidelines for KMi postgraduate research students and supervisors, detailing what postgraduate research students can expect from the institute, and what is required by the institute from our postgraduate research students and their supervisors.

The main goals of the policy are:

  • to promote and facilitate interdisciplinary research,
  • to provide a comprehensive student support structure,
  • to provide and maintain a high-quality research environment,
  • to ensure and encourage student development towards independent research.

3. Research Degrees Offered

Reflecting KMi's emphasis on interdisciplinary research, PhD degrees will be offered, most commonly specialising in one or more of the following:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Multimedia
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Learning Sciences

Students are provisionally admitted for one year. At the end of the first year, they must pass a first year review to continue as a PhD candidate. This candidacy is subject to approval by their primary supervisor, the other members of their supervision team, and the Director of KMi, pending the results of the student's first year review.

4. Committee Advisory Support Structure

4.1 Research Student Qualities

We are looking for creative people who will think imaginatively about the future to envision new possibilities and then work hard to create them.

We are looking for people who are self-motivated and take the responsibility for their own work on long-term projects, without the need for day-by-day, step-by-step direction. The role of the supervisor is to guide the student's research, not direct it.

Through the course of the research degree our students address every aspect of their project, from the fundamental principles that motivate a project, to the craft of building concrete prototypes that demonstrate the ideas, and/or empirical experiments that validate the ideas. To do so, students are expected to draw on their existing skills, as well as acquire the knowledge and develop new skills necessary to complete their research.

4.2 Full Time PhDs

Most KMi studentships are full-time. KMi students will get much more from the experience (and have a higher chance of success) if are working as part of a research group. Full-time students are expected to live locally, attend the lab on a daily basis and take an active role in the lab. A full-time PhD studentship lasts for three years. At the end of the three years students are expected to submit their thesis.

4.3 Part-time and/or Distance Learning PhDs

Although full-time lab-based research is the preferred form of studentship, full-time study is not possible for everyone and therefore there are some part-time research students. Moreover, as collaboration technologies improve, some of the obstacles to asynchronous research collaboration are being reduced. A part time PhD, much like the full-time PhD, relies on the formation of an effective supervision team. Part time research degrees are reliant on the student finding a supervisor willing to support their research.

4.4 Recruitment Process

At the start of the year, supervisors will post project descriptions inviting applicants to contact them to discuss a research proposal that is of mutual interest. In accordance with university policy, applicants will be required to submit a research proposal with the application form. Candidates are strongly recommended to write their research proposal in conjunction with the potential supervisor (some proposals may go through several iterations prior to submission). However, applicants can submit proposals without any prior contact with KMi, and they will be considered when short listing for interviews.

Competition for studentships is high, there is no guarantee that a studentship will be offered, even after a potential supervisor has worked with an applicant on their proposal. The application deadline for full-time studentships is advertised on the KMi PhD website (normally March 31st). There is no application deadline for part-time study. Applicants will be short listed for either a face-to-face interview or phone interview if a face-to-face meeting is not possible. Full-time studentships typically begin at the start of October each year. However, in some circumstances it may be possible to start at other times of the year.

Applicants may also approach the KMi PhD Admissions Coordinator informally for advice.

4.5 OU Induction Process

A University-wide induction programme for research students is organised by the Research School each year in the first week of October. During this week students across all disciplines are introduced to the university, the research facilities, and the social and recreational activities available on the campus. Help with finding accommodation is provided by the Research School through the University's Research Student Residential Accommodation Advice Service. The postgraduate student society arranges several events during induction week to encourage students to meet one another and find new friends.

5. Resource Infrastructure

5.1 KMi Resources

5.1.1 Office Environment

KMi is housed on the top floor of the Berrill Building, a modern purpose-built office building. Students and staff share the same environment. It is KMi's policy that students should have an environment equivalent to that of any other member of the institute. Students are allocated a desk, book shelving and filing cabinet space for their exclusive use, and appropriate to their research needs. Research students are currently located in an open-plan office in clusters with three other people. Students also have access to KMi's facilities including the presentation and meeting areas, demonstration equipment, shared printing equipment, and kitchen.

5.1.2 Computing Facilities

With regard to computing equipment, no single specification could support all our researchers due to the diversity inherent in KMi's research strategy. Therefore, KMi's policy is to provide a high standard of support for the equipment needed to conduct its research effectively. KMi provides the computing equipment appropriate to a student's study, to be agreed by the student's supervisors and the Director of KMi. Typically, a student will have exclusive access to a fully networked personal computer for word processing, electronic mail, access to electronic libraries, software development, and so on.

5.1.3 Conference Attendance

Conference attendance is encouraged during the research degree. Funding for a full-time student to register and attend conferences is included as part of a studentship. However, the allocation of funding must be agreed with the student's supervisory team prior to the submission of a paper to a conference.

5.2 OU Resources

5.2.1 Library

The Open University library supports the work of OU lecturers and research staff on the campus as well as OU students at a distance. Research students receive the same access rights to the library's facilities as members of OU staff, which includes, book borrowing, inter-library loans, access to OU course materials, access to databases of references to books and journals, online full-text journal articles, electronic books, images and internet resources.

5.2.2 Occupational Health

The Open University has an Occupational Health Department who are concerned with all aspects of health at work and aim to provide all employees with a comprehensive occupational health service to help promote and maintain health. The University's Occupational Health and Safety Section offer an advisory service on all aspects of health and safety and are responsible for coordinating health and safety activities across the University.

5.2.3 Occupational Health

All OU research students can seek support from the counselling service offered at Milton Keynes College. Students can either: leave a message asking someone to call back at 01908 684406, speak directly with a counsellor on 01908 684137 (8.30-9.00am or 12.30-1.00pm, Mondays to Fridays during college term time), or email them at

6. Supervision Support

6.1 Supervision Team

KMi takes a team approach to PhD supervision. A supervisory team is made up of researchers with an active interest in the student's area of research. Supervisors work as a team to provide complementary rather than duplicate or conflicting advice. Therefore, for each student, two or more supervisors will be allocated according to the topic of study. The role of the primary supervisor is to coordinate the efforts of the team. In cases where a supervisor has not previously supervised a student to the completion of their PhD, a second experienced supervisor will be allocated to provide support and mentoring to the primary supervisor.

6.2 Supervision Meetings

The relationship between the student and their supervisors is a key element of a successful PhD. It is the responsibility of both the student and their supervisors to ensure that the relationship is effective and fruitful for the student's development into an independent researcher. Regular communication between the student and their supervisors is essential, which means that regular meetings are a necessary aspect of a studentship. There are two main categories of supervision meetings, informal day-to-day meetings, and formal planning and milestone meetings.

6.2.1 Informal Meetings

Informal meetings will typically occur weekly in the student's first year and either less or more frequently as required in the remainder of the studentship. At these informal meetings the primary supervisor is expected to verify the student's progress and ensure the work done is in line with the overall objective of the student's training and development. The student will be encouraged to discuss their work, reflect on their progress, and ensure they have the resources they require

6.2.2 Formal Planning and Milestone Meetings

The objective of the formal planning and milestone meetings is to make sure the student's research is on track and progressing. Formal planning and milestone meetings serve as focal points for participation by the student's supervision team as a whole. As such, their focus tends to be on wider issues relating to the research being conducted. Students will also receive more formal advisory support for planning their research approach and managing their time.

As a guide, the formal planning and milestone meetings should occur at least once a quarter. Prior to the meeting, the student must submit to their supervisors a written progress report. The purpose of having the student write a progress report is two-fold. First, it helps both parties prepare for the meeting as it serves as an agenda. Second, it helps students foster time management and planning skills by generating and reviewing written records of their achievements and progress to date. The report does not need to be lengthy (i.e., three to five pages), but it should address key topics, such as the student's achievements and progress in the last quarter, their plans for the following quarter, and any issues or concerns they may have. The student's supervisors required to read these reports and attend the formal planning and milestone meetings to discuss the student's progress. Any issues or concerns raised by the student or supervisors should be discussed in the meetings and steps taken to address them.

6.3 Third Party Monitoring

Additional advisory support in the form of third party monitoring is part of the OU's policy for research students. A researcher, typically a member of KMi, will be appointed as a third party monitor. The role of the monitor is to contact the student annually to discuss any issues and concerns the student may have with their supervision, resource infrastructure, training, etc. The monitor should discuss with the student's supervisory team, and possibly the Director of KMi, any serious problems that have been brought to their attention. Additionally, the Director of KMi may meet annually with each student to discuss the student's progress and concerns.

7. Training

7.1 Formal Training

7.1.1 Research School and Staff Training Programme

The research school offers a number of subject-independent training opportunities for research students.

7.1.2 Inter-faculty Training Programme

Many academic units and disciplines (e.g. the Institute of Educational Technology, and the Faculties of Technology and Psychology), run seminars for research students covering topics, such as general research skills and methodologies, writing and presentation skills, and overviews of current research. KMi research degree students are encouraged to attend these sessions and may wish to discuss with their primary supervisor which lectures from the series are most appropriate for them to attend.

7.1.3 Specialist Training and Personal Development

Several support units within the university also provide training support for OU staff. For example, the Training and Desktop Support Unit provide training in Information Technology, such as word processing, spreadsheets and the use of the Internet. PhD students with the support of the institute may also attend staff training and development sessions.

7.2 Informal Training

7.2.1 Seminars

KMi's internal seminar series runs in the Spring and Autumn, where members of KMi present work in progress. These seminars serve as an informal means of facilitating collaboration among KMi members. Students are required to attend the internal seminars and present their work at least once during each year of their studentship.

KMi's external speaker seminar series is an ongoing seminar series where external speakers from around the world present their work. These seminars are held on a monthly basis and are open to the university as a whole. Students are required to attend these seminars.

7.2.2 Tours and Demonstrations

As part of KMi's role as a showcase for The Open University, members of the department are called upon to give guided tours and demonstrations of the research carried out. From time to time students are expected to take part in the provision of tours and demonstrations to visitors. Giving tours and demonstrations helps to develop the student's informal presentation skills.

7.2.3 Teaching Experience

KMi is a research institute and there are few opportunities for students to obtain teaching experience within KMi. However, there is an opportunity for research students to apply to work on OU residential schools, on courses where the student holds the appropriate qualifications and experience. Students wishing to work at a residential school would be expected to do so in their own time and would be paid separately for their work. Residential school tutoring is not part of the research studentship.

8. Degree Milestones

Several intermediary milestones will be introduced en route to the standard viva. These milestones provide a structure around which students and supervisors can set goals, monitor progress, and plan what steps to take next. The milestones for the PhD research degree are:

  • First Year
    • Literature Review (2nd quarter)
    • Pilot Project Work (3rd quarter)
    • Give an Internal Seminar (3rd quarter)
    • Formal Research Proposal (4th quarter)
    • Submission of First Year Report (Month 10)
    • First Year Review Viva (Month 11)
    • Annual Report to Research School (Month 12)
  • Second Year
    • Workshop/Conference Submission (2nd quarter)
    • Give an Internal Seminar (3rd quarter)
    • Thesis Overview (4th quarter)
    • Submission of Second Year Report (Month 10)
    • Second Year Review Viva (Month 11)
    • Annual Report to Research School (Month 12)
  • Third Year
    • Conference Submission (2nd quarter)
    • Give an Internal Seminar (3rd quarter)
    • Thesis Submission and Viva (4th quarter)
    • Third Year Review Viva (Month 11)
    • Annual Report to Research School (Month 12)

The requirements and recommended practices for each of the above milestones are described in the remainder of this section.

8.1 Year one

8.1.1 Literature Review

The purpose of the literature review is to ensure the student has a sufficient breadth of knowledge in the field prior to undertaking a detailed and specific research objective.

For the first step in the review process, the student should compile a reading list of 25 to 30 references. The student should submit this list to each member of their supervision team for review, discussion and approval. Once the list is approved, the student must then produce a paper comparing and contrasting the literature from a coherent perspective. The finished paper should be submitted to all members of the student's supervisory team for comment. As a rule of thumb, this paper should not be more than 20 pages in length including references. It is recommended that a first draft of the review be completed by the end of the student's second quarter.

It is recognised that reviewing the literature can be a difficult process that may not strictly follow the steps described above, especially if the field is new, or the research problem is under-specified. What counts as ā€˜relevant' literature may depend on the evolving conception of the research problem. Supervisors will advise on how best to tackle this. Training support for reviewing the state of the art is provided as part of the OU postgraduate training programme (OU course code U500).

8.1.2 Pilot Project Work

The purpose of the initial project work is to give the student an opportunity to perform a proof-of-concept exploration on a core part of their intended area of research, and to gain valuable research skills in a relatively small-scale and structured pilot project.

As a first step, the student would typically write a two-page project proposal outlining what he or she intends to construct or study and why it is important to do so. The choice of a system development project or empirical project depends upon the student's research objectives. The student would submit this mini-proposal to their supervisors for review, discussion and approval. After approval, the student must then complete the project and write-up the results. As a rule of thumb, this report should not be more than 15 pages in length including references.

Both the initial project work and the corresponding report should be completed by the end of the student's third quarter

8.1.3 Give an Internal Seminar

By the end of the student's third quarter, and prior to the first year review, each student should have given at least one presentation describing their research to other members of KMi. This is very important for three reasons. First of all it provides a valuable experience for the student, as it is an opportunity for them to practice presenting and defending their ideas. Second, it is an opportunity to receive suggestions, advice and constructive criticism from a larger group than the student's supervisory team. Thirdly, it is an opportunity for the student to actively contribute to the institute and to the circulation of ideas. Being an active member of the KMi research community, sharing knowledge and engaging in intellectual debate, are considered to be as important a part of a research degree as writing and submitting a thesis.

8.1.4 Formal Research Proposal

By the end of their first year, students should have prepared and defended a formal research proposal. To ensure this deadline is met, students are typically required to submit a proposal to their supervisors by the tenth month of their studentship.

The proposed research should build on the work already completed by the student during the first year. By deferring the proposal until after the literature review and some pilot research has been performed, the student and the supervisors should have a better idea about what is possible in the time available, where the interesting problems are, and what work if any is needed to make the student's existing research direction more focused and complete.

Typically, a formal research proposal will be between 15 and 20 pages in length and will include sections, such as:

  • A 300 word abstract.
  • What is the problem or hypothesis being investigated?
  • Summarise existing approaches and why they fall sort.
  • A conceptual level description of the approach being proposed and the anticipated research contributions.
  • A detailed discussion of what the student expects to learn from the key parts of the proposed plan and the risks involved in the approach.
  • A detailed research plan stating what work has already been completed and what work still needs to be carried out.
  • A schedule detailing the time allocated to each part of the student's research plan.
  • A list of cited references.

The student should submit their proposal to all members of their supervisory team for review at least six weeks before the end of their first year leaving time for the first year review

8.1.5 Submission of First Year Report

Towards the end of their first year, each student must undergo a formal first year review which determines whether they will pass their provisional status and continue as a PhD candidate. The student's literature review, pilot project and research proposal are milestones in the student's first year that are reviewed and commented upon by their supervisory team. The first year review is a significantly more formal event and will be based on the student's first year report and viva. The review panel for each student will be made up of the members of their supervisory team, the student's third party monitor, the KMi Research Student Coordinator(s) and the Director of KMi. The review panel will include at least one person not involved in supervising or monitoring the student.

The first year report is to be a formal document suitable for publication as a KMi technical report. The report should draw on the student's literature review, project work and research proposal, to present a concise single document detailing the research carried out so far. The report should present a coherent narrative that justifies the research. Typically, a first year report will be between 40 and 60 pages in length and will include sections, such as:

  • Cover Page
  • Abstract (600 words maximum)
  • Introduction
  • Literature Review
  • Pilot Project Work
  • Research Proposal
  • References
  • Appendicies

The cover page of the report must include the student's working title for their PhD, their full name, OU personal identifier number, and the start date of their research degree.

The abstract should not exceed the dissertation maximum word limit of 600 words. The abstract should give the reader an overview of the work reported and therefore, should include the research questions being tackled, the motivation for the research, the approach being adopted, and the anticipated outcomes.

The introduction of the report should introduce the problem domain and the relevant fields of research, make a case for why the research is important (i.e. present the motivation for the research), and detail the research questions that the proposed work intends to explore and answer.

The literature review section will be based on the student's previous review report (see Section 8.1.1). A typical review may include an introductory overview of the related research topics, a critical state of the art of each topic, and a conclusion detailing the short comings of the existing research with respect to the student's research questions.

The section on the student's pilot project work should include any relevant development projects or empirical studies carried out so far (see Section 8.1.2). In presenting their work a student should typically: detail the motivation for the project, describe the design of the system or empirical study, present the effectiveness of the resulting system or empirical findings, discuss the work done with respect to their research questions and the motivation for the project, and identify any conclusions that they wish to make from the work done.

As described in Section 8.1.4, the research proposal should provide the following information: a conceptual level description of the approach being proposed and the anticipated research contributions, a detailed discussion of what the student expects to learn from the key parts of the proposed plan and the risks involved in the approach, a research plan stating what work has already been completed and what work still needs to be carried out, a schedule detailing the time allocated to each part of the student's research plan.

Each student is required to submit their first year report to their supervisory team for feedback and approval, prior to submitting the completed report to their review panel.

8.1.6 First Year Review Viva

As the final step in the formal first year review, the student must defend their research in a viva voce examination. At a typical review viva, the student begins by giving a presentation detailing their research (approximately 20-30 minutes in length). This presentation is followed by 20-30 minutes of questions or suggestions from the review panel. The rationale behind this process is to give students exposure to a formal presentation and questioning experience prior to their eventual thesis viva.

The review panel will meet privately before the viva, having first read the student's first year report, and again after the viva to discuss the progress made and decide on the student's continued PhD candidacy. Accepted reports will be published on the KMi website as technical reports. Therefore, the necessary standard of writing required is equivalent to that of other published work.

After the progress review, each member of the supervisory team must complete the standard annual student progress report form provided by the university's Research School. Should a student fail the first year review, he or she may meet with their supervisory team to determine the possibility of pursuing an M.Phil degree.

The student's registration will automatically be terminated by the research school if the completed annual student progress report is not submitted and approved by the end of the student's first year. The student and the members of the student's supervisory team are jointly responsible for ensuring this deadline is met.

8.2 Year Two

8.2.1 Workshop or Conference Submission

Apprenticeship in research involves not only reading and writing, but becoming an active, recognised member of a research community. As a general guideline each student is expected to have submitted a paper to a workshop or conference by the middle of their second year. Not only is attendance at such events seen as an important learning opportunity for the student, it is also desirable that the student's work is reviewed by their peers and, if the paper is accepted, that the student has an opportunity to present and defend their work in front of their peers. Research submission is seen as an essential stage in the student's training.

8.2.2 Give an Internal Seminar

By the end of the third quarter of the student's second year, the student should have given a second presentation describing their research to members of KMi. The objective of holding periodic presentations is to develop the student's skills at presenting and discussing their work with other researchers. Regular presentations, by both students and staff, within the institute are a key opportunity for the exchange of ideas and perspectives.

8.2.3 Thesis Overview

Towards the end of the second year students are required to write a thesis overview that summarises their research. The overview should be about 3,000 words in length and ideally could serve as the basis for a summary section in the final thesis document. Each student should submit an overview and a proposed table of contents for their thesis to their supervision team for feedback and approval at least six weeks prior to the end of their second year.

8.2.4 Submission of Second Year Report

Towards the end of their second year students are required to undergo a second year review with their review panel. This review process is much less formal than the first year review and is intended primarily to encourage students to cogently summarise their research progress, disseminate their work to other members of KMi, gain valuable feedback on their work to date, and meet with their review panel prior to the annual progress report exercise.

The second year report should update the review panel on the progress made since the first year review. Typically, a second year report will be between 8 and 12 pages in length and will describe the work done in the second year, including the thesis overview, and a detailed monthly schedule for the remaining research. The report should justify any changes made in the last year to the direction of the research being carried out. Details of any publications and research events attended should also be given to show that the student is becoming an active member in their chosen research community.

8.2.5 Second Year Review Viva

A viva will be held between the student and their review panel, at which the student will be required to defend their research. The review panel will meet privately before the viva, having first read the student's second year report, to discuss the progress made. At a typical second year review viva, the student will begin by presenting the research (20-30 minutes in length) this will be followed by 20-30 minutes of questions from the panel, and a discussion of the student's progress and research schedule.

After the progress review, each member of the supervisory team must complete the standard annual student progress report form provided by the university's Research School. The primary outcome of the second year review is to ensure the student's research is progressing appropriately.

8.3 Year Three

8.3.1 Conference Submission

As a general guideline a student is expected to have submitted a paper to a relevant international by the middle of their final year. Actively engaging with the wider research community is a key aspect of research and is encouraged at every stage of the student's progress. Gaining the feedback and recognition of researchers in the student's chosen field of study is an important part of the student's transition to become an independent researcher.

8.3.2 Give an Internal Seminar

In the student's third year a presentation of the student's work, including an overview of their thesis and a summary of their contributions, should be made to the members of the institute at an internal seminar. Presenting their thesis and discussing the contributions made, is put forward as a means to help the student conclude their research and write their thesis.

8.3.3 Thesis Submission and Viva

The university has an established policy for the conduct of research degree examinations, and guidelines for the nomination and appointment of examiners. Members of KMi (excluding the students supervisors) and other OU researchers can serve as internal examiners on the examination panel, provided that they conform to the criteria for appointment and panel composition put forward by the Research Degrees Committee (see document EX10).

8.3.4 Third Year Progress Review

Towards the end of the student's final year the student's review panel should meet to consider the students progress and discuss potential internal and external examiners for the thesis. Although less formal than the student's first and second year reviews, the third year progress review is an opportunity to discuss the student's progress and encourage the earliest completion of the PhD. As in the previous two years, after the progress review each member of the supervisory team must complete the standard annual student progress report form provided by the university's Research School.

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