The PhD thesis lifecycle

A PhD is a research-intensive degree that usually takes the equivalent of three to four years of full-time study. During this time students will work closely with their supervisory team. The exact nature of each student’s research is different but there are a number of stages that all PhD candidates must complete during the course of their study.

Every six months a PhD Milestone Report is required to be submitted. This marks a student’s progress towards the completion of the PhD degree. For some students, there is additional documentation required if changes arise in their study, such as changing from full-time to part-time or studying away from Christchurch. These additional documents can be found in changes to your doctoral studies.

The PhD lifecycle


This is the starting point for becoming a PhD candidate. Enrolment establishes:

  • A proposed senior supervisor
  • A proposed initial research topic
  • Expectations over frequency of meetings with proposed supervisor
  • That there are suitable resources available to support the proposed area of research

The application form can be found here.

Doctoral supervisory agreement

The Doctoral supervisory agreement form is submitted six months after you enrol. It confirms:

  • The composition of the student’s supervisory team (minimum of two active supervisors)
  • The endorsement of the student’s initial research proposal
  • That resources are available to support the project

The form includes a supervisor agreement which sets out the expectations around:

  • Roles of each supervisor
  • Frequency of meetings
  • Expectations over publications
  • Issues related to intellectual property

It is completed by the student, senior supervisor, Department/School postgraduate coordinator and is submitted to the Postgraduate Office for approval by the Dean of Postgraduate Research.

Doctoral confirmation

The Doctoral Confirmation Process involves the student:

  • Submitting a written report to their department detailing progress to date and detailing the next steps in the proposed research. The exact nature of this document is determined by each department/school (this is due at 12 months)
  • Giving an oral presentation on his/her thesis research and answering questions (this usually happens within two months of the written report being submitted)

The student’s performance on the above two components is evaluated by the supervisory team and at least one additional person. Written and oral feedback is given to the student. The Doctoral confirmation report form is completed by the departmental panel and submitted to the Postgraduate Office for approval by the Dean of Postgraduate Research.

The Dean may:

  • Confirm the student’s enrolment;
  • Support the student’s continued enrolment subject to certain conditions
  • Discontinue the student’s enrolment 

Progress reports

Doctoral progress report form is required to be submitted every six months (after Doctoral Confirmation) to report on what has been achieved. They plan upcoming milestones and aims, and identify any issues for discussion (with supervisors, Postgraduate Office, Department/School coordinators or the Dean of Postgraduate Research).

Effectiveness of progress reports depends on:

  • Taking seriously the process of reflection and planning
  • Candid responses from all
  • A willingness to discuss and address any issues that arise through the process of reflection and planning

The progress report form is completed by the student, supervisors and Department/School coordinator and is then submitted to the Post Graduate Office for approval by the Dean of Postgraduate Research. The Dean may:

  • Confirm the student’s enrolment;
  • Support the student’s continued enrolment subject to certain conditions
  • Discontinue the student’s enrolment 

Thesis submission

Student's tasks:

  • Ensure enrolment is complete and that fees are up to date
  • A PDF copy of the thesis and the completed Thesis declaration form are required to be submitted electronically to the Postgraduate Office
  • International students are advised to contact the Enrolments Team to discuss their visa situation
  • Once examiners are nominated, a student is informed of their names and must submit a Notification of Examiners Form (Doctoral) indicating that they are either happy with the examiners nominated, or wish to raise concerns. This form must be submitted to the Postgraduate Office before a thesis can be sent to the examiners.

Senior supervisor’s tasks:

  • Complete the supervisor’s certificate
  • Complete the examiners’ nomination form and obtain Head of Department/School and student sign off
  • Inform the student of the names of the nominated examiners.

Oral examination

The oral examination is part of the formal process for awarding a PhD. It is usually conducted in person but can be done by video-link. The date of the oral examination is set at the time of submission of the thesis for examination and is usually three to four months from submission. The oral examination is an opportunity to discuss the thesis with knowledgeable experts (the examiners) who will clarify points raised in reports and establish amendments if required. 

The structure:

  • During the examination an oral chair, oral examiner and senior supervisor is present
  • Other members of the supervisory team are invited to attend, and the student can invite support person(s)
  • The examination reports are released to the student and supervisor 5 – 10 days before the oral examination

At the completion of the oral examination a recommendation is made to the Dean of Postgraduate Research. Typically some final amendments are required prior to the award of the PhD – the student will be notified of such requirements by the Postgraduate Office. 

Optional stages of candidature

  1. Suspension of study
  2. Change of supervisor
  3. Study away from Christchurch
  4. Extension to submission date
  5. Change from full to part time study


Tips for Doctoral Students at UC

Please take a look at the following document for further Tips for Doctoral Students