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PhD Research and Timeline

The PhD in History

PhD Research and Outline

What happens in the first year?

For full-time PhD students their first year is a probationary year, at the end of which they undertake something called the RAE. This is the Registration Assessment Exercise, which is held between the student, the supervisor, and an Advisor (we appoint them for you). You submit work and then have a meeting to discuss what you have submitted, in order to check that you are on track and help you continue to frame your research.  This exercise should take place in the third term of study. Once registered by the Faculty Degree Committee, you are a registered PhD student; up until this point, you are a NOTAF, which means ‘not at first registered’.

The piece of work you submit for the RAE is likely to be surveying your field of research, summarising progress so far, proposing a research strategy and timetable, and indicating the original contribution to knowledge that is intended.

Although it might sound like a scary process, this is your chance to shine and show off how much work you have done during your first year and how your research is coming along! It’s also a chance to discuss any problems, issues, or worries you may have with your research in a formal setting, though you will have ample opportunity to do this with your supervisor before the third term RAE.



How am I trained in research while at Cambridge?

Often, you will be starting the PhD course with a background of suitable research training which you undertook before admission, e.g. your Masters or MPhil degree. While you are at Cambridge, you can broaden this as much as you wish with the number of different opportunities available.

You may find it useful to consult our current Graduate Training pages: 

You may also like to browse the Graduate Training Handbook: **COMING SOON**

These show what the Faculty has to offer in-house with Graduate Training.

There are also plenty of other options within the University, for example other Departments and Faculties, as well as University-wide seminars, workshops, and conferences held throughout the year. There is a fantastic Language Centre: as well as a specialist training system: is before we’ve even started on what may be offered through your particular college!

Your supervisor is an excellent resource to use in terms of asking what is available and if there is anything which would suit you. They will be happy to help!



What happens in the final year of the PhD?

We actively encourage all of our full-time students to complete their PhDs within three years.

In order to help you stay on track, we ask that every full-time candidate undergo an assessment exercise in the Lent Term of their third year of research. You submit a one- to two-page synopsis of your dissertation together with a timetable for completion. You then have a formal discussion with your supervisor, and sometimes the Advisor.

The major government grant-giving bodies expect all our full-time students to complete within a maximum of four years. Therefore, in order to secure future funding for its students, the Degree Committee monitors its submissions rates closely. This is why we place emphasis on your research proposal being something feasible for completion in three years, and also why we have the first and third year assessments in order to help you as much as we can.

The fourth year isn’t guaranteed, so do try to plan your topic within a three-year time span. By that time, we hope you’ll be eager to get started on your career after the training you will have received at Cambridge!


How is the PhD examined?

Once you have submitted a full dissertation, it is examined by two examiners. These examiners are appointed by the Degree Committee after consultation with your supervisor. You will then have a viva voce – an oral examination – on the dissertation and the general field of your knowledge into which your dissertation falls. The University of Cambridge does not offer any qualifying grades or credits, so you will be awarded a pass or a fail – we hope it’s the former!

Here’s a table which outlines, for full-time candidates, the registration and submission dates:



TERM (1 being your first term)

Minimum number of terms of research needed before submitting



Minimum number of terms of research which need to be in Cambridge (in order to qualify for the PhD)



End of term by which your draft dissertation must be submitted to your supervisor



Absolute final submission deadline



Maximum number of terms for which an exemption or allowance will be made following a one-year course