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Current Postgraduate Students



Your PhD thesis must be prepared in accordance with the University regulations, which state that the thesis is not to exceed, without prior permission of the Degree Committee, 60,000 words, including summary/abstract, tables, and footnotes, but excluding table of contents, photographs, diagrams, figure captions, list of figures/diagrams, list of abbreviations/acronyms, bibliography, appendices and acknowledgements (Note 1).

Your thesis will be examined by two examiners neither of whom will be your Supervisor: usually one will be internal (from this Department) and one will be external (from a different University).

Funding vs. University Deadlines for PhD Thesis Submission

The official duration of a PhD is three years (defined by the University) but students (regardless of funding duration) are usually given a PhD submission deadline of four years by Student Registry, intended to provide an overrun period for unforeseen delays.  If you are granted a period of intermission, your submission deadline will be extended but your funding may not.  Our Chemistry Department PhD students come to us with a range of different types of funding, normally lasting for between three and four years and confusion can sometimes occur as to what a student is expected to complete during their funded period in the Department, whether that be 3 years, 3.5 years or 4 years in total. 

As a Department, we have agreed that although the Student Registry usually allows you up to four years in which to submit before your name is removed from the Graduate Register, because it is practically very difficult to be in Cambridge beyond the funded period and because you cannot expect laboratory/office space or financial support during the fourth year unless your sponsor/supervisor has confirmed the funding, all students should be able to complete their PhD studies (including all experimental work and often also writing the thesis) within the funded period, whether that be 3 years, 3.5 years or 4 years in total.

What if I Cannot Submit Before my Funding Finishes?

It is really important to communicate with your Supervisor at all stages of your PhD and in particular at least six months before your funding is due to run out, discuss together the plan for completing your studies.  If it looks like you will need to over-run your funded period, you need to firstly discuss with your Supervisor whether they or your funding provider can provide additional funding for you during the over-run period. 

If this is not possible and your funding is for three years, you may wish to apply to the University Hardship Fund. You can do this as long as there is clear justification for you needing to run beyond the three years defined by the University as being the length of PhD study.  It is unusual for the University Hardship fund to support applications from students who are over-running when they already had 3.5 or 4 years of funding in place.

You should also enquire with your College as to whether they can support you: they may have a College Hardship fund which you can apply for.

If you have been a member of the Cambridge Philosophical Society for at least one year, you may also apply for funding from them (Dr Finian Leeper has kindly offered to countersign applications) and ultimately, if all these channels fail and you are getting into real financial difficulty, please come and talk to a member of the Graduate Education Team so we can understand and potentially help you/signpost you otherwise.

PhD Thesis Submission within Four Years

Submission of your PhD thesis within four years of starting your PhD is important, both for you and for the Department.  From your perspective, if you do not, you will be at a significant disadvantage compared with those who do submit within four years:

  • You will be removed from the register and you will not be allowed back on without support from the Department and your Supervisor;
  • Your CRSID will no longer work;
  • Funding will no longer usually be available to support you;
  • College accommodation is normally unavailable beyond four years;
  • If you need to move away, finishing writing up is often problematic due to a lack of access to facilities you need in the Department;
  • If you begin a job elsewhere and have not finished writing up before you do that, the whole process can become very drawn out, your research gradually less and less relevant and the chance of successful submission greatly reduced.

In addition, funds for future students may be jeopardised if current students do not submit on time: the four year submission rate is a key metric often employed by funding bodies when they decide who to fund.  Even if you submit just one day late, e.g. 1st October vs 30th September for Michaelmas starters, you are classed as failing to meet the four year deadline and become part of the statistics which may work against us when we try to get funds to support your successors. 

If you have any doubt about completing your PhD within four years, always raise your concerns with your Supervisor, Academic Mentor or any member of the Graduate Education Team as early as possible.

Further Information and Relevant Links Regarding Submission

For further information on PhD submission please see ‘Examinations’ on the Student Registry website, and the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Physics and Chemistry website. 

Once the Chemistry Department is notified by the Student Registry that your thesis has been submitted, you will be asked to submit your Training Record to our Graduate Student Co-ordinator, if you have not already done so.

You may seek permission through the CamSIS Self Service page to submit a CD-Rom or other item with your dissertation. Datasets supplied on a CD as a separate item or an additional volume connected to the printed thesis but not included within it require this permission. This process should be initiated prior to the soft bound submission.

At least two months before you expect to submit your dissertation, you should give the Degree Committee notice so the process of appointing your examiners can begin. Further information about the whole process and the PhD Appointment of Examiners form you need to complete and submit can be found here

Information regarding submission of your hard copy (2 copies if you are a Theoretician) can be found here:

After the viva

Your Examiners will complete the Reg2 form after your viva, which provides a recommendation to the Degree Committee as to whether you are approved for PhD with minor or major corrections (the most common options selected), without corrections, if you need to revise and resubmit or if you fail (very rare).  For further information, please see the Student Registry website, and the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Physics and Chemistry website. 

Note 1: Appendices are relevant to the material contained within the dissertation but do not form part of the connected argument. Specifically, they may include derivations, code and spectra, as well as experimental information (compound name, structure, method of formation and data) for non-key molecules made during the PhD studies.  If it does not cause the thesis to exceed the allowed word count, the experimental information for all compounds should normally be included in the main body of the thesis in the Experimental Section.