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The first year

In the Early Stages

Once a candidate and the supervisor(s) have agreed to proceed, there are three early steps to take:

  1. Complete a Student-Supervisor Agreement (listed under "Supervision" section) and note this can be customised.
  2. Initiate a more detailed preliminary investigation of the research should be undertaken. This should involve further discussion of the topic between the student and supervisor(s) and the preparation of a brief research proposal, which should be presented to the department for feedback.
  3. Undertake a Skills Audit (Word, 105KB) to assess which research skills may need to be further developed as part of doctoral education and identify relevant professional development opportunities.


The early stages of the research should contain all or most of the following:

  • Expansion of the initial written proposal required for registration into a detailed written proposal. This should include specific aims and target dates for the various stages of the research, and it should be discussed with the supervisor(s) and/or the Advisory Panel. Agreement should be reached on aims that are realistic and achievable with the resources available within a reasonable period of time. Thorough planning will help to ensure that good progress is made in the first year of the research.
  • A thorough initial search of the relevant literature.
  • Initiation of consent for ethics (if required) and consultation with Māori.
  • Monitoring of the research student's progress by the supervisor(s) and/or departmental advisory committee. This will usually require the holding of regular meetings (weekly or fortnightly) with the student.
  • Formal presentation of the research proposal to a larger audience, perhaps through a research seminar, at an agreed stage or stages.
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From Provisional to Confirmed Candidacy

Admission to the PhD programme is provisional, which means that the candidate must demonstrate satisfactory performance during the first year in order to continue with their research. The process of confirmation will usually take place within the first year’s work – after six months and before 12 months of full or part-time study. Note that some departments will not confirm candidates before 12 months, even if they are making good progress.

It should be noted that, although we would expect that a large majority of PhD candidates will achieve confirmed status without difficulty, the process is not automatic. If confirmation is not granted, then either provisional admission may be approved for a further period of up to six months or the candidate will be required to withdraw or to register for another degree. If, after a period of extension, admission is not confirmed, the candidate will be required to withdraw or to register for another degree.

In order to continue work on the PhD beyond the first year, the candidate must be able to demonstrate the following, as appropriate to the nature of the project:

  • Satisfactory endeavour and application
  • Ability to conduct a detailed literature search and review
  • Acquisition of technical or other practical skills
  • Evidence of suitable professional skills
  • Firm understanding of methodological and/or theoretical issues
  • Ability to communicate clearly, both orally and in writing
  • Achievement of any special requirements (e.g. performance in taught papers) set out in the original application


The confirmation process is tied to the reporting of progress.

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Writing The Thesis

Candidates are strongly encouraged to begin writing up as early as possible, while still engaged in planning, data gathering and/or data analysis. Indeed, writing is encouraged on a daily basis with a minimum of 25 minutes or, ideally "two golden hours" (see Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns, Turbocharge Your Writing (Thinkwell, 2010)). This reduces the often daunting task facing the student if writing up is delayed until it is the only remaining task. The bibliography should also be prepared and up-dated throughout, not left until the final writing-up of the thesis. Candidates are strongly recommended to use referencing software such as EndNote or Zotero to assist in handling their bibliography (ITS offers some courses for postgraduates for some referencing software).

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Ongoing Professional Development

Candidates should undertake a research skills audit (Word, 105KB) within the first few weeks of enrolment to determine which skills they need to further develop in order to study effectively for their PhD. If any skills are thought to be deficient, support to develop them may come from:

  • The experience of doing a PhD
  • Targeted support from the supervisor
  • Accessing appropriate support workshops and/or short courses that are run by the Graduate Research School, Student Learning Centre, the Library etc.
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