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Research student progression and assessment

Coronavirus (COVID-19) updateIn light of the developing situation, the Graduate Research School has placed a revised procedure for submission of theses for examination on our Moodle page (under Electronic Thesis Submission). This will be updated as the situation demands. If you have any questions concerning thesis submission, please .

This page tells you everything you need to know about upgrading from MPhil to PhD status, submitting your thesis and sitting your viva voce oral examination. Different schools have different procedures, so you should always check what is required of you with your principal supervisor, or the MPhil/PhD Programme Director or Administrator.

The examination and awarding process for all MPhil/PhD researchers is overseen by the Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS)

Upgrading from MPhil to PhD status 

  • All Birkbeck research students are initially registered for an MPhil degree. 
  • To upgrade from MPhil to PhD you must demonstrate that you have reached the required level of progress and achievement for the PhD degree. 
  • Upgrading usually takes place during the second year for full-time MPhil/PhD researchers or during the third or fourth year for part-time MPhil/PhD researchers. 
  • Details of requirements for consideration of MPhil/PhD upgrades will be provided by your school or department. 
  • You will usually be required to submit written work and may be required to take part in an upgrade viva, during which you will present and discuss your work with a panel of academic staff. 
  • A decision will then be made about whether you should be transferred to the PhD degree programme.  

Writing-up stage and fees

  • You can apply for reduced 'writing-up mode' fees if you have completed all research/data collection and analysis needed for your thesis, as well as a full draft of your thesis. This means that, in principle, you no longer require full supervision, as you are no longer engaged in research. 
  • Entitlement to the reduced writing-up mode fee is not automatic, Firstly, your supervisor and PhD Programme Director will need to agree and then you should contact your departmental administrator or the Birkbeck Graduate Research School for further information about the process. 
  • Full-time students can be in the writing-up mode for not more than one year and part-time students for not more than two years. 

Criteria for the award of an MPhil/PhD degree

Entering Your Thesis for Examination 

  • To begin the process of entering your thesis for examination, you need to first complete the Entry for Examination formThis should be sent to your supervisor, who must complete the relevant sections and submit it to the BGRS.
  • Once we have processed your Exam Entry, you will be able to track the progress of preparations for your examination through My Birkbeck. If you click the ‘view’ menu at the top of your profile and click ‘My Examination’ you will be able to see what steps have been completed and when.
  • Please note: if you began the examination process prior to May 2019, you may find the information in My Examination to be incomplete. You can if you have any concerns regarding the progress of your examination arrangements.

SELECTING PhD examiners

  • After the Entry for Examination form is submitted, you and your supervisor should discuss two suitable academic examiners for your final, viva voce (oral) examination. One must be internal (ie working at a college that is part of the University of London) and the other must be external (ie working at a university that is not part of the University of London). 
  • Your supervisor will approach possible examiners, but the final decision should be made through discussion between you and your supervisor. 
  • These examiners will have to be approved by the College. 
  • In some circumstances, it may be appropriate for the viva to be chaired by an independent member of academic staff. The role of an Independent Chair is to attend the oral examination and ensure that it is conducted fairly and in accordance with the University Regulations. View the procedure and guidance for independent chairs.

Length of a thesis (MPhil and PhD)

  • The maximum word length for an MPhil thesis is usually 60,000 words for most subject areas, which includes footnotes but excludes your bibliography and appendices. 
  • The maximum word length for a PhD thesis is usually 100,000 words for most subject areas, which includes footnotes but excludes your bibliography and appendices. 
  • You should carefully check Birkbeck's MPhil/PhD regulations to confirm the required word count for your MPhil and PhD thesis. 
  • If you are going to exceed the stipulated length of your MPhil/PhD thesis, you will need to submit an application to exceed the stipulated length of a thesis, at least six months before submitting your thesis for examination.  

Formatting and binding your thesis for examination 

How to submit your thesis for examination

  • You should submit your two bound copies in one of two ways: 
    • Drop them off at the Student Advice Service on the main Birkbeck campus in Bloomsbury, central London (who will forward your submitted thesis internally to the BGRS), or 
    • Post them via recorded delivery directly to the Birkbeck Graduate Research School, Registry, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX. There are lots of ways you can contact the BGRS
  • Once received, the BGRS will send copies of your thesis to your examiners. 

Forms to accompany your thesis when submitting 

  • You need to complete two forms to accompany your thesis when you submit it: the abstract and the declaration of word count. Complete and print out these forms, to hand in as hard copies with your bound thesis. 

The viva voce oral examination 

  • Many schools offer a mock viva, often with your second supervisor, to give you a sense of the process and an opportunity to practice and receive constructive feedback on your performance. Many PhD researchers find this very useful and reassuring. 
  • The viva is a meeting between you and your two examiners, which usually takes about two hours but it may last longer. The viva will usually take place at Birkbeck. 
  • Your supervisor may also attend if you wish, but most PhD researchers go into the viva alone. 
  • The purpose of the viva is to: 
    • establish if your thesis is sufficient to meet the requirements for a PhD degree 
    • demonstrate that your thesis is all your own work and that you understand what you have written and argued  
    • allow you to verbally defend your work under academic scrutiny 
    • corroborate that you understand where your work sits in relation to similar research and the wider academic field 
    • respond to the examiners' questions, clarify your arguments and expand on your ideas and findings. 
  • It is wise to treat your viva professionally, like a job interview: arrive promptly, dress smartly and take pens and paper. You should take a copy of your thesis as well. 
  • Viva tips: 
    • Try to remain calm. 
    • Take your time answering the questions. 
    • Ask for clarification if you don't understand anything. 
    • Admit if you don't know the answer to a question. 
    • Be willing to expand on your arguments and defend particular lines of enquiry or interpretations. 
  • A viva can be a rigorous, thought-provoking and challenging experience - it is an examination like any other and you must prepare. There are few formal rules governing how a viva works, so it can feel unpredictable and your examiners will expect you to 'think on your feet'. 
  • Some examiners will be reassuring and interrogative, while others may be more confrontational. 
  • It is wise to prepare carefully beforehand and think about your findings and arguments, the sources or data you have used, the structure of your thesis, and your research methodologies. It is useful to practice answering questions, from the generic to the specific. 
  • Your principal supervisor can advise you on how to fully prepare. 
  • Some generic questions might include: 
    • Explain your thesis in one sentence. 
    • Summarise your key findings. 
    • What have you done to merit a PhD? 
    • What is original about your research? 
    • How does your thesis contribute to knowledge? 
    • What are the strongest and/or weakest parts of your thesis? 
    • What might you have done differently? 
    • What were your research methodologies? 
    • What aspect of your thesis are you most proud of? 

Viva voce results

  • Possible outcomes to the viva are governed by the relevant regulations for your research degree. The main outcomes are:
    • pass without amendments 
    • pass subject to minor amendments - this is the most frequent outcome
    • offer to resubmit with major corrections, due within 18 months
    • PhD level not achieved, but student qualifies for an MPhil (can be subject to minor amendments)
    • fail.
  • If minor amendments are required, the examiners will set a deadline for you to complete these (maximum length subject to the relevant regulations), after which they or your supervisor will review your amended thesis. 
  • If major corrections are required, the examiners have the option of conducting a second viva upon resubmission. 
  • Once any required amendments have been approved, you will be asked to submit two final copies of your thesis, including any corrections specified by your examiner. Please refer to the instructions and notes on submission, format and binding.

How to submit your final thesis after your viva voce examination 

Resubmitting your thesis

  • If you do not satisfy your examiners that you have reached the requisite level for the degree of PhD, you may be permitted to resubmit your thesis within a given period. 
  • You must resubmit the following forms: 
  • You must also pay an examination re-entry fee. 
  • If you fail to satisfy the examiners a second time, you will not be permitted to re-enter for the examination. 


  • If you would like an Award Confirmation Letter,  and we will provide one within 10 working days. Please let us know if you need the letter more urgently. 


  • Birkbeck is committed to the principle of Open Access, which means we provide free, immediate, permanent online access to the full text of your research for anyone, web-wide, if you choose to submit an e-copy via ORBIT (Online Repository of Birkbeck Institutional Theses)
  • Submitting a digital copy of your work is not mandatory, but we recommend it. 
  • If you are in the process of seeking a publisher or publishing some or all of your thesis, you should speak to your publisher about copyright, as you may not be able to publish your thesis and simultaneously offer it for Open Access via ORBIT. 
  • You can restrict access to the full text of your thesis on ORBIT, which may help you comply with your publishers' copyright requirements.