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Organisation of PhD studies and requirements

PSE Group: organisation of PhD studies and requirements

1. PhD study applications

  1. The PSE group is open to accept new PhD students at any time.
  2. For this the formal procedure of applying to Cambridge University and our Department has to be followed.


2. Background requirements and study programme

Applicants who wish to work in the PSE research area are expected to have considered the following items:

  1. To have provided a clear statement of purpose in the formal application, that is to explain why they wish to work in the PSE area.  Specifically, it would be useful to demonstrate why they have that preference based on prior experience and exposure to related topics in their previous years of study – if any.
  2. A clear indication of their background related to the PSE research area: for example regarding Applied Mathematics, Computing, Computer Programming (e.g. in C++, Fortran, Python, etc.), Optimisation, Linear Algebra, Process Control, etc.
  3. To arrange as soon as possible a Skype or telephone interview upon successful admission, so as to both explain their interest in person as well as to be provided information about work in the PSE group. 
  4. In general, the PSE domain is very rigorous and demanding, requiring intense theoretical and computational work, with computer programming a prerequisite, as well as strong self-motivation.  Students undertaking a project in the PSE group should be prepared for this: both in terms of a very strong mathematical and computational background, as well as very strong motivation and commitment to complete the PhD degree.


Ph.D. students are also expected to demonstrate independence in organising their work, showing initiative to advance their chosen field of studies and making continuous progress by engaging their project very actively, consistently, and very vigorously.  It is thus very important that the match between a student and their project area is complementary to their own interests and aspirations, as well as to their prior educational background and experience.


From the group and the supervisor there will be a fully organised provision of resources and continuous support, both in terms of computational tools as well as learning resources.  There is also an initial orientation in their research topic by pointing out key publications and the advanced background required for research work to be initiated and progress smoothly. 


Discussions and evaluation of the student’s progress will be taking place continuously, and the supervisor will be helping the student to overcome educational difficulties should they arise. 


For example, PhD students at least in the first year of studies meet regularly with their supervisor in the PSE group, on a weekly basis, at least, to exchange ideas and to discuss their projects and monitor their progress.  There is also a weekly group meeting, during which students are expected to give a presentation in rotation every week, as well as to practice their presentations to the Department and other venues (such as preparation for international conference presentations, etc.). 


PhD student supervisors also provide the University with reports on each PhD student’s progress on a 3-month basis (once every academic term); in the PSE group particular case there are overview discussions with the students at frequent intervals, and communications in writing with a summary of the items raised during those discussions so that they have a precise record of issues that need to be addressed.


The reward of working for the PSE group is a very competitive world-class training at the end of the PhD studies, as well as the expectation for the completion of original research work during the 3 years of studies for the PhD degree, and the hope for its successful publication via several research articles in top-quality international peer-reviewed journals.  Also the students are encouraged to attend at least one international conference where they will present themselves their original work, ensuring international exposure for them and to gain experience in delivering such presentations. 


Although not a prerequisite for successful completion of PhD studies in our University, in terms of putting together the PhD thesis at the conclusion of one’s studies it is particularly useful to use paper submission as an experience in structuring one’s work by exposure to the international community via the article submission peer-review process.  By experience, one can see that such a practice results in improving scientific writing skills, as well as leading to a very focused PhD thesis which requires minimal corrections after the PhD viva.


Finally, any student undertaking PhD studies in our Department at Cambridge University has to also pass successfully a viva based on their first year report, at the end of the first year of studies, so that they are then registered formally for the PhD degree.  The basis of this viva is:

  1. the presentation of the report and its clarity and scientific content,
  2. the originality of the work conducted in the first year,
  3. successful completion of an oral examination by two examiners. 


The examiners would want to ensure that:

  1. the student has carried out the work,
  2. has clear understanding of his/her research domain, and
  3. the student is capable of carrying out the rest of their studies independently in a clearly planned way.