Information and guidance on the Confirmation Review process for PGR students.
Students undertaking the degrees of PhD (including PhD with Integrated Studies), MD and EngD are required to undergo a Confirmation Review to confirm their registration as a doctoral student. The first year of the degree is considered a probationary year, pending successful completion of the Confirmation Review.
The Confirmation Review is a key progression milestone, the purpose of which is to confirm whether the student and their research project have the potential for successful completion at doctoral level within the time limit for the degree and whether there is a clear plan in place to achieve this.
The Confirmation Review is also intended to ensure that the student has made satisfactory progress on the DDP, in line with the student’s needs identified via the Training Needs Analysis.
In addition, students who commenced a research degree from 2019/20 onward are required to write a Data Management Plan outlining how they will manage the data they create and gather. Data Management Plans should be reviewed at Confirmation Review.
The University's requirements for Confirmation Review are that students must submit a significant piece of written work and undergo an oral examination. Academic departments should provide more detailed guidance on their departmental procedures and requirements for Confirmation Review at induction and via departmental student handbooks.
Minimum requirements for the written submission should be agreed by departments and/or faculties. However, some examples which could form the basis of work to be submitted for the Confirmation Review are as follows (this is neither a prescriptive nor an exhaustive list):
- A clear statement of the area of research and contextualisation with respect to literature
- A synopsis of the work undertaken so far
- A schedule of further work/project plan
- Draft chapter(s) of the thesis
- Details and reflection of any training undertaken on the DDP, as well as future training plans, e.g. a completed Training Needs Analysis
The schedule of further work should include consideration of any potential challenges to the project’s successful completion (i.e. circumstances that could impact the project), as well as any steps or contingency plans that can be taken to minimise the impact of these challenges.
Departments must ensure that the Confirmation Review process is rigorous and fair. An impartial Confirmation Review panel must be appointed, comprised of individuals who are able to reach an independent judgement on a student’s capability to undertake research at doctoral level.
Confirmation Review panels should comprise a minimum of two academic members of staff, who have not had any previous close association with the student’s research project.
Departments may require larger panels, but must ensure that the composition of the panel has the relevant expertise to effectively judge the student’s progress and research potential. Given the need for impartiality, it is not appropriate for supervisors to be involved in deciding the outcome of the Confirmation Review as members of the panel, although it may be considered appropriate for them to attend the Confirmation Review as an observer.
However, in smaller departments it may be considered appropriate for a DDP supervisor to participate if they have not previously been involved in the research project. Independent Advisors, where used, and personal/pastoral tutors can be used as Confirmation Review panel members.
Students are permitted a maximum of two attempts at Confirmation Review.
If a student fails to pass the first attempt, departments may defer a final decision on whether to confirm a student’s doctoral candidature pending a second attempt (resubmission). Resubmissions for Confirmation Review may be arranged either with or without a further viva examination, depending on the nature of the issues identified during the first attempt.
For example, if the student’s initial viva performance was satisfactory, and only amendments of a minor nature are required to the written work, it is unlikely that another viva will be required. However, if the student’s initial viva performance was considered unsatisfactory, or if the nature of the amendments required for the student to pass their resubmission are of a major nature, then a resubmission with viva should be chosen.
Where a second viva is required, it must be conducted via Blackboard Collaborate and recorded, regardless of whether it is face-to-face or remote.
If a second attempt is required, the student should be provided with clear written guidance as to why the work is currently not at the right standard, the nature of any additional work or revisions required, and the timescale and arrangements for resubmission. If the second attempt is unsuccessful students will no longer be able to continue the PhD programme and will be automatically transferred to an MPhil programme.
Students are normally expected to attend their Confirmation Review in-person, rather than remotely. Exceptions may be considered on a case-by-case basis where it is felt that a remote Confirmation Review would be appropriate. For example, where a student is suffering from a long-term illness and is unable to travel, or where the student has other professional commitments that might preclude travelling to Sheffield within the specified timescale (especially where any further delays would take the student outside the appropriate timescale for Confirmation Review).
By regulation, the first attempt at Confirmation Review must be completed within 12 months of the student's initial registration and, where a second attempt is required, this must be completed within 18 months of initial registration (pro-rata for part-time students). Where exceptions to these timescales are required at programme level, this should be specified in programme regulations.
To achieve these deadlines, it is highly recommended that the student should submit at nine months, to allow time for a viva to be arranged and conducted and work to be assessed. Where a student has had an approved leave of absence, this will be taken into account in calculating the 12- and 18-month deadlines. Departments must ensure there is sufficient evidence at that point to make an informed decision about the feasibility of both the student and the project.
In exceptional circumstances, it may be appropriate for the first attempt to take place later than 12 months, e.g. where recommended in a student's Learning Support Plan. However, departments must still ensure that the second attempt is held by the 18-month deadline. If there are any extenuating circumstances that might have an impact on a student's performance in the Confirmation Review, it is the responsibility of the student to inform the department as soon as possible and not retrospectively.
The responsibility for ensuring that Confirmation Review takes place within the approved timescale rests with the department and not with the student and it is important to adhere to the regulatory deadlines. Delays in holding Confirmation Reviews can cause significant problems for departments and students, especially if the student subsequently fails and is transferred to MPhil.
Students should be made aware that failure to submit work by the deadline specified by their department, and/or failure to attend the Confirmation Review without prior notification to the department, and/or without good reason, will be considered grounds for failure of that attempt provided the student has been given fair and reasonable notice of the deadline. This may lead to the student having only one attempt at Confirmation Review.
If a student has a legitimate reason for absence and/or non-submission of work, this must be evidenced, i.e. an appropriate medical note must be provided to cover the period when the Confirmation Review should have taken place or work should have been submitted.
The following outcomes are available from the Confirmation Review:
- Pass: Confirmation of doctoral status
- Resubmission: The result is deferred pending a second attempt within 18 months of the start of the student’s study, either with or without a further viva
- Fail and transfer to MPhil: The student is no longer permitted to continue the doctoral programme and is transferred to an MPhil (normally only available following a resubmission)
Students who are transferred to an MPhil will be expected to continue that programme and to submit an MPhil thesis. However, if the department considers it highly unlikely that the student will even successfully complete an MPhil, then they should have an open discussion with the student about their options and may wish to recommend that the student withdraws from the University, rather than transferring to MPhil. There is no option to automatically withdraw a student who does not pass their Confirmation Review.
Students who are transferred to an MPhil programme will have their time limit reduced to three years, in line with the MPhil time limit. Sponsored students who are transferred to MPhil are responsible for informing their sponsor, as this is likely to have an impact on the conditions of their sponsorship.
Once the Confirmation Review has been completed and a decision has been reached, departments must complete the University’s Confirmation Review form and send it promptly to the PGR Support Team in Research, Partnerships and Innovation for faculty consideration. A separate form must be completed for each attempt at Confirmation Review so that there is a full audit trail of the process and decisions. Following faculty approval of the recommendation, the student’s record will be updated.
International students studying on a Student or Tier 4 visa should be aware that if they fail the Confirmation Review and are transferred to an MPhil programme, they may no longer meet the academic progression requirements or the conditions of their current student visa and may need to return to their home country to make a fresh visa application. This will not apply to all students in this situation. The University will report the change from a doctoral degree to MPhil to the Home Office, but this will only affect the Student visa in certain circumstances. The International Student Support, Advice and Compliance Team will advise each student on the immigration implications of transferring to MPhil individually.