In light of the current COVID-19 outbreak, all viva voce examinations, including those for Confirmation Reviews, are currently being undertaken remotely. Remote vivas must be arranged in accordance with the procedures set out on the video-conferencing approval form for Confirmation Reviews, which can be downloaded from this page.
Students undertaking the degrees of PhD (including PhD with Integrated Studies), MD and EngD are required to undergo a Confirmation Review in order 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 or not 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 commencing a research degree from 2019/20 onward will be 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.
Confirmation Review requirements for students
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.
It is anticipated that the minimum requirements for the written submission will 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;
- 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.
Confirmation Review panels
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 considered 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.
Confirmation Review process
Students are permitted a maximum of two attempts at Confirmation Review. If a student fails the first attempt, departments may defer a final decision on whether or not to confirm a student’s doctoral candidature pending a second attempt.
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 for resubmission. If the second attempt is unsuccessful students will have failed the Confirmation Review and will be automatically transferred to an MPhil programme.
Under normal circumstances, students are expected to attend the Confirmation Review viva and are not normally permitted to undergo Confirmation Review using video-conferencing technology. Remote Location students are expected to attend any assessments, which should normally take place in Sheffield. Requests for exceptions to this rule will be considered on a case-by-case basis and may only be granted in exceptional circumstances. Examples of where an exception might be considered appropriate are: 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). Departments should bear in mind that in such circumstances the student should be accompanied by an examiner (in line with practice for final examinations undertaken via Skype). Exceptions to this policy are also permitted during the Coronavirus pandemic whilst University buildings are closed.
Timing of the 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 months 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, particularly if the student subsequently fails and is downgraded 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 relevant time period when the Confirmation Review should have taken place or work should have been submitted.
Outcomes of the Confirmation Review Process
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 – Student is transferred to an MPhil programme (normally only available following a second attempt)
There is no option to automatically withdraw a student who fails Confirmation Review; however, if a student has failed and the department considers it highly unlikely that they will even successfully complete an MPhil, then the department 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.
Students who fail their Confirmation Review and 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 Services for faculty consideration. Following faculty approval of the recommendation, the student’s record will be updated.
Information for international students on a Tier 4 visa
International students studying on a 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. The International Student Support Team will advise each student on the immigration implications of transferring to MPhil. The University is required to report the change from PhD to MPhil to the Home Office.