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Frequently Asked Questions

The Computer Science Mentoring Team are often asked questions about Manchester, The University or PhD Study in general. Below is a compilation of the most frequently asked questions and their answers. If you cannot find the answer to any of your questions on these pages, then please feel free to email the mentors at:


The subject of my research is a field that I have very recently become interested in, thus I do not currently have a great depth of knowledge within the field. Is this a potential recipe for disaster?

Not really. Most students are not familiar with their fields when they start a PhD. All they know is that they want to do something in processor design or they want to do something in description logic, or the Semantic Web. The first year is mainly spent researching around your field, identifying problems that you may wish to solve. Your supervisor will guide you on how big (or small) a problem to tackle. The biggest asset in the first year is motivation. You have to be really interested in the subject and really want to research that topic. You'll be doing the same work for three years.

I am unsure about exactly how a PhD is assessed. Are there regular assessments during the research to see if the student is on track?

Your supervisor will know if your work is progressing or not and will inform you of this. There are formal assessments. At the end of first year you will need to write a long report (similar in length to a thesis) that outlines the work you have been reading, the problem identified, how you will solve the problem and how you will evaluate your solution. Then at the end of second year you will need to write a short 4 page report that outlines what you've done and what remains to be done. It should be noted however that these are internal assessments that determine if you can progress to the next year or not. They do not contribute to the final awarding of a PhD degree. That is entirely dependent upon you writing a thesis that is read and accepted by external examiners and completing a viva, which can last several hours.

What is the transition from taught based learning to research based learning like? For example, are we expected to work within the University for the majority of the day?

Very steep. Nothing you have done in the taught courses will prepare you. You work under your own time management and supervision. Nobody will ask you to complete work, although your supervisor may occasionally want to see work you have done. As a PhD student you are treated as a junior member of staff and will be given your own office and computer equipment. You are expected to be in, but nobody will check up on you. If you work from home that is fine, however working from home is probably not the best course of action.

Is a PhD largely independent work, or is it conducted in collaboration with other students/professors?

There is only you. It's your PhD and your contribution to the field. You can ask for advice from people who are doing similar projects to you but nobody will do work for you.

Does a PhD require a student to live on campus? My current commute to the university would be approximately 25-30 minutes (from home), could this be a potential problem?

You can live where you like. As mentioned previously, you are almost a member of staff and so have an office and a desk and equipment, when and where you use it is entirely up to you.

How do I obtain funding to attend a conference?

The School of CS devolves all resources that are normally used to fund PGR equipment and traveling to the research groups. Since each PGR student belongs to a research group, the implication of this policy is that you need to speak with your supervisor, who will know (or can find out) how to tap into the resources available to your group. Note that sometimes the wider financial climate constrains the ability of the School as a whole to be as supportive as it means to be. Note also that different groups have different implementations of the policy (e.g., it may or may not be the case that your supervisor can autonomy to spend or whether s/he needs to apply to the head of the group for that). Other than this primary source, some institutions sometimes have funds to which a student can apply (e.g., the Royal Society), and some conferences themselves offer bursaries.

How does the School of Computer Science allocate demonstration duties to school-funded and non school-funded research students?

For 2010/11, school-funded students were allocated 40% and other students 60% of available demonstrator hours.