Assessment of higher degree research

All ANU candidates are required to meet satisfactory academic progress. This means that they must meet the minimum academic performance requirements, which are assessed through the progress milestones and the assessments.

Introducing the ANU Confirmation of Candidature

For candidates beginning their PhD or MPhil from 1 January 2024, Confirmation of Candidature will replace the Thesis Proposal Review (TPR) at ANU.

Why the change?

The change to the Confirmation is being made to give research candidates more support at the beginning of their research experience at ANU. This is part of the ANU PhD strategy and has been the result of a long period of consultation and negotiation across the University.

There is a wide range of research at ANU, and PhD and MPhil research itself is original and unique. However, there is so much variation in the requirements for the TPR milestone around ANU such that expectations are too broad or not clear for candidates, supervisors and other staff, and are sometimes lacking in rigour.

Having an ANU standard Confirmation of Candidature aims to promote a better quality of PhD and Masters by Research experience, while also supporting more timely completion of programs.

Confirmation of Candidature is intended to be a rigorous yet collegial process. It ensures that:

  • candidates receive the best possible supervision arrangements,
  • the project is developed with guidance to be a suitable PhD or MPhil project, and
  • resources and training needs are identified and agreed, including accessibility resources and requirements.

It is intended that candidates emerge from the Confirmation process with a clear understanding of their project, the support available to them, their supervisors, and an enhanced sense of their place in the research environment at the ANU. By giving a high level of support and attention to PhD and MPhil candidates they are more likely to proceed with confidence in their project.

How is it different to the Thesis Proposal Review (TPR)?

The procedural differences to the TPR are :

  1. Each candidate will have a Confirmation Review Panel (CRP) consisting of the Supervisory panel and headed by a Confirmation Review Panel Chair. The CRP Chair is external to the supervisory panel.
  2. The CRP assesses training and development needs of the candidate.
  3. The CRP assesses the level of resourcing required for the project and either ensures that the candidate can access the resources they need, or that the project be modified so that it can be achieved.
  4. There is both a written and an oral requirement for Confirmation of Candidature.

The other main difference is that there will be consistency across the ANU on the components of the milestone, which have been agreed upon after a thorough design and consultation process. Although there is an ANU standard Confirmation of Candidature, some aspects of the process can be varied. These must be recorded and approved by the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate Research).

When does the Confirmation of Candidature occur?

The Confirmation of Candidature process must be finalised within 9-12 months of the start of candidature, unless the program has an alternative approved process (see above).

What is the Confirmation Review Panel (CRP)?

For each candidate a CRP will be appointed to oversee the confirmation process. The CRP must be constituted at 3 months into candidature at the time of the First Annual Plan, except for programs with a variation.

The role of the CRP is to consider all information provided as part of the Confirmation process and to make a recommendation to the Delegated Authority about the outcome of the Confirmation.

The CRP will include all supervisory panel members, including industry-based supervisors. The CRP will include at least one additional person who is independent and external to the supervisory panel who will serve as the Chair.

This independent person will be the Delegated Authority, or their independent delegate. They may be the HDR Convenor or they could be another ANU academic appointed by the Delegated Authority. They must not be a member of the panel or have a close personal relationship to a panel member or the candidate.

The Delegated Authority constitutes the panel and decides who will be the Chair, giving due consideration to the candidate’s preferences and other factors such as conflict of interest.

Industry based advisors who are not on the supervisory panel may be invited to sit on the panel.

There is flexibility around the number of panel members. The minimum requirement is for all members of the supervision panel plus the Chair, who must be independent. No maximum number is stipulated but it is expected that there be no more than five (5) members.

What is the assessment structure?

Candidature is confirmed when all of the assessment components of the& Confirmation are approved by the Delegated Authority.

All Confirmations at ANU must consist of a written component and an oral component, and affirm the following criteria:

  • Academic rigour of the proposed research, using the AQF Level 10 expectations guide.
  • Capacity to meet the learning outcomes of the Program within the program length.
  • Feasibility of the proposed research.
  • Training needs assessment.
  • Accessibility needs assessment, if required.
  • Resource requirements.
  • Supervisory panel.

Written component – Thesis Proposal

The Thesis Proposal is the written component of the Confirmation milestone, and its purpose is to outline the research question and the proposed research. The preparation of this document should be considered as a roadmap for the candidate, where they describe their initial investigations and how they plan to carry out their project.

The minimum standard requirement for the written component is 5,000 words, or as specified in an approved variation, and must be submitted at least 10 working days prior to the oral presentation.

It must include:

  • a literature review,
  • the proposed methodology,
  • a description of how the proposed research will make an original contribution to the field of study,
  • a timeline and project plan that demonstrates the research can be completed within the Program length,
  • accessibility requirements if desired by the candidate, and
  • an assessment of the skills the candidate needs to develop to complete the research.

The skills assessment is intended to form the basis for candidates to discuss professional development needs and opportunities with the CRP. The Thesis Proposal should include a summary of the resources that will be required to complete the research and intended sources of funding, if required.

Oral component – Thesis Proposal presentation

An oral presentation should outline the proposed research and summarise the existing literature, describe the proposed methodology, and provide a description of how the proposed research will make an original contribution to the field of study. It is a presentation based on the written Thesis Proposal.

The Thesis Proposal presentation should be open to all members of the discipline area and can be open to the public, if desired or appropriate. The presentation should be approximately 40-60 minutes in length with 20 minutes for discussion. The minimum requirement to be set at Program level is 20 minutes presentation and 10 minutes discussion.

All members of the CRP must attend. Opportunities to attend remotely should be provided. In the rare circumstances that a panel member is not able to attend the presentation they should provide written feedback to the Thesis Proposal as presented in its written form or of a recording of the Thesis Proposal if appropriate.

What is the Confirmation process?

The Confirmation itself refers to the combination of

  • the written component (the thesis proposal),
  • the oral presentation of the thesis proposal,
  • a meeting of the CRP about the thesis proposal and the presentation where they decide on the outcome of the confirmation, and
  • a meeting of the CRP and the candidate to convey and discuss this outcome.

Meeting of the Candidate and CRP Chair

Before the Confirmation, the candidate is given the opportunity to meet with the independent CRP Chair. This is a chance for the candidate to discuss any aspect of their candidature, including resourcing, funding, skill or professional development, and to discuss their supervisory arrangements.

Thesis Proposal document (see above);

Thesis Proposal Presentation (see above)

Meeting of CRP members

After the submission of the Thesis Proposal and the oral presentation, the CRP members will meet without the candidate present to discuss the proposal and decide on the outcome.

The panel should consider the viability of the proposed research within the program length, the funding and other resources required to complete the research, and the suitability of the existing panel to supervise the research and the candidate.

Confirmation of Candidature meeting

The Confirmation outcome is communicated at a meeting of the candidate and the CRP after the CRP meeting. The candidate may invite a support person when they meet with the panel. A support person is not part of the decision-making process. At this meeting the CRP and candidate will discuss:

  • The research plan, timeline, and any amendments resulting from the Thesis Proposal Presentation or review of the written proposal.
  • The appropriate supervisory panel to oversee the proposed research.
  • The training or development needs of the candidate.
  • The resources required to complete the proposed research.
  • Accessibility requirements of the candidate, if appropriate.

The CRP communicates the outcome to the candidate at the meeting, and agrees upon any amendments required for the candidature to be confirmed.

What are the possible outcomes of a Confirmation of Candidature?

The CRP Chair will make a recommendation to the Delegated Authority on behalf of the CRP.

Possible outcomes:

  • Confirmation of Candidature:
    • Confirming supervisory panel.
    • Approve resourcing for research project.
  • Further review (e.g. of project progress, methodology, or level of resourcing) with timeline for decision within 3 months.
  • Convert to MPhil/PhD.
  • Withdraw/discontinue.

If there is disagreement within the CRP, the Confirmation will be referred to the Associate Dean (HDR) for review. The ADHDR may require supplementary material.

The Thesis

The final piece of assessment for higher degree research (HDR) programs is the thesis. The thesis is submitted at the end of the program and is the culmination of the research conducted during the program.

In addition to the thesis, research students are required to complete progress milestones during their program. Some research programs also require the completion of coursework.

Your supervisory team will support and assist you in your research and guide you through the formation of your thesis. Once it is completed it is to be submitted for examination following the thesis submission guidelines.

Theses are examined in accordance with the Research Awards Rules.

On the recommendation of the Delegated Authority, the appropriate Education Dean will appoint at least two external expert examiners of international standing to examine your thesis. Members of your supervisory panel cannot be an examiner of your thesis.

Once your thesis has been examined, you will be notified of the examiners' recommendations. For each thesis, examiners are required to recommend one of the following outcomes:

  • that the student be granted the award
  • that the student be granted the award subject to corrections or revisions required by the examiners in the thesis to be made to the satisfaction of the Delegated Authority in the copy intended for deposit with the University Library
  • that the student be permitted to submit a revised thesis for re-examination
  • that the student be failed.

Students have the right to appeal a fail result.