Course structure

The Sociology, Politics or East Asian Studies PhD programmes normally take four years to complete on a full-time basis. New PhD students will usually join the programme at the beginning of Teaching Block one in September. Part-time study is also available. More detailed information can be found in the SPAIS PGR Handbook 2017_18 (PDF, 5,003kB)

Disciplinary PhD programmes that are offered by SPAIS are:

  • Sociology (PhD)
  • Politics (PhD)
  • East Asian Studies (PhD)

Interdisciplinary programmes whose admissions processes are co-ordinated by SPAIS are:

  • Security, Conflict and Human Rights (PhD)
  • Global Political Economy (PhD)

Please note that students on interdisciplinary pathways will be supervised across institutions in the SWDTP. Students will normally be registered in the School of their first supervisor.

Supervision arrangements

All research students in SPAIS are assigned two supervisors, either co-supervisors, or a primary and secondary supervisor. Supervisors will be allocated on the basis of the information given in the research statement, which is required to provide as part of the application. They will be well-placed to provide academic advice and support, and also act as personal tutors to provide pastoral care and guidance throughout the duration of studies.

Supervision meetings are expected to be scheduled monthly.  Both supervisors and MPhil/PhD students share decisions regarding the progression review procedure, reviewing the thesis, and making preparations for the final MPhil or PhD viva. If a student's research changes, it may become desirable to substitute the secondary supervisor for the primary one, or to change one or both supervisors entirely. 

Monitoring progress and performance

The school takes great care to monitor the progress of its research students and to ensure that any problems are quickly identified and resolved. Once every year the Faculty of Social Sciences and Law requires research students and supervisors to complete an annual report form, following a progress meeting between supervisors and the student. Students have the opportunity to comment on the supervisors' assessment of their progress, or on any other aspect of the supervisors' role.

Progression Review

Research students in the Faculty will be registered directly to the PhD programme. Students who are registered to the PhD programme will be required to go through a Progression Review Panel. The Progression Review Panel should take place within 12–18 months of registration. This is one of the ways that we review a student's progress on the PhD programme.  Please note that this does not replace the Annual Progress Monitoring requirement.

Following a successful progression review the student will work towards submitting an 80,000 word thesis for examination. An internal and external examiner will be appointed to conduct the viva voce examination. Students must submit a minimum of three years from their registration (six years part time) and a maximum of four years (seven years part time). The fourth year is designated a writing up year and no fees are payable.

Research training programme

Most students will begin with research training, which equips them with the essential research skills required for doctoral-level study in the social sciences. In their first year (or over the first two years for part time students) all PhD students are expected to follow the core units of the MSc in Social Science Research Methods. Please note that students who already have a Masters in Research Methods would not need to complete the taught units.

  • Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: Students will develop a philosophical appreciation of the underpinnings of qualitative research methods and a critical understanding of and the ability to apply to their own work, the appropriate uses, strengths and weaknesses of qualitative methods. Students will also gain the ability to evaluate the research practice, data and interpretations of others and be sensitive to ethical, political and value concerns in qualitative research. Appreciation of a reflexive approach to social science research considered alongside the ability to demonstrate basic skills in the use of qualitative research techniques. 
  • Introduction to Quantitative Research Methods in the Social Sciences:   Students will develop a philosophical appreciation of the underpinnings of quantitative research methods and a critical understanding of and the ability to apply to their own work, the appropriate uses, strengths and weaknesses of quantitative methods. Students will also gain the ability to evaluate the research practice, data and interpretations of others and apply sensitivity to ethical, political and value concerns in quantitative research. Appreciation of a reflexive approach to social science research is considered alongside the ability to demonstrate the basic skills in the use of quantitative research techniques.
  •  Philosophy and Research Design in the Social Sciences: Students will gain an understanding of the differing philosophical bases of social science research and appreciate the relevance of social science theories to the design of research. Student will understand the principles and processes of research design and appreciate the range of ethical issues in the design and conduct of social research.  

Exemptions are available from any of these if the student can provide evidence and/or documentation of previous experience and qualifications to the Programme Director.

These units are considered mandatory because they will not only provide students with the necessary skills required to support them in the course of their research but are also transferable skills which may help with employment after finishing the PhD. Experience has shown that students who complete these units are better equipped to successfully complete their PhD.

Students who successfully complete 120 credits of research training as part of their PhD at the University of Bristol and who are not exempted fromany units will be eligible for the additional award of Postgraduate Diploma in Research Methods.

PhD students can take optional further courses from the MSc programme catalogue for credit and in some cases students are able to attend classes without submitted assessed work. Students undertaking 120 credit points would be eligible to graduate with a PG Diploma in Social Science Research Methods as well as their PhD. 

Preparation for MPhil or PhD viva

MPhil and PhD theses are examined in a viva voce examination by an internal examiner, generally from within the school, and by an external examiner appointed from another academic institution in the UK. To prepare PhD students for their viva, the school offers the opportunity to undertake a mock viva. This is held in the period between the submission of the thesis and the actual viva.

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