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Tips for the transfer process, thesis or viva

Tips for the transfer process, thesis or viva

At the end of the PhD, you will still need to submit a thesis and undertake a viva. Some PhD programmes also have a 'transfer process' at the end of the first year (this is in essence a mini-version of the thesis and viva i.e. a ‘dry run’; the aim is to identify students who are struggling at an early stage, when remedial action can still be taken.)

How to prepare for the transfer report / thesis

Find out when the transfer report/thesis has to be submitted – record the date in your diary and allow sufficient time. People often allow 2-3 months of full time writing of the thesis and prior to this may allocate a certain amount of time each week to start preparing figures/legends (e.g. half a day/week). Preparing material early will allow you to plan what still needs to be done. Discuss your writing plan with your supervisors and create a Gantt chart. See the section on how to write effectively for tips on how to optimise your writing.

Prepare material (figures and legends) as a PowerPoint presentation. This will ensure you:

  • get into the habit of formatting figures and legends as you generate them
  • identify missing data or figures which need to be re-produced early on
  • order / re-order the content so that the thesis flows logically
  • present your data at lab meetings and receive feedback

Transfer reports/theses usually include:


  • literature review
  • hypothesis, aims and objectives: what are the clinical implications, what is novel


  • include ethical approval references
  • state the manufacturer of all reagents / equipment used
  • detail any optimisation of methods which you performed
  • credit everyone who was involved in the work


  • choose images / graphs selectively
  • pay attention to detail regarding formatting and legends
  • programmes e.g. Paint can be used to annotate figures but data should never be doctored/fabricated
  • detail how results have been validated


  • discuss results, their implications and potential future work
  • for the transfer, you may need to include a personal development plan and Gantt chart
  • Be selective when choosing the material to include in your thesis. Do not be tempted to include everything – include relevant work only. The thesis should tell a coherent story.
  • Check your University’s guidance for examiners and marking criteria; write your thesis with this in mind. Usually the examiners require evidence of:

    • originality
    • independent critical ability
    • work which is of sufficient quality for peer reviewed publication (therefore include details of papers which you have published and a publication strategy for any unpublished work)
  • Find out who your examiners will be: check their research backgrounds and write the thesis with this in mind.
  • Find out whether your University offers courses on the transfer process / thesis writing / viva. Your University may provide transfer report / thesis templates or offer courses on using Microsoft Word for long documents
  • Write an early draft and ask for feedback. Some people submit individual chapters of their thesis for feedback as they write.
  • Allow sufficient time before the submission deadline for your supervisors to review and give feedback on the final draft.

How to prepare for the viva

Ensure that you and your supervisor complete the necessary University paperwork and that your supervisor arranges examiners in good time. Check the research background of your examiners as this is likely to influence the questions they ask.

Re-read your thesis, making notes on areas which are likely to be discussed.

Ask your supervisor to arrange a mock viva.

In the viva you will need to:

  • demonstrate understanding of the project’s aims, objectives and hypotheses
  • be able to justify your choice of methodologies and understand each of them
  • have thought about how you could have performed the research differently
  • be able to describe and interpret the results
  • understand the clinical impact of the research
  • appreciate how your work relates to published literature and parallel research
  • have ideas for future research
  • meet the University’s marking criteria, by demonstrating evidence of:

    • originality
    • independent critical ability
    • work which is of sufficient quality for peer reviewed publication

The viva is your chance to:

  • demonstrate your ability to work independently as a researcher
  • showcase the skills that you have acquired and expertise in your PhD research area
  • defend the decisions that you made
  • express your ideas and thoughts

Be confident: no-one else in the world will know as much about your PhD as you!

After the transfer / viva

  • Thank the examiners: it takes a long time to read a thesis and prepare for a viva and they do so voluntarily.
  • Make a note of all the feedback you receive and act on it.
  • Action any corrections in a timely fashion.