MRC Centre for Reproductive Health
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Guide for postgraduate students

A guide for CRH PhD and MD postgraduate students - Supervision and Study  

Welcome to the MRC Centre for Reproductive Health (CRH)

Deanery of Clinical Sciences

College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine GRADUATE SCHOOL

University of Edinburgh

This is intended to provide an outline that should help you settle in at the start of your postgraduate studies and provide an outline of what to expect.

In the first few weeks your immediate priorities will be registration (matriculation), discussing your plan of research with your supervisor/s, meeting fellow students and staff and familiarising yourself with local health and safety rules.

Getting Started

One of your first tasks is matriculation, which should be completed as soon as it is possible in order to avoid difficulties. Details on how to matriculate are on the college website at

If you have any problems with this process the CRH PG Administrator, staff in the College of Medicine PG office (first floor of Chancellor’s Building) or your supervisor will be able to help. Once you have matriculated, you will be able to obtain a student card (giving you access to a wide range of University facilities), a student email account, access to online resources such as the University portal MyEd ( and University library facilities.

After welcoming you to the Centre your supervisor will arrange for you to be introduced to key members of staff such as the Centre Management, Administrative teams and the staff and students in their group.  Staff will arrange for you to get an identity card to allow you to gain access to the laboratories and other facilities in the QMRI and you will be given a space in a shared office with access to a computer as well as somewhere as a "base" within the laboratory.

The College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine has prepared information for the benefit of new postgraduate research students.

This is available online and is updated regularly.

The CMVM Wiki also provides comprehensive details of up-to-date information on policies and procedures from matriculation to submission.  (EASE log-in required)


Your research training

In the first few weeks the priority will be to discuss the overall aim of your project with your supervisor who will also provide you with starter references and arrange for you to receive training in experimental and practical techniques relevant to your studies. Your supervisor and other experienced staff will be able to offer guidance to overcome any problems you may have. All students in the Centre are assigned a Secondary Supervisor with whom you and your primary supervisor can discuss the direction of the research. It is often common to spend the first few weeks learning generic skills such as tissue culture, RNA extraction, Western blotting and reading a lot of papers – this may all seem a bit overwhelming! University regulations require that a brief research plan is written after about 3 months study – this is an excellent way to focus on the key questions to be addressed in the first year and your supervisor will help you in preparing this document. It is common for further refinement of the study design to take place during the first year as the project develops. Your supervisor and other experienced staff will be able to offer guidance to overcome any problems you may have. The University of Edinburgh runs a wide range of courses teaching key skills such as presentation, speed reading etc. and you will be encouraged to attend these as well as all local Centre seminars, journal clubs and research talks.


Details of the availability of courses on offer from the Institute of Academic Development can be found at the website below or by searching IAD on the University website.



Any previous laboratory experience will be useful as you begin your practical work however before using any item of equipment you need to be shown the correct way to book/set up and run the equipment by experienced staff as it will save you time in the long run and avoids costly breakages. Your supervisor will arrange for you to be shown the equipment which you will be using in your laboratory work. It is important for lab safety that appropriate COSSH (control of substances hazardous to health) forms are read and signed. These forms cover all laboratory protocols and document how to work safely, providing a list of chemicals and other potential hazards. The Laboratory Safety Officer has original forms and there are duplicates in your laboratory. If you will be using procedures that are not covered by existing COSSH forms it is essential that a form is drafted and signed as soon as possible. Your supervisor and/or nominee should be able to help in this respect. A separate leaflet relating to general lab safety is available from Forbes Howie. There are additional safety requirements for work that involves use of animals or radioactivity. Again your supervisor should ensure that appropriate documentation is available to you. For radioactive work, there are University courses which should be attended. Garry Menzies is the radiation protection supervisor for the CRH.


Working together

Most aspects of laboratory work rely on team work and everyone in the laboratory needs to not only be considerate of the needs of others in their shared laboratories but also to help in day-today running of the lab by being tidy and informing senior laboratory staff if stocks are getting low so that they can be replenished from the store rooms. Your host lab will advise you on who does what in relation to these ‘housekeeping’ tasks and who is responsible for ordering items. Please ensure that should you be required to sign for delivery items that you let the senior staff know of their arrival and unpack items if you are concerned that they will defrost. Deliveries requiring refrigeration must be monitored with particular care.


CRH Postgraduate Studies Committee

In addition to your individual supervisors, the CRH Postgraduate Studies Committee serves to monitor the academic and scientific progress of postgraduate students registered for higher degrees. The present committee members are:


Professor Nicola Gray (Chair)

Professor Andrew Horne

Dr Veronique Miron

Dr Rod Mitchell

Professor Colin Duncan

Dr Tak Kitamura


The monitoring process involves annually reviewing student progress, including their ability to write concisely in a scientific manner and to present work orally to an audience. This review process therefore involves formal assessments during your time in the department. It also provides opportunities for the student to discuss problems formally.



Your supervisor/s will play a key role in the success of your postgraduate studies. Having agreed a field of study which should stimulate your research interest and identified specific further training which may be required to ensure that you are able to pursue these studies. Your supervisor/s also have a responsibility to monitor and report your progress to the College of Medicine and help to identify problems which might affect your ability to work effectively. Supervision will vary depending on the individual requirements of the student and also of the supervisor. However, you should meet with your supervisor at least once a week.

In order to oversee postgraduate supervision, the Postgraduate Studies Committee also provides an additional level of supervisory support.


PhD/MD approximate timelines: What will be expected from you and your supervisor(s)


Month 2        

Introduction to Postgraduate Studies Committee and its role. Welcome party (usually October).


Month 4        

Research plan

After about 10 weeks you are expected to produce a research plan for your PhD/MD.  You should interact with your supervisor/s to discuss aims, methods to be used/learned/developed and literature areas to be read.  The research plan should not exceed two sides of A4 in length (approx. 1000 words) and outline the background leading to your hypothesis, the aims, and main methodologies that will address the aims. It is recognised that plans for years 2 and 3 may be less detailed, as they may be directed by results in year 1. A ‘Risk assessment’ of the project should be carried out by the supervisor/student (risk refers to the scientific riskiness of the project not to H&S issues! i.e. what contingencies are in place where outcomes are less certain). 

On the cover page, please include details of all supervisors.

 A 1 page annex should accompany the 2 page project summary which succinctly details plans for literature areas to be mastered, training/training courses required/to be completed in year 1, and a Gantt chart (or similar) time plan for completing the research project as agreed with supervisor/s.

Once submitted, a meeting with the PG Committee representative/s will be arranged to check that the student has settled in, to discuss the research plan and to check that a supervisory process is in place. 20-30 minutes.

Following this meeting, you should discuss, plan and arrange for the 1st year review meeting with your supervisor.  Identifying an external assessor who could participate going forward – joining a member of the PG Committee at your review meetings to form your Thesis Committee.


Month 10      

1st Year Progress Report (~4000 words)

(Relevant literature review, methods used/developed, results, discussion and work-plan for the next year, transferable skills courses attended etc).

The 1st year report should not be too detailed or long (5000 words maximum) but should provide enough background detail of the aims, methods and results for the Thesis Committee to be able to gain a reasonable understanding about the project prior to an oral presentation. The report can contain a few graphs, figures or tables but these should only be examples or used to provide summaries of more detailed results; please do not show all results that you have obtained.  The report should also include a hypothesis and indicate where the project has changed from the original hypothesis and aims.  Add any details of courses attended and training received.  The progress report should be submitted at least two weeks prior to the 1st year assessment meeting.


Month 11 

1st year Assessment Meeting

This will involve a 15-20 minute oral presentation by the student to the Thesis Committee and supervisors attending followed by a meeting with the Thesis Committee (supervisors not present) at which time feedback will be given and any further questions asked. The Thesis Committee will then meet with the supervisors (student not present).

A progress report, including recommendations regarding progression will be completed by the Assessment Committee.  This meeting could last up to 2 hours.

** The Thesis Committee will be comprised of 1 member of the CRH Postgraduate Studies Committee and an external (independent) assessor as arranged following your 10 week research plan meeting.

Note: If any of a student’s supervisors are members of the CRH Postgraduate Studies Committee, they will not be present during any face-to-face meeting between the Thesis Committee and the student unless this is specifically requested and agreed by the student.

From August 2015, a student-initiated review reporting process will be carried out through the Universities EUCLID system.  Students and supervisors will receive emails directly, detailing the requirements.  Please do contact the Centre’s PG Administrator initially if there are any problems completing this.


Before the end of this meeting, student and Thesis Committee should agree a date for the 2nd year assessment.


Month 12/13 

If the Thesis Committee has reported that progress has not been satisfactory and/or an extension of the probationary period has been recommended, a meeting with the Thesis Committee to discuss the work plan for the second year will be required.


Month 19      

2nd year Assessment Report

Students should submit a report updating their Thesis Committee on progress.  A template can be made available but should include a background introduction, aims of the project, description of methods used/developed (and problems encountered), results obtained, and plans for future work. Add any details of courses attended and training received.   


2nd year Assessment Meeting

A meeting between student and the Thesis Committee should then go ahead as arranged following the 1st year assessment meeting.  Students are asked to give a short 10 minute presentation to update, supervisors are welcome to participate where necessary. Students are required to bullet points raised to them to ensure understanding.

During your second year, students will also be included in the Centre’s Research Clinic schedule. This currently involves a 15 minute oral presentation of work to date, presented to the local scientific community followed by 5 minutes of questions.

Before the end of this meeting, student and Thesis Committee should agree a date for the 3rd year Thesis Plan meeting.


Month 26      

3rd year Thesis Plan

Submission of detailed thesis plan (chapter titles and list of their contents, plus an assessment of how much of the work is completed and how much remains to be done).  Also include a Hypothesis, Aims and a Gantt chart timeline covering remaining work versus time and should again indicate where the project has changed from the 1st year report hypothesis and aims. Add any details of courses attended and training received.  The thesis plan should be submitted two weeks prior to 3rd year assessment meeting. 


Month 27      

3rd year Thesis Plan meeting

This involves a meeting with the Thesis Committee to discuss the thesis plan, timelines for the final year and options and progress towards seeking employment upon completion of the PhD/MD.  Students are asked to give a short 10 minute presentation to update.  Students are required to bullet points raised to them to ensure understanding.


Month 35       Submission of thesis.


Additional requirements of students

Though research at the bench is the priority for all students, there are generic skills that also need to be developed.

It is therefore expected of ALL students that they will:


  • Attend all Seminars, Research Clinics, Training seminars/workshops etc in the Centre for Reproductive Health, irrespective of whether or not they are of direct relevance to their own study area.
  • Participate in, and attend ‘Journal Club’ meetings as available. These are specifically designed to give students practice in formal presentation as well as developing skills in critically evaluating other people’s research.
  • Participate in the MRC & University Transferable skills programmes. These offer a great opportunity for all students as many of the programmes are first-rate and will provide skills that will prove of use to the student irrespective of their future career. Attend and record courses relevant to studies.  Courses on offer from the Institute of Academic Development (IAD) can be found at the website below or by searching IAD on the University of Edinburgh website ( Please be aware that if you are unable to attend a course that you have booked onto, the booking needs to be cancelled in advance as this may be charged back to your PI/centre.
  • Read widely around their own subject (books as well as journals) and not rely on reading abstracts on PubMed as the means of developing their knowledge and understanding. This is perhaps the most important habit to cultivate as awareness of the literature informs virtually all aspects of a PhD and will make writing of reports and the final thesis a much easier task.