By Louise Morgan |


Preparing for the upgrade (or transfer of status) at the end of the first year of your PhD can be a stressful experience. In the weeks leading to my upgrade interview I spent hours procrastinating by trawling the internet for advice, with limited success. Now that my upgrade is over and I am officially a full PhD student, I hope to offer some words of advice for anyone else preparing for theirs.


Before the Upgrade

Seek advice

Look at official advice from your university, as well as looking at other university websites. I found this especially useful for coming up with ideas about the kind of questions I might be asked by my panel. Every university seems to have different processes and timelines for upgrades, however generic questions asked at upgrade interviews tend to be universal.

Ask PhD students at your university about their upgrades. Talk to them about the process, what questions they were asked, and how they prepared. The majority of people I spoke to had positive experiences, however I found talking to those who had difficult or stressful upgrades most useful. It calmed my nerves about facing tough lines of questioning and helped me realise there was life beyond the upgrade.

Talking to your supervisor is also a great idea. Finding out what will happen in the upgrade, what kind of questions they would expect, and if they recommend anything specific to prepare. Chances are your supervisor has supported dozens of students through upgrades, and has also been on interview panels. Talking to them about their expectations and experiences can be really helpful.


Prepare and practice

When you have to submit work in advance of your upgrade, it is very tempting to just hand it in and forget about it until the interview. Taking a couple of days off from the upgrade work can be beneficial – either to work on other things, or as a complete break. Coming back refreshed to prepare for the interview allows you to examine your work with fresh eyes, which can help spot possible questions or issues that might be raised by interviewers.

In preparing, I found focusing on the research proposal was most useful. Whilst I worked hard on the chapter sample, bibliography and the research timetable, the majority of questions asked were about the broader scope of my project. In the interview I was able to expand upon ideas that I’d only been able to outline briefly in my research proposal. Taking the time to think about what was missing from my written work was helpful in imagining the kind of questions I might be asked.

To practice for the interview, I recruited friends who knew very little about my topic, asked them to read my research proposal and ask me questions based on it. Whilst sometimes bribery may be required (I find cake works best), the questions asked can be really helpful in encouraging you to think differently about the topic you know so much about.


During the Upgrade

Going into an interview of any kind can be nerve-wracking. Before you sit down to answer questions, take a deep breath, and try your best to relax. At the end of the day, everyone in that room wants you to do well and to succeed – they aren’t trying to catch you out with trick questions. Rather, they are trying to get you to think more deeply about your topic. With this in mind, try to relax and appreciate the opportunity to have experienced academics give feedback and advice on your research.

During the interview, try to ask as many questions as you can! It is better to admit you don’t understand a concept and ask about it in the interview, than to be frantically Googling afterwards to make sure you didn’t make a fool of yourself. Trust me on this one.

You might also find it useful to take notes. My supervisor kindly offered to take notes as well, which I am very grateful for. Other students I know were able to record their upgrades to listen back to later. Whichever method suits you, taking notes will be a vital part of your post-upgrade review.

coffee cup notebook phone

After the Upgrade

Regardless of the result of your upgrade, it is useful to take time to breathe and reassess the process. Take time to review your notes. Start planning how you might go about following suggestions and find the bibliographical references you scribbled down. Ask to meet with your supervisor and discuss any feedback with them. They might not agree with the interviewers, and might be able to offer a different perspective. It is okay to disagree with the feedback you received, as well as feeling ambivalent about how it went. Take time to think about the upgrade, rather than just rushing straight back into work.

Most importantly, remember to note any positive feedback you received! It’s easy to focus on the negatives and the enormous task that the rest of the PhD can seem. Take time to celebrate achieving your first major PhD milestone and help colleagues celebrate theirs!


Good luck!


All Images: Pexels.


Louise Morgan is Contributions Editor for Pubs and Publications. In the first year of her PhD at the University of Warwick, her research focuses on the history of clean eating, obsession with health, and orthorexia nervosa. She can be found on Twitter.