Graduate students are constantly monitored throughout the graduate curriculum. Each student is assigned a supervisor (or tutor), who guides the student from matriculation to thesis defence, a co-tutor (compulsory for the SEMM and UNINA PhD programmes) and an external supervisor (OU and SEMM only) with whom the student meets periodically to discuss his/her research progress.
A written report, as well as an oral presentation, summarizing the student’s progress in thesis work, is due at the end of each year, according to the Research School 's and TIGEM rules. Moreover, a meeting with an ad hoc on-site Thesis Committee of staff members and with a Third Party Monitoring member (the latter only for the OU PhD programme), who are both appointed to help students in their path towards the obtainment of their PhD, are also compulsory and scheduled on an annual basis.
During the last trimester of the first year, graduate students are expected to submit a PhD Thesis Proposal composed of the following sections: Title, Abstract of research, Specific aims, Background, Preliminary data (if available, not a requirement), Methods, References. The total length of the proposal including refs should not exceed 10 pages.
The proposal should thus introduce the topic under study and working research hypothesis, outlining the experiments to be accomplished during a three-year period (two years for UNINA and SUN students). The experiments proposed should be rational and feasible to be performed in a suitable time frame. For each experiment proposed, students should discuss difficulties, possible outcomes and interpretations of the results.
The thesis proposal is evaluated by an ad hoc Thesis Committee, composed of the student’s supervisor and two other readers (TIGEM group leaders or mature PostDocs). The student is expected to make an oral presentation of the proposal for research to the thesis commission and should therefore hand a copy of the proposal to the commission one week before the oral defence. The oral defence consists of a short presentation followed by a discussion during which the student is asked to respond to questions raised by the commission to establish the student’s depth of knowledge and analytical ability on the thesis topic. Usually, this presentation coincides with a TIGEM data club and therefore will consist of a first session open to all TIGEM researchers and of a second session whose participation will be restricted to the student and the thesis commission.
If the thesis commission considers that the proposed experiments do not address the question under study suitably or the student is not able to defend the proposal appropriately, the student will be asked to rewrite the proposal or, in extreme cases, resign.
It is important to underline that the proposed experiments, at the time of thesis proposal submission, and even the project per se, may change during the following years of the student’s curriculum depending on the results obtained.
Finally, OU students only are expected to submit a Probationary Period Report at the end of the first year (11 months after matriculation) that substitutes and is equivalent to the PhD Thesis Proposal discussed above. According to OU rules, the “Probationary Period Report should involve a major review of the student’s progress so that a recommendation can be made about which degree s/he is to be registered for, i.e. PhD or MPhil”. Students and supervisors will be informed by the Research School in due time of the deadline as well as being provided with the appropriate forms for probationary period report submission.
Moreover, before the submission of the Probationary Period Report, OU students must also sustain an oral discussion (mini-viva) in which they defend their research project and progress, as outlined in the report, to the members of the Thesis Committee (excluding the student's Director of Studies) or to two other TIGEM research investigators. The mini-viva can be considered as an “exercise” to the proper viva of the doctoral thesis that the student will have to defend at the end of his/her graduate studies.
By the end of each year, students present an annual written report, in which they describe the results accomplished during the year regarding their working research hypothesis, the problems encountered and changes envisioned in the research project (if any), the future research strategies and possible outcome of the doctoral research project.
For OU students, in particular, the annual written report is submitted always in March. Students and supervisors will be informed by the Research School in due time of the deadline as well as being provided with the appropriate forms for annual report submission.
Soon after matriculation (autumn-winter term), students are matched with a supervisor (or tutor), belonging to the PhD programme faculty and who guides the student from matriculation to thesis defence, and a TIGEM research group, where they will conduct their research project throughout their graduate studies.
During the first year, the student chooses two staff members (TIGEM group leaders, or mature PostDocs) who will form his/her on-site Thesis Committee, with the duty of supervising and following students’ thesis work and research progress year by year.
The student is expected to discuss the data and developments of his/her doctoral research project in a public session (generally a TIGEM data club) once a year and in the presence of the committee members.
The presentation will thus consist of a first session open to all TIGEM researchers and of a second session whose participation will be restricted to the student and the Thesis Committee. During the third year, if the student fulfills the requirements as evaluated by the commission, s/he will receive the official authorization by the Thesis Committee to write the doctoral thesis.
In addition, complying with Italian university rules, SEMM, UNINA and SUN students are asked to make an Annual Oral Presentation of their doctoral research progress, which must be presented to an ad hoc commission appointed by the Research Schools.
Students joining the international PhD programmes (OU, SEMM) are also assigned an external supervisor, having previous experience in student supervision in the British academy, with whom the student meets at the end of each year of study to monitor the progress in thesis work, and to discuss future strategies and individual problems with the on-site Thesis Committee.
Finally, a system of support, which has been introduced by The Open University and is therefore restricted to OU students, is the Third Party Monitoring, i.e. a research staff member of the sponsoring establishment (appointed in agreement with the Research School) with whom the student meets once a year with the aim of 1) providing pastoral support for the student outside the supervisory environment, 2) identifying and resolving potential problems, 3) including resource management problems (staff time, equipment, technical issues, etc), and, more importantly, 4) providing a dispassionate and impartial view if difficulties arise.
During the last year of the graduate programme, students submit a written doctoral thesis, which is evaluated by expert readers and then presented and discussed in a public lecture attended by the supervisors and by an External Examination Committee. A high quality publication of the experimental work carried out during the research period, or at least submission of a manuscript concerning such work, is required prior to the discussion of the doctoral thesis.
For OU students only, the oral defence of the doctoral thesis is behind closed doors and the participation is restricted to the student, the student’s supervisor (optional, s/he may only act as observer), and the Examination Panel. The latter is nominated by the student’s supervisor following the appointment criteria regulated by the Research School, and must be approved by the OU Research Degrees Committee before the student submits his/her doctoral thesis.
TIGEM graduate programmes are designed in order for students to complete their doctoral studies within three to four years.