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What is a PhD?

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy is a research degree and usually follows directly after a Masters degree. This usually entails full-time study in a Department at UCT. The degree of Doctor of Philosophy certifies that the candidate has carried out independent research that has constituted a significant original contribution.

When considering an application from a prospective PhD candidate, the University applies the following the admission criteria:

  • a recognised Masters degree; or
  • a recognised Honours degree or a recognised four-year Bachelors degree plus at least one year's registration for an approved Masters degree; or
  • a recognised three-year Bachelor plus at least two year's registration for an approved Masters; or
  • in special circumstances, at the discretion of the Senate, an approved Bachelors degree or qualification recognised by the Senate as equivalent.


Choice of thesis topic

PhD students are usually in a better position than Masters students to decide on a choice of thesis topic. Nevertheless, students embarking on a PhD should read the section on the choice of topic for Masters students.

The choice of thesis topic will be governed by what Cerecam has to offer in the way of supervision and will also depend on individual research interests. The description of the research activities in Cerecam serves as a good guide to a choice of topic.


The administrative process

A PhD is a University degree, administered by the University Doctoral Degrees Board (DDB). Amongst its functions, the DDB ensures, as far as possible, that the standards and processes that apply to the PhD are uniform from Department to Department and from Faculty to Faculty, across the University.


New PhD students

Individuals interested in registering for a PhD should first contact Cerecam or the Head of the relevant Department, in order to discuss the proposed research area. The application and admission process takes the following course:

  • Submit a formal application and all required documentation to either the Faculty Office of Science or Engineering and the Built Environment. Applications are routed to the relevant Head of the Department.
  • Candidature must be approved by the Doctoral Degrees Board on the recommendation of the Board of the Faculty and the Head of the Department concerned.
  • Submit verified qualifications and supporting documents.
  • Candidates' qualifications and research foci must satisfy the Senate as to the suitability the research, as well as to the conditions under which the work will be carried out.

If an application is successful, candidates need to register by the end of April for Engineering and Science.

  • Candidates must submit a research proposal with a provisional thesis title and an outline of the proposed programme of research. This must be signed by the Head of Department concerned and must be submitted to the Faculty Office no later than one month after registration.
  • The Dean, if he is satisfied with the proposal and details of candidature, shall forward the particulars to the Doctoral Degrees Board via the Dean's Circular for final approval.

For more information on the registration process see page 5 of the Research-Based Education for Masters and PhD Students handbook.

Candidates should familiarise themselves with the Memorandum of Understanding between Postgraduate Students and Supervisor on Page 9 of the Research-Based Education for Masters and PhD Students handbook.


Returning PhD students

Students are required to renew their registration annually for as long as they continue to be PhD candidates. Renewal is subject to the approval of the supervisor, the Head of the relevant Department and the Dean.

The process involves:

  • Completing registration and curriculum forms and submitting them to the Head of Department.
  • Submitting a report briefly setting out the progress on the project as a whole, the progress achieved that year, and the projected completion date.
  • A statement signed by a supervisor indicating that he/she is satisfied with the progress of the project. This in turn must be endorsed by the Faculty's representative on the Doctoral Degrees Board.
  • Once the Head has signed the registration and curriculum form he/she sends it to the Faculty Office for authorisation by the Dean.


Financial assistance for PhD students

Doctoral students may expect to finance their studies through a combination of bursary or scholarship support. This can also be supplement with income generated through teaching or tutoring work. As is the case with Masters students, the National Research Foundation (NRF) grants additional funding to grant holders (i.e. Cerecam staff members) for student support. What this means, is that bursary support can be awarded to PhD students by supervisors.

Cerecam also sets aside funds each year for the support of its PhD students. This support is provided in the form of Cerecam scholarships, which are tax-free. Subject to Cerecam being able to generate the necessary levels of research support, doctoral students receive also Cerecam scholarships. The scholarships are normally awarded for three years only, and renewal is subject to satisfactory progress.

Doctoral students are expected to find work as tutors or teaching assistants, either within their 'home' Departments or within Cerecam, and can expect to earn additional income in this way.


The examination process

Unlike the Masters dissertation, the Doctoral thesis must constitute a substantial contribution to knowledge in the chosen subject. It should embody only the original work of the candidate and may contain acknowledged extracts from relevant work of others in the field. On presentation, the thesis must be accompanied by a declaration by the candidate regarding the extent to which it represents his/her own work, both in concept and execution.

The text of the thesis must be prefaced by an abstract prepared according to the guidelines approved by the Senate and that indicate the thesis advances knowledge.

A student intending to submit a PhD thesis must inform the Doctoral Degrees Board Office, in writing, of such intention. The final dates for submission of such notification for the purposes of graduation are 10 January for individuals hoping to graduate in June; or 20 June for those hoping to graduate in December. The dates for submission of dissertations and theses are 15 February for individuals hoping to graduate in June; 15 August for those hoping to graduate in December.


Appointment of examiners

Once notice of the intention to submit a thesis for examination has been given, the Head of Department will be requested by the Faculty Office to nominate five examiners of which two are alternates (usually external to UCT) for the thesis. At the same time the supervisor will be asked to indicate whether he/she supports the submission.


Procedures in respect of examiners' reports

Examiners' reports on PhD theses are considered by the Committee of Assessors appointed for the purpose and which reports to the Doctoral Degrees Board. The following procedures have to be observed:

  • Communication between examiners is not to occur until the examination process has been completed, i.e. until after the deliberations on the examiners' reports have been completed by the Committee or Board concerned.
  • Examiners and supervisors are not to divulge to the candidate any details concerning either their own, or any other examiners', report until after the Committee or Board concerned has completed its deliberations on the reports.
  • Once the thesis has been submitted for examination a candidate may not undertake any amendments or corrections to his/her work until after the Committee or Board has completed its deliberations and has given authorisation for such changes/corrections.
  • The names of examiners are not to be divulged to candidates before the Board has completed its deliberations. The names may be released after the Board has met, subject to the approval of the Board.


Policy relating to secrecy restrictions on theses

No thesis or dissertation accepted by the University in candidacy for a higher degree may be subject to any secrecy restriction of any kind. Any thesis approved for a higher degree is placed on the open shelves of the UCT Library, and the University has a free license to publish it in part or in whole in any form that it deems fit.


Publication of PhD thesis material prior to submission

Publication of work undertaken as part of a PhD thesis is subject to the written approval of the thesis supervisor and subject to conditions specified by the supervisor and/or Head of Department.

Prior to being awarded their degree, PhD candidates may not indicate in any publication that their work is associated with, or is part of, work being done towards a PhD without first having obtained permission from the Doctoral Degrees Board. PhD candidates are subject to rules GP8 and GP9 in this regard. Details can be found in Book 3 - General Rules and Policies handbook.


Leave of absence

Leave of absence from registration for a higher degree or diploma may be granted in special circumstances. However, leave of absence shall not be granted for more than two consecutive years. Application for leave of absence must be made, in writing, to the Dean.



It is important that research results from Cerecam are communicated to the wider research community.

Aside from students and staff presenting their research results in UCT's Cerecam seminar series, it is also very important to have a formal written record of one's research. While students' theses provide one avenue for doing this, one cannot rely solely on this form of communication. The customary procedure in most research units, including Cerecam, is to establish a Technical Report Series. All completed research work carried out under the auspices of the Centre must at some stage be written up as a Technical Report.

With regard to PhD theses, it is expected that the results of this research will be written up for publication in the form of one or more papers. In all cases the responsibility rests with supervisors to provide guidance in the preparation of research reports or manuscripts sent to accredited journals. Since supervisors are generally very closely involved in the research of their students, they will also tend to be joint authors of such work.


Opportunities for attending conferences

Cerecam encourages its staff members to attend conferences in the general area of computational and applied mechanics and also supports its students to do the same.

Conferences form an integral part of the research process. They provide an opportunity for researchers to present their work to a wide audience, to obtain direct feedback on their work, and also to hear what others are doing in the field.

As postgraduate students are in the very early stages of their research careers, it is not the Centre's general policy to provide financial assistance for them to attend overseas conferences. However Cerecam usually sends large contingents to local conferences, and students, including Masters students, are encouraged to present papers. These include the South African Conferences on Computational and Applied Mechanics (SACAM); the Annual Symposia of SANUM (the SA Society for Numerical Mathematics) and the Annual Congresses of the SA Mathematical Society.