As a supervisor, how should I reasonably set the task timeline for a new (Engineering) PhD student, given there is a candidature confirmation at the 9-month mark?

In other words, how long is reasonable for settling down to a new country, literature review, defining a research topic, data collection, drafting a publication ...etc?

The programme is 3 years, and the student has a scholarship from the university without a defined research project. We agreed on a field of research, though.


3 Answers 3


Look at what the requirements for the confirmation review are. Ask others in the department who will be assessing the report what it is they look for. Ask to see some examples of previous reports that passed, and ideally, some that didn't.

In our place student must demonstrate:

1) They have defined a project with well articulated aims and at least an idea of how to meet these aims. The student is not just pottering around the area. Nor are they acting as a technician on various things going on in their supervisors lab.

2) They can explain what the importance of their project is and where it fits in to the larger field (that is their project has not just been dictated by their supervisor without them having any idea about its purpose).

3) Have have a working knowlegde of the general background in the field, and of recent literature directly relevant to their project. They know if others have worked on the same question and what they have found.

4) They can demonstrate an understanding of what the key techniques in their project are, how they work, and what are likely to be the bottlenecks.

5) Usually students have SOMETHING in the way of experimental results, but often not very much. They might have a graph or two on optimizing their system, they may have shown that the system works with some positive controls or have reproduced some of the key results from the literature. We don't usually expect concrete progress on new knowledge at this point.


There are too many variables in the equation. Each research project is different and publication requirements are different and so on. I would suggest making a clear plan for the whole 3-year program outlining what needs done and in what order. As the student starts working on the research project, a lot of things will change and certain things will get pushed back while others will be completed earlier. With that being said, it should all be in line with the requirements of the university and the scholarship. It is great if the supervisor can keep an eye on those administrative requirements and how the research progress complies with them. Then the student can have a clear horizon to exercise his creativity.

  • Downvoted. I don't have an answer myself, but for me, your answer states the obvious.
    – Pioneer83
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 9:20
  • 1
    @anucex I think anything much more specific would turn out wrong in many situations. Planning is one of the hardest tasks in research, where by definition every successful outcome must be new and unique Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 10:45
  • Despite that, planning is necessary and there must be a plan that is highly likely to succeed in managing PhD projects. A general framework for the project, steps leading to success...etc
    – Pioneer83
    Commented Nov 28, 2018 at 21:07

like Arthur Tarasov said, there are many variables. For example: Are you his professor? Are you involved in the final of this PhD student? Also the requirements for a PhD in each field are different. In the same field, different universities, departments or countries have different requirements to finish a PhD. You should know are the requirements for him to graduate are and develop a plan according to that. For me it is a requirement (that my professor wants) to publish only at top conferences in my field. I need 3 to 6 of those publications, depending on how good or how much work it was. Then I can write down my thesis, more or less summarizing those papers.

Sadly no one had a plan for me. But by looking at other succesful supervisors, you should give him some ideas like which conferences are important, which papers are must reads, how to work towards the first publication. Aim at conference X and Y, read every publication they made in your field(the last 2 years or so) and try to find gaps or ideas that weren't tried. Depending on how much publications he/she needs to graduate, the first year you could aim for maximum 1 publication..then each year 2 as an example.

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