I understand that in US PhD programs, students are often labelled as a "PhD Student" until they pass their qualification exams and begin working on their dissertations, at which point they can be called "PhD Candidate".

What is the convention for Oxford DPhils and other European PhDs, given that there is no coursework? At Oxford, students are admitted as a Probationer Research Student and must pass 2 milestones, the Transfer of Status and Confirmation of Status. At which point, or after which exam that is passed, can one refer to themselves as a DPhil Candidate?

I'd like to know to avoid misrepresentation of my background as there are certain opportunities and/or visa and residential statuses reserved for those who have completed all requirements but their dissertation (ie. PhD Candidates).

  • 4
    What makes you think the distinction is important?
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 19, 2023 at 5:03
  • @BryanKrause Well there are opportunities specifically available to PhD Candidates (ie. those who have completed everything but their dissertation). Since DPhils only have their dissertations, I don't imagine they'll automatically qualify for these in the first instance. So then, at which point would they qualify, given they remain as a DPhil Student for the entire duration?
    – Icy Lemons
    Mar 19, 2023 at 17:53
  • That changes the question a lot, though, so if that's the question that's what you should ask. Likely it depends entirely on whoever is offering those "opportunities". See also meta.stackexchange.com/q/66377/401068 - you should always ask your actual question.
    – Bryan Krause
    Mar 19, 2023 at 18:10
  • I suppose that is only one part of my question - overall, I just wanted to know when and if DPhil students are allowed to refer to themselves as DPhil Candidates. Whether it is to qualify for certain opportunities, for certain visa/residential statuses, or to simply avoid unethical missrepresentation of one's background. I assumed there would a more definite answer given that most non CDT EU doctorates only include dissertations. Regardless, I edited my question a bit, thank you.
    – Icy Lemons
    Mar 19, 2023 at 18:17

2 Answers 2


The General Regulations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy make the official position very clear. Students are admitted as Probationer Research Students. In due course, they then make an application to the relevant faculty board to become 'Students for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy'. If this application is successful (or, colloquially, if they 'pass transfer of status') then they can call themselves DPhil students.

Confirmation of status is - as the name suggests - just a check that things are as they should be. As long as this is successful, the student continues to be a DPhil student. If the confirmation process is unsuccessful, "the board may approve his or her transfer to the status of Student for the Degree of Master of Science by Research or of Master of Letters, as appropriate."

  • Thank you for your answer. The reason for my original question is that there are certain opporunities reserved for those who completed all requirements but dissertations, or PhD Candidates. When would DPhil students then be qualified for these opportunities? Would it also be inaccurate or even unethical if I were to refer to myself as a DPhil Candidate, at any stage of a DPhil degree?
    – Icy Lemons
    Mar 19, 2023 at 18:04
  • @IcyLemons In general conversation, probably not. However, if you are thinking of applying to some opportunity where "PhD Candidate" is used as a term of art, it would probably be best to contact whoever is advertising the opportunity and ask whether your situation meets their requirements.
    – avid
    Mar 21, 2023 at 9:28

I did some more research and came across a post on Reddit with a similar question but for Australian PhDs.

It states that "the first-year milestone in Australia is called 'confirmation of candidacy', and basically proves you have a strong enough concept to carry out the rest of the degree. People in the program before this milestone call themselves 'students', while after passing confirmation you are then a 'PhD candidate'. You retain this status up until you submit your thesis for examination."

Another comment for the UK states that "you're on probation for the first year, then you sit an examination (a report + defense). Then they back-date your enrolment and you're officially a candidate."

This leads me to believe that the Oxford Transfer of Status serves as your qualification exam, and once you pass this examination, you would be able to label yourself as a "DPhil Candidate". Time-wise, this about matches up with US programs (after 1st year in a 3-4 year UK PhD program vs after 1st/2nd year in a 4-5 US PhD program).

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