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PhD Handbook

New and current students need to be knowledgeable about the governance of their postgraduate programmes. The PhD Handbook provide an overview of the major the rules, regulations and procedures used in the CoM PhD programme. Nevertheless, students should refer to the PhD regulation for further details.

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The CoM launched its Masters of Philosophy (MPhil)/Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree programme in 2010 with a key objective of generating a cadre of high quality scientists in health-related disciplines who will contribute to the discovery of products and strategies for improving the health status of Malawians and mankind. The expected duration of the PhD degree programme is 3-4 years. The CoM initially registers all students wishing to pursue PhD studies in an MPhil programme for 1 year. Thereafter CoM Postgraduate Committee (PGC) reviews their academic progress reports and makes a decision to upgrade promising students into the PhD programme. A student needs 1-2 additional years to complete an MPhil degree and 2-3 additional years to complete a PhD degree.

The CoM PGC, consisting of representatives from all faculties and postgraduate students, coordinates the formulation, review and implementation of MPhil/PhD policies and regulations at the CoM. Its key responsibilities include reviewing and approving the selection and registration of MPhil/PhD students and monitoring their academic progress. The Office of Postgraduate Studies and Research serves as the secretariat of the PGC and oversees the day-to-day running of MPhil/PhD programmes across all departments. It collaborates with the Academic Registrar office, which manages the administrative aspects of MPhil/PhD studies such as the registration of postgraduate students and the organization of graduation ceremonies.

MPhil/PhD students receive training and implement studies within relevant departments, which provide the necessary facilities and supervision, as approved by the Head of Department (HoD). However, you are encouraged to seek services, resources and expertise from any CoM department that can add value to your research project and deepen or broaden your expertise. Similarly, you are required to have formal and informal interactions with fellow postgraduate students to share experiences or skills and identify common solutions to challenges. Note that various departments and the CoM Research Support Centre run seminars, journal clubs and courses that are open to you. Your supervisor and colleagues can help you identify relevant fora that can improve your research knowledge and skills.


1.1 Key contact details

During the course of your studies, you will mostly work with your supervisors, faculty members and fellow students on research and academic matters. However, to ensure that you are complying with the CoM policies and regulations and that you are taking full advantage of the academic environment at the CoM, you will need to liaise with several key offices outside your department and faculty. Below is a list of contact details of key officials dealing with different aspects of your degree programme.



Admissions Office (Anatomy Building, Room No. 112)



Registration Executive (Anatomy Building, Room No. 112):


PhD Student Handbook

Postgraduate Studies Executive Officer (Anatomy Building, Room No. 112):
Academic regulations, policies and procedures


General inquiries

Administrative Assistant for Postgraduate Office (Chimutu Building, Room No. 862):


Specific inquiries

If there are matters that cannot be resolved by the Administrative Assistant, you may contact the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research only after booking an appointment through the Administrative Assistant. Additionally, you need to forward the agenda ahead of time to the following email address: You may also see him in person in Room No. 861, Chimutu Building.


ICT Support

General Inquiries: (Chimutu Building):
Support and comments: (Chimutu Building):


Library Support

Librarian –


Personal issues

Dean of Students (Physiology Building, Room No. 712):


Relevant Head of Department

Postgraduate Studies Executive Officer:


After being invited to pursue the CoM MPhil/PhD programme you need to complete the following tasks before commencing with your studies:

  • Get two offer letters. Sign one copy as a testimony of your acceptance of the offer and submit it to Central Registry. Retain the other copy for you own records.
  • Pay tuition fees.
  • Receive a student registration/identification number.
  • Register on the “SARIS” platform.

Note that CoM will not offer you any service before you complete all the requirements for registration, as prescribed each year through the office of the College Registrar.
For you to register as a research student, you are required to pay tuition fees in advance. The CoM strictly adheres to the policy of “no fees, no registration”. If you are on a scholarship, it is your responsibility, as a student, to make sure that your sponsor has made the necessary payments to the college. If you do not pay fees at the required times, the college will be mandated to withdraw its services. If you have an outstanding debt with the college, the college will not permit you to proceed to the next year of study or to graduate, until you have cleared your debts.

2.1 Dates for registration

Most research students register at the beginning of the academic year in late August or early September. Nevertheless, CoM also registers PhD students with effect from 1 April, 1 July or 1 October, subject to the agreement of the department hosting the PhD student. If you arrive at a date other than those detailed above, with the agreement of the department concerned, the college will permit you to register and commence work on your research on the following bases:

  • arrival up to one month after 1 January, registration backdated to 1 January
  • arrival during February/March, registration to take effect from 1 April

A similar approach will apply in relation to arrival at other times during the year.
At the time of registration, the Postgraduate Studies Executive Officer will organize an orientation session to introduce you to key resource persons and to make you aware of various academic and administrative facilities. After registration, you will receive your student registration number, which will be your unique identifier throughout the programme. You are required to renew your registration status at the beginning of every academic year. Note that a “late registration” fee will apply to those who fail to register within 14 days of the academic year at a rate prescribed by the UNIMA senate.

Many new research students are unsure of what to expect from their supervisory team and how to maintain the supervisory relationship. Note that you and your supervisory team have specific responsibilities, and it is important that you understand what these are so that your working relationship is effective.

3.1 Appointment of your supervisors

After finishing the registration process, your first key task is to identify and engage with your research supervisors and Head of Department. MPhil/PhD students are required to have a supervisory team, normally comprising of two members:

  1.  A Principal Supervisor, who is a UNIMA member of staff, will be responsible for the overall direction and management of your research programme.
  2. An Associate Supervisor who will be responsible for assisting you and the in specific academic matters, as agreed with the Principal Supervisor.

In addition to the above, the Principal Supervisor or Head of Department can invite other academic colleagues both within and outside the UNIMA to contribute to your research on a collegiate basis. You will generally recognize their support through an acknowledgement in your thesis.
Where an outside body is associated with your research work, the Principal Supervisor or Head of Department can appoint an External Supervisor for you. In such circumstances, the external supervisor fulfils the role of providing a critical commentary on your programme of work, based on periodic reviews of your academic progress and outputs.

If you are undertaking your PhD research work in a setting outside the CoM or UNIMA, you will have an External Supervisor who will take the responsibility of the day-to-day supervision of your research work. The External Supervisor should have qualifications comparable with those required of a University supervisor. Where an external supervisor is appointed, you will still maintain a Principal Supervisor from the UNIMA.
You will have an opportunity to meet with your Supervisory Team, including, where practicable, the external supervisor, at regular intervals (once or more per year) throughout your research programme. You will be required to share an accurate record of all supervisory meetings with all members of the Supervisory Team.
If any of your UNIMA supervisors leaves, whether on a temporary or permanent basis, he/she will be required to inform the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research who will in turn make appropriate arrangements to ensure continuation of supervision.

3.2 Respective roles and responsibilities of students and supervisors

As a research student you will have ultimate the responsibility of planning and developing your research, responding to any problems you might encounter and ensuring that you deliver a thesis on time and of an acceptable standard. Below, are some of your key responsibilities:

  • discussing and agreeing with your supervisor on the schedule of supervisory meetings and the appropriate type and extent of guidance and feedback;
  • taking the initiative in discussing any problems or difficulties with your supervisors;
  • ensuring that reasonable efforts are made to maintain satisfactory progress, at all times, with respect to your research project and any programme of work agreed upon with your supervisors;
  • identifying your own development and training needs and communicating these to your supervisor and making appropriate uses of teaching and learning facilities provided by CoM, UNIMA or any third party;
  • submitting written work at specified and agreed times for review by your supervisors;
  • developing, in consultation with the supervisors, a timeline for achieving specific academic milestones and submitting your thesis in a timely manner;
  • as part of the CoM’s annual progress assessments, preparing an academic progress report, in liaison with your supervisor and submitting the same to the Head of Department for endorsement and then to the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research;
  • ensuring that the CoM’s requirements on intellectual property rights of your research and academic outputs are respected in full;
  • ensuring that any circumstances which might require the mode of study to be modified (e.g. transfer to writing-up status) or the College registration to be extended, suspended or withdrawn, are brought to the attention of your supervisor(s);
  • obtaining written agreement of all authors (including members of the Supervisory Team, as appropriate) of any publication of work contained in your thesis, protect against improper duplication of publication and/or publication in a form not agreed to by one of the authors.
  • deciding when to submit your thesis taking due account of your principal supervisor’s opinion and advice and in accordance with the agreed timelines.

Please refer to the PhD regulations, for more of your responsibilities as an MPhil/PhD student.


The responsibilities of your supervisor(s) include:


  • Involvement: the supervisor(s) can encourage and stimulate you by referring to their own research experiences and by discussing philosophical as well as technical issues with you;
  • Encouragement: research students can become discouraged when facing difficult issues, and a combination of the academic and pastoral role of your supervisor(s) can help in identifying and rectifying any difficulties of this nature at an early stage;
  • Participation: in general, as a research student, you should feel part of a larger team, not isolated; the supervisor(s) can help you to achieve this by establishing links to other research work and researchers, not necessarily in the same area, theme or discipline;
  • Constructive criticism: your supervisor(s) should provide constructive criticism of your research and academic output. An over-sympathetic or uncritical approach to supervision is counter-productive and will not be encouraged;
  • Critical approach: supervisors will actively encourage you to critically question existing literature and the assumptions of and results from your project;
  • Ownership: your supervisor will encourage you to develop ownership of the research project as it progresses at all stages through to completion.


You are required to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with your supervisors as a formal verification of your mutual commitment to engage you in the MPhil/PhD programme and ensure that you and your supervisors are clear about each others’ responsibilities and expectations. This understanding will provide you with a foundation for building an effective working relationship with your supervisor. The Head of Department hosting your degree programme is required to endorse the MoU.


During the course of your PhD studies, you need to record dates, summary discussions and action points of your meetings with your supervisors in the supervision logbook.


3.3 Handling conflicts with supervisors

It is your responsibility to initiate discussions with your principal supervisor on any problems arising during the course of your research work. If you consider that your work is not proceeding satisfactorily for reasons beyond your control, you may approach the Departmental Postgraduate Studies Coordinator (or the Head of Department). If the problem remains unsolved at that level, you may contact the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research.


If you consider that you have not established or do not have an effective working relationship with your supervisor, you may initiate an amendment to the supervisory arrangements. In this case, you should initially discuss the matter with Departmental Postgraduate Coordinator (or Head of Department), who may refer you to the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research. A supervisor may also initiate an amendment to the supervisory arrangements by following similar consultation procedures.


Occasionally, a situation can arise in which your supervisor retires, transfers to another institution or is absent from CoM or UNIMA for an extended period owing to illness, sabbatical leave or other reasons. In such circumstances, your supervisory team and the Departmental Postgraduate Coordinator (or Head of Department) will make alternative arrangements to ensure continuity of supervision. The Head of Department will then appoint a replacement Principal Supervisor until such a time that the original supervisor is able to resume his/her role.\

3.4 Available research support and facilities

The facilities made available to research students will inevitably vary from one department to another depending on a number of factors, including the nature of the research undertaken. Your department will provide appropriate information on the types of facilities available to support your research work.


At the beginning of your studies, the Postgraduate Executive Officer will take you on a tour of the College of Medicine to enable you to familiarize yourself with key facilities outside of your department that you may wish to utilize. These include:
library resources, including the use of the Inter-library loans system and access to internet-based and CD-ROM databases;

relevant information technology resources, including word processing facilities, spreadsheet packages, statistical and graphics packages, electronic mail and access to the Internet;
working space including a desk and associated storage facilities
photocopying facilities and, where directly relevant to the research project, appropriate internal and external telephone networks. Unless specified otherwise, the department will charge students for using any of these facilities, in full or in part. The department will provide information about the actual amounts charged prior to registration.
laboratory facilities, laboratory consumables, scientific instrumentation and photographic services commensurate with the nature and possible scope of your research;

3.5 Training Needs Analysis and Training Records

At the beginning of each year of your study, your supervisors will develop jointly with you a “Training Needs Analysis”. This is an assessment of your current skills levels and knowledge and will be used to develop your research training programme for the year. Before the end of the academic year, as part of the annual progress assessment, your supervisor will review the outcomes of your training programme. You are required to record any training that you receive in each year of your research programme in section III of the Annual Progress Report Form (Appendix 7.4).

3.6 Postgraduate research training requirements

The CoM is committed to the principle that all research students should have the opportunity to attend an appropriate programme of training in research-related and personal skills during their research programme. You are required to attain some core research-related competencies, including critical appraisal of literature, application of study design concepts, presentation skills, scientific writing etc. You can attain these by attending a number of modular courses provided by the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, Research Support Centre and various CoM research affiliates. Such courses include:

  • Good Clinical Practices (GCP) or Good Laboratory Practices (GLP)
  • Personal Development Planning (PDP)
  • Research Ethics
  • Data Management
  • Oral or Poster presentation

Full details of the courses offered are available from the Office of the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research. You may claim appropriate credits from these courses towards your Postgraduate Research Training Record (PGRTR). Note that each research student should accumulate a minimum of 10 credit hours by the end of the first year of study.

Every year, you will be required to complete and submit an Annual Progress Report to the CoM Postgraduate Committee, through your Head of Department, at least 3 months before the end of the academic year to permit enough time for review and approval of report. This report will determine whether you are making satisfactory progress on your research degree programme. The Postgraduate Committee will assess whether you have successfully completed an academic year based on the following benchmarks:

your overall performance demonstrates appropriate progress to date, and
no serious doubts are evident about your ability to achieve the degree for which you are registered.

4.1 Monitoring structure and requirements

Your supervisory team, led by the Primary Supervisor, will be responsible for regularly monitoring your academic progress. Your supervisor will, during the first year of study, require at least one substantial piece of work (e.g. literature review, experimental write-up), which will assist in assessing your ability to proceed successfully through subsequent years of the research programme.


As part of monitoring your progress, your supervisor(s) will consult with you to explore opportunities for the dissemination of your research findings and, in the process, to develop your research communication skills. Among other things, you will be required to:


  • present one or more research seminars internally (at CoM or UNIMA) during student/staff seminars;
  • present your research findings (in written, oral or poster form) to national or international conferences;
  • publish with your supervisory team the outcome of the research in peer-reviewed joiurnals.

The Head of Department or Supervisor may also assign you limited academic tasks such as teaching, demonstration, undergraduate student supervision and examination, etc. Your performance in undertaking these tasks will be carefully monitored.

4.2 Unsatisfactory academic progress

If at any stage during the period of your study the Principal Supervisor considers your progress to be unsatisfactory or that the standard of your work is generally below expectations, you will be made aware of the situation as soon as possible. Your Principal Supervisor, in consultation with the Head of Department or Departmental Postgraduate Studies Coordinator, will initially follow informal steps of the “Capability Procedure”, as detailed below, before invoking the “Formal Procedure”.
Please note that at any meeting convened to discuss your unsatisfactory academic progress, whether at the informal or formal stage, you have the right to invite a second person as your witness.

4.2.1 Informal stage – “Capability Procedure”

Your supervisory team will invoke the “Capability Procedure” when your progress/competence is considered unsatisfactory. The aim of the procedure is to give you full and sympathetic consideration and support with a view to achieve a satisfactory standard of performance.
In such circumstances, your Principal and Associate Supervisors will conduct an informal discussion with you at the earliest opportunity. The will inform you of the purpose of the meeting in advance. At the meeting, your Principal Supervisor will:

  • bring to your attention those aspects of your performance which are considered to be unsatisfactory;
  • seek agreement from you regarding the nature of the problem;
  • listen to and consider any explanation or statement made by you;
  • inform you of the standard of performance that is expected and what support will be given to you to assist in achieving the required standard;
  • draw up a programme of support to assist you to achieve the expected standard. This programme may include any or all of the following forms of assistance: further training; the guidance of one or more additional supervisors; and support from the Postgraduate Studies Coordinator;
  • inform you of the arrangements to be made to monitor and record your performance at agreed intervals;
  • define a timescale within which you should achieve the expected standard of performance.

Your Principal Supervisor will record the outcome of the discussion and, in particular, the timescale within which you will achieve the expected standard of performance. After agreeing with the record, you will receive a copy of the record and another copy will be kept in your student file.

4.2.2 Formal procedure

If your Principal Supervisor is not satisfied that you have achieved the expected level of performance within the agreed timescale through the informal “Capability Procedure”, he/she will invoke the “Formal Procedure”. Similarly, if you decline the opportunity to co-operate with the informal arrangement proposed, the “Formal Procedure” will be followed.
In such circumstances the Head of Department or the Postgraduate Studies Coordinator will invite the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research to co-ordinate arrangements for the Formal Procedure.
The Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will convene a meeting for you, your principal supervisor and the Head of Department or Departmental Postgraduate Studies Coordinator. As in the case of the informal procedure, you will be informed of the purpose of the meeting, the fact that formal procedures are being invoked, and that a second person may accompany you as your “witness”.
The meeting with the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will:

  • explore further those aspects of your performance which are considered to be unsatisfactory. This will be in relation to the standard of performance expected which was outlined at the informal stage;
  • seek agreement from you regarding the nature of the problem;
  • listen to and consider any explanation or statement made by you;
  • reiterate to you the standard of performance that is expected and what support will be given to you to assist in achieving the required standard;
  • review the programme of support which was agreed at the informal stage, draw up, as appropriate, a further programme of support to assist you to achieve the expected standard. This programme may include any or all of the following forms of assistance: further training; the guidance of one or more additional supervisors; and support from the Postgraduate Studies Coordinator;
  • define a timeline within which you will achieve the expected standard of performance.

The Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will record the outcome of the discussion and, in particular, the timeline within which you will achieve the expected standard of performance. After agreeing with the record, you will receive a copy of the record and another copy will be kept in your student file.


When considered appropriate, the Head of Department or Departmental Postgraduate Studies Coordinator, in liaison with the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research, may issue a formal warning to you that, in the absence of any improvement in performance by a specified date, a recommendation will be made for you to withdraw from the degree programme. The warning will be made verbally at the “Formal Procedure” meeting and also confirmed in writing. The warning will be referred to in the record of the above meeting.

4.2.3 Withdrawal from college due to unsatisfactory academic performance

If upon receiving a formal warning you have failed to make the necessary improvement in your performance within the timeline specified, a recommendation will be submitted by the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research to the Postgraduate Committee that your registration be terminated. If the Postgraduate Committee accepts the recommendation, the CoM Principal will make a further recommendation to the UNIMA Senate that your registration be terminated on the grounds of unsatisfactory progress.


Besides academic poor performance, other circumstances can result in the withdrawal of your registration. These may include failure to pay tuition fees or lack of contact over an extended period with your supervisor(s) and other college departments. The CoM Registry and Postgraduate Committee, in consultation with your Principal Supervisor and other interested parties, will consider such cases carefully before a decision is made to withdraw your registration.


4.3 Conditions for withdrawal other than on academic grounds and misconduct, and re-admissions and extension of registration

The CoM may permit a student to withdraw only on the following grounds and taking into consideration the merits of each particular case and the maximum duration of the programme:

  • Pregnancy
  • Illness
  • Financial
  • Voluntary

For more details on the above grounds please read the revised students’ Rules and Regulations dated 8 February 2015. These regulations are available on SARIS.


Any application for an extension to your registration (i.e. extending the maximum period of study) should be submitted to the Registrar, through your Principal Supervisor and Head of Department, at least 3 months before the end of the standard period of your registration (except for a case of sudden illness). The application should also be copied to the Departmental Postgraduate Coordinator and Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research. The Registrar will review your application, in consultation with relevant parties, and issue a formal response specifying the expected date of resumption of your studies.

Your thesis is the culmination of your research degree. Ensure that you are fully prepared for the process of writing and submitting your thesis and that you are aware of all applicable CoM-UNIMA MPhil/PhD regulations. Here you can find advice and guidance to support you through the process of writing and submitting your thesis and sitting the viva voce examination.


5.1 Timelines for thesis submission


You are required to complete and submit your thesis within the minimum period of full registration, which is three years for a full-time doctoral candidate. If you do not submit your thesis by the end of this period but have completed the research programme you may transfer to the “writing-up” status. Normally, a transfer to “writing-up status” would normally occur after you have completed all research work. Your Principal Supervisor must write to the Academic Registrar confirming the date from which you would like to transfer to the “writing up” status (i.e. you are solely engaged in the writing of the thesis).


The CoM will charge a fee in the first year of “writing-up”. In exceptional circumstances, you may register for a second year as a “writing-up” student i.e. you should have submitted the thesis within a maximum of four years. The fee is increased in subsequent years of registration as a “writing-up” student.


The CoM will permit “writing-up” students to make full use of normal borrowing facilities by the College Library and retain access to email, the internet and CoM networking facilities. The supervisory support provided to you whilst on a writing-up basis will be arranged within the academic


area concerned but in all cases will be at a far lower level (i.e. 1 hour per month) than that applicable in the case of a full-time candidate.


5.2 Planning thesis writing


Writing a thesis is never easy, but there are things that you can do to make the process less painful. You should see the writing of your thesis as work in progress, which should be undertaken from the first year of registration. Written work which is completed as part of the annual assessment procedures, and any work submitted for publication may be used as the bases for sections in your thesis. The following points represent good practice in this respect:


  • Prepare a timetable for writing of your thesis which should be agreed upon with your supervisor.
  • The final responsibility for, and ownership of, the submitted work lies with you, although your supervisor does have a duty to assist and advise on the presentation of the thesis. It is your responsibility to decide when to submit the thesis, taking into account of your principal supervisor’s judgement and advice in consultation, where appropriate, with other supervisors.
  • Exceptionally, you may require additional language assistance other than that which your supervisor can provide. The person (or persons) to provide such assistance should not be an expert in the relevant academic field and will amend only the English and not the content of your thesis. It is entirely your responsibility to liaise with a Language Unit or an individual person for such assistance, including any payment involved.
  • Where language assistance has been provided, other than that given by the supervisor(s), you are required to acknowledge the help which you have received in the “Acknowledgement” section of the thesis.

5.3 Avoiding plagiarism

Plagiarism is the use of words or ideas from someone else as if they were your own. Universities consider plagiarism to be a serious offence, and you need to take great care to avoid it. Your sources should be acknowledged every time the point that you make, or the data or other information that you use, is substantially that of another writer and not your own. As a very rough guide, while the “Introduction” and the “Conclusion” to your writing might be largely based on your own ideas, within the main body of your thesis, you would be expected to be drawing on, and thus referencing to the work of others.

5.4 Formatting your thesis


For the general format of your thesis, please refer to the Postgraduate Thesis/Dissertation Writing Guidelines (Appendix 7.1) attached. You should also consult the Librarian for further guidance on formatting and referencing.

Your thesis should normally have less than 60,000 words with an absolute maximum of 80,000 words depending on the length of the three already published papers that count towards the thesis. Additional materials contained within the thesis, such as appendices or the bibliography are excluded from this upper limit. In the case of an MPhil thesis, the absolute maximum word count is 40,000 with a maximum three experimental (results) chapters.


5.5 Submission of a thesis for an MPhil Degree


If you fall in any of the following categories, you will submit a thesis that will be examined for an award of an MPhil degree:

  1. You have been making good progress during the first and second years, however, due to personal reasons you are unable to proceed with your research work to achieve the set chapters for a PhD thesis.
  2. If during the first year of study you are deemed on academic grounds that you would struggle to achieve the set chapters for PhD thesis.
  3. If from the onset of your studies you clearly specify that you intend to pursue an MPhil programme rather than a PhD programme.

You can only submit a thesis for MPhil degree at the end of the second year of your study and before the end of the third year of your postgraduate studies starting from your registration date.


5.6 Procedures for thesis submission


You will be required to submit THREE bound copies (spiral) and an electronic pdf copy to the PG Dean’s Office for onward submission to examiners for marking. You should notify the office of the intent to submit the thesis 3 months in advance by using the “Intent-to-Submit” Form (Refer to Appendix 7.4: Form A).

After receiving your “Intent to Submit” Form, your Head of Department in consultation with the Dean of Faculty and the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will start the process of appointing and approving examiners with the relevant experts in your subject area. Note that all external examiners proposed by the CoM need to be vetted by the UNIMA-wide Postgraduate Committee and approved by the UNIMA Senate.

6.1 Appointment of examiners

  • Two Examiners are normally appointed for each candidate for the degree of PhD, one of whom is an External Examiner and the other a member of the UNIMA academic staff who is not the candidate’s supervisor. It is possible, in particular circumstances, to appoint a third Examiner, for example, to cover the range of expertise required in relation to a particular thesis.
  • If you are a candidate for the PhD degree but you are also a full-time academic member of staff, you will be examined by two External Examiners and not by a member of the academic staff of the College. In such circumstances a Link Person (for example, your supervisor) is appointed to liaise with you and the External Examiners in coordinating arrangements for the oral examination. Similarly, a Link Person is appointed in the case of any such candidate who has exceptionally been permitted to work for the degree without supervision. The Link Person may, subject to the agreement of the Examiners and the candidate, attend the oral
  • examination as an observer. If you are a Research Assistant (a member of academic-related rather than academic staff), the normal arrangements for appointment of examiners as outlined in paragraph (i.) above will apply.
  • It is the responsibility of your Principal Supervisor to put forward proposals in a timely manner for the appointment of your Internal and External Examiners. This would normally be three months prior to submission. Recommendations should be submitted on the appropriate form which is available from Office of Postgraduate Studies and Research (see “Intention to Submit” Form A in Appendix 7.4). The completed form should be forwarded to the relevant Head of Department or Departmental Postgraduate Studies Coordinator for approval and onward submission to the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research.
  • Your supervisors are required to inform you of the proposed nominations for the appointment of Examiners, so that any difficulties which might arise in relation to the appointment of a particular individual can be identified and resolved at an early stage in the assessment process.
  • For more details about the appointment of examiners, please refer to Section 10.2 of the CoM PhD regulations. Please also refer to the University of Malawi Criteria for Selection of External Examiners (Appendix 7.2) attached.

6.2 Examination of the thesis

The examination of MPhil and PhD candidates shall take two forms: a Thesis Examination and an Oral Examination. Please refer to the attached Flow chart and the relevant forms (Appendices 7.3 and 7.4) for the assessment procedures of MPhil and PhD theses.
The External and Internal examiners shall assess the thesis within three months from the day they receive copies of your thesis from the Postgraduate Dean’s office. They shall mark your thesis based on the “Thesis Evaluation Guidelines” as stipulated in Appendix 7.4 (Form C). The examiners will be grade the thesis on a 0-5 point scale with “0” being Poor and “5” being Excellent. The Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will average the mark or points to come up with your final score. You shall pass the examination if you get an average mark of 50%. Your PhD thesis may be considered for an award of an MPhil degree if your final score is between 40 – 49%.
Subject to approval by the supervisory committee, you are expected to incorporate all corrections and address all relevant comments, suggestions and modifications from the external and internal examiners and present an amended thesis within 3 months to be approved by the Internal Examiner before an oral examination is conducted.

6.3 Oral (Viva Voce) Examination

An oral examination shall commence with a Public Seminar during which you will be expected to present your results. You shall be allocated 40-60 minutes for the oral presentation and 20-30 minutes for discussion. Please refer to the attached Flow chart and the relevant forms (Appendices 7.3 and 7.4), for the assessment procedures of the Generic MPhil and PhD theses.


Following the presentation, you shall attend a one-hour closed-door oral (viva voce) examination, chaired by the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research.
The Viva Voce Examination will include the following members:

  • Dean of Postgraduate Studies – Chairperson and moderator
  • External examiner
  • Internal Examiner
  • Other members of the Supervisory Committee
  • Selected experts in the field of your specialization
  • Head of Department
  • Dean of Faculty
  • Invited Heads of relevant departments or their representatives


Each member of the panel shall be allowed to ask you questions based on your thesis or the public seminar. Each panel member shall assess you based on the following criteria:

  • General presentation
  • Knowledge of subject matter
  • Ability to answer questions

The grading shall be on a 0-5 point scale with “0” being Poor and “5” being Excellent. The mark or points will then be averaged to come up with a final score. You shall pass the examination if you get an average mark of 50%.


You must pass both the oral and thesis examinations to be awarded a PhD degree. Your supervisory committee shall also evaluate you based on your performance during your study and research work periods. The examiners may make any other relevant comments towards a fair evaluation of your thesis. They will be required to indicate in the report whether the degree should or should not be awarded to you and why.


The results of these examinations will be indicated in the Result of Final Examination Form (see Form D in Appendix 7.4 attached). The results will only be indicated if you have incorporated all comments and corrections mentioned or discussed during the public seminar and closed session, after approval by the supervisory committee.


In the event that you do not satisfy the Oral Defense Committee, the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research shall inform you and the Postgraduate Committee. Thereafter, he will recommend to the UNIMA Senate a re-presentation of the Oral Assessment within six months of the unsuccessful defense.


The Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research shall recommend and forward the results to Senate, through the UNIMA Postgraduate Committee. The final results can only be published and be made known to you, faculty and college after approval by UNIMA Senate.

6.4 Attendance of your supervisor at the oral examination

Although your supervisor is not normally appointed as Internal Examiner he/she may be allowed to attend your oral examination. Your supervisor may be invited to offer comments at any appropriate point during the examination process including the oral examination. The Internal Examiner will consult you prior to the oral examination to confirm whether or not your supervisor should be present. You and your supervisor are required to withdraw from the oral examination room before a formal decision on the thesis is taken.


If your supervisor does not attend your oral examination, he/she should be contactable during the examination in order that the Examiners may, if they wish, seek clarification on any particular issues which may have arisen in relation to the work submitted.


6.5 Support provided to you if permitted to undertake amendments to your thesis


  • Members of the supervisory team have a duty to provide advice to you where the examiners have recommended amendments or revisions of your thesis, at any stage of the examination process
  • Where the Examiners have recommended that you revise and resubmit your thesis, the Internal Examiner will forward to your Principal Supervisor a full statement describing those areas in which your thesis was found to be unsatisfactory. Your Principal Supervisor will forward this statement to you and advise as appropriate so that you can commence work towards resubmitting as soon as possible.
  • The Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research will submit your revised thesis to the Examiners.


Note that the maximum period permitted for completion of minor amendments for a PhD is three months and twelve months for resubmission of a thesis.

6.6 Appeals by research students against academic assessment

You may appeal against the following decisions of the CoM Postgraduate Committee:

  • a requirement to withdraw following a report of unsatisfactory progress
  • a requirement to revise and re-submit your thesis
  • a re-presentation of a thesis
  • not to award a degree for which you were registered

The grounds for appeal may be any of the following:

  • circumstances existed which affected your performance of which the Postgraduate Committee was not aware when it took its decision.
  • there were procedural irregularities in the conduct of the assessment.
  • there is evidence of a significant administrative error
  • there is evidence of prejudice or bias on the part of one or more of your assessors or examiners.
  • the arrangements for supervision were inadequate.
  • the decision of the Postgraduate Committee was such that no reasonable body of people could reasonably have arrived at that decision.

You may only appeal on the first five of these grounds only if there is a good reason why you did not inform the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research, in writing of all relevant circumstances in advance of the Postgraduate Committee meeting.

6.7 Printing and binding your thesis


After the examination (i.e. correction of errors and final approval of the thesis by the examiners) you are expected to bind, at your own expense, four approved copies of the thesis. Binding is done at Chancellor College in Zomba or any UNIMA-certified publisher. These copies shall be bound between boards, covered with a dark green cloth. The spine shall bear the title (in abbreviated form if necessary), your name in full, the abbreviation for the title of the degree for which the thesis is submitted and the year. Lettering shall be in gold or black. It is also your responsibility to get the certificate of approval page signed by the Dean of Postgraduate Studies and Research, Head of Department, Supervisors and Internal Examiner.

©- 2016- All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission of the University of Malawi, College of Medicine.
Dean, Postgraduate Studies and Research
College of Medicine, Private Bag 360, Chichiri,
Blantyre 3, MALAWI
Tel: +265 (0) 1 871 911/874107,
Fax: +265 (0) 1 874 700

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