Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics: Internal

PhD Students


This page is designed to help ease you into the life of a PhD student in the Particle Physics and Particle Astrophysics group at the University of Sheffield and should provide you with plenty of helpful information. If you think something should be added, please tell your supervisor or the group's secretary, Jennie Hopkin. You may also find it useful to visit the departmental postgraduate page.

First things first

Safety courses etc.:

Check with your supervisor which of these courses you should sign up for. Your supervisor will tell you who to make arrangements with.

Research Training Program (RTP)

You are expected, by the Graduate Research Office (GRO), to participate in the RTP. You should pick up or download a copy of the RTP Handbook and read through it. Discuss with your supervisor which course(s) you plan to take and check that you meet your credit requirements.

Most members of the PPPA group will take PHY 6040 and PHY 6050, which are offered and run by the group. Other useful courses include GSC 6000, GSC 6050, GSC 6060, GSC 6100 and PMA 6020. There are many RTP courses available and you should investigate all your options and discuss them with your supervisor before completing RTP registration.

PHY6040 - Experimental and Theoretical Foundations of Particle Physics

Aims & Description
To provide, through 120 lectures with tutorial support, the theoretical and practical skills required to conduct research in high energy particle physics or particle astrophysics. Theoretical topics include quantum electrodynamics and Feynman diagrams, electroweak theory and quantum chromodynamics. These subjects are assessed through sets of problems for each topic. Experimental techniques are introduced in courses on particle detectors and relevant computing skills, again with exercises provided for the students. Part of this course draws on training material provided by external bodies such as the Cockroft Institute. 84 hours of core in-house lectures are provided; the remaining 36 hours (minimum) are selected by students in consultation with their supervisor from 194 hours of optional material.

Students are also expected to attend HEP seminars and take part in the PPARC RAL Particle Physics Summer School at the end of their first year.

For more detailed information about PHY 6040 click here.

15 credits (A=5, C=10).
(Note, since this module entails well over 200 hours of work, we suggest this be increased for future years to A=5, C=15.)

PHY6050 - Research Skills for Particle Physics

Aims & Description
To develop the practical skills required for independent research in particle physics or particle astrophysics. Each student conducts a literature survey on some topic of current research, being guided in the use of research journals and other publications. A computer or hardware project is also assigned, with students developing a substantial analysis or simulation program, or building a detector or associated electronics (as appropriate to their personal research field). Assessment is on the basis of a written report and a 15-minute presentation to the particle physics group.

Students are also required to produce a poster summarising their research work (e.g. for the IoP HEP Conference or RAL Summer School) and write a first year report, which is examined in a viva by the supervisor and an independent member of the group.

15 credits (A=10, B=5).

GSC6000 - Information Management

Aims & Description
Informationhandling and communication are at the heart of the research process across all disciplines. Students are introduced to a range of practical IT facilities available within the University that can support their research, including web searching and web page authoring, presentation software and spreadsheets and the management of bibliographical data.

15 credits (A=8, B=7).

GSC6050 - Thesis Writing: Principles and Practice

Aims & Description
The course is intended principally for students whose first language is not English. It aims to develop awareness of different approaches to structure and style in thesis writing. The process of completing a PhD thesis is considered from the initial stages onwards. Various strategies for reading, planning, focusing, drafting and revising are discussed. We examine possible sections of a thesis in detail and consider effective citation practices. An important focus of the course is that participants have the opportunity to develop the ideas discussed in relation to their own research topic and the writing conventions of their field.

5 credits (A=3, B=2).

GSC6060 - Speaking Skills for Research Purposes

Aims & Description
The course is intended principally for students whose first language is not English. It covers the skills involved in the design, preparation and execution of oral presentations of the kind given by research students within their study programmes. This includes practice in answering questions during and after such presentations. Other oral skills to be developed during the course are those required in more formal situations, such as the interviewing of subjects, and in less formal situations, such as academic discussions with colleagues and supervisors.

5 credits (A=3, B=2).

GSC6100 - Library and Information Skills for Successful Research

Aims & Description
The unit introduces students to some of the most important library and
information resources available to them. It focuses on information retrieval,
literature searching and citation methods, using the resources of the University
Library and the campus network.
On completion of the unit, students will be able to carry out effective and efficient
information and literature searches using computer-based sources. Additionally,
students will understand how research information is communicated.
This is a web-based distance learning course. Students attend an Introductory
session and then work through the units on their own, at their own pace. Help is
available, through email contact. The unit is available throughout the year, but
students are advised to take it as soon as possible after arriving at the University.

10 credits (A=5, B=5).

PMA6020 - Learning LaTeX

Aims & Description
The de facto standard for typesetting mathematics is TeX. The theoretical postgraduate must currently pick up skills in its use by trial and error while typing research papers or eventually his/her thesis. The aim of this course is to provide the student with a firm foundation of knowledge in the use of the TeX system, including the use of various primary packages such as AMS-TeX, LaTeX, plain TeX, together with a knowledge of the use of many secondary packages. The emphasis is on programming style.

5 credits (A=2, B=3).

End of First Year

You will need to produce a First Year Report at the end of your first year of study, which should detail all the work you have undertaken during that year, usually including a literature review. This should be submitted for the end of the academic year. A viva voce (oral) exam (usually 45 - 60 minutes and fairly informal) will then take place in the department within a few weeks of the report being submitted (preferably before then end of the academic year). The viva is held with two academics (your supervisor plus one other) and will generally include a short amount of time at the beginning, where you will speak about the work described in your report, followed by questions about and a discussion of the work contained in the report.

It is hoped that you will have the opportunity to present your work both visually and orally at some point during your first year, usually at the IoP HEPP Conference (poster) and/or an experiment's collaboration meeting, or similar (presentation).

At the end of your first year (usually the first two weeks of September) it is likely that you will attend the PPARC RAL Particle Physics Summer School. Make sure your supervisor has nominated you for this.


You will be assigned a mentor when you arrive, who will be an academic from another research group within the department. Mentor appointments are arranged through the departmental office usually twice a year. You can ask to see your mentor at any point and do not have to wait for these regular appointments to come around. The idea is that you can speak to your mentor about things you may feel uncomfortable speaking to your supervisor or anyone else about. Your mentor will also ensure that you are progressing through your PhD as expected.

Useful info

Computing: Paul Hodgson and Matt Robinson are the people to go to with any computing (hardware, software, coding, etc.) problems, and can be found in the HEP workstation room (E18a, ext. 23553). Information about the group's computing facilities (HEP and batch clusters, printing, etc.) can be found here.

People: Jennie Hopkin is the research secretary and can be found in E22. The other people to get to know, as you will probably have a fair amount of contact with them, are Julie Milner (postgraduate admissions officer), Joanne Coates (senior accounts officer), Rebecca Raynor (accounts officer) and Kealy Lambert (research administrator), who can all be found in the departmental office (E34).

The postgraduate tutor is William Barford (E24). The head of department is Clive Tadhunter (E35) and the departmental secretary is Linda Simmons (E34). The departmental manager is Catherine Annabel (E29), who you will need to see for keys etc. For technical (offices, labs, etc.), safety and security, Alan Bateman is the best person to speak to.

There is a full list of all physics staff and graduate student contact details here.

Mail: The photocopy and print room (E31) is where you will find your pigeon hole. The student ones are grouped by surname initial. It is also worth checking the RA's pigeon holes too, as your mail can end up in there on occasion. All work related mail can be posted out through the departmental office (E34), where you just need to put the letter in the relevant tray (internal, external (UK), external (overseas)).

Stationary: When you need pens, paper, folders, staples, envelopes, etc. they can be found in the back cupboard of the departmental office (E34). Alll items should be signed out on the list on the wall to the right of the office door as you exit.

Room bookings: There is a list of rooms that can be booked within the department in the departmental office, on the wall to the right of the door as you exit. The media room, meetings room etc. can be booked here for meetings etc. Please ensure you cross off any cancelled bookings so that others may use the rooms.

Extra cash: There are several ways to earn extra money in the department while you are a PhD student. All tend to be paid at the same rate (very reasonable!).


At the end of your 3rd year, it is hoped that you will be in a position to submit your PhD thesis (the absolute time limit for a PhD is 4 years). There are some regulations that it is useful to know before you submit. Most information can be found on the Graduate Research Office (GRO) web pages. A selection of particularly useful pieces of information follow:

Your supervisor should be given a draft copy of your thesis to check over and advise upon before you submit your thesis. It is, however, your decision when to submit.

You should check the Universty's regulations about page formatting, although it is probably safe to 'borrow' the formatting from a previous students' thesis file (usually in TeX).

The front page of your thesis should contain the thesis title, your full name, the department in which you have studied, the date (month, year) of submission and the degree for which the thesis is submitted.

You must submit three copies of your thesis to the GRO (not the department) and at least one of these must be single-sided (library copy). The first submission may be in temporary bindings (suggest asking in the departmental office or going to the Students' Union Copy Shop), provided they won't fall apart. You should also submit three separate copies of the thesis summary/abstract, which should be no longer than 300 words, and should include the thesis title and your name (at least on the unbound copies).

You will need an Access to Thesis form filled in and signed by yourself and your supervisor(s), which must be attached to the front of the library copy of your thesis.

It may be a good idea to send copies of your thesis directly to your examiners (after submission to the GRO), to ensure that they receive them in good time. You may discuss the choice of examiners with your supervisor. You will have an internal examiner, who will be a member of the department, and usually the PPPA group, who you do not work directly with. You will also have an external examiner from another UK institution, who will likely be an expert in your field of research but not someone you have worked with directly.

The viva voce for your PhD will normally take place 4 - 8 weeks after submission of your thesis. The PhD viva is usually 2 - 4 hours long and is arranged by your internal examiner. At the end of the viva you will be asked to leave the room while the examiners discuss the recommendation they will give to the faculty. ONce a decision has been reached you will be invited back into the room to be told the result. The majority of vivas will result in a PhD being awarded once specified minor amendments have been completed to the satisfaction of the examiners. This result allows you 4 weeks to complete the specified corrections before final submission.

The final submission of your thesis, after any corrections requested by the viva examiners have been made, must then include at least one single-sided copy that is properly bound using Printing Resources' 'fastback' binding service, and containing the Access to Thesis form.

Students will usually leave at least one bound copy of their thesis in the department.

For further information, please see the GRO's "how to" page.

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