On this page

HDR (Higher Degree Research) programs

A Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) is a supervised research degree in which you carry out independent research on a topic developed by you and your supervisor(s). Your thesis will be an original piece of work incorporating an account of the research done during the program and its results.

A Master of Philosophy (MPhil) is a supervised research degree in which you carry out research under the guidance of your supervisor. Contact the appropriate PhD Convenor to see if their area offers an MPhil.

The Australian government and the ANU offer scholarships and stipends for students undertaking a PhD.

Academic areas

The PhD program at Crawford is offered in the department 'areas' of
  • Economics (including the Arndt-Corden Department of Economics, ACDE)
  • Policy and Governance (POGO)
  • Resources, Environment and Development (RE&D)
  • National Security College (NSC)

Your individual PhD program (which is what we call your candiature) nominally fits into one of these areas, although at Crawford there is a lot of overlap. For example, you might be writing a largely qualitative thesis based on water pricing policy, but you include some econometrics as part of your analysis.

Which area you are in is usually determined by the area your Primary Supervisor works in: if your Primary Supervisor is in RE&D, then you are seen as an RE&D student. This is important because it has implications for the type of thesis you write as well as the coursework you undertake.

The thesis

The thesis (or dissertation) is the key component of the PhD and MPhil at Crawford. A PhD thesis should not be more than 100,000 words in length, although length and format does vary according to area:
  • Economics theses are commonly between 30,000 and 60,000 words in length and take the format of essays. An 'essays thesis' comprises a number of sole-authored main essays (each with the general format of intro, literature review, model(s), data, results, analysis, discussion, conclusion) as well as a general thesis introduction and a general thesis conclusion. Sometimes, a separate literature review is included after the general introduction. This format should encourage you to publish journal articles out of your thesis. It is also possible in Economics to undertake a 'book style' or unitary thesis (see next bullet point). In any case, you should discuss thesis format with your supervisor.
  • Policy and Governance and Resources, Environment and Development, and National Security College theses are commonly around 80,000 words in length and are presented as a 'book style' or 'unitary' thesis. Longer theses are discouraged. How chapters are set up in this kind of thesis varies and will depend on the data or material you collect and how you want to present it in order to 'show' your thesis.
  • Thesis by compilation (sometimes referred to anachronistically as 'thesis by publication') consists of a minimum number and standard of papers and requires a written application on the part of the student to submit in this format as well as the approval of the Delegated Authority. See the Thesis by compilation protocol for further information.

Word count does not include the list of references. Whether or not footnotes are included is a moot issue and, in fact, might depend on how how much you rely on footnotes to sustain your thesis (i.e., your argument); thus, the over-use of footnotes is discouraged.

Contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor if you want to discuss the likely format for your thesis (and certainly discuss the matter with your supervisor) and any other thesis-related issues. We also strongly recommend that you look at some past theses so that you get a sense of what is required. You can borrow past theses from the collection in the thesis cabinet in the PhD Common Room. Contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor for access. You can also view the Crawford PhD thesis collection list online.

For the MPhil, the candidate is required to submit a thesis of up to 60,000 words.

Degree duration

The standard duration of a full-time program for the PhD degree is a minimum of two and a maximum of four years. International students must complete within the time specified on their visa. The maximum time for completion for domestic students is five calendar years full-time, double that for part-time students -- this applies only to students enrolled after 1 January, 2016. You can apply for an Extension of program.

If you want to submit prior to the minimum duration of your program (i.e., before two years of your candidature have elapsed), then you need to seek approval from the Delegated Authority.

See the ANU's Procedure: Higher degree by research - submission and examination of theses for details. More information on visa requirements can be found on the International Office website.


It is important that you take your HDR (Higher Degree Research) candidature seriously. Both Crawford and the ANU look on your candidature as being the equivalent of full-time employment, and it is expected that you approach your research in a professional manner. Crawford is also keen to ensure you enrich our academic community. Our expectations are that you
  • Participate fully in Crawford PhD events and attend meetings of HDR students when necessary
  • Attend academic seminars
  • Work in your area (tutoring, etc.) when not on fieldwork and if the opportunity arises
  • Meet deadlines. You will be guided by your supervisors but it is ultimately your responsibility to meet deadlines and work within the milestones structure outlined by the University
  • Regularly check your ANU email account. All official correspondence will be sent to your ANU email address.

Supervision and your panel

Upon enrolment, an interim supervisor will be appointed for you. This will be a member of the School’s academic staff who is most likely to be confirmed as the Chair when the topic and supervisory panel are formally approved three months after you enrol. The interim supervisor will consult with you on development of the thesis topic and on the composition of the supervisory panel. Your panel must be appointed within three months of commencement of your candidature.

Composition and role of your panel
Typically, you will have a panel of three guiding your work. Supervision panels consist of three members (sometimes more, although we do not recommend more than four or, at the most, five) with the titles of Chair, Primary Supervisor, and Associate Supervisor. The Chair is responsible for the academic administration of your degree, i.e., they have the power to endorse things such as requests for software or applications for Crawford HDR student funding. The Chair also defines roles for Associate Supervisors and may limit their responsibility. The Chair of your supervisory panel is an ANU academic (you are located in the same Academic area as the Chair) and is the supervisor responsible for arranging panel meetings, monitoring your progress, and ensuring compliance with required milestones and other University rules and policies.

Your Primary Supervisor (usually also the Chair of your panel) is the person who you consult most often about the intellectual direction of your project. Your Primary Supervisor is available for regular consultation and will maintain regular contact with you, and they play a direct role in shaping your research project and they will encourage you to participate in the research culture of Crawford. This person is expected to read and comment on your written work and to guide you in your reading and in the development of your research questions.

These other panel members provide additional expert advice; how much you end up using them will depend on a number of factors. In general, Associate Supervisors are less closely involved in the supervisory process and are not expected to read all of your written work or to meet with you on regular basis. Associate Supervisors are typically appointed to provide expertise in specialist subject areas or methodologies, or to facilitate access to a range of contacts and resources, often external to the University.

The Delegated Authority may approve supervisors not holding a PhD or who are not employed at ANU, but only with the approval of the Associate Dean HDR. At least one panel member must hold an ANU appointment for the duration of the program. Visit the You and your supervisor page as well as the Supervision and Candidature Policies and Procedures for more details. You might also want to check out the Research Supervision website for supervisors for more information.

Who should you put on your panel?
Your panel should be made up of people who are familiar with your area of research. What's more important, though, than getting panel members who are experts in precisely in what you're looking at, is finding panel members -- especially your primary supervisor -- who you can communicate with, who meet with you regularly, who provide useful feedback, and who you trust and feel comfortable with.

One thing we recommend is that you find panel members who are academics, as opposed to practioners or other experts. The reason for this is that academics have a much clearer idea about what a thesis actually is, and about what constitutes academic research and how that research is carried out. Although practioner knowledge can be valuable in many respects, putting such people on your panel can lead to misunderstandings as regards the nature of the scholarly enterprise you are undertaking.

Your panel must be appointed within three months of commencement of your candidature. To register your panel, you must fill out the Research candidature details form and return it to the HDR Administrator.

Meeting with your supervisors
Within the first few months of candidature, it is expected that you will regularly meet with your Primary Supervisor. After that, the frequency of meetings will depend upon your particular needs and on the supervisor’s workload. As a general guideline, you should expect to meet your Primary Supervisor formally at least once a month and at other times as needed. Toward the end of your candidature more frequent meetings can be expected. Full panel meetings are expected to be held twice a year; the Chair of the supervisory panel (who is also likely to be your Primary Supervisor) has the responsibility for organising such meetings, but you should give them a gentle reminder if these meetings seem to be dropping off the radar.

Following formal meetings with your Primary Supervisor, you are required to provide a memorandum detailing what has been agreed during the meeting. Supervisors and candidates are expected to arrive at an agreed set of expectations in line with various HDR supervision and candidature policies and procedures.

Supervisor feedback
As a guideline, you can expect to receive feedback on written work within two to four weeks, but this will depend on how much work you have produced for comment. Here it is important to take into account an ethic of reciprocity. Clearly if you are late in meeting deadlines you can't expect a quick turnaround. Similarly, you should not expect feedback on multiple iterations of draft chapters, as you are expected to incorporate supervisor feedback into your work as you go. Individual circumstances will vary but as a general rule you should probably not expect supervisors to comment on more than one detailed outline and two complete drafts of each chapter. Don't forget that you can always get feedback on your work from the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor.

Associate Supervisors are not formally required to read drafts, but they may read and provide comments in their areas of expertise; whether they have a greater involvement varies according to particular cases.

Absence of supervisor
If a Primary Supervisor is absent for more than three months, the University appoints a substitute (acting supervisor). In the case of shorter absences, arrangements should be made to maintain contact with the Primary Supervisor and/or for another member of the panel or member of the School to be available for consultation. A substitute supervisor must be appointed if there is an unplanned break in supervision of four weeks or more.

Changes to your supervisory panel

Either you or panel members may request changes in supervisory panel arrangements during your candidature, and may seek advice on this from a number of sources. It is not unusual for students to make changes to their panel arrangements, especially if the research has changed direction (as often happens) and a supervisor can no longer provide advice on your topic. In these instances, talk the matter over with your supervisor and get the paperwork underway.

Sometimes you find that you and your supervisor simply do not get on. In these circumstances, it's best to act early to institute a panel that works for you. To do this, you must firstly investigate who else might be an appropriate supervisor for your thesis. Once you have some ideas, discuss the matter with your HDR Convenor, who can advise on the staff member's likely suitability and availability, and who can liaise with the current supervisor and any potential supervisors. Changing supervisor under such circumstances can be mentally and emotionally draining, so you should have a chat with someone you trust and who can provide advice on how the system works and on how best to proceed so that everyone stays emotionally safe. The Chair of your panel (who is likely also to be your Primary Supervisor) must sign off on any changes.

To formalise any changes involving panel members, fill out the HDR thesis topic or supervisory panel update form (below) and hand it in to the HDR Administrator.

Topic, topic development, and topic changes

The first few months are crucial to the development of a viable thesis topic, i.e., one which in the view of the supervisor can be completed within the maximum time allocated to the course. It is also important that you establish good work practices. This includes meeting writing and other relevant deadlines, set in consultation with the supervisor.

During the first year of your HDR candidature your research topic is likely to evolve. It may continue to do so in response to research results, and following the first PhD thesis seminar and thesis proposal review (TPR). If, however, you want to change your topic in a significant way following your TPR you may need to undergo the process again and no extension to the candidature can be guaranteed. Such a change should thus be carefully considered and discussed in detail with the panel. When you start your degree, you must register your thesis topic (or 'thesis title', as it is referred to, sometimes) with the HDR Administrator. If you change your topic, you must record the change on the Panel or topic update form, below, and hand the form to the HDR Administrator.


PhD candidates are required to do at least 12 units of coursework as part of their PhD program. A full academic coursework load is 24 units per semester, and at Crawford all students are required to undertake at least 12 credits of coursework (across the life of the degree, but usually at the start of your candidature). Students enrolled in less than 24 units per semester are expected to spend the remaining time on their research work. Coursework requirements at Crawford are generally as follows:
  • Economics PhD students are required to successfully complete eight semester-length courses, including three required courses. The remaining five courses are made up of electives. Please consult with your supervisor.
  • National Security College (NSC) PhD students are required to undertake POGO9096 Research Design and NSPO9020 Research Methods, both offered in Semester 1.
  • Policy and Governance (POGO) PhD students are required to enrol in a research design course (12 units, semester 1, offered by Crawford) and a research methods course (6 units, offered by the School of Politics and International Relations). Please consult with your supervisor.
  • Resources, Environment, & Development (RE&D) PhD students are required to undertake 12 units of coursework, so you should discuss this with your supervisor.

View the list of Crawford courses, including compulsory courses.

You will need to discuss with your supervisor whether or not you should undertake any additional courses. To enrol in a course (including those listed above), you will need to submit an application to add (or drop) courses via your ISIS account. Go to ISIS > Degree Management > Manage My Degree > MMD HDR > Apply.

You can take any other courses that you think might benefit your research, but you should first consult with your supervisor about this, as you will need to their approval before signing up.

Coursework is intended to develop supplementary skills (in research methodology or background knowledge, for example). To the best of our knowledge, poor coursework marks have not in the past acted as an obstruction to a student's being awarded the PhD, as both both milestones and examination are the chief, formal obstacles to gaining the degree. Of course, if a student were to do poorly in coursework, then that would act as a 'red flag' and the supervisor might consider recommending terminating candidature, but a lot of support is put in place before things get to that stage.

PhD seminars

Each student is expected to make at least three seminar presentations during their period of PhD candidature in the Crawford School (after completing coursework requirements). The first PhD thesis seminar and thesis proposal review (TPR) will typically include a research proposal and some preliminary results. The second PhD thesis seminar presentation (aka Mid-Term Review) will normally be based on an original chapter. The third PhD thesis seminar presentation will usually be of an additional research chapter, or an overview of the key results of the entire thesis.

The PhD seminar series provides an ideal forum for these presentations. You should make arrangements for your seminar presentations with the PhD Seminar Co-ordinator in your area. To Skype in a panel member, contact the ANU's IT Service Desk. You will need to provide them with the date, time, and venue for the seminar, so be sure to book your seminar before you contact the Service Desk, and make sure that everything is organised at least two weeks in advance. You also need to make sure that any panel members you want to Skype in are actually available at the time and date you are giving your seminar. Obviously. See below for how to book a seminar in your area.

There are three PhD seminar series run by the Crawford School, organised by area. You will be asked to present your research at and participate in seminars on a regular basis. The PhD Seminar Co-ordinator in your area is responsible for organising the seminar series. Each area's seminar series is run along slightly different lines, so please contact your PhD Seminar Co-ordinator for more information or to book a seminar. You can give a PhD seminar presentation at any time during your candidature -- you aren't limited to the formal milestone seminars of your candidature. Contact the PhD Seminar Co-ordinator in your area to arrange your seminar. Please bear in mind that staff and students are often on holidays between the end of November and late January, so you would do well to schedule any seminars outside of those times.

The Economics PhD seminar series provides a forum for Crawford's Economics PhD students to receive detailed feedback and guidance on their work in progress. The seminars are held on Friday mornings from 9.30–11.00 am in Seminar Room 1, Stanner Building. The presentations take about 40 minutes, followed by a 10-minute discussion by a nominated discussant (typically a fellow PhD student) and then Q&A. Each student is expected to make around three presentations during their PhD candidature, after completing their coursework. The first will typically be a research proposal or first paper. The second and third will typically be research papers. The third might provide an overview of the key results of the entire thesis. The series is suitable for Thesis Proposal Reviews or final Oral Presentations in order to meet ANU’s research student milestones.

Prior to booking a seminar, you should confirm with your supervisor that your paper is ready to be presented. You should also confirm that your panel members will be able to attend on the nominated date. To book a seminar, please email the Economics PhD Seminar Co-ordinator around one month prior to the proposed date, attaching an initial draft paper and nominating a date. An abstract of around 100 words is also needed (to be used in Crawford School event marketing). Once a seminar is booked in, it will be listed on the PhD Seminar (Econ) page on the Crawford website.

Students should provide the name of their discussant at least two weeks in advance of their seminar. Please email through a final version of your seminar paper for printing by CoB (i.e., 5 pm) on the Tuesday of the week of your seminar. View a list of the Economics seminars. The seminars are also listed in the PhD calendar.

National Security College
To book a time to give a seminar at the NSC, contact your PhD Seminar Co-ordinator. PhD seminars are listed in the PhD calendar.

Policy and Governance (POGO)
Policy and Governance student seminars and peer conversations (involving staff) run for one hour (usually Mondays, 12.30 pm - 1.30 pm). Speakers are advised to speak for not more than 30 minutes in order to invite feedback from the audience. You can use PowerPoint if you want (most do). Email reminders about the upcoming get sent a week before to staff and students – you are welcome to invite others to the seminar as well. To book a time to give a POGO seminar, contact your PhD Seminar Co-ordinator. PhD seminars are listed in the PhD calendar.

Resources, Environment, & Development (RE&D)
Resources, Environment, & Development student seminars run for one hour (normally Thursdays, 12.30 pm - 1.30 pm). The standard seminar format is a half-hour presentation by the student, followed by a 5-minute commentary from another student previously nominated as the ‘discussant’, followed by general discussion. You are expected to provide a copy of the full seminar paper to the student discussant and all members of the supervisory panel beforehand. The seminar is advertised in advance to all members of the RE&D group (staff, students and visitors). You are welcome to invite others to your seminar as well. To book a time to give an RE&D seminar, contact your PhD Seminar Co-ordinator. PhD seminars are listed in the PhD calendar.

Training and workshops

You have the opportunity to participate in numerous academic seminars and skills development workshops both within crawford and elsewhere in the University. Check your ANU email account regularly for notices about School seminars and for information about academic and research skills workshops run by the Crawford School. There are also academic and research skills resources available on this wiki. ANU Research Training runs and excellent events series, and you should also check out the Research and learn programs offered by the ANU Library's Information Literacy Program as well as the statistical courses run by the Statistical Consulting Unit. A fuller list of training opportunities can be found on the ANU's Communities and training page. You may also be eligible for more specialised training (such as fieldwork training, or OH&S training), so be sure to check your training catalogue when you are logged in to ISIS.

Please note that some ANU organisations require you to supply a 'charge code' when you register for their free courses; this is to cover costs in the event of your non-attendance, aka a 'no-show'. Please contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor for a charge code in these situations. The charge code will be given out on the understanding that if the School receives an invoice for your non-attendance at a course, then the money will be taken out of your next application for Crawford HDR student funding. You should contact any organisation requiring a charge code such purposes so that you are clear about how much notice you need to give to avoid a fine for non-attendance.