Research Degree Programs

Common Elements in HDR

Common Elements in Higher Degrees by Research(HDR)
Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Ministry (DMin), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Theology (ThD)

The Section 4 Academic Regulations listed in the Higher Degree by Research Award Summary must be read in conjunction with the Section 5 Common Elements for Research Awards and the Section 5 APPENDIX: Code of Supervisory Practice.


5.1 Overall Nature of Research Programs

All MPhil, PhD and ThD candidates proceed to the award by research and thesis alone. For DMin candidates 20% of the award is by coursework and 80% by research and thesis. In all research programs both full-time and part-time candidature are available. Typically, full-time candidature requires an average of thirty hours per week and part-time candidature requires an average of fifteen hours per week. These hours should preferably be achieved through regular weekly commitment, but they may be achieved through varying periods of more and less intensive work.

5.2 Oversight

Oversight of the MPhil, DMin, PhD and ThD falls to the Research Committee. Where relevant, ethics clearance is determined by the Research Ethics Committee. The Research Committee is a committee of the Academic Board and makes recommendations to it. This includes recommendations for award of degrees. The Academic Board in turn makes a recommendation to the Council, which resolves on award or non-award of the degree. The Research Ethics Committee is a committee of the Dean, who notifies .significant matters to the Academic Board. The Research Ethics Committee may exchange .information with the Research Committee.

The Research Committee has practical responsibility, with regard to the degrees listed above, for such matters as the admission of candidates, the approval of thesis topics, the appointment of supervisors and associate supervisors, the progress of candidates through the program, the provision of research seminars and workshops, the examination of completed theses, the implementation of any recommendations from the examiners, and the recommendation to the Academic Board that a candidate may proceed to graduation. The Academic Board in turn makes a recommendation to the Council concerning the award of the degree.

The management of the programs is the responsibility of the Research Director, who is also a member of the Research Committee, and the Academic Board. The Research Director should be contacted by all intending candidates. The Research Director provides initial guidance in respect of the desired program, qualifications for admission, the DMin coursework if relevant, the intended research topic and supervision of the research, and remains the key contact for candidates in managing their progress

5.3 Enrolment

Candidates enrol through the Office of the Dean following an interview with the Research Director. The Director receives and forwards the application for enrolment, together with the Summary of Research Intentions, to the Research Committee which grants acceptance into the program.

In the case of the MPhil, PhD and ThD, candidature is provisional until the acceptance of the Thesis Proposal by the Research Committee. In the case of the DMin, transition from coursework to thesis occurs following the achievement of commendable results in the two coursework units and acceptance of the Thesis Proposal by the Research Committee.

5.4 Thesis Proposal

In the case of the MPhil, PhD and ThD, a formal Thesis Proposal will be submitted to the Research Committee within one semester of admission for a full-time candidate and within two semesters of admission for a part-time candidate. In the case of the DMin, a formal Thesis Proposal will be submitted to the Research Committee no later than one semester after completion of the course units for a full-time candidate and no later than two semesters after completion of the course units for a part-time candidate. In all cases, the formal Thesis Proposal may not be substantially changed after acceptance without application to the Research Committee.

5.5 Research Supervision

All candidates have two supervisors, a principal supervisor, who must hold a doctoral degree and be research active according to the College’s Research Active in the SCD Policy, and an associate supervisor, who must hold a doctoral degree, carry out research and normally be research active according to the College’s Research Active Policy. These are formally appointed by the Research Committee . Normally, the principal supervisor will be a faculty member of the Sydney College of Divinity. In some cases the College may appoint an external supervisor based in another reputable theological college, university, or comparable institution. The associate supervisor may likewise be internal or external to the College. In the case of the DMin, the associate supervisor may be a relevant recognized expert professional in a .relevant field of ministry.

As well as being research active, the principal supervisor should have .experience in research supervision. College Faculty who may become research active and thus eligible to act as supervisors are expected to participate in scheduled supervision workshops provided by the College. Especially in cases where a designated principal supervisor may not yet have overseen a research project through to a satisfactory conclusion, appropriate mentoring in this task will be provided by the Research Director.

Intending candidates may or may not have identified a specific topic within the intended area. Some may already have discussed the matter informally with a potential supervisor. In their Summary of Research Intentions accompanying the application to enrol candidates may request a particular person as supervisor, but the supervisor is appointed by the Research Committee .and approached by the Research Director.

The associate supervisor may be asked to act as principal supervisor in the temporary absence of the principal supervisor, for example, on study leave. The associate supervisor may otherwise provide additional research support, for example, with regard to a particular aspect of the research in which he or she is a recognized expert. The Code of Supervisory Practice, appended to this section, informs the supervisory relationships.

Each semester the supervisors report to the Research Committee concerning the candidate’s progress and any other related matter, using the Research Degree Progress Report form, which requires also candidate comment on the supervisor’s comments. This enables the Committee to monitor progress, offer advice to supervisors and/or candidates, and make appropriate recommendations to the Academic Board. In the event of continued unsatisfactory progress termination of candidature may be recommended. Unsatisfactory progress occurs when there is no evidence that production of the thesis has been advanced by identifiable further research, constructive meetings of the candidate with the supervisor, or written drafts, and where there are insufficient grounds for special consideration. Typically, unsatisfactory progress in one semester will attract directions to achieve particular goals in the following semester, and unsatisfactory progress for a second semester will lead to a requirement that the candidate show cause why the candidature should not be terminated.

Candidates experiencing extended academic or personal difficulties should discuss their situation promptly with their supervisor and the Research Director in order to establish the most effective way for them to proceed to eventual completion. In some situations it may be appropriate to apply for an extension. The normal upper limits for extension are one semester for full-time candidates and two semesters for part-time candidates. In other situations it may be appropriate to apply for leave of absence for a semester. Such applications should be addressed to the Research Director and are considered by the Research Committee.

5.6 Compulsory Research Degree Workshops

These workshops are compulsory for all new thesis writers, including DMin candidates moving to the thesis stage of their candidature. Held annually, they are offered in intensive mode, early in first semester. They will also be offered early in the second semester for any new students in the MPhil, PhD or ThD, or any DMin students moving to the thesis stage of their degree. New thesis writers may be at slightly different stages of preparation for the research but all will find the matters covered wholly or largely .relevant to their situation. Presented by various lecturers, they are designed to introduce candidates to practical matters affecting the production of a thesis such as:

  • defining a thesis topic and planning chapters
  • research methodologies
  • bibliographical aids
  • using the library to best effect in research
  • writing a formal thesis proposal
  • ethical considerations and ethics clearance procedures
  • examiners’ expectations
  • guidelines for writing and documenting
  • writing an abstract
  • participating in the SCD research seminars and in conferences.

5.7 Compulsory Research Seminars

Several Research Seminars (about eight) are held in the evening at intervals throughout the year, coordinated by the Research Director. Ongoing enrolment in all research degrees is subject to completing attendance requirements and presenting a paper related to the research seminar at least once each year for full-time candidates and at least once every second year for part-time candidates. DMin candidates participate in these seminars once they have entered the thesis stage of their candidature. The seminars provide an informal testing ground for the reception of the research, opportunities for gaining awareness of broader research areas and research procedures potentially applicable to one’s own research, and engagement with the overall cohort of research students in mitigation of any sense of isolation.

Where the candidate normally resides abroad or in an Australian location remote from the usual physical location of the seminars in Sydney, the Research Director will advise the candidate concerning minimum participation in the seminars. All such candidates are expected to attend at least one seminar in person in the course of the year in person and to present a paper at least once a year or at least once every two years, as above. The seminars will be located so as to allow for live-streaming of at least half of them and candidates will be expected to arrange to join such seminars using appropriate technology. Seminars begin again in March. Relevant advice is available from the Office of the Dean.

5.8 Research Ethics

Any research involving human subjects must have the approval of the Sydney College of Divinity Research Ethics Committee, which is a committee of the Dean.

All thesis proposals involving the gathering of personal information from people by surveys, interviews or case studies will be dealt with according to the procedures and policies of the Research Ethics Committee under Ethics in Research. The Research Ethics Committee makes recommendations to the Academic Board in consultation with the Research Committee.

Note that ethics clearance may also be pertinent if the research involves using such material collected by others. Note also that the recording of oral history may or may not include the gathering of personal information.

Information about obtaining ethics clearance to proceed with research involving human subjects is available together with the Application for Ethical Clearance of Research Involving Human Subjects. Guidance may be sought from the supervisor and the Research Director, and the Research Ethics Committee may be consulted through the Dean.

Ethics clearance is normally sought at the same time as submission of the formal Thesis Proposal. If the need to seek ethics clearance arises subsequently, as the need to gather personal information emerges belatedly, the application for ethical clearance should be lodged promptly. Under no circumstances may those elements of the thesis relying on the gathering of personal information proceed before ethical clearance is granted.

Whether or not a candidate needs to obtain a specific ethics clearance, it is still obligatory to conduct ethical research. Ethical research includes avoidance of the following:

  1. Plagiarism: Plagiarism is the representation of another’s works or ideas as one’s own; it includes the unacknowledged word for word use or paraphrasing of another person’s work, and the inappropriate unacknowledged use of another person’s ideas.
  2. Fraud: Academic fraud is the falsification and fabrication of research results and dishonesty in reporting research results.
  3. Misrepresentation: Misrepresentation is the giving of false or misleading information in academic matters. It includes falsely claiming credit for past study and falsely stating that thesis material has not been used in another thesis beyond the permitted scope.
  4. Unethical behaviour: Unethical behaviour is behaviour that breaches accepted ethical standards. It includes failing to observe the terms of an ethical approval to conduct research and misuse of confidential information obtained in field education.

Failure to conduct ethical research may result in the candidate being charged with academic misconduct. Candidates should not assume that such misconduct will not be detected. Know the Academic Misconduct Regulations.

5.9 Libraries

The Sydney College of Divinity Library is the sum total of all the individual libraries of the Member Institutions and the Korean School of Theology. All the College’s students have access to all these libraries on production of their Student Identity Card. They will be required to conform to the particular regulations pertaining in each library.

Each research degree candidate will be asked to nominate as a home library one of the College libraries, typically but not necessarily the library of the Institution in which the supervisor is based. This enables the College, in consultation with the supervisor and candidate, to build up research resources in the topic area of the candidate using a Research Degree Library Resources Grant to the library from the Sydney College of Divinity. The grant is made to the nominated library each semester in which the candidate is enrolled.

Where the candidate normally resides abroad or in an Australian location remote from the libraries of the College, the candidate will nevertheless make use of the College libraries through electronic access, interlibrary loans, and personal use during visits to Sydney or to the location of other College libraries. The College will assess such a candidate’s probable library needs at the time of enrolment and periodically, and may advise or negotiate use of a suitable university or college library elsewhere on behalf of the candidate. The College takes responsibility for ensuring adequate library access for all its students.

5.10 Presenting the Thesis for Examination

Approximately three months before the expected date of submission the candidate should notify the Office of the Dean that submission is expected at that time using the Intention to Submit form, unless this information has already been provided in the most recent semester report. If using the Intention to Submit form the candidate should ensure that the supervisor has provided comment.

TWO copies for MPhil thesis and THREE copies for either a DMin, PhD or ThD thesis must be submitted to the Office of the Dean for examination. Temporary binding and medium bond paper should be used.

The supervisor is required to sign a Certification of Thesis to be submitted with the thesis.

5.11 Guidelines for the Preparation of the Thesis

All copies of the thesis should be in good quality typescript on one side of the paper only. In the main body of the thesis double-spacing of typescript is preferred, but one-and-a-half-spacing is acceptable. Single-spacing may be used only for appendices and footnotes or endnotes. The paper should be good quality, medium weight white stock, sufficiently opaque for normal reading.

Gender-inclusive language should be used except in quotations, paraphrases, or re-creations of the language used in a different culture. God may be referred to in the gender language appropriate to normal practice within a particular theological tradition.

The size of the paper should be A4 (297mm x 210mm) except for illustrative material such as drawings, maps and printouts, on which no restriction is placed.

The margins on each sheet should be not less than 40mm on the left-hand side, 20mm on the right-hand side, 30mm at the top, and 20mm at the bottom.

The recommended structural sequence of a thesis is as follows:

  • Title Page
  • Declaration of Originality
  • Acknowledgements (if any)
  • Preface (if any)
  • Table of Contents
  • List of illustrations and tables (if any)
  • Abstract
  • Introduction (if separate from Chapter 1)
  • Chapters in sequence
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix or appendices (if any)
  • Bibliography

The title page should contain the thesis title, author’s name, degree and year of submission.

The Declaration of Originality should take the following form:

This thesis is based upon original work by the author and a study of the relevant published works as indicated and acknowledged in the text.


(Author’s signature)


The table of contents should be reasonably detailed in a thesis, since an index is not usually included.

Beginning with the first page of the first chapter (which may be headed either ‘Introduction’ or ‘Chapter 1’) pages should be numbered consecutively using Arabic numerals. Preceding pages, except the title page, should normally be given lower case Roman numerals, beginning with the page immediately after the title page.

Each copy of the thesis should have an abstract of 500-700 words bound in. The abstract should indicate the problem investigated, the procedure followed, the general results obtained and the major conclusions reached. It should not contain any illustrative material or tables. Note that it should not be replicated in the introductory paragraphs.

Appendices contain any supplementary material that the author considers necessary to the interpretation of the text itself. Appendices elaborate information or argument expressed within the body of the thesis; they do not introduce substantial new information or new argument. Materials that are generally more appropriately included in an appendix would include long tables, data that supports arguments contained in the thesis, detailed reports, detailed technical arguments and computer printouts.

Materials such as illustrations, charts or tables must not be submitted on the back of typed sheets. Except with the approval of the supervisor, these should be bound facing the text to which they refer, or if necessary, as right-hand pages, immediately after the first reference to them. The caption should be placed at the bottom of the page.

Materials such as diagrams, maps, and tables that exceed A4 size should be either:

  1. folded so as to read as a right-hand page when opened; or
  2. clearly referred to in the text, numbered and folded for insertion in a pocket in the back inside cover of the thesis binding.

Footnotes at the bottom of each page are preferred but endnotes are permitted. It is normal to begin footnotes or endnotes at 1 for each chapter. Harvard-style notes included in the main body of the thesis are not generally appropriate for advancing theological argument but may be permitted if clearly appropriate to a particular thesis.

5.12 Bibliography and Referencing

No single method of referencing is prescribed, but candidates should use one or other of the generally recognized systems of referencing and do so consistently. Recommended Style Manuals:

That of the Journal of Theological Studies.

Patrick H. Alexander and others, The SBL Handbook of Style: For Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1999, and Student Supplement rev. 2009.

Lawrence D. McIntosh, compiler, A Style Manual for the Presentation of Papers and Theses in Religion and Theology, Wagga Wagga: Centre for Information Studies in Association with ANZTLA and ANZATS, 1994.

5.13 Criteria for Assessment

The thesis will be assessed, amongst other things, according to the following criteria:

  • The clarity with which the research question/problem is stated and the scope of the study defined.
  • The appropriateness of the theoretical or conceptual framework to the investigation.
  • The appropriateness of the methodology to the research question/ problem.
  • The precision and consistency with which key terminology is used.
  • The depth of critical assessment of the relevant literature.
  • The capacity to demonstrate a link between the literature review and the research question/problem.
  • The degree of skill in constructing arguments and sustaining a position throughout the thesis.
  • The level of competency in considering possible objections to the position advanced in the thesis.
  • The degree of proficiency in using rigorous argument.
  • The careful and accurate presentation of the scholarly apparatus.
  • The originality (for doctorates) and the level of contribution made to the understanding of the subject.
  • A clear statement of the conclusions reached.
  • Justification of the conclusions reached in terms of the arguments presented.
  • An ability to relate the conclusions of the study to the wider field.
  • The suitability of a substantial amount of the material for publication.

5.14 Examination Process

Examiners should be suggested by the supervisor after discussion with the candidate but the candidate is not informed who is approached or appointed. When the examiners’ reports are received, the names of the examiners will be made available to the candidate unless an examiner requests otherwise. At the request of a candidate the College will agree that a certain person will not be appointed as an examiner if there is a reasonable expectation that the person would have a conflict of interest.

The thesis is submitted to the Office of the Dean and the supervisor conveys suggestions for examiners to the Research Director, who undertakes preliminary enquiries. The examiners are appointed by the Research Committee at its first meeting following receipt of the thesis. It would be unusual for the Committee to depart completely from the supervisor’s suggestions.

Once the examiners have agreed to examine the thesis, they are normally expected to return their report within two months of having received the thesis.

For a DMin, PhD or ThD thesis three expert examiners are appointed, all external to the College, at least two of international standing. For an MPhil thesis two expert examiners are appointed, both external to the College.

Five categories of response are available:

  1. that the award be granted
  2. that minor amendments be made to the thesis to the satisfaction of the Research Committee
  3. that major amendments be made to the thesis to the satisfaction of the Research Committee
  4. that a significantly revised thesis be re-submitted for examination
  5. that the award not be granted.

The examiners’ reports are addressed to the Research Director and received by the Research Committee. In the case of unanimous agreement on category (1), the Committee will normally resolve to recommend award of the degree outright and send the reports to both the candidate and the supervisor for their information. In all other cases, the reports will be sent together by the Research Director to the supervisor, who is invited to write a response addressed to the Committee concerned. In light of both the examiners’ reports and the supervisor’s response, the Committee determines what instructions are to be given to the candidate and the date for amendments to be completed in the case of (b) or (c) or for re-submission in the case of (d). The Research Director then advises the candidate and the supervisor accordingly. Where amendments under (b) or (c) are required, these should be made in consultation with supervisor. When they have been completed satisfactorily, the supervisor will inform the Research Director, and the Research Director will inform the Committee. When revision under (4) is invited, the supervisor will continue in the normal supervisory role until resubmission and re-examination.

In light of the examiners’ reports and completion of any other required work, the Research Committee recommends accordingly to the Academic Board, which then sends its own recommendation on to Council for confirmation, and the candidate is invited to graduate.

5.15 Presentation and Binding of Thesis Following Examination

When the thesis has been examined and accepted, two copies bound in the manner described below should be sent to the Office of the Research Director, along with one copy in electronic form.

Each copy of the final version of the thesis should be bound in boards, covered with buckram or similar, and embossed on the spine as follows:

  1. At the bottom and across, the words:
    • ‘Sydney College of Divinity’
  2. 90mm from the bottom and across, the degree and year of submission, for example:
    • PhD
    • 2020
  3. Evenly spaced between the statement in (b) and the top of the spine, the initials and surname of the author. No other lettering or decoration should appear on the spine.
  4. Where the spine of the thesis is too thin to support lettering across, the wording should be printed along the spine reading from top to bottom.

5.16 Grievances

The Sydney College of Divinity has in place a set of grievance procedures which cover academic and non-academic aspects of candidature in the research programs of the College. Know the grievance procedures.



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