Research Students

If you're interested in doing a full-time or part-time PhD or MPhil (MSc by research) on

then please read on to know about Computing at the Open University, how to apply, the excellent support we offer, and what is my research student supervision and support experience.

Computing at The OU

The Open University is the largest UK university, with over 150,000 students, and a world leader in part-time, online, tutor-supported higher education. The OU is one of three universities to score 90% or more for overall satisfaction each year since 2007, in the UK's national student survey.

The Computing and Communications department is part of the Centre for Research in Computing, which achieved excellent results in the UK-wide 2008 and 2014 research assessments. According to the citation data collected by Microsoft Academic Search, the OU is among the top institutions for software engineering research (7th within Europe and 34th worldwide, as of February 2015).


The department offers PhD and MPhil degrees, the latter being shorter than the former. Study can be done part-time off campus or full-time on campus in Milton Keynes, which is centrally located between London, Birmingham, Oxford and Cambridge.

Part-time students are self-funded or sponsored by their employers. Full-time PhD students are supported by a 3-year studentship, which covers fees, an annual stipend of ca. £14k and an annual allowance for research expenses, e.g. conference attendance. Studentships are allocated competitively among all applicants in all of the research areas covered by the department.

To register for a degree you must first contact me, discuss your research idea, write a research proposal, and submit it with a CV and a form to the Open University's Research School. For further details on the application paperwork, see our departmental enquiries and application page.

If you wish to apply for a full-time PhD studentship, you should contact me until mid-March, because Research School needs the paperwork usually in early April. If you intend to study part-time, you can contact me later and submit paperwork by early June.

After submitting the application, you will be interviewed (by phone if convenient) by our admissions tutor and your potential supervisors. Successful candidates start in October, with an induction event on campus, although there is some flexibility for the start date of self-funded students.


Each MPhil and PhD student has two internal supervisors (additional internal and external supervisors are possible) and one third-party monitor, who is an academic with whom the student can speak in confidence about their progress, problems, and supervisors.

Before the end of their first year (for full-timers) or second year (for part-timers), students submit a probation report, with a literature review and detailed research plan. The report is discussed in a probation viva with two academics other than the supervisors. Students have to pass the probation viva to continue their studies.

Students and supervisors file in a progress report twice a year, to document progress made and to raise any issues in need of attention. In a weekly forum, moderated by an academic, full-time students discuss their research, learn relevant soft skills (e.g. how to present a poster), and attend presentations by staff members. Similar support is given to part-time students over synchronous online meetings and asynchronous forums and wikis. Presentation skills can be practiced at an annual on-campus conference for all full-time and part-time students.


Supervision of PhD students:

  • Andrew Leigh (part-time, co-supervised by Andrea Zisman), Software architecture analysis to predict project risks, ongoing
  • Alan Hall (part-time MPhil student, co-supervised by Tony Hirst and Santi Phithakkitnukoon), End user data modelling, ongoing
  • Tezcan Dilshener (part-time, co-supervised by Yijun Yu), Improving Information Retrieval-Based Concept Location in Software Using Contextual Relationships, ongoing
  • Mike Giddings (part-time, co-supervised by Adrian Jackson, Pat Allen, Jan Jürjens, Yijun Yu), The early detection of performance shortfalls in distributed real time systems, awaiting viva
  • Simon Butler (part-time, co-supervised by Yijun Yu and Helen Sharp), The Investigation of the Relationship Between Identifier Name Quality and Source Code Quality, doing minor corrections
  • Lionel Montrieux (full-time, co-supervised by Yijun Yu), Model-Based Analysis of Role-Based Access Control, 2013
  • Ángela Lozano (full-time, co-supervised by Bashar Nuseibeh), Assessing the effect of source code characteristics on changeability, 2009

Other student support:

  • third-party monitor of 5 PhD students
  • probation co-examiner of 8 PhD students
  • external examiner of 1 MSc and 7 PhD students in the UK, Spain, Belgium and Portugal
  • internal examiner of 1 MPhil and 2 PhD students
  • supervisor and first marker of 11 MSc research projects
  • specialist advisor or second marker of 18 MSc research projects