Advice for postgraduate research students about the coronavirus outbreak

The latest advice on coronavirus (COVID-19)

Updated 1 June 2020

The following guidance has been prepared for postgraduate research students at the University– that is, any student registered for a research degree programme (e.g. MPhil, PhD, ResM, MD or Professional Doctorate).

It should be read alongside the University’s advice and guidance for staff and students.

Am I able to work on campus?

Since Friday 20 March, access to buildings and delivery of services have been restricted and highly limited. The majority of buildings are now alarmed and deadlocked.

If access to any building is required over the closure period for essential research activities, you should consult with your Director of Studies (DoS). Your DoS will then need to have this request approved by your Head of School on the basis of urgency and criticality. 

How will my research programme continue to be supported?

Supervisory meetings and tutorials to discuss your progress should now take place remotely. Please do not forget to record these interactions and their outcomes on GradBook as usual.

If your school, subject area or research group has additional requirements for assessed milestones such as Project Approval or Confirmation of Route (e.g. a presentation or viva), your Director of Studies should organise these to take place via Zoom instead.

If a member of your supervisory team becomes ill, then it should be possible to continue your project temporarily under the guidance of the remaining members. If this proves impossible, then please contact your School PGR Coordinator or Deputy Director of the Doctoral College for your faculty for further advice.

The Doctoral College will be closed for in-person visitors until further notice. Please email doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk and a member of the administrative team will get back to you as soon possible.

The Researcher Development Programme will be running the majority of its sessions as webinars and a wide range of resources and videos are also available in Moodle.

Please also see ‘What services are available online?’ on the University's main Advice for staff and students about the coronavirus outbreak webpage.

What do I do about fieldwork?

The lifting of travel restrictions (including for the purposes of fieldwork) becomes effective for PGRs from Monday 29 June 2020, subject to appropriate risk assessment and authorisation.

In order to do so safely, the University has approved a temporary addendum in the context of COVID-19 National Alert Levels to the pre-existing process for approval of staff and student travel (as outlined in its Code of Practice).

This document has been designed to interpret and guide PGRs and their supervisors through the planning and approval processes described in the Code of Practice and addendum. It links through to relevant documents, forms and resources.

What about deadlines?

If your research progress is, or will be, significantly disrupted due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and you are unable to meet a deadline for a milestone assessment (RDC1 or RDC2), you have two options:

  • If your research has been disrupted by illness (your own, a member of your family, your supervisors), you may apply for extenuating circumstances. This is to take account of personal circumstances beyond your control.
  • If your research has been disrupted because you have been unable to undertake planned elements of your project, then your Director of Studies can apply for an extension for methodological reasons.
Both processes are described in the Research Degrees Handbook. It may also be possible to apply, alternatively, for an interruption or period of absence (see below) or a renewal of an extension to a milestone deadline if necessary via the Doctoral College.

If you are unable to meet the deadline for your thesis (due on or before 1 August 2021) as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak:

You may apply for an extension to your current deadline of up to four months on GradBook without being charged extension fees for this additional period. We will exceptionally allow the total interruption and extension period for an individual student to be higher than 24 months under these circumstances.

Please note that you should not apply for an extension until at least 4 months prior to your thesis submission deadline. 

If you wish to apply for an extension longer than 4 months without incurring extension fees, we will consider this on a case-by-case basis. We will be announcing an application process as soon as possible. In the meantime, please keep clear records of how, when and why your research has been disrupted. Disruptions should be discussed with your supervisors at the earliest opportunity and documented on your GradBook page, to enable and facilitate this process.

Please note that it may be more appropriate to apply for an interruption instead (please see below).

If your deadline is within a taught module, please see below.

I am ill and cannot work on my project. What should I do?

If your period of illness related to coronavirus (COVID-19) lasts for longer than three weeks, you should interrupt your studies via GradBook or (if you are a Tier 4 visa holder) apply for a period of absence for the time you have been affected (please see below). Please do this at the earliest possible opportunity and within two months of the start date of the interruption period. We will exceptionally allow the total interruption and extension period for an individual student to be higher than 24 months under these circumstances.

Your interruption may include self-isolation time preceding and recovery time afterwards. The period of time of your interruption will then be added on to the end of your registration period and (where relevant) will affect the deadlines for your Project Approval, Confirmation of Route and/or thesis submission.

It is understood that most students affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK will not have medical certification. However, if you do, please upload this to GradBook with your interruption request.

If you are a funded student, then your funder’s interruption, suspension and/or absence policy will apply; for those in receipt of University of Plymouth Research Studentships (URS), please see below.

I am unable to fulfil my project plan. What should I do?

If you are unable to fulfil your project plan due to cancelled fieldwork or the unavailability of resources, participants or collaborators, we would advise that, if possible, you attend to other elements of your project or methodology at this time (e.g. desk-based research, writing, or methods that can be undertaken remotely). You should discuss this with your Director of Studies and plan a suitable way forward with your supervisors.

However, if it is impossible for you to progress your project in any way, you may ‘interrupt’ your programme or else apply for an ‘absence’ for a period of time (see below). Please note that if you are a funded student, your funder’s suspension, absence or interruption policy will apply.

How can I interrupt my studies?

Requests to interrupt your programme of study are made via your GradBook page. Please do this at the earliest possible opportunity and within two months of the start date of the interruption period.

We will exceptionally allow the total interruption and extension period for an individual student to be higher than 24 months under these circumstances.

If you are on a Tier 4 visa, then rather than interrupting (which will stop the sponsorship of your visa), you may apply for a period of absence of up to 60 days. Please contact the UKVI Compliance team at ukvi-reporting@plymouth.ac.uk about this.

If you are a funded student, then your funder’s interruption, suspension and/or absence policy will apply. For those in receipt of University of Plymouth Research Studentships, please see below.

What happens to my University Research Studentship (URS)?

Will I receive an additional stipend at the end of my funded period to take into account the redesign of my project or interruptions due to coronavirus (COVID-19) that are not supported by medical certification?

We will consider this on a case-by-case basis. Please keep clear records of how, when and why your research has been disrupted. This should be discussed with your supervisors at the earliest opportunity and documented on your GradBook page, to enable and facilitate this process.

If you are a UKRI funded student – that is, by AHRC (3D3), NERC (ARIES) or ESRC (SWDTP) – guidance is available on the UK Research and Innovation support webpage under ‘Training Grants/Students’. Please also liaise with your CDT/DTP administration team and academic director at Plymouth for further details as they emerge.

What will happen to my viva voce?

We are enabling viva voce examinations to take place by Zoom (or similar video conferencing app) until further notice.

It remains the responsibility of your Director of Studies to organise the viva voce. A non-examining Chair will need to be appointed if not already a member of the approved examination team.

Your Director of Studies will need to confirm that a number of conditions can be met before a remote viva can take place. For instance, you (and your examiners) will need to have a stable internet platform and all agree to holding the viva remotely.

You should also know that video vivas can present challenges – such as a time/visual lag, lack of eye contact, etc –  and that you are welcome to postpone until it can be held in person (unfortunately we are unable to guarantee when this will be right now).

Please also remember that it may be necessary to postpone your viva at the last minute if any participant becomes ill or we are concerned that you may be disadvantaged in any way.

Scheduled viva voce examinations

If copies of your thesis have already been sent to your examination team by the Doctoral College and your viva voce examination was already scheduled to take place in a face-to-face context, it may go ahead remotely. This must be approved by the Director or relevant Deputy Director of the Doctoral College, at least four working days in advance.

New viva voce examinations

Your Director of Studies may schedule your viva voce examination to take place remotely as soon as copies of your electronic thesis have been sent to your examination team by the Doctoral College. Please note that the latter may take several weeks. Your remote viva may take place between four weeks and three months of your thesis being sent to your examiners by the Doctoral College (although this may be extended due to illness).

I am ready to submit my thesis. What should I do?

We are enabling the electronic submission of theses until further notice.

The preferred method for doing this is by sharing your thesis from your UoP OneDrive with doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk, with the subject line ‘Thesis submission – YOUR NAME and STUDENT NUMBER’. If this is not possible, you may send a pdf of your thesis by email (if under 8MB) or use a transfer service. Please note that, due to an unprecedented amount of email traffic, it may take some time to acknowledge receipt.

You will also need to submit a completed RDC.3S form at the same time.

We recognise that it may not be possible for some theses to be submitted electronically (e.g. those that include artistic or creative outcomes). Because there is currently nobody on campus to receive theses sent by post, we recommend that you wait to submit your thesis until further notice if it is not possible to submit an electronic version; you will not be charged extension fees. However, if you are funded by an external organisation with a set deadline (e.g. UKRI), please let us know as soon as possible for further advice.

How will my taught modules be affected?

All taught modules are subject to our generic changes to how courses operate. These can be found on the our main Advice for staff and students about the coronavirus outbreak webpage under the heading ‘How will this affect teaching and exams?’

In particular, until further notice, face-to-face teaching has ceased and online resources have been provided to support your teaching and learning. Assessments will be adjusted to enable you to study and submit remotely where possible.

Can I start my research degree on 1 October 2020?

Yes, we are planning for the University campus to be operational. We will follow government advice on social distancing and personal safety to ensure a ‘Covid secure’ working and research environment. We will also support your individual circumstances, including options for remote access whenever possible.

The Doctoral College will provide guidance on how to enrol and will be running an online induction. If you have received your offer letter, please contact your appointed Director of Studies for further guidance if you are concerned about how you can start your programme of study.

We understand that you might choose to postpone instead. Please contact the Doctoral College (doctoralcollege@plymouth.ac.uk) as soon as possible if you would like to discuss starting your programme of study on 1 January 2021.