COVID-19 Advice for Postgraduate Research (PGRs and supervisors)

We understand the challenges that COVID-19, and the effect of working off campus, poses to the continuation of all university research.  During this difficult period, the University is working to make sure that PGR students are properly supported.

We have prepared answers below to frequently asked questions.  If you have further questions or concerns you can of contact PGR Leads within your School and College or the University Graduate School for advice.  You can contact the University Graduate School by telephone in working hours (0121 414 3865) or by email: graduateschool@contacts.bham.ac.uk.

In addition to these FAQs that apply specifically to postgraduate research students, the University of Birmingham statement regarding Coronavirus (COVID-19) is regularly updated. Additional FAQs for all students at the university are updated regularly.  Please do check these sources as the situation is rapidly evolving.

When will PGRs be able to continue their research on campus?

We know that many of you are keen to return to campus as soon as you can. However, in order to ensure the safety of all, it has been necessary for the University campus to be opened gradually and following government guidance on safe working and social distancing. We are looking forward to welcoming staff and students back to campus by mid-September.

In the meantime, those permitted to return to campus will be contacted and will receive a special pass to allow them onto campus. It is critical that only those who are permitted return to campus, otherwise the safety of our staff and our community will be put at risk.

What advice is provided for research degrees with significant taught components, e.g. MRes, MMus?

For research degrees with significant taught components e.g. MMus with 60 taught credits, MRes programmes with between 30 and 60 taught credits, students must have achieved the overall Programme Learning Outcomes plus the required number of credits in order to progress to a degree. We will require marks for at least the equivalent of two-thirds of full credits from the taught component of their programme so they can progress to the project/dissertation. [Note: the normal requirement is for all taught credits to be passed as well as the credits related to the project/dissertation.]

What does this mean for MRes students?

Framework:

  • Students must have achieved the overall Programme Learning Outcomes plus the required number of credits in order for the degree to be awarded. Our emergency adaptations to the regulations mean that instead of needing the standard taught module credits for the programme, we are requiring at least the equivalent of two-thirds of successfully completed taught modules. If students have already successfully completed two-thirds of their taught credits, so that they have enough marks to enable a confident decision on their outcome and are completing their dissertation/project and can therefore meet the programme learning outcomes, they will be able to graduate without needing to do any further assessments (beyond the dissertation). Our no-detriment approach has been designed to allow students to take forward their best two-thirds of taught credits plus their  project/dissertation) to reduce pressure and ensure that students are not academically disadvantaged.
  • The minimum equivalent of two-thirds of full taught credits will comprise credits already accumulated from submitted work across all taught modules or from ongoing coursework that is due to be submitted. In some cases, students will be able to drop remaining pieces of coursework if they choose (with local guidance from their programme lead/team).
  • If students do not have sufficient marks available already or that will become available (i.e. from coursework(s) that are still due to be submitted) to meet the above requirement and/or have not yet met the overall Programme Learning Outcomes, they will be required to complete one or more pieces of inclusive online assessment that will generate numeric marks to contribute to the modules that are missing marks (up to the two thirds credit threshold) and/or to meet the overall Programme Learning Outcomes. We will keep this requirement to an absolute minimum.
  • All online assessments in the summer period will be designed to be as inclusive as possible to take into account the situation in which students are working where resources might be limited, and all RAPs that result in additional time; in other words, the time allocation will be sufficiently generous to ensure that students are not disadvantaged for this reason.
  • Where students already have more than the equivalent of two-thirds of full credits of marks (from taught modules), we will take the best equivalent of two-thirds of credits worth of marks from all that are available.

What is the University advising PGRs who are Tier 4 visa holders?

We are working to a default position that on-campus research activity ceased from 17:00 on Friday 20 March as part of a move to restricted campus operations. Phased reopening of the University campus has begun, with some postgraduate research students resuming research activity. In most cases this will be activity that is lab-based. This will be by invitation only.

In the meantime it is expected and anticipated that postgraduate researchers will continue with their research remotely. PGRs and supervisors should discuss the best course of action in terms of the PGR’s research activities. Tier 4 PGRs have a number of options and these should be discussed.

1.       The default position is that the PGR remains in the UK and works remotely. Supervision meetings must continue to take place as normal, either virtually or by telephone and be recorded in the monthly online GRS2 form.

A work plan should be agreed with each PGR to ensure their studies remain on track.

2.       If you are Normally Registered and are continuing to work but are not in the UK, you should apply for an authorised absence for the purpose of ‘Conducting research from overseas – PGRs only’.

3.       If you are Normally Registered and are able to continue conducting fieldwork, you should apply for an authorised absence for the purpose of ‘Fieldwork’

4.       If you are writing up your thesis outside the UK then you should apply for an authorised absence for the purpose of ‘Thesis – writing up in home country’.

Further information about Authorised Absence and how to apply can be found on the Authorised Absence webpage.

If you and your supervisory team feel that COVID19 has significantly delayed your research progress it is possible to apply for either:

    1. An extension to your studies. (You can apply for an extension if you have experienced significant delay, whether you are normally registered or in thesis awaited), or
    2. A Leave of Absence (LOA)

The most appropriate option for you will depend on the extent to which your research has been affected, and the evidence contained in your GRS2 forms.

Please see the COVID-19 Extensions Policy for further information.

Further FAQs for international students can be viewed on the COVID-19 FAQs for students webpage.

UKCISA has posted helpful advice for international students during COVID-19.

 

What is the University advising Home/EU PGRs?

The majority of on-campus research activity ceased on Friday 20 March as part of a move to restricted campus operations. Phased reopening of the University campus has begun, with some postgraduate research students resuming research activity. In most cases this will be activity that is lab-based. This will be by invitation only.

In the meantime it is expected and anticipated that postgraduate researchers have been able to continue with their research remotely. PGRs and supervisors should discuss the best course of action in terms of the PGRs research activities. 

1.       The default position is that PGRs work remotely and supervision meetings take place as normal (monthly for full-time and equivalent for part-time PGRs), either virtually or by telephone and be recorded in the online GRS2 form.

A work plan should be agreed with each PGR to ensure studies remain on track.

2.       The expectation is that PGRs will continue to engage with their studies. Discussions should take place between the PGR and supervisor and work plans modified. If this is not possible please log the extent of the problem clearly on your online GRS2 form each month (pro rata for part-time PGRs) where this is the case. If you and your supervisory team feel that COVID19 has significantly delayed your research progress it is possible to apply for either:

  1. An extension to your studies. (You can apply for an extension if you have experienced significant delay, whether you are normally registered or in thesis awaited), or
  2. A Leave of Absence (LOA)

The most appropriate option for you will depend on the extent to which your research has been affected, and the evidence contained in your GRS2 forms

Please see the COVID-19 Extensions Policy for further information.

COVID-19 has significantly delayed the progress of my research. How can I apply for a Leave of Absence or extension to my studies?

As a University of Birmingham PGR student, you have been asked to do your best to engage with your studies during the period affected by COVID-19.

If you have been unable to complete essential research tasks as a result of COVID-19, you have been advised to log the extent of the problem clearly on the online GRS2 form each month (pro-rata for part-time PGRs) in discussion with your supervisor.

If you and your supervisory team feel that COVID-19 has significantly delayed your research progress it is possible to apply for either a Leave of Absence (LOA) or extension to your studies.

Further information, including how to apply, in provided by the 'COVID-19 Extensions Policy: University of Birmingham Post-Graduate Researchers'.

What guidance and advice has been provided by external funders?

The following links provide access to guidance and advice provided by external funding organisations:

·         UKRI

·         UKRI – Training Grants Specific Guidance

·         Alzheimer’s Research UK

·         Alzheimer’s Society

·         British Academy

·         British Heart Foundation

·         Cancer Research UK

·         EPSRC – Students

·         European Commission

·         EU MSCA

·         European Research Council (ERC)

·         Leverhulme Trust

·         National Institutes of Health (NIH)

·         National Institute of Health Research (NIHR)

·         Nuffield Foundation

·         Rosetrees Foundation

·         Royal College of Physicians

·         Royal Society

·         Wellcome Trust

A PGR is experiencing financial hardship. What support is available?

The Student Support Fund (SSF) is provided by the university to help students studying at our Birmingham campus (including by distance learning) who are experiencing genuine and unavoidable financial difficulties, and are struggling with their living costs. Further details, including eligibility, can be found on the Student Support Fund webpage.

What advice is provided for PGRs who are employed through Worklink? Updated 2 April 2020

Worklink have produced a set of FAQs that are regularly reviewed and updated.

What should I do if I am a PGR who is ill?

If you are a PGR who is unwell, please log this with your supervisory team. For the first four weeks no further action is necessary. If you are sick for more than four weeks, you should follow the normal procedure and complete the university's Leave of Absence form, which can be found on the Leave of Absence webpages.

What if a member of the supervisory team becomes ill?

Supervisory teams should work together to ensure that cover is available in the event of sickness of one or more members. If supervision cannot take place this should be clearly logged on the online GRS2 form at the next possible opportunity.

What is the University advising those who have planned travel abroad?

The University is advising all staff and students to follow the latest FCO and government advice.

What is the University advising PGRs who are due to attend a conference overseas?

Please see above.

What advice is the University giving if travel plans have been disrupted by the COVID-19 outbreak?

The university is keen to ensure that students are not disadvantaged by disrupted travel plans, and will support students to complete their research at a later point where this is necessary. 

The cost of travel should be recovered wherever possible. This may include:

  1. Contacting Key Travel who are offering customers free changes and cancellations of online bookings for scheduled flights (excluding low cost) from 9 March to 30 April 2020. Airline conditions and any fare difference when amending still apply. Please contact Key Travel for Terms and Conditions.
  2. Recovering costs through the University travel insurance, where possible. The University travel policy covers staff and students travelling abroad on University business and includes cover for cancellation – it applies regardless of whether students are funded or self-funding their travel. The FAQs explain ‘Cancellation of journeys (or journeys rearranged mid-trip) due to unforeseen events which could occur’ will, in general, be covered. An exception to this would be in respect of “disinclination to travel”. For example, if a journey were cancelled because a flight is cancelled, or a conference is called off, the cover would operate. If however, someone elects to cancel a journey due to, for example, nervousness over flying, this would be excluded as the cancellation is then due to choice rather than necessity.’ Please read the Travel Cover Summary provided by the insurance policy for full details. Please note the summary document states travel within the Domicile country is covered if an overnight stay and/or air travel is involved. Information about the University Travel cover plus claim forms can be accessed on Travel Insurance webpage.

What is the University of Birmingham Research Ethics and Governance position on COVID-19 impact on research and potential adjustments to projects that may be needed?

Guidance has been produced that is regularly reviewed and updated that can be accessed in the UoB Research Ethics and Governance position document.

What happens if a PGR is due to submit their thesis for examination (first or resubmission) during the period of restricted campus operations? Updated 26 May 2020

Research Student Administration are working remotely and therefore cannot currently accept printed copies of theses for examination. Thesis examinations are continuing and the information below explains the process for electronic submission of your thesis for examination.

The electronic copy will be obtained from the copy you submit for the plagiarism check and you should therefore follow your normal School/College process for this.

On submission of your thesis for the plagiarism check, please send an email to PGRstudentrecords@contacts.bham.ac.uk with "ELECTRONIC THESIS SUBMISSION" and your ID number in the subject field. In this email you should confirm the date that you submitted your thesis for the plagiarism check and attach the following documents:

  • Declaration form
  • Authors Declaration
  • Degree congregation choice form
  • Please also see the guidance on editorial help and the Third Party Declaration form.

All the above are available from the Submitting your thesis web page.

You should submit your thesis by the end of your maximum period of registration or if a resubmission, by your resubmission deadline.

Extending your thesis submission deadline

If you are unable to submit by your deadline, you can apply for an extension. Further information and an extension request form can be found on the extensions web page.

Please also see the COVID-19 Extensions Policy and Criteria.

What happens if a PGR is due to attend a progress panel/transfer to “thesis awaited” status during the period of restricted campus operations? Updated 24 March 2020

Any delays to progress reviews or transfer to ‘thesis awaited’ status which occur because of a period of restricted opening will be managed locally so as not to disadvantage PGRs.

Should face-to-face supervision meetings still take place?

The majority of on-campus research activity ceased on Friday 20 March as part of a move to restricted campus operations. Phased reopening of the University campus has begun, with some postgraduate research students resuming research activity. In most cases this will be activity that is lab-based. This will be by invitation only.

Supervisor meetings should continue for PGRs who have returned to campus as well as those who are working remotely. Agreement should be reached between the PGR and supervisor on how these will be conducted (e.g. video call, phone, on-campus with social distancing). GRS2 forms should continue to be completed during this time and this form used to record any delays or problems that arise. 

 

 

Will research degree examinations continue?

Research Student Administration will be working remotely and will support the thesis examination process as much as possible.

The University has agreed that vivas (oral examinations) can take place by Skype (or equivalent) during this period.  Of course, it might be necessary to choose a later date to accommodate the needs of PGRs and examiners.

Further details can be found on the Viva Examination web page.

Dr April-Louise Pennant shares her experience of defending her PhD virtually through the PGR Development blog.

What happens if a PGR's corrected thesis is due for submission during a University closed period?

For both minor and major corrections, submission of an electronic copy of the corrected thesis is acceptable.  This should be e-mailed to the internal examiner for minor corrections and both examiners for major corrections, along with the document detailing how the corrections have been carried out. The e-mail to the examiners should be copied to Research Student Administration (pgrstudentrecords@contacts.bham.ac.uk).

PGRs with Reasonable Adjustment Plans (RAPs)

If a PGR requires a change to their RAP or would like to discuss this further they should contact the Disability team via disability@contacts.bham.ac.uk. If there is concern about 1:1 support they should contact their provider directly. Contact details should be available on their webpages.

Supervisors should discuss plans to work remotely; if PGRs have any concerns about access they should contact their supervisor in the first instance. 

Wellbeing staff in the Schools are also contactable by email, details can be found on the Wellbeing Officers webpage.

What training and development opportunities are available to me?

Research Support from Library Services continues to be available, including training and development from the Research Skills Team. For a wide range of online self-study modules and online workshops, see the PGR Development page.  E-mail advice and one-to-one appointments with a Research Skills Advisor via Skype are also available. 

What academic English support is available during restricted campus operations?

The Birmingham International Academy (BIA) Academic English course provides information and materials of sessions that BIA runs for international students. PGRs can enrol on the course through the Canvas weblink.

Support for PGR mental health and wellbeing

The Wellbeing Thesis provides an online resource for postgraduate research students to support wellbeing, learning and research.

Information regarding support provided by the university can be viewed through the university Wellbeing webpages.

 

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