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

e understand the challenges that COVID-19 has had, and continues to have, on all postgraduate researchers (PGRs) at the university. The University continues to work 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.

Can PGRs continue their research on campus? UPDATED 13/01/2021

PGRs who require access to specialist facilities for their work may continue to access university facilities. If PGRs can work from home, they are encouraged to do so.

PGRs and their supervisors are urged to consider the need versus preference when thinking about accessing facilities. While the University campus remains open, we must follow Government guidance to work at home wherever possible. If you need to work on campus, please consider structuring your activity to cut down the number of times you need to access facilities, or the regularity that you may need to do so.

 

How can PGRs access asymptomatic rapid COVID-19 testing? UPDATED 13/01/2021

To help with the safe return to campus, and indeed for anyone who needs to continue to regularly access campus, the University has re-opened its asymptomatic rapid COVID-19 testing centre in the Great Hall. This facility will be open until 5th February. More information and test booking can be found here.

What is the University advising PGRs regarding their research studies?

As a University of Birmingham (UoB) 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.

You are encouraged to mitigate the disruption as best you can and in discussion with your supervisory team you should consider, for example and where appropriate, re-directing research, altering methodologies, and working on new or amended research questions.

It is likely that engaging in best efforts to mitigate the restrictions to planned research will result in altered theses. Therefore, under some circumstances the disruption to a PGR’s planned research caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may need to be taken into account in milestone and thesis assessments. Some PGRs may need or wish to complete their milestone or thesis examination on time, but have not been able to conduct all of the work they intended.

The University of Birmingham has therefore published a process to allow students to declare disruption to research caused by COVID-19. Further information can be found on the COVID-19 statement on disruption to research webpage.

In addition, if you and your supervisory team (either your supervisors, mentor, or Department/School PGR lead) 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(s) 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 and the COVID-19 Statement on Disruption to Research webpages for further information.

Further advice for international students is available on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs for students webpage, which includes advice for PGRs who have been unable to return to the UK following a period of authorised absence.

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

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'.

The University of Birmingham has also published a process to allow students to declare disruption to research caused by COVID-19. Please see the COVID-19 statement on disruption to research webpage for further information.

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

·         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? UPDATED 13/01/2021

The University has increased its investment in the student support fund and has updated the criteria to make it easier to access support.

Please see the FAQ on the student Coronavirus (COVID-19) FAQs webpage ‘I am a Birmingham student who is having financial problems because of the Coronavirus crisis. Where can I go for help?’

What advice is provided for PGRs who are employed through Worklink? UPDATED 2/04/2020

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 develop COVID-19 symptoms, you should follow the Test, Trace and Protect process detailed on the ‘Keeping Covid Safe webpage’.

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. 

If you feel that you need support outside of your supervisory team you should contact your local PGR Lead (School, Department or College).

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.

The University of Birmingham travel policy was renewed on 1 August 2020. The impact of COVID-19 on travel cover is explained in the Travel Cover FAQ.

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

Please see above. Key Travel have developed a COVID-19 information hub for the latest travel news and advice.

Very many conferences have gone virtual during this time! It may be that you have the chance to virtually attend more conferences than would normally be the case.

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) and is unable to come to campus?

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 submitting a corrected or revised thesis, by your corrections/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 but cannot come to campus? UPDATED 13/01/2021

Any delays to progress reviews or transfer to ‘thesis awaited’ status which have occurred because of the coronavirus pandemic are managed locally so as not to disadvantage PGRs.

Under some circumstances the disruption to a PGR’s planned research caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may need to be taken into account in milestone and thesis assessments. Some PGRs may need or wish to complete their milestone or thesis examination on time, but have not been able to conduct all of the work they intended.

 

The University of Birmingham has therefore published a process to allow students to declare disruption to research caused by COVID-19. Further information can be found on the COVID-19 statement on disruption to research webpage.

Should face-to-face supervision meetings still take place? UPDATED 13/01/2021

Supervision meetings should continue for all PGRs. 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?

Yes thesis examinations are continuing.  Please see the Thesis Submission and examination web page for further information. 

The University agreed in March that vivas (oral examinations) can take place by video conferencing (Zoom, Teams or equivalent).  It is however possible to choose a later date to accommodate the needs of PGRs and examiners if all parties prefer a face to face viva examination.

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 in the coming months?

For both minor and major corrections, submission of an electronic copy of the corrected thesis is the normal process.  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 (libraryresearchskills@contacts.bham.ac.uk) 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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