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The University of Southampton
Doctoral College

COVID-19 (coronavirus): Guidance for Supervisors, Research Students and Schools

Page last updated: 03 June 2020, 15:00.

The University has published principles and guidance for the partial re-opening of laboratories for research and enterprise activities.

Laboratory staff and their management will now work closely together to prepare plans for the safe partial re-opening of some labs. Full details are in the SUSSED News article, 'Partial re-opening of University labs approved.'

For now, the University guidance has not changed following the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday 10 May. Staff and doctoral students are being asked NOT to return to work on our campuses, except those who are already holding essential worker permits. We are actively developing the principles and guidance to enable people to return our campuses, where and when we are confident that it is safe to do so. You should continue to work from your current location until further notice. Please refer to 11 May SUSSED News article, 'COVID-19 Update – No immediate return to work on campuses', for further details.

Supervisory teams should take steps to support the research student and research during the lockdown and University building closures.

A summary of advice and guidance is contained below and will be updated as the situation evolves.

Supervisory Meetings

Formal supervision meetings should continue as much as possible.

Meetings should be arranged via suitable meeting software, such as Teams. Documents should be shared electronically in advance so that the time can be used to best effect.

Meetings and other activities should continue to be documented in PGR Tracker, or using the relevant alternative processes in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities or the Faculty of Medicine.

Please see Tips for Continuing a Supervisory Relationship at a Distance for some useful pointers. Doctoral students may feel free to discuss them with their supervisor(s).

Travel, Fieldwork and External Visitors to Campus

All travel is now banned. 

The only exception is where the travel is to protect the Health and Safety of the research student. In common with guidance for taught students, such travel should be risk-assessed by the relevant Deputy Head of School (Education).

Where research involved external visitors to campus, the work should either be postponed or moved online.

Where tickets have already been bought, the University Insurance SharePoint site should be consulted. 

UKRI has also issued guidance that where travel is no longer possible due to government/official advice, or it poses a risk to the individual (due to an underlying medical condition etc.), this can be charged to the grant in line with any other cost. If that cost cannot be absorbed by any overall underspend on the grant then UKRI will cover that small addition.

For all other funding, the budget holders will need to be consulted.

Supervisors of students who are currently on overseas fieldwork should carefully review the situation with the student. The review should take note of and follow Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice for the country in which they are working. An updated risk assessment may need to be completed.

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now advising:

“British nationals against all but essential international travel. Any country or area may restrict travel without notice. If you live in the UK and are currently travelling abroad, you are strongly advised to return now, where and while there are still commercial routes available. Many airlines are suspending flights and many airports are closing, preventing flights from leaving.”

Students currently overseas who want to return to the UK should notify the relevant Faculty Graduate School Office (see below), who will give further advice.

Any travel back to the UK or their home country arising out from this should be risk-assessed as above. 

If a student currently overseas is unable to return to the UK or their home country they should notify their Supervisor and Graduate School office. They should follow local advice and requirements during their stay. 

If a student is currently undertaking (field)work in their home country, this should also be risk-assessed. The student should follow the advice and requirements of the local country.

Students in these circumstances should seek to continue to work remotely using electronic means wherever possible.

University travel refunds - some airlines are currently contacting passengers directly giving them the option to take a voucher or request a refund.

If you booked your travel through the University’s travel management provider – Clarity - please do not take any action directly with the airline. Instead, please forward the airline’s email to Clarity with details of what action you wish to take. Clarity will then action this on your behalf. Please use your usual contact details at Clarity or accountmanagers@claritybt.com.

Booking travel – some of us may be looking to the future and considering overseas conferences or meetings. Even if travel restrictions are lifted later in the year, as the Vice-Chancellor has indicated, we need to be extremely prudent with our spending and you will need to agree with your Dean or Executive Director whether this is an essential activity.

Self Isolation

Students and supervisors should agree to notify each other should one or the other need to self-isolate. Plans to best use the subsequent time should be made as soon as possible. It is recommended that you consider these plans now.

In the event of self-isolation, research students must notify their supervisor and the Student Life team by emailing studentlife@soton.ac.uk.

While research activities continue on campus, government advice on hygiene should be followed. Wherever possible, such events should be live-streamed, or recorded and posted online so that students in self-isolation can participate or observe remotely.

Sickness

If a student is sick or is in self-isolation and become sick and unable to work, then they should notify their supervisor and Graduate School Office as soon as possible.

Supervisory teams should work together to ensure that cover is available in the event of sickness of one or more members.

Research Plans

Some research will be at greater risk to delays, for example projects requiring physical presence to undertake experiment, interviews, fieldwork or data collection. Supervisors and research students are must urgently review their research plans now.  

Activities that still advance the project, should be prioritised. These could include literature reading and review, computer or other paper-based work, chapter or paper writing. If it is no longer possible to continue with the existing plan then consideration to changes to the project plan should be considered to offset, wherever possible, undue future delays to thesis submission.

The Special Considerations Committees will be sensitive to circumstances in the event that a student is required to extend their programme to recoup time lost in this manner. Students, with the help of their supervisors, are urged to document the extent of the disruption to their research to support any future claim for an extension of candidature. Students are encouraged not to submit special considerations requests for extensions to candidature immediately, but only if and when required in the future. Please also read the “Extension to Candidature” section below.

Further information on the procedure for seeking an extension may be found in the Regulations Governing Special Considerations and Suspension of Candidature for Postgraduate Research Students.

Training

Face-to-face training of research students is now postponed for the rest of the academic year.

Existing online training (e.g., the mandated online training) may still be undertaken.

Where staff are intending to deliver training to research students they are encouraged to consider whether moving material online for delivery.

In the meantime, the University has a subscription to LinkedIn Learning that staff and research students can access.  Further updates on training will be posted later.

You should continue to record training in PGR Tracker, or using other mechanisms in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, or the Faculty of Medicine.

Festival of Doctoral Research

The Doctoral College Festival events in May have been postponed.  Further information will be issued in due course.

We are exploring running the 3 Minute Thesis competition online sometime before the end of June.  The Festival team will be in contact with heat winners to discuss this.

Further details may be found on the Festival of Doctoral Research Webpages.

Progression Reviews

In order to take into account potential delays to the research project and to free up academic and administrative staff time for other activities, the deadline for progression reviews falling due in the current academic year (2019/20) will be extended by 3 months. Where this pushes a review to after the final thesis submission date, this review will not take place, unless concerns over progression unrelated to COVID-19 occur. 

The 3 month extension will also apply to progression reviews have already been delayed due to special considerations or where there has already been a requirement to resubmit.

If you are using PGR Tracker, the extensions will require a manual updating of the progression dates in Banner by Faculty Graduate School Offices.  For the time being you are asked to add three months on to progression deadline reviews displayed in Tracker.  As and when the situation reverts to more normal operation, these changes will be made and Tracker will start to reflect the revised dates.

All progression matters should continue to be recorded using the normal processes (PGR Tracker or other processes in the Faculty).

Special Considerations

Requests for extensions to deadlines beyond the three-month blanket extension already approved by AQSC

In March 2020, AQSC agreed to offer a blanket three-month extension period to all students for the following:

  • Submission of a revised thesis for re-examination
  • Submission of minor and modest amendments to a thesis
  • Progression review

Subsequently, and on 8 April 2020, AQSC has agreed that the following process should be followed by students who, at that point, require a further extension for circumstances that are specifically related to the Covid-19 pandemic:

  1. The student should complete a special considerations (SC1) request form; stating “Covid-19” and setting out the reasons that a further extension is required (e.g, due to suffering ill health personally, caring for somebody close to them, inability to progress their research project). Because the present situation makes it difficult for a student to provide evidence when requesting a further extension specifically due to Covid-19, the student may self-certify and submit their request without the usual requirement to provide supporting evidence. The student should also state the additional period of extension that they feel they need.
  2. The student should submit the SC1 request form to their Faculty Graduate School Office.
  3. On receipt of the SC1 form, the Faculty Graduate School Office is empowered to authorize a student’s request for extension to a deadline beyond the three months already granted by the University up to a maximum of one month. If the student is requesting an extension of more than one month, the Faculty Graduate School Office will refer the request to the Faculty Director of the Graduate School for authorization.
  4. The Faculty Graduate School Office will notify the student to advise them that their request has been authorized.
  5. Should the student subsequently consider that a further extension is required for the same circumstances, they should submit an email to their Faculty Graduate School Office making reference to the earlier special considerations request/authorization and should state that the same circumstances are ongoing. The student should also provide any additional information that is relevant. The student should request the additional period of time that is required.
  6. The Faculty Graduate School Office will refer the request to the Faculty Director of the Graduate School (attaching the earlier special considerations request) for authorization.

Extension to Candidature

From 18 March 2020, all research students who are within six months of the end of the period of maximum candidature (also known as Thesis Submission Deadline in PGR Tracker) and who are NOT in nominal registration, will receive an extension of three months of candidature automatically. They do not need to apply for Special Considerations. 

This extension will apply on a rolling basis as the candidature clock ticks down and reaches the final six months of maximum candidature. This policy is under continual review in light of changing external circumstances. 

Research students who are in a position to submit their thesis before the end of this extension should still aim to do so.

The University will waive fees for the three month blanket extension due to COVID-19 (only). 

Students on nominal registration are excluded from the automatic three month extension.  All other regulations regarding nominal registration remain in place.

PGRTracker will not reflect these changes automatically, but Faculty Graduate School offices may contact the relevant students and inform them of their new end of candidature. As and when the situation reverts to more normal operation, the changes to Tracker will be made and it will start to reflect the revised dates.

Tier 4 Students must consult with the Visa Team as to the effect this extension may have on their visa.

 

Extensions to Thesis Corrections

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, AQSC agreed that any student who had been required by the examiners to submit minor or modest amendments to their thesis, or to resubmit their thesis for re-examination, should have their submission deadline extended by three months. 

It has been identified that a small number of students are concerned that, due to the current restrictions on access to University buildings, completing the work required may be hindered by them not having access to the annotations that may have been made to the hard copy of original thesis by the examiners during the viva process.

For any such student who was unable to access the examiner-annotated hard copies of the thesis before the University buildings closed, AQSC has agreed that it would be appropriate to issue a further extension equal to the time between the 22nd March 2020 (the date on which the University restricted access to its buildings) and the date on which the student can access the annotated hard copy of the thesis.

This date, to determine the extension period, may be the date on which the relevant building reopens, or it may be later, depending on any continuing travel restrictions. 

Students in this situation should contact their Faculty Graduate School Office in order that a further extension can be granted and advised accordingly. Students are not required to submit formal evidence with their request. 

When contacting the Faculty Graduate School Office, students should provide the location of the thesis copy so that, if travel restrictions prevent attendance of the student on campus after the buildings have re-opened, arrangements may be made by the Faculty Graduate School Office to transmit the thesis to the student, either as a scanned electronic copy, or by post.

Please refer to the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

Thesis Submission

During the University closure for the Covid-19 pandemic, special arrangements will be in place for the deposit of the final version of your thesis. Please visit http://library.soton.ac.uk/thesis/covid-19 for details and guidelines. Please also see the updated guidance in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

If/when the University reopens, Faculty Graduate Schools will submit a printed copy of the final thesis for archival purposes.

Vivas & Conducting a Viva Voce via Video Conferencing

In response to the COVID-19 virus situation, all viva voces should now be postponed or held online.

Guidance to support the conduct of a viva voce through video conferencing and an agreement form is available on the Extraordinary Quality Handbook here

The University Regulations already make provision for vivas to include a participant electronically, and in exceptional circumstances, and with the agreement by all parties (but most particularly the candidate), this can take place. The software package to be used must be available to each of the remote parties. 

Telephone numbers should be exchanged in the event of an internet failure but should only be used to discuss next steps. The viva voce should not take place via telephone.

If you intend to host a viva electronically, the Coordinating Supervisor should consult and inform the relevant Graduate School Office, who may be able to help with arrangements.

In addition, the Chair of AQSC has authorised the suspension of the rule that requires the presence of an independent chair during a viva held by video conference where the decision to hold the viva online is due only to the COVID-19 situation. If a viva was already scheduled to have an independent chair for other reasons the chair should be included as planned, but online.

If an independent chair is not included, the Internal Examiner must continue to ensure that the regulations are complied with and make sure a full account of the viva is included in the joint examiner’s report.

If the student would rather delay the examination until a physical meeting is possible, that should be permitted. However the research student must understand that any delay between the submission of the thesis and the viva arising from this decision will not be grounds for appeal.

Casual Pay

The University has agreed to extend its commitment to honour overtime and UniWorkforce claims until 31 May 2020. This will be applicable where overtime or casual work had been offered and agreed but the commitment cannot be fulfilled due to coronavirus, or where individuals have a regular and frequent pattern of overtime or casual work such that they could have had a reasonable expectation of this continuing if it wasn’t for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those that had been offered and agreed overtime or casual work should claim in the normal manner, noting on their claim that the commitment could not be fulfilled due to coronavirus.

Further are some Q & As:

  1. When you say that people will be paid until 31st May, does this mean that they will be paid anyway, regardless of whether the work that previously had been agreed will be carried out or not? - Yes, providing the work had previously been offered and agreed, payment will be honoured, even if the work was cancelled due to COVID-19
  2. Can a budget holder dissent from this, or is this a University-wide agreement? - This is a university-wide agreement.
  3. Does the statement “previously agreed” have a date cut-off? - The policy applies to work offered and agreed prior to 23rd March 2020, when the current lockdown came into effect. We would not expect new work assignments to have been scheduled after that date unless it was possible for the work to take place under lockdown conditions (in which case the work will have happened and would, of course, be paid).
  4. Provided that the allocated hours do not change, can the work that was intended to be done be changed, from e.g., marking scripts to monitoring online discussion forums in Blackboard for student questions, or does that need a new contract? - Yes work can be changed; a new UniWorkforce contract is not required.
  5. Does this mean that all previously contracted work must end on 31st May, even if some had been scheduled to take place after that, e.g.  a post summer exam field trip? - No work does not have to cease if it is going to take place, this scheme is there to support workers where work has been cancelled due to Covid-19.
  6. Previously the Doctoral College site stated that students might have to make up work in the future in return for payment for the work that was missed during the COVID pandemic. Does this still apply? - No, this University-wide agreement supercedes that policy. 

See also the University FAQ and the UniWorkForce site.

Teaching Duties

Face-to-Face educational activities have been suspended for the rest of the academic year.

The University is exploring ways in which to deliver material online. Co-module leads have been appointed to try to provide cover in the attempt of sickness of the module lead.

Schools may consider how the research students and budgets that had previously been allocated to semester 2 teaching and/or Easter vacation field courses can best be used to maintain educational delivery.

This could include, for example, undertaking the planned seminars/tutorials they were due to take online using Teams, supporting the lecturers with IT or moving materials online, etc.

In all cases these activities should be performed under the supervision of the module lead (or co-module lead in the event of module-lead sickness).

Please see section 'Casual Pay' above for further information.

Sickness and Stipends

Unless a student is sick, they should continue to work on their research project (suitably adjusted as above). If they are in receipt of a stipend, this should continue to be paid.

In the event of sickness, the rules of the funder of the research student should be consulted to see whether and/or for how long, they might continue to receive funding in the event of sickness.

If the research student is funded by UKRI (AHRC, BBSRC EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC), award payments will continue during absences for up to 13 weeks within any 12-month period provided they are covered by medical certificates (self certification is permitted for up to 7 days). Additionally the Studentship will be extended by a commensurate period. Beyond 13 weeks, Studentships will be put into abeyance. Medical absences beyond the 13 weeks are not funded by UKRI.

The University will adopt the same sickness policy as UKRI for students it directly funds, through its own schemes, for example Presidential, Jubilee, or Mayflower Scholarships.

Suspension of Candidature

Research students wishing to suspend their studies should speak first to their supervisors and then follow the Regulations Governing Special Considerations and Suspension of Candidature for Postgraduate Research Students.

The maximum initial continuous period of suspension is currently 12 months. Periods of suspension shall not count towards the maximum period of study.

Research students in suspension should not receive supervision but will typically retain access to email and library facilities.

Due regard should be given to funder rules governing suspension. Most funders will cease payment of funds (fees, stipends, training support grants) during suspension.

Students in the UK on a Tier 4 Visa will need to consult the UKVI website. Note that supervisors must NOT give advice on visas. Research students with questions should seek advice from the Visa Team.

Suspension Process for Students in the Faculty of Medicine or in the School of Health Sciences

Research students in the Faculty of Medicine or in the School of Health Sciences and who need to suspend their doctoral studies during the current pandemic to return to clinical duties may now suspend without applying through Special Considerations. Until further notice, the process to be following is now:

  1. The research student should notify the Faculty Graduate School Office by email that they need to suspend, confirming that they are being drafted to work back in the NHS during the current pandemic. The email should copy in the supervisory team members.
  2. The Faculty Graduate School will action the suspension and log it for note by the Special Considerations panel (retaining the email notification for evidence for funders).
  3. When the research student is ready to return, they should notify the Faculty Graduate School Office, who will then reactive the candidature.

Visas

The Visa team have created a new information webpage to provide students studying in the UK on a visa with specific advice during this situation.

Research Involving Human Participants

The University has issued new COVID-19 Guidance for remote interaction with research participants (dated 3 April 2020), to complement the existing guidance for undertaking research involving human participants during the pandemic. It is available here.

As the situation is changing almost daily, this guidance will be updated as and when necessary.

 

 

Information Security

Data protection and confidentiality are extremely important, particularly when working from home. Please read this short presentation from Information Governance.

Record Keeping

During the current pandemic, it is imperative that research students and supervisory teams should agree and keep clear records of the length and reasons for any delays in progress on research projects, together with any associated costs. They should state explicitly whether these delays are related to COVID-19. These records may need to be produced as evidence for both for internal and external purposes.

Until further notice, these records should be logged in PGR Tracker (wherever possible), or using other relevant mechanisms in the Faculties of Arts and Humanities and Medicine.

Library Services

Please see the latest PGR Library Access guidance and the Library home page, for information regarding services and resources available during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contacts and Key Links

Contact Details for Faculty Graduate School Offices

FacultyContact
Engineering and Physical Sciences feps-gradschool@soton.ac.uk
Environmental and Life Sciences fels-gradschool@soton.ac.uk
Arts and Humanities fah-gradschool@soton.ac.uk
Social Sciences fss-gradschool@soton.ac.uk
Medicine fmed-gradschool@soton.ac.uk

University COVID-19 (coronavirus): information and guidance

We encourage you to also keep checking the University COVID-19 (coronavirus): information and guidance webpage.

Have a look at the FAQs on the webpage, COVID-19 (coronavirus): Current Students, from Student and Academic Administration.

Please also refer to the Postgraduate Research page in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

Universities UK list of Key Links

Universities UK is maintaining a list of key links to information.

Further links may be posted as we come across them.

 

 

 

 

 

Useful Resources

A new Twitter account has been started by Pat Thomson (University of Nottingham) to provide support to PhD students while we are all practicing social distancing @PhD-virtualnotviral.

Please have a look at these useful documents put together by the University of Southampton's School of Psychology team:

Dr Zoë Ayres has also created some great guidance posters for PhD researchers during COVID-19:

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