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The University of Southampton
Doctoral College

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

Page last updated: 09 April 2020, 17:00.

The UK has implemented a 24 hour curfew with immediate effect until at least the 13 April 2020. All students who do not have an essential reason to be on campuses should now stay at home. This will reduce the chances of contagion and allow staff with essential roles to work in a safer environment.

Although term will start on 20 April, the buildings will remain closed at least until the UK Government lifts the lockdown. Hence students should make no plans to return to Southampton or other definitive plans for travel until further notice.

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

Further advice and guidance will be issued 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.

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

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.


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.


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).

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.


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 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. 

All parties should have backup phone numbers for each other so that, should the technology fail, the viva can continue by phone.  

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.

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.

Where research students were due to support now-cancelled field trips for UGs/PGTs, they may be paid for that activity, but on the clear understanding that they could be reassigned to perform other tasks and/or be called on in the future to do so by the School.

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).

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.


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.

Contacts and Key Links

Contact Details for Faculty Graduate School Offices

Engineering and Physical Sciences
Environmental and Life Sciences
Arts and Humanities
Social Sciences

University COVID-19 (coronavirus): information and guidance

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

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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