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The University of Southampton
Doctoral College

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

Page last updated 9 February 2021, 12:00.

The University of Southampton has introduced a 'Research degree theses and the impact of Covid-19 restrictions' policy, which allows students to alert examiners to the impact and disruptions COVID-19 caused to their project work. Alongside their thesis for examination, students are now able to submit a statement outlining the disruptions they have encountered due to COVID-19, and the extent to which it was possible to adapt the work. Full details of the policy can be found here.

Following a review of their funding extension scheme, in November 2020 UKRI announced a Phase II. In parallel, the University has also agreed to fund a Phase II of its own Doctoral Programme COVID-19 funding extension scheme. Both of the new Phase II schemes open Monday 8 February 2021. For full details of the scheme, please head to our dedicated PGR Funding Extensions SharePoint site.

Please refer to the 21 January 2021 communication to PGRs from the Doctoral College: Access to Campuses & Saliva Testing. (For previous communications, please see the section below: Communications and articles from the Doctoral College). Please also see the Health and Safety during COVID-19 SharePoint site: COVID-19 Risk Management January 2021 onwards.

Following discussion at PGR QME Subcommittee on 5 November 2020, the PGR section of the Extraordinary Quality Handbook sets out the latest updates to the temporary measures that were introduced in Spring 2020 to support PGR students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The University now has a central SharePoint site - Health & Safety during COVID-19, which outlines policies and procedures relating to Health and Safety during COVID-19. For the avoidance of doubt, where reference is made to staff, this also includes doctoral research students. Please also refer to 'Tiers of Regulation - PGRs Operational Service Response', which outlines a risk minimisation framework for those returning to campus in Autumn 2020, and stipulates the parameters within which PGRs can continue their research.  

Please read the University guidance and protocol if you become ill with COVID-19, are symptomatic, or are informed you need to self-isolate. You must follow government guidelines if you become ill with COVID-19, and you must tell us you’re not well. You must complete this form if you're symptomatic, are awaiting test results or if you or one of your housemates has tested positive for COVID-19.

The University has released guidance on the partial return to campus for PGRs (both desk and lab-based). Please refer to this guidance for further information. See also the University guidance sites: Returning to Campus (Labs/Workshops/Studios) and Returning to Campus (Non Lab-based).

Supervisory teams should take steps to support the research student and research during the lockdown and University building closures. From 08 July 2020, all doctoral research students, however funded and irrespective of end-date of funding or candidature, must maintain a COVID-19 Impact Log. Students will record on the Log any significant COVID-related impact on the progress of their research project, together with the mitigating strategies that have been implemented. The Log should be regularly reviewed jointly by students and supervisors.

If you have not yet enrolled, please enrol for the new academic year via the Student Enrolment Website.

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

Studentships

  1. If you are paid a stipend through the University, in order to receive it, you will need to have a UK bank account into which it can be paid, and be present in the UK to have had your ID checked and be enrolled at the University.
  2. If you are in receipt of a studentship covering your fees these may be paid providing you are enrolled and able to engage with your programme. If you continue to reside in your home country, you will need to check whether you will incur a personal tax liability because of a receipt of a service overseas from the UK.
  3. If you are paid fees and a stipend through the University, both 1) and 2) may apply.
  4. If a third party pays your fees to the University and/or a stipend to you, then you should check with your funder as to any residence (and other) requirements for these payments to be made.

In all cases, in deciding whether to start or to continue your studies remotely, you should discuss the ability to engage with your programme with your supervisory team.

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.

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).

COVID-19 Impact Log

From 08 July 2020, all doctoral research students, however funded and irrespective of end-date of funding or candidature, must maintain a COVID-19 Impact Log. Students will record on the Log any significant COVID-related impact on the progress of their research project, together with the mitigating strategies that have been implemented.

Any records previously kept may also be transferred onto the Impact Log, and students may continue to record things in PGR Tracker if they wish to.

Travel and Fieldwork

Whilst the COVID pandemic persists, the University continues to restrict University-supported travel to essential travel only. All travel wholly paid for by a separate organisation will require more rigorous formal approval.

Before any travel is even attempted, doctoral research students and their supervisors should consult the current University Travel Policy during the COVID pandemic. The Travel Policy defines the term “essential” and the procedure for obtaining permission to travel from the relevant authority. Note that supervisors are not permitted, by themselves, to authorise travel by their doctoral students.

UKRI has also issued guidance for the research and innovation communities, relating to travel for researchers funded by them.

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

Researchfish

Each year UKRI research councils (AHRC, BBSRC, EPSRC, ESRC, MRC, NERC, STFC) ask everyone they fund, including doctoral students, to complete a submission on their research publications and outputs to Researchfish.

The data provided by students in researchfish each year is very valuable in helping UKRI understand the outcomes students are generating and justifying the funding to the UK Government. This year in particular the data provided will be useful in helping UKRI understand the impact the pandemic has had on student outcomes, and for this reason UKRI will - as in previous years - be inviting students in their third year and onwards to report their research outcomes to the database if they are able to do so.

However, UKRI understand that the pandemic may mean some students are unable to complete this submission. Given the disruption and delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, for this year, UKRI wish to emphasise that reporting by students is optional. Doctoral students that UKRI fund should not feel under any pressure to report at the expense of completing their research training, and they will have the opportunity to make a submission in future years.

UKRI will be contacting students who are new to researchfish in the next few weeks in order to set them up with accounts and will contact students already in researchfish to notify them of the upcoming submission period.

Further details on Researchfish and how to access it, may be found here.

Sickness and Self Isolation

Please read the University guidance and protocol if you become ill with COVID-19, are symptomatic, or are informed you need to self-isolate. You must follow government guidelines if you become ill with COVID-19, and you must tell us you’re not well. You must complete this form if you're symptomatic, are awaiting test results or if you or one of your housemates has tested positive for COVID-19.

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. Students should also notify their Graduate School Office.

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

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.

Research Plans

Some research will be at greater risk to delays arising from COVID-19, for example projects requiring physical presence to undertake experiment, interviews, fieldwork or data collection. Supervisors and research students should continually keep their research plans under review and adopt appropriate measures.

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 submission of a doctoral level thesis.

Training

Face-to-face training of research students, including mandated training, should continue online wherever possible. Please see updated guidance in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

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

The Doctoral College have launched a new PGR Development Hub to support you in your development as a PGR. You can find out more about how to manage your development as a PGR and what training and development opportunities are available to you both inside and outside of the University, including a list of mandatory courses. The University also has a subscription to LinkedIn Learning that staff and research students can access. 

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.

Progression Reviews

Whilst there was a three month extension in the 2019/20 academic year, things are now back to normal and progression matters should continue to be recorded using the normal processes (PGR Tracker or other processes in the Faculty). Please see the updated guidance in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

Special Considerations

The Covid-19 temporary measures introduced in Spring 2020 have ceased and all requests for special consideration or suspension of candidature due to extenuating circumstances require review by the Special Considerations Board in line with the expectations of the Regulations Governing Special Considerations and Suspension of Candidature for Postgraduate Research Students. Please see the updated guidance in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

The evidence requirements (as specified in Section A paragraph 4.1.1. of the Regulations Governing Special Considerations and Suspension of Candidature for Postgraduate Research Students) have been temporarily suspended. Until further notice, students may submit their request for special consideration without the usual requirement to provide written evidence (they are asked to submit only a copy of their Covid-19 Impact Log with their request). Should a student submit any other evidence with their request, it will be detached from the request prior to it being forward to the Special Considerations Board for review.  The usual requirement to provide written evidence also applies to any valid special considerations request which is not related to the impact of Covid-19.  When completing the SC1 form, students must explain clearly their specific circumstances and how they have been impacted and, should it be deemed necessary, they may be asked to provide further clarification on the information contained in the form before the request is considered by the Board.

Extension to Candidature

The 3-month blanket extension to candidature for students who are within six months of their maximum candidature, which took effect on 18 March 2020, ended on 07 July 2020. Students on doctoral programmes by research, whose funding ends between 01 March 2020 and 31 March 2021 (inclusively), who are not on nominal registration, and who have not yet submitted their thesis may apply for a funding extension. If a funding extension is granted, an extension to candidature may, or may not be required. In cases where it is required, an application for an extension of candidature may be automatically triggered as part of this funding extension application.

Suspension Process for Students in the Faculty of Medicine and 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 followed is:

  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 specify both the date when the suspension should start and the date (or the best estimated date) of when the suspension should end. 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 Board (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 reactivate the candidature

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.

Adjustments to research projects are a common part of doctoral study, but the Covid-19 pandemic has, in many cases, created noteworthy changes to projects. Where possible, research students should adapt their research activities to address disruptions caused by Covid-19 restrictions, but it may be necessary to submit a statement with their thesis on the impact of disruptions on their work. Examiners will consider this statement in relation to the scope and volume of the student's work but will always uphold the requirements for the award of research degrees. The quality threshold for the award remains unchanged and there must be no compromise in the integrity of the examination or award. 

Vivas & Conducting a Viva Voce via Video Conferencing

Online vivas will continue to be the default medium for 2020/21. Please see the updated guidance in the Extraordinary Quality Handbook.

Teaching Duties

The University has implemented a blended teaching strategy. Face-to-face teaching activities will only take place under COVID secure conditions with 25 or fewer students in any one educational activity.

For PGR students who teach, please refer to the guidance published by the University ‘Guidance for good practice in socially distanced teaching’. Please also note that further to this publication, if students do turn to face each other for discussion in class at least 1 metre apart with face coverings on, this should be for very short duration only and is not recommended.  

Students may also be asked to undertake seminars/tutorials online using Teams or Blackboard, supporting lecturers with IT, or moving materials online. For guidance please see Blackboard resources for staff and the MS Teams guidance page.

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).

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. Please see also the latest guidance from the Visa team for PGRs published in the 1 December 2020 Doctoral College Digest.

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.

Library Services

Please 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.

Communications and Articles from the Doctoral College

9 February 2021: Research degree theses and the impact of Covid-19 restrictions

4 February 2021: Doctoral Programme COVID-19 Funding Extension Scheme Phase II

21 January 2021: Access to Campuses & Saliva Testing.

8 January 2021: Doctoral College Covid-19 update for PGR students

6 January 2021: Important further update for PGRs: Returning to campus in 2021

2 January 2021: Urgent update: Returning to campus in 2021

10 December 2020: Important update: Further details about returning to campuses in 2021

4 December 2020: Important update: Returning to campus in January 2021

27 November 2020: Important update: Tier 2, travelling and testing

16 November 2020: Further important update about the winter break

13 November 2020: Announcement for UKRI Funded Doctoral Students

22 September 2020: Partial Return to Campus for PGRs (Desk and Lab-Based)

14 August 2020: Safe and Supported at Southampton: Information for PGR continuers

20 July 2020: Welcome Change! Easier said than done, and yet…,by Aline Giordano, Doctoral College Manager

08 July 2020: Doctoral Research Funding Extensions Scheme

07 July 2020: COVID-19 Impact Log for Doctoral Students

12 May 2020: Wellbeing and Poetry, by Aline Giordano, Doctoral College Manager

04 May 2020: Special Considerations - Postgraduate Researchers

23 April 2020: Tips for Continuing a Supervisory Relationship at a Distance, by Dr Heather Mackenzie, Manager - Doctoral College Professional Development Programme

20 April 2020: Social Distancing and Embodied Presence, by Aline Giordano, Doctoral College Manager

08 April 2020: Postgraduate Researcher and iPhD Student Communication from Professor Chris Howls, Director of the Doctoral College and Professor Alex Neill, Vice-President (Education)

31 March 2020: Communication from Aline Giordano, Doctoral College Manager

27 March 2020: Doctoral College Update

18 March 2020: Communication from Professor Chris Howls, Director of the Doctoral College

View the current Doctoral College PGR Digest and 2020 past editions.

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