Covid-19 guidance for postgraduate research students

Information relating to studying on campus and/or remotely will be provided directly by your academic department. 

General guidance on our response to COVID-19 and studying and working on campus can be found on our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) University Guidance webpages.

Information about wellbeing support for PGRs, progression and the Extended Tuition Fee Stipend, and thesis submission and assessment can be found on the PGR study resources on the Student Directory webpages.

Continuing your research

We have been doing everything we can to make sure your research can continue.

Our regulations and practices have been updated,  enabling supervisory panels, research away from campus, electronic thesis submission and vivas to be held via video link. Please contact your academic department for latest information on supervision arrangements and access to departmental offices, study spaces and other facilities. 

Supervision and research plans

As usual, you should discuss plans for the type and frequency of PGR supervision with your supervisor.  It may be that you will continue remotely, ideally via video link (eg. Zoom), or have some in-person and some online supervisory meetings.

Advice and support

Wellbeing support

We understand the challenges COVID-19 places on your health and wellbeing and we’re continuing to provide support. University support services are here for you if you are facing challenges during this extended period.

The University’s counselling services remain available 24/7 via online and by phone appointment. Validium, our counselling provider, is offering remote delivery and you can receive counselling on-line or over the phone. Referral for counselling is continuing as normal.

The Wellbeing and Inclusivity Team are reaching out to students who have previously attended drop-in sessions, to make sure you are well and are feeling supported.

If you are a care-leaver or estranged, this team can offer you additional support. Our dedicated University teams can provide help and support for mental and emotional health.

You can also get in touch with your Graduate Director to enquire about the departmental social events. If you are staying in campus accommodation connect with Residence Life.

Requesting remote study

We want and expect you to join us on our campuses for the start of term. We are optimistic that progress with implementation of the UK vaccination programme will mean this is possible.

Progress and registration: Supervisory Panels and Research Student Progress Boards

We have advised academic departments to ensure that these discussions are noted on the SP reports and for a recommendation to be made to either request the extension now (evidencing why) or to note that an extension may be sought nearer the submission deadline if the COVID-19-related factors impeding your progress remain and cannot be mitigated against.

The request for an extension will be submitted via the SP and RSPB and the PGRE Team will automatically apply the Extended Tuition Stipend to all eligible students. This will also be the case for any subsequent requests received via the SP and RSPB in the Autumn or Spring Terms.

Applying for an extension - expected submission date after 25 April 2022

The current arrangements relating to extensions and the Extended Tuition Stipend apply to students who are expected to submit their thesis between 1 March 2020 and 25 April 2022 (the start of the Summer Term 2022). If your expected submission date is after 25 April 2022 you are not eligible for an extension or the Extended Tuition Stipend at present, but we are reviewing our guidance and options available to these cohorts as the current pandemic evolves.

We are not expecting extension requests from departments concerning students with an expected submission date after 25 April 2022, as efforts to mitigate should be pursued and it is too early to judge what the overall impact will be on your studies and whether you are able to subsequently progress such that any “lost time”, due to adjusting your research and/or changing you timeline, is redeemed. However, we would strongly encourage students and their SPs to document any impact on their studies that has been caused by the current pandemic and/or the move to between Advanced and Enhanced Protection Measures. It is important that any impact is clearly documented and kept on subsequent SP reports, as well as subsequent assessments of the success of any mitigating factors implemented in subsequent months (and years), so that this account can be considered if any extension request were to be submitted when you approach the end of your standard period.

Notwithstanding the above guidance, if you are a student with an expected submission date after 25 April 2022 and you experience extenuating circumstances, you may report those to your SP and consideration of appropriate action (including a recommendation for an extension) can be made in cases where this is deemed to be the only justifiable option – for example, in cases of long-term illness or the effects of bereavement (whether COVID-19-related or not).

Travel and fieldwork

The University has a duty of care to all staff and students who wish to travel overseas and needs to be assured that those travelling have fully considered the risks and put appropriate precautions into place. If you have a trip pre-booked, please contact the University’s insurance team on insurance@essex.ac.uk for guidance on what to do next.

The University is permitting some overseas travel, dependent on the category of the destination (whether they are on the red/amber/green list) and your travel is likely to be subject to the approval of a COVID-19 risk assessment. The approval policy outlines the process you should follow to seek approval for your travel. 

Resources

A range of guidance and risk assessments have been created to support and enable you to undertake research activities, including travel within the UK and outside of the UK, and face-to-face research. You should work with your supervisor to review your work plans and consult the relevant advice below.

You will need to carry out a COVID-19 Risk Assessment (.docx) for Travel Overseas which will need to be approved by your Head of Department and sent to safety@essex.ac.uk. The Health and Safety Team will evaluate your risk assessment and provide feedback if further details are required.  Risk Assessments will then be endorsed and may be sent on for final approval by the Registrar of Ethics Committee.

Travel advice

If you are planning fieldwork for 2021, please check the current advice on foreign travel from the University and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidance before making any bookings, and delay booking for as long as possible.

PGR students currently on fieldwork – and their supervisors – can make use of all University support services. If you are a PGR student and an overseas location or the current Coronavirus situation is affecting your health and wellbeing, the Wellbeing Team (wellbeing@essex.ac.uk) can offer support and guidance. For technical questions regarding travel, risk assessment and insurance, please contact the University’s insurance team on insurance@essex.ac.uk.

You are encouraged to follow all local advice and ensure that you have a means of accessing medical treatment if required.

Where you cannot return, are in an affected region and/or do not have access to medical assistance please contact the Health and Safety team (safety@essex.ac.uk).

If you wish to return to the UK and need help with finding accommodation, SU Homes (the Students' Union's lettings service) can support you. If you would like support with regards to the legalities associated with renting (including contract checking), the SU Advice Centre can support you.

Continuing with study outside of the UK

This might apply to those postgraduate research students who wish to permanently continue their studies in their home country outside of the UK, whether sponsored on a Tier 4 visa or otherwise.

Whilst we previously advised you to seek approval via the ‘Research Study Away’ (for those who wish to request a temporary change in study location) form, due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic, we no longer consider your continued "remote" working to be Research Away. If you wish to request a permanent change to distance learning you can do so by seeking a 'Change of Mode' on your Student Request Portal.

Continuing with study in the UK but away from campus

If you are remaining in the UK but away from campus, please arrange remote supervision with your supervisor where possible.

Sickness and self-isolation

The University’s priority is your health and wellbeing, so please ensure you follow NHS guidance if you become unwell and are required to self-isolate. It is recommended that PGRs and supervisors discuss in advance what to do in the event one or other needs to self-isolate, and the best use that can be made of that time.

Doctoral researchers must notify their supervisor or graduate director and their graduate administrator if they become unwell or need to self-isolate.

If a supervisor becomes unwell, supervisory teams should work together in coordination with the graduate director to ensure their work is covered.

Submission

As a result of the situation over the past year, Essex has moved to an online thesis submission process. Your thesis should be emailed in PDF format (or via Box/file sharing software) to pgrsubmission@essex.ac.uk. Further guidance can be found on the how to submit your thesis webpage.

COVID-19 thesis impact statement

In light of the continuing impact of the global pandemic, we’re giving you the option to include a statement at the start of your thesis which outlines the effects that COVID-19 may have had on the research that you have undertaken towards your doctoral degree.

Missing your submission deadline

It’s understandable that the finalisation of your work may have been affected by the ongoing COVID-19 situation. If you require a short extension to your thesis submission deadline, up to a maximum of 4 weeks, please email your request to the PGRE Team at pgresearch@essex.ac.uk after first speaking to your supervisor, who will need to provide a short statement in support of this. The request will be subject to approval.

If you require a longer extension, then your Supervisory Panel will need to recommend an extension to your maximum period of study (for students who started their studies before October 2018), or a period of completion (for students who started their studies in October 2018 onwards). If the RSPB agrees that an extension is required, their recommendation will then be considered by the Deputy Dean PGRE for your Faculty and the PGRE Team will confirm the Deputy Dean’s decision as soon as possible.

Viva examinations via video link

Currently, we would encourage that all viva examinations continue to take place remotely, with all parties attending via video link. The University recommends the use of Zoom

However, it may be that some viva examinations begin to take place in-person. The University allows two vivas formats; either in-person or via video-link.  You should discuss your preferred viva format with your supervisor in the first instance. Of central importance is ensuring that appropriate arrangements are in place for your individual research/thesis assessment.  

Please note that it will not be possible to proceed with the examination of your thesis without holding an oral viva examination.

Further guidance about viva examinations can be found on the Postgraduate Research Support webpages

Viva cancellation

If your viva is cancelled, due to illness for example, your department will make the necessary rearrangements for the soonest possible opportunity that is convenient for all parties. If it looks like it will be a long-term problem without a swift resolution, it may be that an alternative examiner(s) will need to be sought.

Hard copy of award certificate

Although staff are working remotely, some administrative activities are taking place on campus and award certificate production is taking place, though less frequently than normal. If you need a document to verify your award, you may request an award confirmation letter or specialist alumni letter, free of charge, by emailing gradoff@essex.ac.uk.

Proficio training and PGR events

In response to the pandemic, internal Proficio courses/workshops are being delivered as webinars that you will be able to access remotely throughout the 2021-22 academic year. In response to feedback, some courses have also been adapted to be delivered both online and in-person (either simultaneously or at an alternative time), details of which can be found on the specific course page. 

Please see the course details on the Proficio website for further information and to book a place on a webinar. If you have any questions or concerns please email proficio@essex.ac.uk.

If an external course or conference that you have used Proficio funding to attend has been cancelled please email proficio@essex.ac.uk to notify us that the event has been cancelled. If you have received a refund on the course/conference fee and/or any travel or accommodation booked and you have been reimbursed already from your Proficio funding you will be expected to return the money so your Proficio account can be credited. Please let the Proficio team know if you have been informed that you will not be able to receive a refund on your course/conference booking or any travel/accommodation costs.

Pending further updates, PGR-led events or seminars should be converted to an online equivalent, or postponed. If you would like to reach out to other researchers, or promote online materials, the PGRE Team can help. Please email pgnews@essex.ac.uk and stay abreast via the PGR Facebook page for regular news.

If you are interested in attending an external course or conference that is being held outside of the UK please refer to the Travel Policy for the steps that you will need to undertake to request to use your Proficio funding. You can also contact proficio@essex.ac.uk for further advice.

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