Covid-19 guidance for postgraduate research students

The University is currently open, although teaching and supervision activities are taking place online. Our campuses have now moved to the Targeted Protection phase which will  allow many on-campus activities to resume, by focusing specific safety measures where they are most needed, as well as allowing us to redirect restrictions and support quickly, if required.

Within this phase we can start to invite an increasing number of staff back to campus and can be ready to welcome as many students as possible back to our campuses for the beginning of the new term.

PGR students have been able to progress with their studies to differing degrees, depending on the nature of their research. Supervisors have been asked to keep in touch with their supervisees and to discuss plans to adapt research plans and timetables wherever possible.

The situation is constantly evolving. Please continue to refer to this page for the latest updates.

Working on campus

Most University staff continue to work from home, however, in the Targeted Protection phase we will start to see teams returning to some on-campus working. All researchers, including postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate research (PGR) students, should contact their academic department to find out which departmental facilities will be available and their approach to teaching and supervision. Contact details for all our academic departments can be found on our website.

Many on-campus facilities, such as our libraries, are now returning to normal opening hours.

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.

While we expect you to return to campus next year, we do understand that COVID-19 restrictions may affect you. We will continue to offer a level of flexibility for those of you who are unable to arrive at our campuses for the start of term (perhaps due to travel restrictions). Some, but not all courses are available for remote study. Find out more and apply for remote study online.

Regardless of your location you will be able to register in the normal way at the start of the academic year through our online system. Please ensure you continue to discuss your plans to return to campus with your supervisory team as we approach October and beyond.

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.

The University is also organising a number of activities and events covering wellbeing, fitness, entertainment, arts and faith. 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.

Attending your supervisory meeting, Supervisory Panel, RSPB or viva

Currently, all students, staff and examiners are expected to attend meetings and viva examinations via video link (ideally Zoom). If you are not familiar with Zoom, the University can support you. However, it may be that some meetings and viva examinations begin to place in-person. Your academic department will update you on plans for any changes to the format of these meetings.

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.

While we expect you to return to campus next year, we do understand that COVID-19 restrictions may affect you. We will continue to offer a level of flexibility for those of you who are unable to arrive at our campuses for the start of term (perhaps due to travel restrictions). Some, but not all courses are available for remote study. Find out more and apply for remote study online

 

Equipment and internet connection issues

If you do not have access to the required equipment and/or reliable internet connection, please inform your supervisor and the IT Helpdesk as soon as possible. It may be possible to borrow equipment from the University, but this will need to be actioned sooner rather than later.

If either of these matters prevent you from engaging remotely via video link, alternative methods of communication should be agreed and used. For example, email and telephone for supervisory meetings. If lack of access to IT equipment or reliable internet connection prevents you from attend your viva examination via video link, you should let your department and the PGRE Team know immediately. Contact pgresearc@essex.ac.uk.

Library access

At our Colchester Campus, the Albert Sloman Library provides access to study spaces which are available on Monday to Friday from 10am – midnight and on Sunday from 12pm – 8pm. However, summer vacation opening hours may vary, so please check the Library Service website for updated hours Postgraduate-only study spaces are available in the training room within the Library Reading Room. To book a room, please use the Library’s pre-booking system.

The Library Team is also offering remote support through live chat, phone, email, and librarian appointments (via Zoom) This support is available Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.

Find out more about the services available across our Loughton and Southend Campuses.

If your supervisor is unavailable

If your supervisor is unable to supervise you for a short period, this should not significantly affect your progress. If there is likely to be long-term disruption to your supervision, a replacement supervisor should be sought, as per 1.5 in the Code of Practice (.pdf). Please contact the Graduate Administrator within your department if there is likely to be long-term disruption to your supervision.

Progress and registration: Supervisory Panels and Research Student Progress Boards

Supervisory Panel and RSPB dates

We are committed to ensuring as much flexibility as possible at this challenging time. Whilst we remain hopeful that the majority of the Supervisory Panels will be able to take place at the usual time, it’s understandable that some may not be able to.

Where students and panel members are able to attend (virtually) a Supervisory Panel at the usual time, they should continue to do so. These progress recommendations should be considered by the RSPB that is already in place, and reported to the PGRE Team by the relevant original deadline.

For students or panel members who, due to the impact of COVID-19, are unable to attend (virtually) a Supervisory Panel in order for a progress decision to be made by the original deadline, the Panel should contact the PGRE Team for advice.

Extended Tuition Stipend

We recognise that, for some of you, the effects of COVID-19 may be so substantive that they prevent you from completing your study in time. The thought of extension may create further anxieties. We have developed a programme of support for those who find themselves in this situation.

If you are in the final year of your studies, the pandemic disruption may prevent you from submitting your thesis on time. You can seek an extension through your department once you have a plan of work for the extension period agreed with your supervisor. This also needs to be agreed with your Supervisory Panel and RSPB.

The Extended Tuition Stipend has been applied to PGR students who were expected to submit their thesis between 1 March 2020 and 26 April 2021 (the start of the summer term 2021). The University has extended this stipend and students whose expected submission deadline is between 27 April 2021 and 25 April 2022 (the start of the Summer Term 2022), will also be eligible. Students who are granted an extension will be awarded a University of Essex Extended Tuition Stipend, which will directly pay their University fees for the period of extension.

Extended Tuition Stipend eligibility

The Extended Tuition Stipend applies to PGR students who are expected to submit their thesis between 1 March 2020 and 25 April 2022 (the start of the Summer Term 2022).

This includes:

  • students who first registered before October 2018, whose maximum period (thesis submission date) ends between 1 March 2020 and 25 April 2022
  • students who first registered from October 2018 and whose standard period ends between 1 March 2020 and 25 April 2022. OR students who have been permitted to enter a period of completion which ends between 1 March 2020 and 25 April 2022.

How to seek an extension and the Extended Tuition Stipend

For the summer term SP and RSPB recommendations, we expect some requests for extensions for students due to submit in October 2021 (or before). However, we can foresee circumstances in which students who are due to submit in January or April 2022 (or any time in between), whose progress has been affected by the current COVID-19 Advanced or Enhanced Protection Measures, will want to request an extension now.

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).

Reporting extenuating circumstances and evidence required

It is important that details of any extenuating circumstances and their impact is clearly documented and kept on the SP and RSPB reports. We understand that circumstances may change month to month as the situation changes, e.g. schools going back, moving away from Advanced Protection Measures etc., however, the narrative you provide needs to be well-documented.

Your SP and RSPB will not expect the same level of evidence that would normally be requested, and it is acknowledged that in some cases you may not be able to get evidence (including medical evidence). As you are keeping in contact with your Supervisors and ensuring they are aware of your circumstances, we would expect you SP and RSPB to operate with reciprocal transparency and trust. So, for example, instead of a medical letter, you might provide an explanation of how you have been affected and for what period of time, either on your SP report or on an extenuating circumstances form.

Applying for extensions to resubmission deadlines

Extensions to resubmission deadlines are normally granted in exceptional cases only, following exceptional events which were unforeseen, and beyond the student’s control; for example, medical/health issues; personal life events; and exceptional pressures of work. However, we anticipate that this may also be appropriate if your progress with your corrections has been affected by the pandemic. You will be expected to provide details of any extenuating circumstances and their impact your studies and ability to submit your thesis by the deadline.

Taking an intermission from your studies

If you wish to take an intermission from your studies you should speak to your supervisor in the first instance. It may be the case that you and your supervisor can work together on a contingency research plan which will enable you to continue with your studies, undertaking research and supervision remotely.

If you have a Tier 4 or Student visa there are visa implications for your immigration status if you take an intermission. PGR students and supervisors should seek advice from the International Services Team with any visa questions, and refer to the online guidance for PGR students.

If you are in receipt of a UKRI or University studentship there may be funding implications if you take an intermission. Intermission normally means that the stipend is suspended and payments stop until re-registration. This automatically puts back your funding end date and your submission deadline.

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.

Financial wellbeing advice

If you need advice on financial wellbeing, the Funding Team offers support and guidance regarding internal and external sources of financial support, including accessing the University’s Student Support/Hardship Fund. They also have tools to help you manage your finances in this complex period. Please bear in mind that financial challenges can also affect our general wellbeing, so, if you are feeling anxious, please do contact the Wellbeing and Inclusivity Team, who can provide a listening ear.

Student Support Fund/Student Hardship Fund

During the academic year 2020-21, the University has offered an enhanced Student Financial Support package to assist our postgraduate research students who are experiencing unexpected financial difficulties. This fund is open to applications from all postgraduate research students.

At the same time, we are increasing the size of this fund to help us meet increased demand. This includes identifying as much existing resource as we can to top-up the fund, from existing budgets and through a new fundraising campaign. This fund will include money that is specifically targeted at supporting financial well-being for postgraduate research students.

You can find information about support available this academic year from the Funding Team.

UKRI scholarships

Information about the UKRI Phase 2 Doctoral Extension Scheme was sent to all eligible student in January 2021. The UKRI Phase 3 Doctoral Extension Scheme is being administered directly by DTPs/CDTs, who will make contact with eligible students directly.

If you are self-isolating, scholarships will not necessarily pause. If isolation means you cannot complete your PhD in the funded period an extension of the funding can be considered, although it must be noted that different funders will have different terms and conditions.

To check about eligibility for illness/sick pay, and for any further UKRI scholarship queries, please contact the PGRE Team: pgresearch@essex.ac.uk.

If you are funded by a Research Council, normal procedures will apply (up to 13 weeks’ paid sick leave on provision of medical evidence while not intermitting, an extension of the funding end date, and intermission for illness lasting more than 13 weeks). The paid sick leave will extend your funding end date and submission deadline.

For sickness relating to COVID-19, sick leave can be claimed for up to 28 weeks rather than the normal 13 weeks set out in our standard training grant terms and conditions. If a student is shielding, and are not able to work from home, they can use their shielding letter to claim sick pay. They should receive sick pay for the period detailed in their shielding letter. Students can claim for more than one period of shielding.

If an event you previously booked using RTSG is cancelled, you should seek reimbursement from travel insurers in the first instance. The scholarship may be able to cover costs that are not covered by insurance.

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.

International students

If you have a Tier 4 or Student visa, please ensure that you keep up to date with the latest guidance via our immigration pages.

Visa restrictions and remaining a registered student

Due to current Home Office concessions, for the 2020-21 academic year, provided that you continue to engage and progress academically and remain in contact with your Supervisor monthly via Zoom/Skype, the University will not need to take any action to withdraw our immigration sponsorship and your immigration and student registration status will remain valid.

If you are intending to leave the UK permanently and will submit your thesis remotely, please check with your department/school via email to ask if you can do so and copy in international@essex.ac.uk so that we can ensure you obtain further guidance regarding your student immigration status.

Contacting us

The majority of the University’s academic and administrative staff are now working remotely. The best way to contact most people and services is via email, but if you need to speak to someone please use the following details:

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Postgraduate Research Education Team