Response plan to coronavirus for UCL's Postgraduate Research students
Research students should follow the guidance produced by UCL (www.ucl.ac.uk/coronavirus) and the UK government (www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response). The policies below will apply during this period.
This page will be updated regularly as the situation progresses and students and supervisors should check back regularly for the latest guidance.
Students should also follow their local departmental contingency plans, including plans for building access arrangements, e.g. for ongoing lab work. During this period, please make sure your supervisors and administrators are aware of any extraordinary circumstances such as illness or extended periods of travel so they know how best to support you.
FAO MRes Students
MRes students whose research projects require campus attendance that have been paused during the current period of national lockdown may recommence, provided that the student cannot continue to undertake the research project from home and the Dean (or their nominee) confirms that the relevant research laboratory or practice-based facility can safely accommodate the student under current COVID-secure campus guidelines and risk assessments. This guidance applies only to campus-based research projects; fieldwork will continue to be risk-assessed separately under established guidance.
Please speak to your supervisor or course director about gaining the appropriate approval to return. You should only return to campus if you feel comfortable working onsite and all MRes students can still choose to continue their studies online. See further information on exam in the Taught regulations: 2019-20 no detriment policy and student Covid-related FAQs.
All the advice below relates to Doctoral students
- Supervision meetings
- Remote working
- Return to campus and other research activities
- Upgrades and other progress reviews
- Final thesis and vivas
- Other progression delays
- Advice for specific student groups
- Student Support and Wellbeing
- Appendix: Ideas for home study
Registration / enrolment
The Student Enquires Centre is now closed to in-person visitors and enrolment has been moved online.
Admissions will work to defer students' offers/start dates to allow later enrolment if preferred.
- Throughout this period, if students remain normally registered, we expect supervision to take place on a monthly basis as per the Code of Practice. If one of the student's supervisors is unwell, normal procedures should follow about other supervisors covering for them. If all of the supervisors are unwell, a temporary support, e.g. a Department Graduate Tutor, should be nominated in the department. A Departmental Graduate Tutor, Faculty Graduate Tutor, or Head of Department should be able to help identify suitable cover in this instance.
- Remote vs in person meetings: Supervision should take place remotely when possible via Teams/Zoom/phone, etc… Supervision can take place in person if: a) all parties explicitly agree to this; b) it is felt there is a specific advantage to meeting in person over meeting via Teams/Zoom; c) the in-person meeting can take place in a Covid-secure manner, e.g. the space needs to accommodate 4 times as many as normal, with 2 metres space between each person, and face coverings worn if at all possible and they must be worn if closer than 2 metres.
- If you need to book a space for a supervision session or a viva, we have secured PGR-specific space in Torrington Place which can accommodate this (Rooms 803, 808, 1007). Email to book: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Remote studying: In line with UCL's recommendations about remote working
- Option 1: The student could continue to study remotely, e.g. from home. Supervision meetings would continue to take place remotely, as detailed above. Fees and stipends would continue to be paid. All students have been given an automatic CRS extension for the period of remote working.
- Option 2: The student could choose to formally interrupt their studies (in the normal way). If the student interrupts, the normal rules around interruption will apply, i.e. they will not pay fees; they will not receive stipend payments; the ‘timer’ will stop re their study progression and the timeline lengthened accordingly; Tier 4 visa could be revoked, although special advice on visas during the Covid emergency applies (more on this below); they are not expected to do any research, they will not have support from UCL services; they will not receive supervision. They will, however, retain access to online resources, e.g. the library.
- Remote resources: We are aware that being without study-conducive space and other physical resources can be challenging and demotivating. We remind students of the possibility to research online. Many resources are increasingly becoming available online and our Library Services are still working remotely to support students. Some research, e.g. interviews, may be possible using software like Microsoft Teams. Students also have access to 100 GB file storage on their N: Drive and 1 TB on their OneDrive, respectively. See the Digilearn pages for more information about resources available and how to use them.
- Supporting working from home: All staff and postgraduate researchers should complete an online workstation assessment. It doesn’t take very long to complete and is designed to reduce the risks of ill-health associated with using display screen equipment (DSE). Any issues you raise in the assessment will be forwarded to your supervisor, who will consider any actions necessary to make sure you can work as comfortably as possible. To complete your assessment please follow the instructions at the Safety Services website.
Return to campus and other research activities
- Reopening plans: Most buildings have now reopened, albeit at reduced (25%) capacity. We still expect most staff and students to work and study remotely where possible; however, PGR students who cannot work from home should be added to access rotas for their department/buildings – you should speak to your Postgraduate Administrator if you have not been added to the rota. In addition, many study spaces have now opened for bookings. Find out more and book spaces on the Library website.
- Students undertaking research abroad: Students should follow UCL's travel guidelines which are being updated daily. Affected students should log delays in their Research Log (see point 1 in this section).
- Fieldwork:: Researchers should continue to explore how fieldwork can be carried out remotely before making any plans for person-to-person interaction. If in-person fieldwork is justifiable, it can take place as long as individuals wish to take part, and the activity:
- Is in line with government advice regarding travel;
- Is supported by a risk assessment, which has been signed off by the relevant Dean. This should consider if individuals are travelling to a remote location that may affect medical evacuations/repatriation (especially if there are local air space and border restrictions); as well as the local impact of COVID-19 (e.g. number of cases and availability of healthcare provision).
- A framework for starting or resuming fieldwork in non-UCL settings has been produced, which student and their supervisors should read before proceeding.
- Study leave: If students encounter problems abroad and cannot get in touch with their supervisors/tutor for whatever reason, they should contact Care First: Outside the UK +44 (0)14 5262 3246 or Foreign & Commonwealth Office (email@example.com) +44 (0)20 7008 1500, General enquiries switchboard. N.B. Study leave should not be used by those simply studying off-site. The intention is for those undertaking research for a specific purpose somewhere, e.g. fieldwork.
Upgrades and other progress reviews
As UCL has advised against formal meetings in person:
- Upgrades should continue to take place online wherever possible. However, no student will be penalised for upgrading after the 18 month time-point.
- Many departments include a seminar as part of the upgrade process – this must stay online for now; however, for the viva portion, it could take place face to face if the same requirements as in the final viva are met, i.e. a) all parties explicitly agree to this; b) it is felt there is a specific advantage to meeting in person over meeting via Teams/Zoom; c) the in-person meeting can take place in a Covid-secure manner, e.g. the space needs to accommodate 4 times as many as normal, with 2 metres space between each person, and face coverings worn if at all possible and they must be worn if closer than 2 metres.
- If you need to book a space for an upgrade viva, we have secured PGR-specific space in Torrington Place which can accommodate this (Rooms 803, 808, 1007). Email to book: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The supervisor must ensure the student is aware that they are to contact the DGT in case of any issues or queries with the process, e.g. confusion/concerns about the outcome, IT issues, etc… Upgrade vivas should have the Chair(s) present if any issues arise. N.B. We are not recommending that upgrades be recorded; however, if the student wishes to record for their own benefit, be aware that the owner must go into Streams to remove viewing permissions from all attendees except the student and anyone else the student has authorised; everyone who is invited to the meeting will automatically have access to the recording unless permissions are changed.
Final thesis and vivas
Initial thesis submission (pre-viva)
- There are alternative arrangements in place for submitting a thesis at present. The Student Enquires Centre is closed (in person) so students need to upload an electronic version of their thesis to UCL Dropbox in place of a printed copy. The thesis must be sent to email@example.com ONLY at this stage. The Research Degrees team, who are working remotely, will check the student's status, and whether the examiners have been appointed. They will then use UCL Dropbox to forward the e-thesis to the examiners. Examiners will receive an email from Research Degrees as well as a notification from Dropbox.
- Covid thesis impact form: As a result of students having to conduct their research under extraordinary circumstances due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Research Degrees Committee (RDC) has approved an optional form for students to submit with their thesis describing the impact Covid has had on their research. It is intended to set the context of examination and is not a plea for leniency. Examiners will continue to apply the standard criteria as set out in UCL's Academic Manual and the joint examiners’ form. Please see the publication from the QAA on Advice on Doctoral Standards for Research Students and Supervisors for further information on expected doctoral standards in light of the current circumstances.
- If the examiners need a printed copy, the student/supervisor should be allowed to send a copy to them themselves; however, please be aware that printers may be closed during this period. In this case, examiners would need to print themselves a copy or the viva should be delayed, accordingly.
- The date Research Degrees receives the e-thesis will remain the date of submission.
- E-theses are now being accepted for the final corrected copy. Full guidance regarding this will be available from May/June on the Research Degree web pages.
UCL has advised against formal meetings in person at present. However, vivas can take place in person if: a) all parties explicitly agree to this (for a viva, it should be in writing via email); b) it is felt there is a specific advantage to meeting in person over meeting via Teams/Zoom; c) the in-person meeting can take place in a Covid-secure manner, e.g. the space needs to accommodate 4 times as many as normal, with 2 metres space between each person, and face coverings worn if at all possible and they must be worn if closer than 2 metres.
If you need to book a space for a supervision session or a viva, we have secured PGR-specific space in Torrington Place which can accommodate this (Rooms 803, 808, 1007). Email to book: firstname.lastname@example.org
N.B. Any student or examiner who is unwell or caring for someone who is unwell should not participate in an exam, either in person or remotely. The viva must be delayed in this case.
Vivas can also currently take place online with one or more (including all) participating remotely.
- Both examiners, the supervisor, and the student should agree to the arrangement by email including agreeing to recording (see below).
- The agreed configuration should be noted on the joint examiners form.
- The supervisor should be available for a phone/video call after the viva to give the student any support required regarding the outcome of the viva.
- We strongly recommend the viva be recorded if possible and if all participants agree, but it is not mandatory. Teams and Zoom both allow for recording of group calls. This is to help mitigate any issues arising as a result of the unusual circumstances and to safeguard the student. The recording would only be listened to in the case of a complaint being made by a student and with the student's consent. The recording should be kept until successful award of the PhD (it does not need to be submitted to anyone) and then must be deleted. N.B. Only the viva should be recorded; the pre-viva and post-viva discussions between examiners should not be recorded. Care should be taken to ensure the Teams meetings are scheduled such that this does not occur by accident. The default in Microsoft Streams is for all attendees to have access to the recording; however, the owner of the recording can adjust permissions within Streams, where the recording is stored.
- Should an IT issue occur, provisions should be made to continue the viva at a later time/date.
Top Video Conferencing tips:
- Faculty of Population Health have put together a helpful guide on managing recordings. Please note this is sharing of good practice and not required.
- Microsoft Teams or a professional video conference system, e.g. Zoom, may ensure higher quality interaction than Skype (Teams is free and supported by UCL and is GDPR compliant; Zoom is now also supported by UCL).
- Using headphones/headset may make it easier to hear conversations clearly.
- Mute when you're not speaking to minimise background noise.
- Sit with your back to a wall rather than a window.
- Make sure everyone is aware if a recording is taking place.
- The same common courtesies apply online as they would face to face— don’t forget to greet and say goodbye as normal.
- Be patient and understanding when things go wrong.
Expenses for examiners
Instead of posting expense claim forms and receipts, examiners should email scans of these to email@example.com. These will be more difficult to process remotely so please be patient and understanding and do not follow up with Research Degrees about this issue for now. You will be paid in due course.
If a department wishes to arrange to cover an examiner's expenses they may do so and raise an IDT to Research Degrees for the amount, provided it is within the published expense claim guidelines.
We expect that in most cases, students will be able to continue to complete their corrections remotely. However, we understand that where further bench work is needed, this may not be possible or may be delayed. If this is the case, please email Research Degrees to inform them and alternative arrangements will be made and/or an extension will be granted.
Final corrected submission (for award/completion)
Research Degrees will currently make an award on confirmation from the Library of e-thesis submission. Both the Library and Research Degrees office are currently closed on campus but they can confirm award remotely. There is no need to submit a hard copy at present.
Other progression delays
Delays to research and interruptions of study
- Any delays to research caused by the coronavirus should be logged in the student's Research Log. This can simply be noted in the ‘Progress achieved’ section in the next log progress time-point, regardless of how far in the future that time-point may be; the report needn't be submitted until the student is ready to submit the next report in the timeline. If extensions are required at a future date as a result, this could be called upon as evidence.
- For those who have concerns about your project being able to continue even post-lockdown, e.g. if you work with human participants, please get in touch with your supervisor, DGT, FGT, or the Doctoral School (usually in that order) about support with moving your research online or adapting your project aims. There is some support available via ISD within Schools to help with this.
Delays to submission/completion
- Any delays to submission should be logged in the student's Research Log see point 1 in Delays to Research). Normal rules about students moving into CRS will apply (after 3 years FT and 5 years PT), at which time fees will no longer be collected; an automatic CRS extension for the period of closure will be applied (see Extensions). Further CRS extension requests caused by the Covid-19 pandemic are also possible.
- We do not expect that many, if any, funding bodies will have an issue with delays in submission/completion due to coronavirus, see further under Funding. We would not expect this to have any negative impacts on the student or the university.
Doctoral skills courses and other training requirements
The DocSkills courses are now online and can be found using a new app called Inkpath which you can use to find and book courses (and log your attendance). Indeed, this time may be an ideal opportunity to benefit from many online training courses, not only through DocSkills but also other online providers, e.g. UCL subscribes to LinkedIn Learning. See further resources in the appendix below. ICH stats courses are now online as well although they are only free for those within ICH.
For any further information on Doctoral Skills courses please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Additional time: Any student who was registered as of 1 March 2020 will automatically be given 18 (FT) or 36 months (PT) of CRS (writing up) status at the time they take this up. N.B. The extension will not show in the student's Portico record until they are moved to CRS.
- For students who register after 1 March and feel impacted by the current events, they can still apply for CRS extension in the normal way and this will be granted.
- If a student subsequently needs a further extension for another reason, they can apply, again in the normal way (this has been implemented as a new online task within Portico).
- Students who interrupt their studies will also be given the automatic extension.
- Students currently on a CRS extension have also been given an extension in Portico as above.
- For funders who do not normally allow for a CRS period, e.g. Wellcome and UKRI: they have updated their submission deadlines as well as offering funding extensions. More info on this in Funding.
- We have encouraged departments to relax the expectations around CRS during the current crisis so that research and supervision can continue as during normal registration if needed.
- Additional funding: Please see the Funding section below.
- Support available to all students: We have increased the maximum amount payable to postgraduate research students through the hardship fund to £3,000 and have created a new stream dedicated to the needs of PGR students: the UCL Financial Assistance Fund for Postgraduate Research Students (FAF PGR). UCL gives priority to the following groups of students when deciding how to allocate available funding:
- students with children, particularly single parents
- students with disabilities
- students who are self-funding.
- Support for UKRI funded students (includes all Research Councils): Please see our separate UKRI web page for full guidance on the support available.
Support for non-UKRI funded students: For funded students whose funding ends on or before 31 March 2022, UCL will underwrite stipend payments at the minimum UKRI rate for up to 3 months through the UCL Stipend Extension Scheme (SES). Students and/or their administrators/supervisors must verify in writing before applying to this fund that their original funder is unable to pay.
- Confirmed external funder support:
- Wellcome Trust has announced an extension for those studentships ending in 2020 of up to 6 months and those ending in 2021 of up to 3 months
- Other funder announcements will be posted on the COVID-19 – Impact on Research Funding website as they become available
- SES Eligibility criteria:
- Funded is defined as receiving your stipend via a payment from UCL. You can check if you receive emails from email@example.com which confirm your payments. International students who are paid a stipend directly by their funder are considered to be self-funding and should use the FAF PGR if in need.
- UCL is only underwriting funding which means UCL will only cover payments where the normal funder cannot pay themselves. Departments will need to provide evidence of this.
- Students who are paid by a supervisor's discretionary account are NOT eligible; students should enquire with the supervisor/department in the first instance if further funding is available.
- How to apply to SES: Students should complete the ONLINE APPLICATION FORM. When approved by the supervisor, the application will be sent to the Department for further details and final approval. The student will then receive confirmation of approval from the Doctoral School. Stipends will then be processed and paid as normal. Students should aim to complete this approximately 2 months before their stipend funding end date.
- Confirmed external funder support:
- Support from UCL for self-funded students: See section on self-funded students.
- Support for those writing up (CRS): We are not currently extending the funding options to those who entered CRS before 1 March 2020 in most cases. However, students not on Tier 4 visas can write up on a part-time basis, allowing them to be eligible to claim welfare benefits. N.B. If students move to part-time status at the point of CRS, they will only be allowed the full-time period (currently 18 months) to complete with any extensions granted as a result of the Covid situation. In addition, students will not be eligible for full-time student benefits, e.g. council tax exemption. The local Postgraduate Research Administrator or the Student Union Advice Officer can help advise students.
- Claiming welfare benefits: If students study on a part-time basis or are writing up on a part-time basis, they may be eligible to claim welfare benefits. Contact the local Postgraduate Research Administrator or the Student Union Advice Officer regarding queries about eligibility (and see above on CRS)
Further financial advice is available via the UCL Student Union.
Advice for specific student groups
- International students with student/tier 4 visa
- Clinical students
- Further advice on salary arrangements for staff who were released can be found on the SLMS guidance page.
- For funded clinical students: The current advice is that clinical research salaries will continue to be paid by UCL as normal; if undertaking NHS work, hours should be carefully logged. If part of a funded programme, fellows should contact their programme administrator in the first instance for support with this. If you have already initiated discussions to be paid by NHS bank, please get in touch with your local Departmental Manager ASAP to discuss best way forward.
- Additional research time: Students should log the research time they lose- either in research log (in next progress report) or by emailing their supervisor/DGT. All students will be given an automatic writing up (CRS) extension of the duration of the closure time (this can be in addition to any interruption taken); for students currently in CRS, their completion dates have already been updated to 15 months (30 months PT). Students registered as CRS do not incur fees. The limiting factor will be Deaneries allowing for additional OOP time – they have advised this should be possible but will need to be assessed on a case by case basis. We recommend contacting your Training Programme Director. If you need further advice, please contact Elizabeth Halton in Doctoral School or Academic Careers Office.
- Interruption & fee implications: We recommend that clinical students who have returned to NHS work interrupt their PhD studies. Please note we are not currently recommending that grants be interrupted as it pays the salary; only the student status will be paused.
- Self-funded students
- We have given all students an automatic writing-up (CRS) extension to cover the closure period (see Extensions).
- We particularly urge you to apply to the FAF–PGR detailed in the Funding section – self-funded students are given priority. We are also reviewing the fee deferral process with a view to potentially simplifying/extending normal deferral period. Interruptions are also possible if it is felt no research can be progressed during this time, which we understand may be the case particularly for those with caring responsibilities.
- For self-funded students who truly cannot do any research at the moment, it may make more sense to interrupt – we understand that those with caring responsibilities may be particularly adversely affected during this time. If self-funded students are able to continue on at some level, we would suggest they didn't interrupt so they still have full access to supervision and other resources. You will be able to apply for a CRS extension if you need additional time as a result.
- Students with caring responsibilities
- We understand that those students with caring responsibilities may find it particularly difficult to study during this time. Additional CRS extensions will be possible as a result. Interruptions are also possible if self-funding, although for funded students, we do not recommend an interruption if the student is reliant on the continuation of those funds.
- We particularly urge you to apply to the FAF PGR as detailed in the Funding section — those with children have priority.
- UCL's PACT society is a volunteer group which supports carers at UCL. They are active at the moment and have ongoing virtual sessions. THe Students' Union also have a Parents and Carers Society.
- We are currently renovating study space area in Ramsay Hall with the aim of providing some PGR-specific rooms which are child-care friendly.
Student Support and Wellbeing
We recognise this may be a stressful time for our research community, and that trying to study under these conditions can be challenging for numerous wide-ranging reasons. We urge you to stay in touch with your Graduate Tutors and supervisors during this time – they have been reminded to continue their support as normal, albeit virtually, and if this is not happening for any reason, you should get in touch with your PGR administrator, Departmental or Faculty Graduate Tutor for further advice.
UCL has also launched a new ‘Looking out for our students' campaign to keep in touch with you and help you feel cared for and supported during the current period – this is open to all students, including research students. You just need to fill out the form and you will get a call back.
For the latest advice and updates you can check UCL's Coronavirus website. Students can also use askUCL if they have any further questions. Student Support and Wellbeing can support students with wellbeing, mental health and disability issues. Doctoral students are also able to use the support available to staff, including EAP (Care First), who can be reached 24/7 at 0800 015 5630.
Will my tuition fees be refunded?
At present UCL has encouraged students to continue to work as best they can from home and so is not planning to refund tuition fees.
I am in CRS- how am I meant to support myself?
We recommend you consider applying for welfare benefits or applying to the Financial Assistance Fund if you are temporarily struggling to support yourself. See above support for those on CRS under Funding.
When I move into CRS, will I still have access to labs and supervision?
We have encouraged departments to relax the expectations around CRS during the current crisis so that research and supervision can continue as during normal registration if needed.
Can I interrupt if I'm a Tier 4 visa student?
The engagement monitoring has currently been relaxed which should allow for interruptions if needed; however, we strongly recommend you contact the Student Visa office before making any changes as the Home Office may change their guidance at any point.
I want to move my research online – can UCL support me with this?
Yes – ISD teams within Schools may be able to help with this. Please contact the Doctoral School if you are struggling to find the right person to help you.
I have caring responsibilities and it’s difficult for me to do undertake research at home at the moment – what should I do?
Caring responsibilities will be explicitly considered and prioritised, as will any effects of students and their families being directly affected by COVID-19. Their situation and the disruption that has been caused to their specific type of work will be considered when considering the length of any extension. We are not recommending that any funded student interrupts (unless they are receiving income elsewhere, e.g. from the NHS) as we do not want to cause anyone's income to be suddenly disrupted during this difficult time. Any student who is facing financial hardship can apply to the PGR Financial Assistance Fund – self-funders and those with caring responsibilities are prioritised in this scheme. We are also renovating study spaces in Ramsay Hall with the aim to provide some PGR-specific rooms which would be child-care friendly. Finally, the Students' Union have a Parents and Carers Society which offers an array of support.
Is there any support for research students with disabilities?
Yes, the Student Support and Wellbeing team continues to support students who may be experiencing barriers to remote learning and assessment.
To discuss support for students with disabilities, please request an appointment via askUCL. The ISD Assistive Tech Team is also available to offer remote support in relation to accessing and using assistive technologies to support remote learning as a disabled student.
Has your question not been answered here? Please contact the Doctoral School.
Phone (our line is still being answered): +44 (0)207 679 1422
V12, 21 April 2021