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 (https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response). The below policies should 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.

For MRes students
Any advice on PGT dissertations will apply equally to MRes dissertations, as the assessment comes under the Taught programme regulations. Please see the Taught and MRes guidance.

For Doctoral students

Registration/enrolment

The Student Enquires Centre is now closed to in-person visitors and in-person enrolment has been suspended. All new registrations should be deferred- we recommend until the autumn term, i.e. late September.  However, exceptions to this will be considered by Admissions on a case by case basis.

Admissions will work to defer students’ offers/start dates to allow later enrolment—information on this forthcoming.

Thesis and viva guidance

Initial thesis submission (pre-viva)

  • There are alternative arragements 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 (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/dropbox/) in place of a printed copy. The thesis must be sent to researchdegrees@ucl.ac.uk 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.
  • 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 Defrees receives the e-thesis will remain the date of submission.

Viva examination

As UCL has suspended all non-essential face to face meetings, the following options are possible for viva examinations. They are listed in preferential order, i.e. the first option should be considered before moving on to the next option, and so on.

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.

  • Option 1: Delay viva. This is preferable if the delay of exam will have no immediate negative impacts on the student, e.g. completion is required in order to take up a new post. Viva in person is seen to be the most reliable, supportive, and collaborative configuration for the student.
  • Option 2: Viva takes place with the student and examiners 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.
    • o The viva should be recorded: Skype and Teams both allow for recording of group calls. This is to help mitigate any issues arising as a result of the unusual circumstances. 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 (in Teams, this must be done by the meeting organiser).
    • Should an IT issue occur, provisions should be made to continue the viva at a later time/date.

    Top Video Conferencing tips:

    • 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).
    • 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 researchdegrees@ucl.ac.uk.  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.

Thesis corrections

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 will not be possible. 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.

FOR CLINICAL TRAINING FELLOWS, all currently completing minor corrections will have an automatic 6-month extension. Please contact Research Degrees and they will arrange this.  This is owing to their need to return to clinic at present. Any undergoing major corrections should contact Research Degrees in due course for an extension/further guidance.

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.  
  • When these offices re-open, the student must submit a final, bound copy of the thesis as soon as possible. Notifications will be sent to the student accordingly. The award date will not be changed

Other progression delays

Upgrade and other progress check points, e.g. Thesis Committee meetings

  • As UCL has suspended all non-essential face to face meetings:
    • These meetings should be delayed if student, supervisors, and examiner(s) are in agreement. Timelines around these expected progress check points will be relaxed and re-evaluated as necessary. No student will be penalised for upgrading after the 18 month time-point.
    • If the decision is made by the student, supervisors, and examiners to go ahead with the progress meeting/upgrade, the Departmental Graduate Tutor (DGT) must be informed of how and when the online meeting will take place. In addition, 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, confusion caused by IT issues, etc…
    • If all 3 parties are not in agreement about the best way forward, it should be discussed with the DGT and further advice sought if necessary.

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 that 6 monthly report. If extensions are required at a future date as a result, this could be called upon as evidence.
  • Supervision: Throughout this period, if students remain normally registered, we expect supervision to take place on a monthly basis as per the Code of Practice. Supervision should take place remotely via Teams/phone/video, etc… 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 DGT, Faculty Graduate Tutor, or Head of Department should be able to help identify suitable cover in this instance.
  • Bench research: Students should follow procedures in their local departments/labs regarding access to lab facilities. However, from 5.30pm Friday 20 March till at least 15 April, the only research that will take place in UCL buildings will be in the immediate national interest, for example work on coronavirus. All other research needs to be undertaken remotely where possible. Procedures are in place for a small number of designated individuals to continue to come in to perform essential lab duties, e.g. where cell or animal work may be taking place. Non-essential staff/students should not come in.
  • 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. If the student felt their research was delayed, e.g. owing to the need to see participants or do bench work, their CRS could be extended without the need to pay further fees. However, please note we cannot currently guarantee an extension to stipend funding. Any stipend funding decisions would need to be made in conjunction with funders. 
    • 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 (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.
  • 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.
  • Study leave: Students planning to undertake new fieldwork should delay departure until further notice. Further study leave requests will not be approved except under exceptional circumstances, e.g. where the fieldwork is taking place in the student’s home country. For students currently on study leave, although decisions need to be made on a case-by-case basis, our general advice is to follow government guidance and have students return to their home country or wherever they consider home to be. If students choose to stay, they must be aware they could get stuck in their current location for a prolonged period; they should check they have access to healthcare wherever they are as well. 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)1452 623246 or Foreign & Commonwealth Office (fcocorrespondence@fco.gov.uk) +44 (0)20 7008 1500, General enquiries switchboard
  • For clinical students: All clinical staff at UCL have been released if they wish to support NHS services during the current crisis. If the clinical fellow is self-funded, an interruption may make most sense in order to pause fees. If the clinical fellow is funded, in keeping with the advice above regarding non-clinical students, we do NOT currently recommend interruption so that the student can continue to pull down their salary. Funders are currently expecting that the NHS will repay the salary during this time and a no-cost extension granted. Also see funding advice below.
  • For international students
    • If the student chooses to return to their home country, they must inform UCL of their intention to leave the UK by completing the Coronavirus Return Home notification for in the ‘Visas and Immigration’ category of askUCL. Students must also inform their supervisors, DGT, and PGR administrator.
    • o In addition, international students have the same options as detailed above regarding remaining registered or taking an interruption of studies. However, please keep in mind that formal interruptions could have visa implications. Further advice can be found at the Immigration and visas website.

Delays to submission/completion

  • Any delays to submission should be logged in the student’s Research Log as above. 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; CRS extension requests will be approved due to issues caused by the coronavirus.
  • 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 below. For UKRI-funded students, we would need to update the expected submission dates in Je-S if necessary and state that it was due to a university shutdown or research delays caused by coronavirus. We would not expect this to have any negative impacts on the student or the university.

Doctoral skills courses and other training requirements

During this time, training points requirements will be relaxed. If a student has already signed up for a course, they will receive a notification stating whether the course has been cancelled or moved online.

Please ignore any automatic notification reminders for attending in person or stating that a course has been missed and that strike points will be applied. Strike points for missing a course have been suspended during this time. In addition, accrued strike points will not prevent be prevented from participating in all training activities.

Many of the DocSkills courses are going to be continued online for Term 3—a full catalogue will be published soon. 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.

For any further information on Doctoral Skills courses please email docskills@ucl.ac.uk.

Funding

Please note that we cannot currently guarantee an extension to stipend funding. We are actively working with funders on resolving any issues that arise in due course. However, if you experience financial hardship you may seek assistance from the Financial Assistance Fund managed by the Student Funding office (studentfunding@ucl.ac.uk).

Funders have released the following guidance thus far. Much of the information regarding students is forthcoming but will be posted on the COVID-19 – Impact on Research Funding website.

Student Support and Wellbeing

We recognise this may be a stressful time for our research community. 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. More resources


V5, 25 March 2020

 

Appendix: Ideas for home study


Scientist without a lab? A PhD researcher guide to Covid-19

Online learning

Infobase databases and video streaming collections

Username: JCS_Distance and Password: learning to access:

Geography and nature

Virtual tours