Advice for postgraduate research students on disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic

Disruption to study

My research has been disrupted because of coronavirus. What should I do?

We know that research may have been disrupted because, for example, students have not had their normal access to laboratories, or to archival material which they need. If this applies to you, you should discuss with your supervisor what alternative work you can undertake, depending on the stage of your research (eg literature review, work with remote data, writing up), and how your research project might be adjusted. We know that it will not always be possible to adjust your project, but if it is possible to any extent you should aim to do so.

We advise that you record the disruption you experience in the log provided by your division/department, to help ensure that you receive any extensions/suspensions/deferrals of Transfer or Confirmation of Status you may require at a later date. Keeping a log will act as a reminder for you in the future, but is not intended to require very extensive or frequent recording of details.

It is suggested that logs should include brief details of disruption experienced and dates (eg lack of access to archives during Trinity term 2020, working at 50% rate due to childcare responsibilities during Hilary term 2021), and should be detailed enough that it will be possible for the purpose of future applications for you to look back at them to write an account of how your study was disrupted. Logs should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that they are updated when necessary (but they may not need to be updated at every review).

We have also introduced a process that may allow for some of the disruption caused by the pandemic to be taken into account at Transfer, Confirmation and Viva examinations. Each division has produced specific guidance about how to apply and the criteria which would still need to be met to obtain your degree. If you wish to explore this option you should discuss this with your supervisor.

Please also see the guidance on extensions to funding.

I need to complete a log to record how my research is being disrupted due to Coronavirus. What should I include?

Your division/department should provide you with a log to record any disruption to your research which is due to Coronavirus, to help ensure that you receive any extensions, suspensions, or deferrals of Transfer or Confirmation of Status you may require, at present or in the future.

You can include a note of any disruption which is linked to the pandemic. Examples of what you might include are:

  • Your own illness
  • Illness of family members
  • Increased caring responsibilities (whether due to illness or due to eg the impact of Coronavirus on your or your family members’ employment, or the impact of school/nursery closures)
  • Impact on your mental health
  • Impact of Coronavirus if you are a student with disabilities/long-term health conditions, eg you are at higher risk of Coronavirus, or you are having difficulties with accessing support which would normally be available
  • Financial impacts
  • Inability to pursue your planned studies at present due to lack of access to facilities such as laboratories or libraries; inability to travel to undertake fieldwork; or inability to meet with research subjects, where alternatives are not available and the impact on your research cannot be mitigated (you should discuss with your supervisor whether alternatives are available)
  • Difficulties with your environment for remote study, eg poor-quality internet connection, lack of IT facilities, lack of study space
  • Impact on the availability of your supervisor(s) which is affecting your progress (eg due to supervisor illness or caring responsibilities)
  • Redeployment to clinical work or Coronavirus-related research

This list is not exhaustive, so please also record in your log any other disruption you have experienced due to Coronavirus. You may also wish to record details of any disruptions as part of your student report in GSR. Keeping a log will act as a reminder for you in the future, but is not intended to require very extensive or frequent recording of details.

It is suggested that logs should include brief details of disruption experienced and dates (eg lack of access to archives during Trinity term 2020, working at 50% rate due to childcare responsibilities during Hilary term 2021), and should be detailed enough that it will be possible for the purpose of future applications for you to look back at them to write an account of how your study was disrupted. Logs should be reviewed at regular intervals to ensure that they are updated when necessary (but they may not need to be updated at every review).

I don’t think I will be able to submit my thesis on time because of coronavirus. What should I do?

You have two options available: you can apply for an extension (see below) or, if your work is sufficiently progressed, you may be able to submit your thesis with an explanation of the ways in which the pandemic has impacted upon your planned research, for the examiners to take into account. You will still need to meet the qualitative requirements of your DPhil, but the examiners may be able to take into account the impact of the pandemic on the volume and/or type of research produced. Each division has produced guidance for their research degree students about how to apply for this and the criteria which will still need to be met to obtain your degree. If you wish to explore this option, you should discuss it with your supervisor.

You can apply for an extension if you have reached your maximum submission deadline (the end of your 12th term if you are a full-time DPhil student).

You will be granted an extension if you cannot submit due to the impact of coronavirus.

Extensions due to coronavirus will not count towards the normal limits on the number of terms of extension which can be granted. This provision remains in place during the 2021-2022 academic year until further notice, due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.

If you have not yet reached your maximum submission deadline (i.e. for a full-time DPhil student, you have not yet reached your 12th term), you should not apply for an extension yet. If you later reach your deadline and are unable to submit on time, you should apply for an extension at that point. This will be granted if the reason you need the extension is the impact of coronavirus. You will be able to use your log of the disruption you experience as evidence for the extension.

I don’t think I will be able to submit my work for Transfer or Confirmation of Status on time because of coronavirus. What should I do?

You can apply for a deferral of Transfer of Status or Confirmation of Status if these are due.

You will be granted a deferral if you cannot complete Transfer or Confirmation of Status due to the impact of coronavirus.

Deferrals due to coronavirus will not count towards the normal limits on the number of terms of deferral which can be granted. This provision remains in place during the 2021-2022 academic year until further notice, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

If your Transfer or Confirmation of Status is not due, you should not apply for deferral yet.

If you later reach your deadline and are unable to complete Transfer or Confirmation on time, you should apply for a deferral at that point. This will be granted if the reason you need the deferral is the impact of coronavirus. You will be able to use your log of the disruption you experience as evidence for the deferral.

If you do not wish to apply for deferral of Transfer or Confirmation you may wish to have the disruption to your research caused by the pandemic taken into account by the examiners. Each division has produced guidance about how to apply for this and the criteria which will still need to be met to obtain your degree. If you wish to explore this option you should discuss this with your supervisor.  

If you do decide to apply for deferral of Transfer or Confirmation this will not prevent you from also applying to have disruption to your research taken into account.

I’m unable to study at all at the moment due to coronavirus. What should I do?

If you are unable to work on your research at all, you can apply to suspend study. You should discuss with your supervisor how your research project might be adjusted (see ‘My research has been disrupted because of coronavirus. What should I do?’). If the needs of your research mean that you cannot undertake any significant work due to coronavirus restrictions, you might decide to suspend.

You might also decide to suspend because the impact of coronavirus means that you are unable to study due to health issues or caring responsibilities, or other personal circumstances.

You will be granted suspension if you cannot study due to the impact of coronavirus.

Suspensions due to coronavirus will not count towards the normal limits on the number of terms of suspension which can be granted. This provision remains in place during the 2021-2022 academic year until further notice, due to the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

You should apply to suspend study once it becomes clear that you will be unable to work on your research at all during a particular term. We know that in some cases this might not become clear immediately, and that you might need to apply later than would normally be the case.

For funding information see the fees and funding page. Student visa holders should see the visa and immigration page.

Assessment and thesis submission

I need to submit my thesis. What should I do?

Research degree submissions will still be via the Research Thesis Digital Submissions portal.

You will not need to submit a hardbound copy of your DPhil thesis to the Exam Schools in order to graduate, following being granted leave to supplicate, during 2021/22. This also includes any students who were unable to submit a hardbound copy due to COVID-19 in the 2019/20 or 2020/21 academic year. However, all candidates do need to submit an electronic copy to the Oxford University Research Archive (ORA) a minimum of five working days prior to your graduation date. You will not be able to attend a degree ceremony (even in absentia) without doing so. If access to your thesis needs to be restricted, a hard copy of your thesis will still need to be submitted to the Exam Schools.

Further information on the position from 2022/23 onwards, and on when it will be possible to submit hard copies of restricted access theses, will be forthcoming in due course. Hard copies should not be printed and submitted to the Exam Schools or arranged for print and delivery via print services in the meantime, before it is confirmed when it will be possible to receive them.

I need to attend my viva, or my interview for Transfer or Confirmation of Status. What should I do?

In-person PGR vivas/milestone assessments (Transfer or Confirmation of Status interviews) should be conducted within government public health requirements and guidance, and University Coronavirus health and on-site working guidance, as applicable at the time of the viva/milestone assessment.

Both PGR vivas and milestone assessments can alternatively be held remotely online via videoconference.

Your Director of Graduate Studies can give permission for this in exceptional circumstances, which of course include reasons related to Coronavirus. You should agree in writing to the arrangements; and the remote viva should comply with guidance available in Annexes D and E of the Policy and Guidance on Research Degrees

You can be remote from both examiners/assessors (i.e. three-way remote vivas are permitted). You do not need to wear sub-fusc when attending a remote viva (and neither do your examiners).

Most vivas/milestone assessments have been held remotely online during the Coronavirus pandemic, and there is expected to continue to be a need for at least some students/examiners/assessors to attend remotely during 2021-22. It is permissible for some attendees to be in Oxford and others to attend remotely (e.g. if an external examiner could not travel, but you and the internal examiner were in Oxford and able to meet in person).

If an in-person viva/milestone interview is not possible but you have concerns regarding remote attendance which relate to disability, your department should explore with you if there are adjustments which could be made which would allow you to feel comfortable in attending remotely. Guidance on adjustments to vivas/milestone interviews is available at Annex C of the Policy and guidance on research degrees. If you have a disability which means that you require an in-person viva/interview, but there will be a delay until this is possible, you should not be required to attend a remote viva/interview instead. Your department should discuss with you the implications of the delay for your work, and any mitigations which can be put in place.

I’ve already attended my viva, but I’m unable to resubmit my thesis with minor or major corrections at the moment, due to Coronavirus. What should I do?

Some PGR students need to resubmit their thesis with minor or major corrections after their viva.

If you are not able to resubmit your thesis to your deadline, and you have been granted the extensions normally allowed, you may be granted a further extension if the reason you are unable to resubmit is due to Coronavirus.

You should contact your Graduate Studies Assistant or departmental graduate administrator to ask about this.

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