Advice for Supervisors and Doctoral Researchers

Doctoral researchers will be able to progress with their studies to differing degrees, depending on the nature of their research. Supervisors should be aware of national developments, keep in touch with their supervisees and discuss plans to adapt programmes of research wherever possible.

Doctoral researchers and supervisors should take into account the UK government’s current advice and the latest University guidance on campus protocols, travel and wellbeing.

Booking Covid-19 Lateral Flow tests

Postgraduate Researchers who need to be on campus for lab work should ideally take two Lateral Flow tests, at least three days apart.  Ideally you will have both lateral flow tests (and get negative results on both), before accessing labs on campus; however, if that is not possible you may return to the lab after the first lateral flow test, provided it is negative, whilst you wait for your second test. 

This makes your return to University as safe as possible for everyone. Lateral flow tests are designed to detect the level of virus in people who do not show any symptoms but could still pass the virus to others.

For example: If you are due to begin labwork on campus w/c 25 January, you can book a test on Monday 18 January and another three days later on Thursday 21 January. If both tests are negative, we recommend that  accessing labs on campus can begin from Monday 25 January.

If either test shows a positive result for Covid-19, you must self-isolate immediately and book a PCR test through the NHS.

You can view information about the testing available on campus on the Student Hub and book your tests via the online booking form.

Supervision and research plans

The format of supervision should be agreed by PhD students and Supervisors, with distant supervision, in-person supervision (subject to the following paragraph) or a blend of the two all permitted. For further guidance on supervision please refer to Sussex information for supervisors and UK Council for Graduate Education online supervision guidance.

Where in-person supervision or a PhD examination is agreed by all participants, this can occur in offices or rooms on campus where 2 metre distancing between all parties can be maintained.

Where research activities are impossible (e.g. if access to resources remains unavailable) doctoral researchers and supervisors should discuss whether it is possible to alter the research project temporarily to enable different activities to take place, under remote or in-person supervision. This could have a significant impact on some PhD projects. In those instances, doctoral researchers and supervisors should consider contingency plans with their Director of Doctoral Studies. The University will advise and seek to support cases wherever possible.

Where a change to the plan of research incurs extra time to study, arrangements for extensions will be considered to allow maximum flexibility, paying due regard to the challenging current global context.

If you’re researching away from campus, keep monthly engagement records up to date in Sussex Direct.

Travel and fieldwork

In some instances, PhD student travel and fieldwork can now be undertaken.

For full details and information, please refer to guidance on the ‘Travel and offsite working’ section of Health and Safety web pages. This guidance will be kept under fortnightly review as Covid-19 lockdown guidance changes in different parts of the world.

You should also check the current advice on travel from the University and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) guidance before making any bookings. Delay bookings if possible.

Doctoral researchers currently on fieldwork – and their supervisors – can make use of all University support services. If you are a doctoral researcher and an overseas location or the current Coronavirus situation is affecting your health and wellbeing, the Student Life Centre can offer support and guidance. For technical questions regarding travel, risk assessment and insurance, email the University’s insurance team:

There is no need for doctoral researchers already on fieldwork to update OTSSRA forms. Doctoral researchers are encouraged to follow all local advice and ensure that they have a means of accessing medical treatment if required.

Where doctoral researchers cannot return, are in an affected region and do not have access to medical assistance, contact the Health and Safety team.


Insurance remains in place and the University’s insurer (Aviva) will continue to cover you if you are unable to return home.

If you have a medical emergency call Aviva on their emergency medical assistance number: 01243 621066.

To reschedule any travel, please contact the airline or travel provider. With other insurance queries, doctoral researchers can email the Finance Service desk who are currently offering triage service to the Insurance team.

If you do not have insurance, the University travel insurance policy does not cover medical expenses in the country you’re living in. All other aspects of cover remain in force.

See more information about Coronavirus travel disruption and insurance claims.

Training and events

Following the success of the Festival of Doctoral Research, the Doctoral School is planning a full suite of researcher development activities and workshops for this academic year. 

Our current mode is online-delivery, but we’re ready to adapt this to a mixed-model of online and face-to-face events as and when campus guidance allows.

The Doctoral Connections blog remains a key place to hear about the PhD community, activities, events and PhD news, such as:

  • The Doctoral Conference Support Fund has re-opened, and applications for online conference registration fees are welcomed

  • The new PhD Online Support group initiative – as developed by PhD Students at Sussex – is launched. Find out more about connecting with other doctoral researchers with similar interests and issues.

The Research Hive Scholars have excelled during pandemic. Their enthusiasm, ideas and events in support of doctoral research are second to none. The Research Hive blog includes information on the many experiences and viewpoints of doctoral researchers at this time and is highly recommended.

You can also keep up to date with news on Twitter by following @SussexDocSchool and @SussexResHive.

Sickness and self-isolation

Researchers and supervisors should discuss in advance what to do in the event one of you needs to self-isolate, and the best use that can be made of the time.

Doctoral researchers must notify their supervisor or Director of Doctoral Studies and their School Office (which might normally be accessed by your Research and Enterprise Coordinator) if they become unwell or need to self-isolate.

If a supervisor becomes unwell, supervisory teams should work together in coordination with the Director of Doctoral Studies to ensure their work is covered.

Postgraduate Researcher Hardship Fund

Doctoral researchers who are experiencing financial difficulties are encouraged to make an application for financial support to our hardship funds.

The University Executive group has agreed an additional avenue of financial support – specifically for doctoral researchers impacted by Covid-19 and without access to funding extensions – which remains open for applications.

If you are in financial hardship – regardless of whether related to Covid-19, and regardless of your source of funding – doctoral researchers can be guided through the funds available once an application has been made.

Taking an intermission from studies

If you wish to take an intermission from your studies speak to your supervisor in the first instance. The ‘Changes to your Registration Status’ section of the Research Student Admin Office website provides more details on intermission.

Tier-4 sponsored doctoral researchers should refer to latest Visa guidance on ‘authorised absence’ due to Covid-19

This area is under regular review by UK Visas and Immigration, and our International Student Advisors are available to provide tailored and specific support for doctoral researchers at this time.

If you have a scholarship there may be funding implications if you take an intermission. Intermission normally means that the scholarship is suspended and payments stop until re-registration. This automatically puts back a researcher’s funding end date and their submission deadline. For further information see the UKRI training grant terms and conditions or contact Amanda Britt –

Continuing with study outside of the UK

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

Seek approval from your supervisor or Director of Doctoral Studies in the first instance and make sure you keep monthly engagement records – which can be supervisions or other activities that progress your studies – up to date on Sussex Direct.

If you are a Tier 4-sponsored doctoral researcher and will be overseas for more than three months, you will need to complete the Change of Study Location form. For periods of less than three months, please agree this with supervisors and simply keep your term-time address up to date in Sussex Direct. If you are unsure how long you will be outside the UK, fill in the Change of Study Location form and inform the Research Student Admin Office if you return earlier or later.

See the guidance for international students on studying in a different location for further information.

Submission and your viva

In the current situation, Sussex is moving to online thesis submission. Theses can be emailed in PDF format (or via Box/file sharing software) to

The format of a PhD viva examination should be agreed by a PhD student, Supervisors and (once appointed) Examiners. Online vivas and in-person vivas (subject to the following paragraph) are permitted.

Where an in-person PhD examination is agreed by all participants, this can occur in offices or rooms on campus where 2 metre distancing between all parties can be maintained.

If you are unable, or do not wish to attend your viva in person, a Distant Viva using teleconferencing (e.g. Skype) is possible. Discuss this with your supervisors, who can take it forward with examiners and make a request for a distant viva via the Research Student Admin Office.

See full guidance for distant vivas and thesis submission [PDF 44.3KB]. In the current situation, requests for distant vivas will be expedited to avoid delays or inconvenience. This includes a change to current policy to consider distant vivas where all four parties (PGR / examiners / Chair) are in separate locations.