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 are asked to be aware of national developments, to keep in touch with their supervisees, and to discuss plans to adapt programmes of research wherever possible. Doctoral Researchers and supervisors should take into account the UK government’s current advice on home working and social distancing.

The situation is constantly evolving. Please refer to the University’s staff and student pages for the latest updates.

Supervision and research plans

While campus is closed for teaching, doctoral supervision should only continue via remote means.

Where research activities are impossible (e.g. where facilities/labs are not available) 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 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.

Travel

The University has asked for all research trips to be cancelled. If you have a trip booked, contact the University’s insurance team on rt-finance-insurance@sussex.ac.uk for guidance on what to do next. Please note that you should seek refunds from your travel provider in the first instance. You may also need to cancel closer to the date you were due to leave. 

If there are exceptional circumstances for a trip going ahead, cases can be made via the Head of the Doctoral School for approval by the University’s Executive Group (UEG).

Fieldwork

If you are due to travel out of the UK much later in the year on fieldwork, 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.

If you are on fieldwork, the University recommends a return to the UK or to your home country. While circumstances for individuals in different locations will vary, please follow FCO travel advice when considering continuing fieldwork or ending fieldwork early.

If you wish to return to the UK and need help with finding accommodation, the Housing Team will offer help and advice.

If you wish to travel to your home or return to Sussex but are not able to cover the costs through your insurance, or cannot amend existing tickets, the University will cover reasonable travel costs.

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, please contact University’s insurance team on rt-finance-insurance@sussex.ac.uk.

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 please contact the Health and Safety team.

Researcher Development Programme training and PGR events

All RDP workshops are either being postponed or reconvened as webinars that you will be able to access remotely, until the end of April at the earliest.

If you have booked onto a workshop you will be contacted directly. See the listings page for further information and to book a place on a webinar. If you have any questions or concerns email researcher-development@sussex.ac.uk.

Pending further updates, PGR-led events or seminars should be cancelled, or if possible converted to an online equivalent. If you would like to reach out to other researchers, or promote online materials, the Doctoral School can help. Please email researcher-development@sussex.ac.uk and stay abreast of the Doctoral Connections blog and @SussexDocSchool Twitter for regular news.

The Hive Scholars are moving their activities online and are setting up Slack channels to help the PGR community through the next few months. Follow @SussexResHive on Twitter for more details.

Sickness and self-isolation

It is recommended that researchers 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 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.

Scholarships

The current advice from UK Research Councils is that doctoral researchers should not be penalised by unavoidable delays and that UKRI-funded scholarships should be considered for extension, rather than suspension (intermission). This is likely to apply in situations where fieldwork and access to facilities and experiments are restricted.

If doctoral researchers are self-isolating, scholarships will not necessarily pause. If isolation means a researcher cannot complete their 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 scholarship queries, please contact Amanda Britt – a.d.britt@sussex.ac.uk.

If the researcher is 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 a researcher’s funding, but will not automatically extend the four years of registration.

If an event is cancelled, researchers should seek reimbursement from travel insurers in the first instance. The scholarship can cover costs that are not covered by insurance. 

In difficult circumstances, doctoral researchers may wish to consider an intermission from studies or a period of annual leave. PGRs are entitled to eight weeks of annual leave per year (section 20 of the Handbook for Doctoral Researchers applies). 

Taking an intermission from studies

If you wish to take an intermission from your studies speak to your supervisor in the first instance. Section 14 of the Handbook for Doctoral Researchers provides more details on intermission.

If you are sponsored on a Tier 4 visa there are visa implications if you take an intermission. Doctoral researchers and supervisors should seek advice from International Student Support with any visa questions, and refer to the online guidance for international doctoral researchers.

If you are in receipt of 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 – a.d.britt@sussex.ac.uk.

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.

Please 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.

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. Please keep monthly engagement records up to date in Sussex Direct.

Submission / 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 researchstudentexams@sussex.ac.uk.

If you are unable 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.

If you wish to wait for a time in which a standard in-person viva can be conducted, this will be possible and should be discussed with your supervisors.

Appendix 2 of the Handbook for Supervisors contains more information on distant vivas. 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.

Insurance

For those doctoral researchers currently on fieldwork, insurance remains in place and the University’s insurer (Aviva) will continue cover if you are unable to return home.

As you would expect, Aviva are experiencing high call volumes. However, if you have a medical emergency please contact 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 doctoral researchers do not have insurance because they are in their home country or took private insurance, please note that the University travel insurance policy does not cover medical expenses in the country of residence. All other aspects of cover remain in force.

For more information regarding Coronavirus travel disruption and insurance claims please refer to the University insurance webpages.