FAQs for Supervisory Staff

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This information has been collated in order to deliver timely responses to questions frequently asked of the Director of Postgraduate Research by busy supervisory teams. Please note, there are no changes to the regulations; this information has been collated for clarification, and therefore better adherence to, current regulations.
If you feel that there is something we have not covered here but would like us to add, please email Tracy Ireland (PGR Administrator for Research & Enterprise).
 


Supervision and Operational Information

What training is provided for supervisors?
What additional research training is provided for PGRs?
Who should proof read the candidate's thesis?
Am I responsible for PGR facilities provison?
What provisions are support services responsible for?
What are the regulations for the provision of PCs?
Is a Bench Fee required?
How should complaints be dealt with?


Progression

Where do I find the progression forms?
Is there a procedure for dealing with a change of supervisor?
Is the completion phase just for writing up?

Extensions and Interuptions

How do I decide if an extension should be granted?
How do I decide if an interuption should be granted, is it the same as extensions? 
What is the extension/interuption procedure for pregnancy?


Assessments and the Viva

What if there is a delay with the appointment of an External Examiner?
How many times should the same External Examiner be used?
Can an ex-member of Salford staff act as examiner?
Can a viva be completed using video conferencing?
What contributions do I need to make to Independent Chair and Ethics Review duties?
What is information is available about the role of the Independent Chair?
Who appoints the examiners for interim assessments and internal evaluations - and how do I choose them?
What restrictions are there on Internal Examiners for Internal Evaluation?
What happens if a student tells me they may not be able to complete their viva on the day identified, due to mitigating circumstances?

 


What training is provided for supervisors?

The University provides training sessions for supervisors led by the PGR Directors for each School, although those colleagues who are unable to get to a session led by their own PGR Director are welcome to attend any of the other dates. Attendance to one of these sessions once every 3 years is compulsory for all academic staff who supervise, or wish to supervise, postgraduate research students. This training provides useful information and guidance on the supervision journey, give examples of good practices, and summarise significant changes to the Research Awards Regulations and Code of Practice. It is therefore important even for experienced supervisors to receive this training in a 3-year renewal cycle. 
Colleagues can book on to session relevant to their School via the Quality & Enhacement Office website. The Blackboard site for Academic and Research Staff Development also contains resources to support supervision and researcher development.
Dr Anita Williams (School of Health Sciences) has created a helpful checklist (Oct 2016 v1) for use in candidates first supervisory meetings.
 
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What additional research training is provided for PGRs?
 
A supervisor's guide to the SPoRT Programme for PGRs can be found here (Oct 2014 v1).
 
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Who should proof read the candidate's thesis?

The quality of a thesis is the sole responsibility of the student, not the supervisor.
The regulations and Code of Practice’s suggestion is that a student should seek supervisor’s “advice” on the thesis. The expectation is that the supervisor should read the draft thesis/chapters, and give advice on the quality and standard of the materials and possibly suggest improvements, much like a reviewer would do when reviewing a paper submitted to a journal. This should not take too long to do. Advice and feedback should of course be given while the student is writing up chapters of the thesis as a normal course of discussions during supervisory meetings, rather than waiting until a complete draft is done. One could make reference to the policy of providing feedback to taught students; that it should not take a supervisor more than a certain time (e.g. 3-5 weeks) to provide this advice. The student can then carry on and do the revision.
This advice precludes correcting the thesis. A lot of supervisors do this by rewriting or re-arranging parts of the text, and it takes up a huge amount of their time. As academic staff, we have a choice to do more than what is required in the Regulations/CoP. Most supervisors will choose to help the student to improve their thesis to as high a standard as possible; that is fine and generally benefits all parties. However, it is important to let students know that that is not a requirement, and therefore they cannot use “supervisor not available to correct the thesis” as grounds for extension. 
 
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Am I responsible for PGR facilities provison?
 
Supervisors are in front line contact with students. As a supervisor, you need to have a good understanding of the level of provision and therefore be better placed to manage the expectation of the students.
 
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What provisions are the support services responsible for?
 
Support for PGR students is provided at School, Administrative and University levels . Generally speaking:
 
School – provides academic support (supervisors and personal tutors), space (desk and furniture) and specialist facilities (labs, equipment that may incur a bench fees). The exception is IT provision which is managed centrally by ITS (see below for extra comments).
 
Research Support Team (Administrative) – provides administrative support for admission and progression; monitoring, collecting, reviewing and helping to organise progression point forms (including supervisory meeting and Home Office forms) and assessments, and student feedback issues; to ensure compliance with regulations.
 
University – Student Administration collect and provide centralised data on student (including finance); dealing with legal matters (such as the Home Office) and issue of official letters and certificates (council tax letter, bank letter etc. there is a self service facility at http://students.salford.ac.uk/). The Research Support Team can help with pushing Student Administration if there is a delay but ultimately Student Administration is responsible for these external facing official matters.
 
Student Life/AskUS -  to help with personal matters such as accommodation, financial hardship, careers advice and wellbeing.
 
Please direct students to the correct level to deal with a particular problem; this will avoid students feeling like they are being passed around different departments.
 
 
 
What are the regulations for the provision of PCs?
 
There are three policy documents that define the level of provisions for PGR students.
  1. The University’s Minimum Standards of Provision document, which is agreed and approved by the University Senate and Executive.
    One particular point to note is that the policy requires provisions to enable students (full-time) “to have reasonable access to dedicated postgraduate computing facilities” only (p.2), and not a dedicated PC for each individual student. ITS is working towards this policy and hence is not currently committed to providing a PC to an individual PGR student as there are dedicated PGR computing hot-desk areas around the University.
     
  2. The PGR Handbook that the School gives to new PGR students when they arrive.
    The handbook states the university’s minimum provision, which in terms of PC provision are only “dedicated postgraduate computing facilities” (p.36 and 43).
     
  3. Optionally, the School ’s own PGR Service Level Agreement (SLA) if there is one.
    This can go beyond the University’s Minimum Standards. For example, CSE commits to provide a full-time student “with a standard networked computer for their sole use”. The standard office PC is of similar spec as staff PC and serviced and renewed by ITS in the standard cycle (so no more than 3 years old) and should be of a similar standard to staff machines. If this cannot be sourced from ITS then the School is committed to use its own money to do it. However, it should be noted that we are still under the University’s IT policy and the PC will have to be purchased through ITS. It comes with standard ITS software image (which by default is Windows XP the same as staff PC). Staff and Students are not allowed to install software on their PCs for reasons of security and license compliance. All additional software (including updating to Windows 7) on university PCs must be purchased, licensed and installed by ITS through a request to ITS Sevice Desk, ext. 52444.
As you can see from the above, the provision for PCs is a rather complicated matter and Schools are constrained by University policies. The University minimum standard means that ITS is not obliged to supply PCs to individual PGR students as long as there are other dedicated PGR computing facilities available (e.g. hot desks with PCs). To mitigate this, School should move writing-up students to hot-desks to allow desks and PCs to be freed up for new students. In the meantime some new students may be placed in hot-desk areas. Also, when allocating desks, the School will try to place the student into the room where the supervisor’s (or the associated research centre's) other students sit. However, due to physical space limitation, this is not always possible and they may have to put students in other rooms.
 
 
 

Is a Bench Fee required?

Many PGR projects require specialist equipment and/or field trials. The consequence of not charging bench fees to cover these is that, for example, the upkeep and/or acquisition of these equipments will have to be funded by other academic activities. This is clearly unsustainable and we can see that as a result some labs are not as well equipped and some equipments are not as well maintained as they should be. Hence in the process of PGR admission:

  1. Potential supervisors should consider each PGR application carefully to see if a bench fee is appropriate and justified.
  2. When filling in the PhD Admission Approval Form, a statement is required from the supervisor under '15. Special Condition' to state whether a bench fee is required or not.
  3. If a bench fee is required, the supervisor needs to specify the amount, and give a short justification under the Special Condition heading. A couple of sentences should be sufficient for the justification. The usual bench fees charged typically range from £2000 to £5000. Obviously bench fee from a single PhD project cannot be expected to fund the acquisition of an expensive piece of specialist equipment. In such cases the supervisor should consult with their Research Centre and School to see if a general pool with other projects in the same/similar subject area can be created to fund the acquisition.
  4. AHRI should only sign the form when they are satisfied with the bench fees suggested and the justification for it.

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How should complaints be dealt with?

Governance Services Unit have developed a comprehensive Complaints Procedure which can be downloaded from http://www.salford.ac.uk/qeo/StudentPolicies/student-complaints-procedure

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Where do I find the progression forms?

All forms are linked to the web page http://www.pg.salford.ac.uk/page/progression_forms

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Is there a procedure for dealing with a change of supervisor?
 
All changes to the supervisory team are subject to confirmation by the School and recorded in an update of the Learning Agreement. The new supervisor and co-supervisor must work together with the affected student to provide an assessment of the impact of the change, and the actions to be taken to mitigate any negative impact on student progression, therefore mitigating the need for an extension being requested. This should be appended to an updated Learning Agreement, which is to be signed off by the Dean of School, and submitted to SREC for approval and affirmation of the action plan within 4 weeks of the change.
 
 
 
Is the completion phase just for writing up?
 
No, the completion phase is not just for writing up. The 4th year for a full time student (and likewise the 6th and 7th years of a part time student) is a completion phase that covers: submission (if not done at the end of year 3); the making of minor corrections; and the Viva.
The University of Salford is generous to automatically grant a full year for the completion phase: the norm is to expect PhD student to complete within the standard duration of study (i.e. 3 years for a full time PhD). It is important that we actively work together to ensure that the whole post-submission process also occurs, both for own reasons (completion statistics etc.) and to the student's good (to proceed with their career).
 
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How do I decide if an extension should be granted?

Governing Principle:
The maximum periods of candidature (i.e. minimum periods of study plus the completion phase) should be strictly adhered to.  Extensions of candidature beyond the maximum period of time are notnormally granted. It will be granted only in exceptional circumstances, generally:
  • where there is an unforeseen and serious case that hindered a student’s progress beyond the student’s control and over a period of time substantial enough to prevent completion within the minimum period of study plus the completion phase,
  • on specific application by the candidate, accompanied by a written justification and substantiated by independent documentary evidence,  and supported by your supervisory team,
  • if application is made before candidature is due to expire 
Guidance Examples:
The University recognises that, during their programme of study, students will have to cope with a range of illnesses and experiences which are part of the normal course of life events. In many cases, these circumstances will have little or no noticeable effect on their academic performance. Also, the application for an extension should not be used by students to mitigate against ongoing illnesses or circumstances. Instead students should seek support from their supervisor, PGR personal tutor, or Student Life Directorate. Options include assessment for a Student Support Plan or an interruption from their studies.
The University does not want to prescribe which circumstances are acceptable and which are not. However, it is suggested that the following types of circumstances would not normally be acceptable:
  • Circumstances over which a student has some control through prior planning (e.g. family wedding or holiday; moving house; getting married; choosing to do something considered more important; getting a cheaper flight);
  • Circumstances to which all or most students are subject, which are part of the normal course of life events (e.g. financial difficulties, personal relationships, family matters).
  • Circumstances which have already been appropriately provided for by special study and assessment arrangements;
  • Circumstances arising from poor project/time management or personal organisation (e.g. failure to plan for foreseeable emergencies such as computer crashes, printing problems, work not backed up, data collection incomplete, travel problems, misreading/lack of awareness of project plan or assessment schedules);
  • Minor ailments of a short-term nature such as colds, headaches, stomach upsets.
  • Ongoing illnesses or circumstances: instead students should seek support from their supervisor, PGR personal tutor, or Student Life Directorate. Options include assessment for a Student Support Plan or an interruption from their studies.
  • Difficulties related to the research project that the candidate’s study is based on, if the candidate has successfully passed the Interim Assessment and Internal Evaluation at the appropriate time.

However, there may be serious circumstances of a medical or personal nature, beyond the student’s control and unforeseen, which have a recognisable and adverse effect on academic performance during the programme of study over a substantial period. The application of extension of candidature provides a procedure through which such exceptional circumstances can be reported and considered. Circumstances will be accepted or rejected depending on their nature, severity, timing and the cogency of the evidence.

Form:  a Request for Extension of Candidature must be completed. See “Responsibilities of Supervisor & Student: Form Table” at the rear of the PGR Handbook.
 
Please note, for international students, an extension that takes their candidature beyond the end date of their visa will not be possible.

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How do I decide if an interuption should be granted, is it the same as extensions?
 
In principle it should be similar to that for extension (they are described under the same Section 10 in the Code of Practice). The main difference is that an interruption is requested at the start of the incidence while an extension request is for after event. Also, since interruption stops the clock and the student losses access to the University - and their VISA if International -  students should be careful and only apply if there is a genuine need. One final point is that a valid reason for interruption (at the point of incidence) may not be a valid reason for extension (after the event). An example is that a student could interrupt due to financial difficulties, i.e. cannot pay the fees and therefore has to get a job, but that is not an acceptable reason for extension since the student should have interrupted then.

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What is the extension/interuption procedure for pregnancy?

An interuption of study is the usual course of action when a student becomes pregnant. If possible, the student should make a pre-emptive request for interruption.

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What if there is a delay with the appointment of an External Examiner?
 
Difficulty in finding a suitable external examiner should not delay the submission of the NoP if that may cause the student miss the completion deadline. Since the suggestion of external examiner is the responsibility of the supervisor and not that of the student, the student should not be penalised because of delays. Therefore the School, within SREC’s power granted by the Regulations, can agree to let the student submit his or her NoP without the examiners being approved (and without the supervisor’s signature if necessary). Student Administration has also agreed that, once they have the title of the thesis, they will write to the candidate immediately confirming the approval of arrangements for submission, noting that examiners are in the process of being appointed. With this arrangement, the submission of the thesis will not be delayed by the holdup in appointing examiners, and the student will be able to submit her/his thesis before or on the deadline.
 
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How many times should the same External Examiner be used?
 
The Research Awards Regulations and Code of Practice currently do not explicitly say how many times we can use the same External Examiner in a year. They do however state that all examiners are required to be “appropriate, … and independent”. As good practice, and to maintain independence and objectivity, it is necessary to avoid using the same External Examiner too often, especially for PGR students within the same School.
Generally, as good practice, we should avoid using the same external more than twice a year. While some universities limit the number to no more than once per year, the suggestion here is that we could be a bit more flexible. We take the view that the same external should not be used more than twice a year, but allow the supervisory team to submit a request to SREC (backed up by a detailed case for support) if there is an exceptional case that a more frequent use is justifiable. SREC will then decide if the case can be accepted or not. In such cases the ADR will not sign the NoP until SREC makes a decision.
 
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Can an ex-member of Salford staff act as examiner? 
 
An External Examiner would not be deemed appropriate if they have been a member of staff or a student at the University of Salford within the last six years. 
 
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Can a viva be completed using video conferencing?
 
Firstly, this should be discouraged since we have had a high proportion of unsatisfactory outcomes from such arrangements. We must first explore all options for finding alternative dates for a face-to-face viva. This is the School/University’s preferred option, since this will present the least disadvantage to the student and the least exception to the process.
If there is still a strong case to proceed with the viva by video conferencing - after exploring all alternative options - then we will need a written statement from the student and supervisor to justify why the viva should proceed in this manner. We will also need written confirmation from the student, the examiners, the independent chair, and the supervisor that they are happy with the video conferencing arrangement for the viva, and that they understand that the student and the panel (examiners and the IC) can and should stop the viva if any of them feels that the examination procedure, and in particular the student, is disadvantaged by the video conferencing arrangement. Only when we have all these in writing that SREC can consider approving the viva to go ahead by video conferencing.
 
 
 
What contributions do I need to make to Independent Chair and Ethics Review duties?
 
Just like serving as an Internal Examiner on an Interim Assessment, Internal Evaluation or a Viva panel, serving as an Independent Chair is part of the duty of a PGR supervisor and not a voluntary service. All supervisors will be put on a rota to serve as Independent Chair. Similarly review of the Research Ethics Applications of their students is also part of the duty of a PGR supervisor.
 
 
 
What is information is available about the role of the Independent Chair?
 
A checklist for colleagues undertaking the role of Independent Chair is available here (Oct 2016 v1).
 
 
 
Who appoints the examiners for interim assessments and internal evaluations - and how do I choose them?
 
For Interim Assessments
  • The Supervisor advises two panel members who cannot be members of the supervisory team. The panel should consist of Supervisor/Co-supervisor and two other academics.
  • If there is a a re-assesment Supervisor ensure that the panel remains the same.
  • The Supervisor arranges the date and time, and requests a room booking from the admin team.
For Internal Evaluations
  • The Supervisor advises two panel members who cannot be part of Supervisory team and only 1 of them can have been on the Interim Assessment panel, the other cannot.
  • The Supervisor ensures that the panel is the same if it is a re-assesment.
  • The Supervisor arranges the date and time, and requests a room booking from the admin team. 
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What restrictions are there on Internal Examiners for Internal Evaluation?
The Regulations state that:
 
“The (Internal Evaluation) panel shall comprise the School’s nominee and another appropriate member of staff who is not part of the candidate's supervisory team and did not serve on the candidate's Interim or Transfer Assessment panel. The Supervisor may be in attendance as an observer at the Internal Evaluation at the Supervisor’s and Candidate’s discretion. ”
 
This means one member of the IE panel must not have served on the IA panel, but there is no such restriction on the other member of the IE panel (i.e. the School’s nominee).
There is also no such restriction on the Internal Examiner for the viva.
 
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What happens if a student tells me they may not be able to complete their viva on the day identified, due to mitigating circumstances?

By attending a viva or assessment, candidates are deemed to declare themselves as ‘fit to sit or submit’ the assessment. Therefore your student should notify you in advance if they anticipate any problems, as appeals will not be upheld if a foreseeable issue is declared retrospectively.
If your student discloses a problem on the day of the viva that would severely impair their performance, every effort should be made to postpone their viva to a later date.
 

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