Covid-19: frequently asked questions for postgraduate researchers

The University is very aware that this is a difficult time for PGRs – with no access to laboratories, fieldwork, and university facilities. It is our commitment to minimise and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 measures on your studies. This list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) will be updated frequently with news and additional information as soon as it is available.

We hope this FAQ provides you with some reassurance. If you have any further queries, please contact the Liverpool Doctoral College, pgrs@liverpool.ac.uk.

Find FAQs about:


Financial support

Can we have more information on financial support, e.g. will there be extensions to funding, or support for PGRs without funding? Will payments of bursaries/ scholarships go ahead as normal (including UKRI, etc)?

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) which supports PGR students throughout the UK has recently announced details of how they plan to support PGR students through the current Covid-19 pandemic. PGRs who are funded through UKRI programmes, whose funding end dates fall between 1 March 20 – 31 March 21, have been offered the opportunity to apply for up to six months of extended funding.

As many PGRs on UKRI programmes are jointly funded by the University, we have decided to provide University funding to match that of the UKRI.  The University also directly funds a large number PGRs on various Faculty and School programmes. We have taken the decision to similarly offer the opportunity to apply for up to six months of extended funding to University-funded PGRs whose funding end dates fall between 1 March 20 – 31 March 21.

We are aware that many of you are not UKRI or University of Liverpool funded.  Therefore, this message explains how we will look to support all students as best we can with the completion of their studies.

Funding extensions

UKRI, Research Council and University of Liverpool funded PGRs in receipt of a stipend whose funding end dates fall between 1 March 20 – 31 March 21 can apply for a funded extension of up to a maximum of six months. Please note this applies to the funding end date, and not the submission date.

Faculties have now contacted eligible PGR’s with details of the application process. Applications should only be made where there has been an interruption to research and study. Applications will be assessed locally by Faculty teams.  These applications will also be reviewed by UKRI and we cannot guarantee the final outcome until this process is complete.

For UKRI, Research Council and University of Liverpool funded PGRs in receipt of a stipend whose funding end date falls after 31 March 21 should not apply for a funded extension now. UKRI is currently reviewing support for PGRs who are at an earlier stage of study and relevant decisions will be communicated in due course.

For those students funded by a research grant, external organisation or non-UK national funder we will look to provide specific advice as needed.  Some funders (e.g. Wellcome) have offered a similar extension package to that of UKRI and the University will support students in making use of these options. Other funders have not yet provided guidance.  As far as possible the University will provide advice and support in discussing extension options with these external funders. Students should in the first instance speak with their supervisor or the grant holder (Principal Investigator).

For self-funded students the University will look to support you through existing systems and flexibility in regard to registration and progression.  You should work together with your supervisors, to recognise and record any barriers to your work and be prepared to adjust research plans, where possible.

There are some key points we first need to make clear so as to avoid doubt:

  • All PGRs in receipt of stipend payments via the University of Liverpool, including GTFs, should be assured that they will continue to be paid at this time.
  • All PGR students have already been automatically granted a three-month extension on their final possible submission date and there will be no fee charged for this additional three months.
  • As far as we are able the University is committed to supporting PGR students to address the impacts of Covid-19 measures on the outcome of their research and study.
  • Separate from submission or funding extensions, PGRs should work together with their supervisors, to recognise and record any barriers to their work due to Covid-19 and be prepared to adjust research plans where possible.

The University Covid-19 hardship fund has been opened to PGR students.  See details of the fund, what it can cover and the process for applications.

The University is very aware that this is a difficult time for PGRs – with no access to laboratories, fieldwork, and university facilities.  It is our commitment to minimise and mitigate the impact of Covid-19 measures on your studies.


Submissions

I am concerned about how my submission and viva may be impacted by the recent changes in how the University is functioning. Can you tell me how the Vivas will be carried out for the rest of 2020?

Currently, all viva voces should now be postponed or held remotely. The University  has put plans in place to relax certain aspects of the policies that govern remote vivas for its PGR programmes. This is intended to provide greater flexibility where needed to ensure that candidates wishing to undertake their viva remotely are supported to do so. Candidates whose examinations are affected by the disruption will be given the opportunity to postpone their viva, or to request that their viva is conducted remotely where appropriate. We ask that the PGR student and Primary Supervisor work with Internal and External Examiner regarding the student’s wishes around the examination process.

You can download the University’s regulation on conducting remote viva examinations for research degrees (PDF).

The LDC Student Experience Team (pgrs@liverpool@liverpool.ac.uk) can provide support around these processes and the application process for a remote viva.

We appreciate that submission pending PGR students are at a crucial stage in their research and we advise that they keep progressing with their work as far as possible. Again, we ask that PGRs and their supervision teams remain in regular appropriate contact.

The University has temporarily moved to a policy of electronic-only submission for research theses. This will continue throughout the period of disruption.

Please email a fully formatted to pgrs@liverpool.ac.uk. Submission of soft-bound theses will not be required at this time.

I am post viva and writing my corrections but unable to dedicate my full time to them in the current situation. Can I have an extension?

A formal extension is not required for minor or major modifications and candidates should work with their school/ institute or Faculty Director of PGR and their examiners to agree a reasonable timeframe for modifications based on their circumstances. The nature and substance of modifications (major and minor) can vary widely and we’re keen to offer the flexibility the candidate and examiners need. We’re mindful candidates may need more or less time and we will support our students to ensure a successful outcome.


Access, training and resources

Would you recommend transferring to  part time study if I can’t  work  on my research full time at the moment due to the current situation?

Aside from personal circumstances affecting yourselves, family, or friends, you may find your programme of research affected or impeded by such factors as (and not restricted to) an inability to undertake field trips, visit and use facilities (laboratories, instruments, libraries, archives), undertake qualitative surveys, or access research data, materials, or supervisor support and feedback. Before you decide to transfer to part-time study you should work together with your supervisors, to recognise and record any such barriers to your work and be prepared to adjust research plans, where possible.

Will the Annual Progress Review go ahead as usual?

Yes. Annual Progress Monitoring will go ahead as planned. All students registered on research degrees will be expected to complete the Independent Progress Assessment Panel (IPAP) and the   Annual  Progress  Report (APR).  Faculties, Schools and Institutes will be in contact shortly to advise on the process and timeline for the IPAP.

Download the University’s policy and procedures on the academic progress of PGR students for research degrees (PDF).

Are PGR training and development workshops still going ahead?

Yes. There is a full range of new online workshops, webinars and writing retreats following the cancellation of all face to face workshops for the remainder of the academic year. All postgraduate researchers at Liverpool are welcome to join. See the full list of events.

Will I be able to go on fieldwork next semester?

Like all universities, we have plans in place for a range of different situations and a senior management team is currently meeting daily to assess any national and international developments and actions that need to be taken in relation to COVID-19. As a precautionary measure, we have taken the decision to cancel all overseas student travel, including field trips, for the remainder of the semester.

Students in the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences have received a separate email setting out the specific requirements in relation to travel outside of the UK.

What is the university doing to ensure broader access to resources? Will there be more investment in ebooks due to the closure of libraries? I was told that if a text is not currently available as an ebook, it is not currently possible to order it.

The library has a dedicated web presence outlining how resources can be accessed online.

Where required books are available in electronic format they are being ordered. Where PGR students are keen to acquire new material, their first port of call can be the Get It For Me service. With no staff on campus to take delivery of stock, catalogue, process, or deliver it, ordering of physical material is currently suspended. We have been granted temporary access to a wider range of resources than subscriptions normally allow during this time, and these are available from our Temporary Additional Resources reading list.

We have worked on collaborative efforts across the sector to secure a loosening of restrictions on our Copyright Licensing Agency agreement that now allows for far greater sharing of digitised-from-print materials between institutions for the purposes of teaching.

PGRs are welcome to contact their dedicated member of the Library’s Liaison team with any queries they have about library resources, online or otherwise.

Is there a possibility laboratories will accessible within 6 months?

All non-essential University facilities and buildings, including research laboratories, are closed until further notice — except to those who have been granted specific authority to enter for particular purposes. The University is continually reviewing its position and senior management team is meeting regularly to assess any national and international developments and actions that need to be taken in relation to COVID-19.

Will my supervision meetings continue?

In most cases, supervision and reviews will continue — although these will now be delivered using Teams, Zoom, Skype or other online platforms. Please discuss with your supervisor what format you would both be comfortable adopting.

Your supervisors have been asked to arrange regular pastoral check-ins with you: please engage with these, and with your School and Faculty offices which are ready to support and advise you.

Where can I find IT guidance on working from home?

CSD have created comprehensive guidance on how you can work remotely or from home.

Where can I find advice on visas?

If you have a question, please refer to the most up to date information included in the University COVID-19 FAQs.

If you still have further questions, please email the International Advice and Guidance Team (iagteam@liverpool.ac.uk) with your query. If you would prefer to speak with a member of the team please either email us to request a call back or call us at 0151 795 1000 to speak with one of the team


Health and wellbeing

What are the best ways to stay in contact with my supervisor?

We understand that these are difficult times and that things are changing rapidly at the moment. This can be very unsettling and you may experience some things that are hard to cope with. These may be mild or more severe. You can contact your supervisor for advice and support or the Liverpool Doctoral College (LDC) on ldc@liverpool.ac.uk.  Student Services also offers a range of support that includes Wellbeing Advisors, Counsellors and the Mental Health Advisory Service. During the current situation the University Counselling and Mental Health service is offering an enhanced service. Appointments are available by telephone and via Microsoft Teams so that you can still get support. To access Student Services please call +44 (0)151 795 1000. This will connect you with the Student Advice and Guidance reception desk. The opening hours are 10am to 4 pm Monday to Friday. If you need Counselling they will book a Single Session Therapy (SST) with the Counselling Service. This will also be the entry point to our other therapeutic services.

I’m feeling anxious about my studies, who can I talk to?

Lots of video-conferencing has been taking place using Microsoft Teams, and this can work well for supervisory meetings at a distance (it can be nice to see another person’s face after time spent alone). However, you can meet just as effectively over the phone if you would prefer.  

You may both be used to having quick conversations in the lab, or bumping into each other in the corridor. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen when you are working from home, but you can still send each other emails and use Teams chat to keep in touch outside of meetings.

If you would ordinarily have shared supervisory meetings with a group of PGRs, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to do so. If you don’t ordinarily do so, you could consider whether this might be a good thing to set up for the time being, especially if PGRs with the same supervisor are facing the same/similar issues or are working on similar activities. You can still have one-to-one meetings should there be any specific or personal issues that need to be discussed.

We know this may be a distressing time for you. If you are worried and want to discuss any concerns, student advice and welfare are still running an online and telephone service. You can also access the Big White Wall 24 hours a day if you need support, this now includes content specifically around looking after yourself during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Do you have any tips on remote working?

As we are all trying our best to continue our supervisory relationships at a distance, we thought it might be useful to share some tips about how to make your relationship with your supervisor work successfully. 

Understand each other’s point of view: Now, more than ever, we are all facing multiple challenges. This means both supervisors and PGRs, need to take time to understand each other’s experiences and challenges as much as possible to continue to work together successfully. So, it may be useful to start a conversation about what challenges you are both currently facing and how might you manage the supervisory relationship to accommodate these.

Review working practices: All supervisory relationships are different, and reflect the preferences each party has for the frequency and nature of your contact and meetings. At the start of your working relationship, you probably set up some agreed expectations about how often you would meet, and what you would discuss. You should now have a conversation about whether and how these might change to accommodate the current circumstances. Do you need to meet more frequently? How will you meet and how will you contact each other between meetings? 

Consider how your agreed plans need to change: While it’s likely that you have already done so, it’s important that you discuss how the current situation will affect your research and training plans, and registration. This could be the source of significant anxiety, and that’s entirely understandable. Depending on the circumstances and research project, you might be able to continue the research project as planned. If not, you might decide to watch and wait, while prioritising other research activities such as writing, public engagement (as appropriate), or ensuring your records/notes are up-to-date and organised. However, you might also consider whether you can take a different strategy to the research project to enable it to continue in a virtual form.

Keep informal contact going: You may both be used to having quick conversations in the lab, or bumping into each other in the corridor. Obviously, this isn’t going to happen when you are working from home, but you can still send each other emails and use Teams chat to keep in touch outside of meetings. 

Choose a mode of communication that works for you: Lots of video-conferencing has been taking place using Microsoft Teams, and this can work well for supervisory meetings at a distance (it can be nice to see another person’s face after time spent alone). However, you can meet just as effectively over the phone if you would prefer.

Keep records and check understanding: PGRs should still take care to make notes of the key points covered in remote supervisory meetings, and to agree concrete actions with their supervisors by email.

Provide very clear written requests/feedback: Any requests made/feedback provided in writing should be very clear and explicit, with as much detail as possible. It can be very useful to set an agenda item at each meeting for you to discuss any queries about requests made or feedback received. 

Keep communicating: If your situation changes, remember to communicate this to your supervisor as you would ordinarily do, including if you become unwell and won’t be studying, or if you take annual leave, or if there are any changes to your personal circumstances more generally. 

Consider joint supervisory meetings: If you would ordinarily have shared supervisory meetings with a group of PGRs, there’s no reason why you can’t continue to do so. If you don’t ordinarily do so, you could consider whether this might be a good thing to set up for the time being, especially if PGRs with the same supervisor are facing the same/similar issues or are working on similar activities (e.g. writing). You can still have one-to-one meetings should there be any specific or personal issues that need to be discussed.

What happens to annual leave allocation during this time?

The University recognises the importance of taking holiday for the health and wellbeing of students engaged in postgraduate research.  It’s important PGR’s use their annual leave entitlement to ensure they have a proper break(s) from work during this challenging and stressful period. Postgraduate researchers are entitled to 25 days holiday per year, to be agreed with your supervisory team, in addition to bank holidays.


Feedback

If you have any feedback on this page, please email the Liverpool Doctoral College at ldc@liverpool.ac.uk.

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