- Timelines for Postgraduate Research Programmes
Most PhD programmes last for 36 months and 12 months for Master’s by research programmes. This can vary depending on funding arrangements; for example, some PGRs may be funded for 42 or 48 months, in the case of a PhD. The timelines below give you an outline of key forms and processes which need to be completed throughout the typical researcher journey. Of course, there may be variations to this depending on a candidate’s individual circumstances.
The normal periods of PGR study, minimum periods of study, normal periods of extension and exceptional periods of extension are detailed in General Regulations for Research Degrees 13-17.
Masters by Research
- Supervisor Training
We are committed to supporting you in developing as a supervisor. Whether you have in-depth experience of supervising PGRs or are relatively new to the role, You may also find it helpful to look on the Vitae website which provides advice and guidance on supervising a doctorate.
Details for supervisor training sessions can be found below, please register for sessions via the coursebooking system using your University username and password.
New Supervisor Training (new to supervising and new to the University).
There are 3 dates planned for AY 19/20Please note these are a 2-part sessions (session 2 is optional but strongly recommended).
Part 1: PGR Supervision essentials (guides to policies/procedures and supervisory expectations).
Part 2: Supporting your PGR student (communications, listening and boundaries)
25/09/2019 Old Aberdeen
Supervisor updates (for existing supervisors, ALL supervisors expected to attend every 5 years)
Supervisor Masterclass Series
Improving Communication with your PGR student. 11/11/2019
Examining Research Doctorates. 10/02/2020
Supporting Distance/Online doctorates. 10/03/2020 (tbc)
PGR Transitions – into and out of the PhD. 08/06/2020
Supervisor Discussion Groups
Informal early morning drop-in peer groups to meet and discuss issues/challenges related to supervising students. Sessions will run every six weeks on alternate campuses. Commencing 28/10/2019, coffee and breakfast will be available.
- Setting up the Supervisee-Supervisor Relationship
The PGR handbook contains a section on the supervisee-supervisor relationship outlining expectations with which you may find it helpful to familiarise yourself. We would also strongly recommend that you consult the statement of expectations for PGR students and supervisors for further information relating to this role. Registry has also provided a guide to the duties of supervisors.
Who can be a supervisor?
Supervisors are normally professors, readers or lecturers of the University, or may be honorary members of staff, or members of staff of an approved research institution. They are part of a supervisory team. A supervisory team will comprise more than one supervisor, working in co-supervision, always with one supervisor designated as lead. At least one member of the supervisory team must be a professor, reader or lecturer of the University.
A PhD candidate may also have an academic member of staff who has been appointed and identified by the School to provide additional pastoral support. The term of reference for this person will vary between Schools; they may be termed a PGR coordinator or a mentor or an adviser, for example.
The percentage input of each supervisor will be recorded on the University’s Student Record system. Where an adviser has been appointed, they will also be recorded on the student’s record, but not as a supervisor.
Where the lead supervisor is a probationary lecturer or a member of staff supervising a PGR for the first time, a co-supervisor should be appointed who will normally be an experienced member of the academic staff of the University who has seen a PGR through to successful completion of a research degree.
What to do prior to your PGR starting
If you are the lead supervisor, you should make contact with your supervisee prior to their arrival in Aberdeen or commencement of studies, if the student is undertaking a distance programme. As part of the pre-arrival contact, you should arrange a meeting between the supervisory team and the supervisee to take place as soon as possible after they have started.
It is the responsibility of supervisors to maintain regular contact through supervisory meetings and maintain reasonable accessibility so that advice may be offered at other times.
PGRs and their supervisors should, as soon as possible, establish mutually agreed means of communication and contact with one another.
While the amount of contact between a supervisee and supervisor will vary depending on the subject area and stage of the candidate, it is expected that there should be as a minimum, one formal minuted supervisory meeting at least once a month with informal meetings held more frequently as and when required.
PhD candidates in their first year of study may require more frequent meetings. Indeed, because the success of a candidate's research may depend on the degree of contact and discussion with the supervisor/supervisory team in the early stages of the work, it is likely that contact during this early period will need to be much more frequent than the minimum expectation of at least once a month. Weekly meetings during the first term may be advisable, although their frequency will vary from discipline to discipline.
The student should take brief written notes of formal meetings with the supervisor, and both student and supervisor should agree that the notes are an accurate record of the meeting and should retain a copy of these notes.
At the beginning of your working relationship with your supervisee, it’s important that you outline the expectations and boundaries within which you will be working. For example, you may find it helpful to discuss:
- Time: when can you meet with your supervisee? How frequently will you hold meetings? When are you unavailable?
- Space: where will meetings be held?
- Confidentiality: is your supervisee aware that there can be limits to confidentiality? Although written for Personal Tutors, you may find some of the leaflets and guides provided by the University helpful in raising this subject
- Acceptable behaviour: this could be in terms of academic and non-academic conduct
- Social relationships: although you will work closely with your supervisee, sometimes over a number of years, it is strongly recommended that you do not share your personal contact details with your student. Does your supervisee know who to contact when you are unavailable?
You may also find it helpful to read the statement of expectations for PGR students and supervisors in deciding how best to manage your supervisee-supervisor relationship.
The early stages
The success of a student in their research depends to a large extent on the help and guidance that the supervisor offers, especially in the early stages of the work. Thus, regular contact at this time is essential if later difficulties are to be avoided.
At the start of a student’s study, the lead supervisor must assist the student in defining the topic of research, either before arrival at the University or in the early weeks of study. At the initial meetings, the student and the lead supervisor will need to ensure that:
- the project is one which is within the supervisors' field of expertise
- the project can be achieved with available resources
- the project is suitable for the degree which the student aims to undertake and should be capable of completion within the prescribed period of study (normally 12 months full-time for a Master’s by Research, 24 months full-time for MPhil, 36 months full- time for PhD)
- the lead supervisor is likely to be available throughout, and in particular at the beginning of, the prescribed period of study
- if conditions relating to study or examination have been specified in the letter of admission, for example the acquisition of computing skills or knowledge of a foreign language, then ways of implementing them should be agreed
- a skills audit is completed that identifies both generic and subject-specific training required to assist the student in working towards completion of their research (this will need to be reviewed annually)
Part-time and distance research students may encounter particular problems in the early stages. For example, arranging meetings and balancing other commitments. The supervisors should be aware of these problems and attempt to deal with them sympathetically, while still ensuring that the student is launched on the project without undue delay.
When do I stop being a supervisor?
Supervisors are expected to assist research students throughout their period of supervised research and for up to twelve months thereafter if an extension is required and approved, or to completion if sooner. They are not normally obliged to act as supervisors after this period except when a thesis has been examined and referred, in which case the supervisor is obliged to provide advice until the specified date for resubmission.
Students studying at local research institutions
Students studying at one of the approved research institutions listed in General Regulation 19 for Research Degrees will have, as a minimum, a named University of Aberdeen supervisor and a supervisor at the research institution. The extent of University of Aberdeen involvement in supervision will vary and the student should be informed of what to expect by the relevant School. As a minimum, the University of Aberdeen supervisor will ensure that all University of Aberdeen procedures are followed and that progress is monitored through standard University procedures.
- Reviews and Annual Progression
In brief, students complete a review of their research every six months from their start date. This should be treated like the reviews you would expect to undertake in employment whereby goals and objectives are set and reflected upon. The PGR School will contact students directly about this. This is also an opportunity to make sure that things are working well for the supervisory team and the student.
All the six-monthly review forms are considered by the Engagement team. If it is clear that the outcome returned from this is unsatisfactory, there are a number of steps which will be taken. You may also find it helpful to have a look at the flow chart which outlines the process.
Students also undertake an annual progress exercise. These usually take place around month nine for full-time students and the equivalent for part-time. The timing of this can vary slightly by School so you should be sure to discuss expectations and timings for this clearly with your supervisee. The first annual progression exercise is of particular importance in establishing if the student is on track with their research. If you have any concerns about the research being conducted, this should be formally recorded and discussed with the student at this point and, where possible, following informal notification of this.
Monitoring is the formal element of tracking a student’s attendance and is distinct from the six-monthly review and annual progression exercise.
In order to be eligible to submit themselves for examination, students must have a Class Certificate for the course in question. A Class Certificate is confirmation that a candidate has duly performed the work prescribed for a course. There is no physical certificate. A student who has been validly registered for a research programme, and who has not withdrawn from that programme prior to their viva examination (or been deemed to have withdrawn, in accordance with General Regulation 25, or to have had their class certificate refused), is regarded as having obtained a Class Certificate for that course automatically.
The University operates a monitoring system for all PGR students to identify students who may be experiencing difficulties with their studies. If a supervisor is concerned with a student’s attendance, then a rigorous monitoring system will ensure that students are informed, via email, that there is concern over their attendance. As part of this process, the student will be asked to explain their absence. Failure to meet the attendance requirements for a course may result in the Class Certificate for that course being refused (C7). Full details of the University’s monitoring procedures are available in the Academic Quality Handbook.
Except with the permission of Senate, candidates shall not be permitted to present themselves for the assessment of a research degree unless they have obtained a Class Certificate. Unless good cause is demonstrated, students who have not met the expected attendance and monitoring requirements will be refused a Class Certificate. Students not granted a Class Certificate under these circumstances will be barred from appearing for the assessment for the degree and will be withdrawn from study. It shall be for Senate to determine what constitutes good cause for absence.
- Supporting Supervisors
The PGR School offers training to support supervisors at all levels of experience and knowledge. Please visit our dedicated pages for more information.
Peer Discussion Forum
Every six weeks across the Foresterhill and Old Aberdeen campuses, those involved with supporting PGRs are invited to come along to a peer-to-peer discussion forum. This gives you the chance to discuss cases with other supervisors, for example, who may have come across an issue or situation you haven’t encountered before and from whom you can learn and share experiences.
Please review our schedule of meetings. If you are based at one of the campuses on a regular basis, please do consider attending sessions at a different campus in order to share best practice more widely. Timetables for the 9U shuttle bus service can be found on the University website.
If you would like to discuss a situation relating to a PGR, please remember that you can contact the PGR School Engagement team on email@example.com at any time if that would be helpful.
Academics face considerable pressure in carrying out their duties in the current Higher Education landscape. As well as supporting your PGR students, it’s important to look after your own health and wellbeing.
The University has a number of strategies in place to support staff, including an employee assistance programme, staff wellbeing coordinators, discounted membership of Aberdeen Sports village and stress management. You can find out more information on the relevant pages of the Health and Safety website.
- Supporting PGRs
Our PGR community is one that faces different pressures, both personal and academic. You will often be the first point of contact for your supervisee but please don’t feel that you have to handle matters on your own.
Who to Contact
If you have a case you would appreciate raising with someone else, we would suggest that you discuss this with your supervisory team member(s) in the first instance. If you require further guidance, your School PGR coordinator is the next most appropriate contact. Thereafter your School PGR officer or Head of School would be an appropriate contact. At any time, you can get in touch with the PGR School Engagement team on firstname.lastname@example.org to talk through a case.
Dedicated PGR Activities
There are a number of activities open to PGRs which may help them to feel more integrated into a PGR community. You will be aware of these in your own School. We would also draw your attention to:
• The Training and Development section of the website, which includes information on a range of PGR activities which help to develop essential skills, such as 3MT (three-minute thesis), Granite journal, Leadership academy, STAR awards, May Festival, TechFest, among others
• Weekly Shut-up and Write sessions across both campuses (fortnightly at Foresterhill and Old Aberdeen)
• Fortnightly silent reading groups across both campuses (monthly at Foresterhill and Old Aberdeen)
• Drop-in sessions with the PGRS Engagement team and/or Student Advice & Support
• Coffee mornings every Thursday at the PGR School, Crombie Hall
• Social events to support our PGR community
If you have an urgent concern about your supervisee, please don’t forget that medical services may be a more appropriate contact. In an emergency, you should call 999. Alternatively, you should encourage your supervisee to visit their GP or to contact NHS out-of-hours, as required.
The University’s Student Advice & Support services are available to all of the student community, including PGRs. You may find it helpful to contact the Student Advice & Support office directly if you would like further guidance but appointments are usually with students. While waiting for an appointment, it may be helpful to direct PGRs to the self-help section of the Counselling service’s website. This website also contains much valuable information for staff and students and may be useful for you in signposting your supervisee.
If you have concerns about a student’s general wellbeing, please review our supporting your research pages in the PGR handbook for some general guidance and signposting information.
If you are concerned about a student’s progress with their research, please follow the usual six-monthly review and annual progression processes. The first annual progression exercise is of particular importance in identifying early if there are any issues with the student’s project, supervisory team or general progress.
- Postgraduate Research Degree Regulations
Details of the regulations governing research degrees are found on the University Calendar. It’s important to familiarise yourself with these, particularly in relation to requests for changes in terms of study. These regulations are regularly reviewed and revisions to policies and procedures may take place as a result. It is likely that the regulations to which you will refer most frequently are:
GR6: the requirement of a supervisory team with one lead supervisor; the requirement for students to undertake an initial skills audit
GR10: the requirement for students to register each year
GR12: changing between full- and part-time study
GR13: normal minimum periods of study (eg 36 months for a full-time PhD)
GR16: normal extensions (ie 36 months + up to 12 months for a full-time PhD)
GR17: exceptional extensions (ie 48 months + up to 12 months for a full-time PhD)
GR22: supervisor definition
GR24: monitoring progress
GR27: termination of studies
GR28: submission of thesis; word length for practice-based research programmes
GR30: requirement of a viva
GR31: internal and external examiners; arrangements for academic staff undertaking a PhD
GR33: qualities of a research degree for examiners and QAC
GR34: viva outcomes
- International PGRs, Including Tier 4
Please see the International/Tier 4 section of the PGR handbook for general information for these students. You will also find it helpful to familiarise yourself with the monitoring guidance for Schools provided by the Immigration team.
As a reminder:
- PGRs on a Tier 4 visa may have up to 60 days’ leave per year
- That is, 60 days in a rolling year from the PGR’s start date (not by academic year)
- This allowance can be used to cover holidays, personal circumstances requiring some time off and illness
- A PGR may suspend for up to 60 days outwith the above 60-day allocation. However, please keep in mind that this 60-day period is across the entire duration of their visa (ie studies)
- All students on a Tier 4 visa must be able to demonstrate satisfactory academic progress
- Tier 4 PGRs going off-campus must still be able to demonstrate that the majority of their time is spent in Aberdeen
- All forms for suspension of studies or going off-campus must be submitted in advance of the event, not retrospectively. Late applications for changes to studies will not be authorised
- Your School will have a procedure in place for regular PGR sign-ins; please contact your PGR School administrator for further information
- If you have a PGR seeking information concerning how something may impact on their visa, please direct them to the International Student Advisers (email@example.com) in the first instance
If you have a question regarding policy and compliance in relation to your supervisee, please contact the Immigration team on firstname.lastname@example.org
- PGRs on a Tier 4 visa may have up to 60 days’ leave per year
- Studying Off Campus/Fieldwork
Please see the Off-Campus section of the students’ handbook for general information for students in this situation. It is important to remind students who may be off-campus at the start of the academic year that they must still complete online registration. Registry will send a reminder but it can be helpful to prompt PGRs if you are in touch with them as part of a supervisor meeting.
- Changes to Study
Students are advised that any change to the conditions listed in their admission letter (e.g. transferring to a different degree programme or changing their mode/length of study), must be discussed with their supervisor/supervisory team and will require a form. The students’ handbook provides comprehensive guidance on the following processes:
Any change will require a form (found on the Academic Life website) which they must complete with their supervisor/supervisory team before this is reviewed by a PGR School officer. If the section below refers to a form, please go to the above webpage to access this. Please try to complete these as far in advance of a change as possible as retrospective changes are not normally possible. Official permission is required for all these changes and you should leave adequate time for this.
Please note that, as many changes to the period of study (suspension, extension, move to part-time etc) affect the tuition fees charged, it is very important to keep the Registry informed by completion of forms in a timely manner.
The normal periods of PGR study, minimum periods of study, normal periods of extension and exceptional periods of extension are detailed in General Regulations for Research Degrees 13-17.
If you have questions about any of these matters, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Engagement team at email@example.com to discuss these.
- Submitting the Thesis
Please see the thesis submission section of the students’ handbook for comprehensive information about these processes. You may also find it helpful to refer to the PGR timelines if you’re unsure when to advise students to complete a particular process.
- Viva Examination
Please see thesection of the students’ handbook for general information about these processes. You may also find it helpful to look at the section of the student handbook for specific roles in relation to processes.
Below are some quick reminders for University staff when preparing for a student’s oral examination/viva. They should be used alongside the document ‘Examining Research Degrees’, approved by the University Committee on Teaching and Learning, found in the Academic Quality Handbook.
How soon after thesis submission should the viva be held?
Usually within two months. If the timeframe is longer than this, the internal examiner should keep Registry and the supervisor informed. It is the practice for some Schools to hold mock vivas in order to prepare their PhD candidates for what to expect in a viva and to allay any fears about this. Candidates should be prepared for rigour but not an ‘interrogation’ (a rather unhelpful way to think about the viva). Please speak to your PGR School coordinator for further information in relation to this.
What is the aim of the viva?
The viva allows the candidate to explain, expand, and justify their thesis, in response to the examiners’ questions. The viva may be used to establish a candidate’s general knowledge of the field of research, to establish the extent of any collaboration, to ascertain that the candidate can work independently and lead the work of others, and to confirm that the work is indeed the candidate’s own. Whilst recognising teamwork and the substantial benefits of early publication it must always be possible to track the individual work of the candidate. Examiners must be able to evaluate the candidate's role in the work, the process of the experimentation and the resulting understanding of the science involved, for example. The degree cannot be awarded for what is essentially a compendium of jointly authored articles with no indication of the candidate's original contribution.
What documents should you have?
Independent reports (prior to the viva); joint report (after the viva); post-viva corrections; certification of corrections; resubmission joint report (only when required). All these documents can be found on the Teaching and Learning webpages.
Where should the viva be held?
Oral examinations normally take place at the University of Aberdeen campus but may be held elsewhere by the mutual agreement of all the examiners and the candidate.
Holding a viva by video or teleconference is not the ideal situation, but if a candidate is unable to return to Aberdeen for the viva it may be permissible. This should be arranged with the internal examiner/moderator in agreement with all parties.
Who should be at the viva?
The candidate, the internal examiner and external examiner should be present. If the candidate is a member of University staff, they must have two external examiners and an internal moderator to oversee proceedings.
Supervisor(s) should be available at the time of the oral examination but may attend only at the specific invitation of the examiners, and after consultation with the student; the internal examiner (or moderator) is responsible for ensuring that the supervisor(s) will be available on the day.
How long should the viva last?
Usually around one and a half hours. If the viva lasts longer than two hours, breaks must be offered to the candidate and detailed on the joint report form (even if the candidate refuses this).
What are the regulations governing a viva?
GR30: all candidates must do a viva unless there are exceptional reasons why not. A candidate will usually only have one viva; if a second is required, Senate must approve this following recommendation by the examiners.
GR31: appointment of and criteria for internal and external examiners. UoA lecturers need 2 x external examiners and an internal moderator (no need for an internal examiner in this case). Supervisors cannot be internal examiners.
GR32: what to do if examiners’ reports do not substantially agree regarding the merits of the thesis.
GR33: how QAC (Senate) uses examiners’ reports to inform its decision about the award of a degree.
GR34: approval of recommendations for the outcome of a viva (eg corrections, resubmission, award of a lower qualification). Guidance for outcomes in a resubmitted thesis. A thesis may only be resubmitted once.
GR35: designations for Master’s degrees.
- Family Policies (Maternity/Paternity)
Maternity, Paternity & Adoption
The University has provided a guidance document for students who become parents during their studies. Students are encouraged to contact the Student Advice & Support Office to make an appointment to discuss the impact this may have on their studies, and to discuss their situation with the School.
Schools will usually make local arrangements directly with the pregnant student but the Student Advice & Support office can provide guidance on these. These may include, for example, making any required adjustments to places of work (such as labs) after a risk assessment, if needed, and making provision for reasonable absence related to pregnancy.
There is no built-in maternity, paternity or adoption leave in a PGRs’ research journey. This means that students will usually need to apply for a suspension of studies in order to cover any period of leave. Students on a Tier 4 visa are not granted additional time to cover special leave. We would recommend contacting the Tier 4 team (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss an individual’s case.
The Rocking Horse nursery is located on Old Aberdeen campus and is open to parents, at least one of whom is a registered student at the University. The nursery operates a ‘first come, first served’ policy so it would be helpful to alert students to this at an early stage.
- Holidays, Leave and Absence
It can be easy to forget that PGRs are entitled to holidays but it is very helpful to remind them of this! Many Schools follow the same annual leave procedures and entitlement for PGRs as staff. Please be sure to speak with your School PGR administrator or PGR School coordinator contact to discuss your School policy further. Academic staff are granted 41 days’ annual leave per annum, inclusive of public holidays, and non-academic staff are granted 34 days’ annual leave per annum, inclusive of public holidays. Please note that the University is closed for three days over the Christmas and New Year period. Further information about staff annual leave can be found on the working here website.
Any situation requiring special leave (eg bereavement, compassionate) should be agreed in line with your School’s policy. If circumstances mean that your supervisee can no longer work on their thesis, it is likely that a suspension would be the most appropriate course of action.
PGRs are expected to comply with the attendance requirements of the University. If your supervisee is no longer engaging with their research (eg missing meetings, not completing review and progression requirements, not submitting work, missing other commitments, not responding to communications) then their studies should be monitored. The Teaching and Learning website provides guidance on the processes involved, including a flow diagram of the process.
If your supervisee receives external funding, please remember that they must abide by the terms and conditions stipulated by their funding agreement; this could be different from School policy on leave.
Please refer to the section for information relating to leave entitlement for students on this type of visa.
- Supervisor Absence/Leaving the University
Schools must make arrangements for maintaining the supervision of PGR students whenever the supervisor is absent. The arrangements made will vary between Schools/disciplines and will depend on whether the supervisor who is absent is the sole supervisor or is part of a supervisory team. Where a sole supervisor is absent, an acting supervisor should be appointed as soon as possible if the supervisor is absent and out of contact. Schools/disciplines are responsible for allocating acting supervisors. It is the responsibility of the Head of School to ensure that any such interim supervisory arrangements are made.
If you leave the University, please inform your School and the PGR School as soon as possible. Arrangements for your supervisee will need to be made and the Student Record system updated with new supervisor information, where applicable.
- Key People & Contacts
You will find a list of key contacts in the PGR handbook. It may also be useful to have a look at the section of the PGR handbook for role descriptors of those involved with PGR studies.