July 9, 2020, by Rob Ounsworth
COVID-19 update: extensions to periods of study for postgraduate research students
Update from Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Welcome to my latest update, including a key announcement on study extensions for postgraduate researchers, the latest on the return of research to our UK campuses and reaction to the government’s support for research. I am also delighted to share further outstanding successes from colleagues in our research community.
Postgraduate research student extensions announcement
In response to the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the studies and wellbeing of postgraduate research (PGR) students, the University has announced a change to PGR extensions.
As of today, 9 July, a total of six months extension of registration, with no additional fees payable by the student, will be offered for all UK doctoral PGRs whose registered period of study would have originally concluded between 1 March 2020 and 1 October 2021.
This exceptional decision is in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and national social distancing restrictions on PGRs, their studies and wellbeing.
We recognise that numbers of PGRs, with the support of their supervisors, have adjusted and adapted research plans in order to complete as scheduled, and we continue to encourage this.
I hope that the certainty provided by the extensions, however, will help alleviate the considerable anxiety experienced by a valued part of our University research community.
Please note: MRes PGRs may have received notification of the the University’s offer of a six-month extension. However this offer applies only to UK doctoral PGRs.
PGRs who entered ‘Thesis Pending’ on or after 30 September 2019, will also receive an extension to their final submission date of six months, with no additional fees charged.
Any PGRs who, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, have already secured an extension to their period of registered study of less than six months, will have their final submission date increased to a maximum of six months.
Any required change to submission dates will be processed automatically and without any requirement to submit a formal request.
For PGRs whose registered period of study ends after 1 October 2021, it is currently expected that the University will revert to the normal process for managing extensions.
The University will continue to monitor impacts of the pandemic and associated national restrictions, and review policy or practice as necessary to continue to support PGRs.
Funding for extensions
Extensions to stipend funding will be considered for PGRs supported by the Wellcome Trust, British Heart Foundation and the University of Nottingham who have a funding end date up to 31 March 2021.
However, I would ask that students, with the support of their supervisors, achieve their research on their original timescale where at all possible, so that we can ensure this additional, but limited, funding has the greatest impact for those students who truly require it.
Applications for this funding extension will consider the personal and research impacts that the coronavirus pandemic has had on the individual’s research progress. It is expected that the period of stipend funding awarded will reflect the duration of enforced change of activity – taking into account what it has been possible to address during this period – meaning that most stipend extensions will be less than six months.
UKRI-funded PGRs with an end date up to 31 March 2021 who have already applied and received a funded extension of less than six months may apply for further funding support, provided that they can demonstrate new, or ongoing severe impact on themselves or their research.
Extensions to stipend funding for UKRI-supported PGRs can only be granted up to a maximum of six months, except in the most exceptional of circumstances. For example, where a PGR has already received 13 weeks of funding, they could be granted a maximum of an additional 13 weeks funding.
The University cannot yet make any commitments on stipend funding for PGRs who are funded by UKRI or the University of Nottingham after 31 March 2021.
Today’s announcement follows regular communication and engagement with PGRs. On Monday 29 June, I hosted a town hall for postgraduate researchers and their supervisors with Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andy Long, Head of the Graduate School Jane Wellens and Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor Lucy Donaldson.
The meeting re-affirmed the pressure and stress our PGR community is experiencing, especially regarding interruption to research, access to labs, career progression, extensions and PhD completions.
Access to labs and interruption to research are key concerns. Access to research facilities is gathering pace but buildings are re-opening in phases, allowing us to manage our resources while remaining absolutely committed to your health, safety and wellbeing. A system of prioritising research for return to campus is essential to managing this complex process.
PGR students in their final year, as well as postdocs on time-limited funding, are among the priorities identified by the University’s Recovery Group. Please be patient – we are building experience, allowing us to devolve this process and amplify the return of research, but in the meantime please wait for notification from your line manager on returning to campus.
Everyone in the Graduate School, Student Services and within your own schools are working incredibly hard to address the challenges of many of our PGR students, but understandably there is frustration and worry.
Stay in touch with your supervisor
The role of supervisors remains crucial: please stay in regular contact with each other; supervisors can best offer support and guidance related to your own circumstances and are informed by knowledge of your research and its progress.
We are also working hard to reach out and support supervisors, who will in turn feel better-placed to help you and offer signposts to further advice. Conversations do help in these difficult circumstances, and I’m immensely grateful to supervisors who are ready to listen and are proactively reaching out to you.
Employment of postgraduate research students as Teaching Affiliate staff
A common theme at the town halls has been the employment of PGR students as Teaching Affiliate staff, and potentially missing teaching experience and relevant part-time employment opportunities whilst all areas of the University make budget reductions to meet the severe financial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last few years, as part of the University’s commitment to reducing casualisation, a number of schools and departments have been reducing their reliance on hourly paid workers, instead creating Level 4 R&T Teaching and Learning roles. While there is no University policy not to engage Teaching Affiliates, workloads are being prioritised so that academic staff can devote more time to teaching, with a consequent reduction in the budgets required for Teaching Affiliates.
I fully appreciate the contribution made by postgraduate research students and the value that is placed on gaining teaching skills whilst undertaking a doctorate. Therefore, we are working to develop opportunities for postgraduate researchers training and accreditation in teaching. This includes training and development in teaching and learning; support in gaining Advance HE accreditation through HEA Associate Fellowship; and introducing PGRs to pedagogical research and development.
All faculties will review budgets to assess teaching needs and requirements, spending on Teaching Affiliates and opportunities for teaching. Where Teaching Affiliates are engaged, the new Principles for Working with Teaching Affiliates standardise and make more equitable their experience across the University. A task group, with staff and union representation, has been meeting throughout this year to ensure the principles are understood and implemented.
Plans for the new academic year
Working with the Graduate School, our Vice-Chancellor Professor Shearer West has also contacted postgraduate researchers to share information on the stepping up of research on our campuses and plans for the new academic year.
We remain committed to making your time as a researcher at Nottingham enriching and rewarding. As the new academic year approaches, we will learn from the experience of our campus in Ningbo, China, which successfully welcomed back more than 400 PGRs and 5,000 students, and this achievement continues to inform our approach in the UK.
PGR directors will contact you to provide more details specific to your programme and on school arrangements. Stay in touch with your supervisor and please bear with us as we work hard to offer support and guidance to all in our postgraduate community
The return of research to our UK campuses
The return of research to our UK campuses is gathering pace. With Plant Sciences and the Vet School on Sutton Bonington Campus re-opening as part of a phased programme.
This follows the re-opening of the Chemistry Building, Biodiscovery Institute and Monica Partridge Building (formerly Teaching and Learning) on University Park and the Advanced Manufacturing Building on Jubilee Campus.
I was delighted to visit three of these buildings and learn first-hand from the colleagues who are helping to lead our journey to recovery.
The experience gathered in the phased re-opening of buildings will help us refine and devolve this complex process, so more of our researchers can join colleagues on campus. A return–to–work process, which we communicate with line managers, sets out support for staff returning to campus and includes health declarations, impact assessments and health and safety training.
The next buildings being worked on include the Nanoscale and Microscale Research Centre at University Park and the Sir Colin Campbell Building at Jubilee Campus. Hallward Library on University Park is set to be the first of our libraries to re-open, initially offering a click and collect service, from 20 July. Once click and collect is up and running in Hallward, our other libraries will follow.
Please see COVID-19 Recovery Planning for more on this process, including the latest schedule for re-opening of buildings.
Supporting our staff
Lockdown has seen colleagues adopt new ways of working, and, taken together with caring and other responsibilities, has had significant impact on workloads.
Newly published COVID-19 Workload Principles offer guidance to support managers and teams in ensuring workloads are prioritised and planned to ensure additional pressure is not placed on colleagues. Professor Sarah Sharples, Pro–Vice-Chancellor for Equality, Diversity Inclusion and People, discusses this, and other initiatives, including a series of staff engagement meetings on recovery in her latest blog.
Town halls for researchers
There is one remaining in our current series of virtual town halls for researchers:
Friday 17 July, 1-2:30pm
Reserve your place
Well over 1,000 researchers, postgraduate researchers and research staff colleagues have so far attended. I have thoroughly enjoyed hosting these forums, which, with your input, are helping to improve the support we offer to researchers and research support colleagues, while looking ahead as we recover from the pandemic. FAQs and guidance for researchers have been updated following the town halls and news of a further programme of events will follow.
Government support for research
The roadmap sets out the UK’s vision and ambition for science, research and innovation and follows an announcement of a support package for research. Both confirm the UK’s recognition of the vital contribution of Nottingham and other research-rich institutions to rebuilding the economy and securing future resilience.
The support package includes funded extensions to UKRI-supported projects to help sustain research that may otherwise have been lost due to lockdown, as well as grants and loans. As Vice–Chancellor Professor Shearer West writes in her latest blog, this is welcome, but it is not a long-term solution to our financial challenges.
As we digest this news and anticipate priorities the government may set, the University will await details of funding and how we will manage this process, while actively planning for challenges beyond recovery. It is heartening that our ability to redirect research in light of the pandemic has been recognised, and I passionately believe that universities have a further opportunity to help guide recovery and rebuild society through innovation and knowledge exchange.
Conference for COVID-19 research
The pandemic has forced a shift in UK funding priorities, and we are working hard to identify research programmes that align with this new landscape.
I was delighted to welcome more than 100 guests from across the University to a virtual conference, where we discussed this challenge. We heard compelling proposals for COVID-19-related research, ranging from keeping spaces clean to mental health and end of life care, to developing new vaccines.
It was also heartening to hear the creative responses of our researchers to the opportunities for rebuilding a better world, from rethinking city living and transforming the high street to addressing distress in the home.
We are following up with researchers and feeding discussed how best to support the development of their proposals. The feedback from participants will inform the ongoing review of our research strategy as we look to recovery and beyond
£4m award to improve academic-policy engagement
Our University is part of a project awarded almost £4m by Research England to explore ways of boosting cooperation and understanding between researchers and policymakers.
The three-year Capabilities in Academic-Policy Engagement (CAPE) project will be led by UCL, in partnership with the Universities of Nottingham, Cambridge, Manchester and Northumbria, as well as Parliament, government and policy organisations.
Celebrating our successes
As the world marked International Women in Engineering Day, we celebrated the recognition of two outstanding researchers as among the UK’s top 50 women in engineering.
The Faculty of Engineering’s Professor Rachel Gomes and Dr Xuanli Luo each won a Top 50 Women in Engineering: Sustainability Award for 2020.
Dr Timothy Masiko, a Teaching Associate in the School of Law, has been awarded the 2020 SIEL-Hart Prize in International Economic Law for his manuscript on economic integration in Africa. The prize honours an outstanding unpublished manuscript by an early career academic and includes a publishing contract as part of the Hart series Studies in International Trade and Investment Law.
Professor Adam Gordon, from the School of Medicine, is leading a care home study within CONDOR, a national programme of research that aims to secure quicker, more convenient and more accurate testing for coronavirus infection.
Professor Frank Ball and fellow mathematicians from Nottingham and the University of Stockholm have devised a model, published in Science, that shows herd immunity to COVID-19 could be achieved with fewer people being infected than previously estimated.
Professor Kin-Chow Chang of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science has meanwhile published research on a new strain of pig flu in China that has the potential to infect humans and mutate further.
The Graduate School hosted a virtual version of its Three Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition, with postgraduate researchers invited to submit an engaging video ‘pitch’ on their project.
Congratulations to all the finalists and our two worthy People’s Choice winners:
Winner: Nneoma Emmanuela Akaniro-Ejim, School of Life Sciences
Runner up: Deborah Se-ember Adi, School of Veterinary Medicine and Science
Research code: training sessions and new resources
The University has updated its Code of Research Conduct and Research Ethics.
The code is reviewed and updated annually, and in these challenging times, it is more important than ever to ensure that we can demonstrate our ongoing commitment to rigour and excellence.
The code applies to all research staff and students across our UK, China and Malaysia campuses, and I would urge you to familiarise yourself with the updated code.
Two training sessions – Introduction to The Code of Research Conduct and Research Ethics – have been organised by the Graduate School. Book your session here
The code is available on our Ethics and Integrity pages and new Research Ethics and Integrity SharePoint pages include further resources.
Stuart Moran and Roberto Santos from Digital Research delivered a webinar on supporting research supervisors during lockdown as part of a supervisor seminar series convened by the Graduate School. Colleagues who missed the session can access the full recording here. If you would like to explore how digital technology can help you and your research students please get in touch with a Digital Research Specialist.
Research and knowledge exchange with China: watch online briefing
Led by the Future Food Beacon of Excellence, the Asia Business Centre organised a tri-campus online briefing on its collaboration with China, highlighting our research and knowledge exchange in the AgriFood sector, connecting our research community across our global campuses, and to develop exciting ideas and opportunities for collaboration with industry in China, including the development of China Beacons of Excellence.
The event has identified research collaborations opportunities across UK, China and Malaysian campuses such as applying MRI technologies in durian fruit research and explored how Future Food can engage with the China Beacon at our Ningbo campus.
Nominations invited for further REF panel appointments
Research England is inviting nominations for members of REF2021 expert panels.
The deadline is noon, 7 September 2020. This is an excellent opportunity to serve on REF2021 sub-panel and I would encourage you and all academic colleagues in your school/UOA to contact relevant nominating bodies at earliest opportunity so that the process is completed in good time.
Pause for a moment with Lakeside
Over lockdown, Lakeside Arts has invited us to take a few moments to relax and reflect in the company of world-class artists and performers, as well as with talented staff and students from our own community.
Last Friday’s final Pause for a Moment video reflects on ten weeks of short works created by some of Lakeside’s artist and friends encouraging us all to pause, relax and think.
Thank you to all who supported this wonderful venture. All the performances continue to be available on the Lakeside website.
Farewell to Richard Masterman
Last week we bid farewell to Dr Richard Masterman, Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research Strategy and Performance, who is retiring after more than 30 years of superb service at the University. Richard can be justifiably proud of his work as a champion of the breadth and diversity of our research, and as a tireless ambassador who has helped strengthen our international standing in China and Malaysia and as we build new networks with Germany, Australia, Japan, Indonesia and Brazil. I will miss both his eye for detail and clear-sighted grasp of the bigger picture. Richard’s unwavering commitment to supporting and promoting excellence have been instrumental in attracting many millions of funding to the University and sustaining our reputation for the delivery of world-class research. I was delighted to see so many of you at Richard’s virtual leaving farewell; together we will miss Richard’s winning combination of immense knowledge and goodwill, and I wish him all the very best in his retirement.
My thanks for your continuing dedication and very best wishes to you and your loved ones.
Professor Dame Jessica Corner
Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange