Academic progress monitoring

Information on how students' progress is monitored and supported.


Progress of research students

Essential practice

The academic progress of all PGR students must be formally assessed by departments at six-monthly intervals throughout the student's research degree.  This is in addition to the more regular recording of formal supervisory meetings. These progress reviews may take the form of mandatory milestones, eg Confirmation Review and Submission Review, or they may constitute a designated task to be completed by the student, such as a poster presentation or submission of a journal-quality paper.

Mandatory milestones

The University has agreed that the following progression points should be mandatory milestones:

  • Induction/Training Needs Analysis
  • Confirmation Review (PhD, MD, EngD only)
  • Data Management Plan (compulsory from 2019/20 onwards for new starters)
  • Submission Review (compulsory for all students from 2019/20 onwards)
  • DDP Evidencing Development Summary
  • Thesis Submission

Departments may wish to consider increasing the frequency of monitoring of students as they move towards the final stages of their research, to ensure that they submit on time. Departments should also undertake a formal Submission Review to evaluate a student’s progress towards submission. The precise format and timing of the Submission Review is not prescribed, but should at least involve a review of the student’s outline thesis plan, an evaluation of the amount of work still to be completed and a review of DDP engagement.

Procedures for monitoring students studying via Remote Location will vary and students and staff should consult the relevant guidance.

PhD timeline with milestones

When planning a PhD timeline, a milestone should be incorporated every six months.

The requirement to install touchpoints on a six-monthly basis is designed to provide sufficient opportunities to identify any issues that may affect student progress.

The addition of the new mandatory milestones means that the Annual Progress Review is no longer necessary.

Start of PhD

  • Induction
  • Training Needs Analysis (TNA)

6 months after start

  • See 'optional milestones'

9 to 12 months after start

  • Confirmation Review
  • Doctoral Development Programme (DDP) Review
  • Data Management Plan (DMP) submission

18 months after start

  • Second confirmation attempt deadline (if needed)
  • See 'optional milestones'

18 months after start to 15 months before deadline

  • See 'optional milestones'

9 to 15 months before deadline

  • Submission Review incorporating DDP Review

36 months after start date

  • DDP e-portfoluio submission
  • See 'optional milestones'

36 to 48 months

  • Thesis submission

Optional milestones

Including (but not limited to)

  • Literature review
  • Journal paper
  • Mock viva
  • Poster competition
  • Conference presentation
  • Presentation of thesis plan

Submission Review

Many departments already undertake a Submission Review and the University has agreed that this should be a mandatory milestone for all PGRs.

The purpose of the Submission Review is to provide an early point for the supervisory team and student to discuss and agree a plan for submitting the thesis by the submission deadline. The Submission Review is flexible to allow departments to integrate it within existing progress review meetings. It is recommended that the ideal time for this to take place would be between 9 and 15 months before the submission deadline, but this could take place earlier.

The Submission Review should comprise a review of the student’s thesis plan and their engagement to-date with the DDP. There is no requirement for the outcomes of Submission Reviews to be reported centrally.

Student engagement and attendance monitoring

It is essential that all students regularly attend all the scheduled sessions (eg supervisory meetings, departmental research presentations, DDP modules, laboratory sessions, etc.) that are listed in their timetable or that are communicated to them by their department.  It is only by attending all of the scheduled sessions that students will be able to engage with their research and progress effectively, as required by University Regulations. 

To ensure that students make full use of the learning and research opportunities that are available, academic departments will monitor both the attendance and academic engagement of all students throughout the year, in accordance with the University's Student Attendance Monitoring and Student Academic Engagement policies. This applies both to students on campus and those who are undertaking research or working away from Sheffield as part of their degree.

This process should assist departments in identifying problems at an early stage and offering students appropriate support, including training or referrals to relevant support services, where required.

Progress concerns and Faculty Student Review

If a student’s progress is poor, departments should initially take action to identify why this is the case and whether any additional support or guidance is required and can be offered, either by the academic department or by other support services. Poor academic progress can sometimes signify underlying problems that might best be dealt with by the student taking a period of leave of absence.  

For example, the student may be struggling with personal, medical or financial difficulties that are affecting their concentration and impeding their progress. An approved break from studies may enable the student to recover and/or deal with the cause of the difficulties.

If a department has explored options for additional support and still has sustained concerns about the academic progress of a research student they should discuss these concerns at an early stage with the student  and should seek ways to address the situation.  

If the student is still at an early stage in their degree any concerns may be addressed by the Confirmation Review process, which is intended to confirm a student’s potential for doctoral-level study. A student who fails to demonstrate sufficient progress and potential for doctoral level research at their Confirmation Review will be downgraded to MPhil. This reinforces the need for Confirmation Reviews to take place within the University’s required timescale.

If the department has tried to engage the student in improving their progress and there is still no improvement, the matter should be referred to the relevant faculty. This can be done in several ways. Lack of attendance and/or engagement should be flagged via the Student Engagement Monitoring checkpoints, which occur three times per year, or via the regular Attendance Review checkpoints. Concerns that are raised in this way will be followed up by Research Services and may lead to a student being sent a faculty warning letter and/or being asked to meet with the Faculty Officer to explain the reasons for their lack of progress.

Where a department has completely lost contact with a student this may lead to the student being deemed withdrawn.

If this still does not result in an improvement in the student’s performance, an academic department may request a formal review of a student’s academic progress, on certain grounds which are specified in the University Regulations as to Progress of Students. This is a formal process designed to determine whether or not a student should be permitted to continue their programme of research, and if so, on what terms. Such decisions are taken at faculty level following a thorough review of the student’s progress, at which the student and department are usually present.

Departments should note that they can report a student for unsatisfactory progress under the Progress of Students Regulations at any point in the year and not just following an engagement checkpoint. However, it is expected that the department will have already raised any progress concerns with the student before progressing the matter to the faculty. Departments should contact their Faculty Administrator in Research Services for further guidance.

Departments will assess students’ attendance and engagement with their programmes of research at various points throughout the year. The monitoring is carried out using systems that have been developed by the University specifically to help departments identify and support students who are having difficulty with their study programme. Information about how individual departments will carry out attendance monitoring and how they will use this information is normally included in departmental student handbooks.

If departments have any concerns regarding the attendance or engagement of their students they should consider what appropriate follow-up action is required to address their concerns. Departments are advised to seek guidance from their faculty administrator in Research Services, who will advise on the available options.

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