Essential Practices and Examples of Good Practice in Doctoral Research Student Provision

Examples of Implementation for Essential Practices (Requirements) and Examples of Good Practice (Aims)

This page provides examples of how essential practices and examples of good practice regarding doctoral research student provision can be implemented. These examples have been compiled from best practices shared at the best practice sharing workshops on doctoral research student matters and from  departments themselves (e.g. via quality assurance exercises).

They supplement the examples provided in the page 'Essential Practices and Examples of Good Practice'.

This page should therefore be viewed in conjunction with the page 'Essential Practices and Examples of Good Practice' from the right-hand link on this page.  

Examples are grouped within each area of doctoral research student provision below.

1. Marketing of Doctoral Research Students

Essential Practices:

Requirement:

It is essential that departments promote the distinct value of undertaking doctoral research level study with them via appropriate media. 

Examples of Implementation - from the best practice sharing workshop on 'Successful Recruitment of Doctoral Research Students: Growth with Quality'

a) Raise the profile of studying for a doctorate at TUoS by advertising at Postgraduate events and PGR recruitment fairs.

b) Offer 'visit sessions' on a monthly basis designed for prospective candidates to make appointments to visit individual departments.

c) Produce a video 'Doctoral Research Student study at The University of Sheffield: an introduction to the process.'

d) Have an enquiry page on the Department web page for doctoral research student study.

e) Have an internal recruitment drive - including an undergraduate workshop on postgraduate research.

 2. Selection and Admission

Essential Practices

Requirement:

The decision to offer a place should always be made by two or mor members of academic staff (the decision to reject an applicant who clearly does not meet expected criteria does not have two be made by two members of academic staff).

Implementation: Examples of selection process prior to the decision stage:

a) Make use of the Customer Relationship Management System (CRM) to manage enquries, by recording the enquiry - this removes the potential duplication of effort, enabling contact to be made with new prospective students.

b) Use the Enhanced Admissions Service which is pilotted in some departments - this aims to reduce the academic burden on supervisors by an initial check being made by the admission service, including academic and English qualifications, before sending applications to the relevant department to assess the research proposal and supervisor availability.

c) One department uses a Postgraduate Recruitment Form designed to focus supervisors' minds on the best approach.

Examples of Good Practice

Aim:

Involve experienced administrative staff and/or a third member of academic staff in the selection process, to provide an additional impartial view.

Aim:

Departments should aim to remain in contact with an applicant to whom they have offered a place, until such time as the applicant arrives to commence their degree programme.

Examples of Implementation (from the best practice sharing workshop)

Recognition by departments of the importance of understanding the value doctoral research students bring to the department which will inform the thinking of those responsible for recruiting them on what skills, qualities and potential contributions that the department is seeking from candidates. 

3. Induction

Essential Practices

Requirement:

In order to ensure consistency, departments, rather than supervisors, should be responsible for the induction of new doctoral research students.

Requirement:

All new doctoral research students should be provided with a departmental handbook or equivalent, at induction.

Requirement:

All new doctoral research students should be made aware of the structure of the department and introduced to staff with a key role (e.g. Head of Department, Department PGR Lead, Postgraduate Administrator) as part of their induction programme.

Examples of Good Practice

Aim:

It is good practice to have an induction specifically dealing with cultural issues for international students, involving existing international doctoral research students rather than academic staff.

Aim:

It is good practice for new doctoral research students to be provided with an induction checklist on which different aspects could be signed off when complete.  This is particularly useful for cross-sessional students, whose induction may not be as structured as for those starting in September/October.

Examples of Implementation

Consider the induction as a process rather than an event, providing students with information gradually over a period of time (e.g. via a series of introductory sessions/events) rather than overloading them with information in the first week.

Provide students with a clear structure for their research, by supplying them with a set of progression milestones at the outset (including target dates for confirmation review and submission).

An induction lecture for year one doctoral research students which also includes year two doctoral research students, to encourage them to reflect on the development of their research and generic skills (includes a short Careers Advice talk, aiming to actively encourage doctoral research students to be thinking about their career options during the early stages of their PhD);

Where possible, doctoral research students should have a student mentor for pastoral purposes.

Induction days run by the PGR Committee specifically for year two and year three doctoral research students, to enable them to reflect on their experiences and progress in the previous year, and to review their Training Needs Analysis (TNA).  The sessions also cover essential information concerning departmental and University expectations during the coming year.

A session on 'You and Your Supervisor' for new doctoral research students run by the Director of Research on the expectations and goals of the student-supervisor roles.

Help international students settle in by:

  • organising an informal lunch to which doctoral research students are invited to bring foods typical of their home countries, to share with others;
  • arranging for doctoral research students to undertake group activities (e.g. for an afternoon) designed to introduce them to their fellow students and to the city of Sheffield;
  • arranging opportunities (often involving existing doctoral research students) to discuss the cultural differences international students are likely to face, and to clarify the expectations of students and supervisors;
  • a dedicated member of staff assigned to helping new overseas doctoral research students.
4. Student-Supervisor Meetings

Essential Practices

Requirement:

Records of formal student-supervisor meetings must be made, by either the student or the supervisor, and both should maintain a copy.  This is essential for both pedagogic reasons (to ensure the student understands the points made by the supervisor) and to provide evidence in case of complaints/appeals/disciplinary issues.

Requirement:

Records of student-supervisor meetings must be stored in a repository that enables them to be seen by all members of the supervisory team, including the student.

Examples of implementation:

Record keeping - encourage students and supervisors to make a record of their formal meetings.

5. Progression Milestones

Essential Practices

Requirement:

Progress of all doctoral research students must be formally assessed by departments at six monthly intervals, in addition to the recording of formal student-supervisor meetings.

For example: This may take the form of a formal progress report (e.g. the University's Annual Progress Report or a departmental variation) and/or a designated task to be completed by the student (e.g. a poster presentation).

Requirement:

Doctoral research students who have moved into their 4th year of study must be subject to enhanced monitoring.

For example: This could be by sending a letter to students at 36 months, highlighting that they are moving into their 4th year, and requiring progress reports every 3 months.

Examples of Implementation

From the best practice sharing workshop on 'Successful Supervision: Tips and Techniques for Timely Submission' approaches to managing doctoral research students include:

one department has a culture of:                                                                  - emphasising the importance of the recruitment process;  

 - recruiting quality students and letting them take ownership of completion.  The department supports the students and supervisor but does not set lots of targets/hurdles, as that would take responsibility away from the student;

- not micro-managing;

- providing a department mentoring scheme for peer-to-peer support to encourage timely submission as well as other benefits.

Another department ensures a consistent message from the outset by the Head of Department:

- on the exceptional basis of extensions or 'there are no extensions', which is reinforced at induction;

- having 30 months thesis meetings/presentations and a 42 month meeting with the Head of Department and Department PGR lead, without the supervisor.

Another department:

- makes it clear to students that the normal completion time is three years, with a road map - including the milestones which should be met - of a three year research programme, provided to students at induction;

- requires six monthly 'light touch' progress reports;

- has arrangements for fourth year students which include discussion between the Department PGR lead and supervisor at the start of the year, a research plan to be submitted before the four year deadline, and three-monthly verbal progress reports by supervisors.

6. Confirmation Review

Essential Practices

Requirement:

The first year of doctoral PhD study is regarded as probationary and all doctoral research students are required to undertake a confirmation review to be permitted to continue to study at doctoral level.  The first attempt and second attempt to confirm must be undertaken within 18 months from registration.  For part-time students, these deadlines are pro-rata.  The purpose of the timeframe for the confirmation review is to ensure clear, equitable standards across the University so that all students are given the opportunity to demonstrate whether they are capable of being confirmed as a doctoral research student within a consistent timeframe.

Examples of Implementation

In one department, doctoral research students produce a confirmation review report which may include evidence of detailed knowledge of the background literature and development of a theoretical framework, an exposition of the research aims and objectives addressed in the research, and an overview, with appropriate justification, of the methodological basis for the study.  Students may additionally be required to give a presentation or undertake a viva.

See CoP

7. Examination

Essential Practices

Requirement:

General information about what to expect during the viva should be provided to all doctoral research students.

Examples of Implementation

This should include an overview of the process, of who will be there, how long it might last, what the format is likely to be.  It could be provided by individual supervisors or via an organised session at departmental or Faculty level (e.g. through the DDP).

8. Supervisory Teams

Essential Practices

Requirement:

All doctoral research students should be allocated two named supervisors, who will support them through their academic and development programme.

Examples of Implementation:

In general, one named supervisor, the first supervisor, will be the academic lead; the other one could have a distinct role such as supporting the student in the Doctoral Development Programme.  It is acceptable for more than one 'model' of supervision to be used within the same department, and the specific arrangements for supervision should be agreed according to the student's needs (within the minumum expectations set out).

As detailed in the doctoral research student proposition, doctoral research students can expect to:

- have access to a range of intra- or inter-disciplinary researchexpertise and support in the form of a supervisory team, including access to a personal tuor.  Each supervisory team includes two supervisors, one of whom leads in providing advice on training and skills development.

The supervision models below offer a flavour of the models currently in use across the University:

Model 1: known as the 'troika'

- Primary supervisor: academic lead

- Secondary supervisor: support for the DDP, additional academic support/guidance.

- One independent member of academic staff, involved in progress reviews and confirmation review only.

- Wider supervisory team includes the Director of Graduate Studies and the Head of Department.

Model 2:

- Primary supervisor: academic lead

- Secondary supervisor: support for the DDP, additional academic support/guidance

- Advisor: provides pastoral support and acts as a 'critical friend' to the doctoral research student.

Model 3:

- Primary supervisor: academic lead

- Secondary supervisor: support for the DDP, additional academic support/guidance

- Research cluster: acts as an extension of the supervisory team and provides the student with access to a wider range of perspectives

- Department PGR lead: available for pastoral support.

Model 4:

- Primary supervisor: academic lead

- Secondary supervisor: support for the DDP, complementary expertise to provide additional support/guidance

- Department PGR lead: available for pastoral support

-  Director of PGR: available for escalation of academic issues

-  The wider supervisory team also includes the Head of Department.

9. Supervisor Development/Support for Department PGR leads

Essential Practice

Requirement:

Department PGR leads should be given protected time by the department to deliver the requirements of their role in supporting supervisors.  It is recognised that the amount of time may vary by department.

Example of Implementation

The Department PGR Lead's role should ideally be formalised in the deparment and should include protected time for this purpose.  A link to guidelines on PhD research and supervision can be found here:

10. Named individual responsible for providing advice and supprot on pastoral issues

Essential Practice

Requirement:

It is essential that all students are allocated a named individual responsible for providing advice and support on pastoral issues, in addition to their two named supervisors.  This named individual must be unconnected to the research project and available to provide advice and support which is confidential (except in disciplinary or other serious cases) on pastoral issues, when required.

Examples of Implementation:

Personal tutor arrangements should be communicated at induction, in the PGR handbook and should include details of other services available for students to access - such as the counselling service, TUoS' Nightline, Chaplaincy, Central Support and Welfare Services, International student support, the University health service.  It is important that issues identified be resolved at an early stage e.g. the PGR Director could take responsibility for ensuring this happens.  Departments could also consider identifying a female member of staff to be available for issues that students may not wish to discuss with their (male) personal tutor.  A 'buddy' scheme can be useful to support personal and pastoral provision, as can postgraduate societies in providing informal support for students.  (NB. University-run training to help personal tutors to recognise and effectively deal with mental health issues of students is being considered).  Scheduled meetings could beoffered to students at suitable points during their study, with a record maintained of these meetings.

See the Personal Tutoring policy agreed by the Doctoral Academy Committee in January 2016.  Key points include that every doctoral research student should:

- be allocated a named academic not related to their project, available to provide personal support and guidance

- be informed about the role and responsibilities of their personal tutor/advisor

- be provided with clear information on the types of support available to them

- have meetings with their perosnal tutor, with a brief record of the meetings kept.

To help manage the role in a large department, offer drop-in sessions at specific times, recognising that one meeting per semester may not be sufficient.

The importance of recognising that the role wil be different in different disciplines e.g. there is more built-in contact time in lab-based departments.  In departments where doctoral research students work alone, they often feel isolated and are harder to keep in touch with.  Offer informal meetings which are off-the-record, in an informal setting such as a coffee shop - taking notes if there is a potential for it to be taken further.  Personal judgement is needed on this.

Use the PATS system for recording of doctoral research student pastoral support meetings, which has the facility for including confidential information.

Also see information from the Student Support and Wellbeing team wihtin the Student Services Department by following the link here: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ssd/wellbeing

11. Integration with the Department's Research Environment

Essential Practice

Requirement:

It is essential that a department integrates its doctoral research students fully into its research environment, as professional colleagues.

Examples of Implementation:

As outlined in the research student proposition, doctoral research students can expect to:

- develop intellectually, professionally and personally, through the experience of studying at TUoS and from the opportunities made available to them;

- undertake research that makes a positive difference in the world, changes the way people think about the world, and enhances the standing of the research profession;

- be treated as professional colleagues and members of an intellectually stimulating community of scholars, drawn from the UK and internationally, that encourages doctoral research students to push the boundaries of their research;

- access a high quality doctoral development or training programme that supports them through their journey from student to professional colleague and is individually tailored to their needs.

A research environment has many dimensions and integration takes many forms.  Essentially doctoral research students:

- should be included in all apppropriate departmental communications;

should have representation on all appropriate departmental decision-making structures;

should be made aware of, and given access to, relevant opportunities to contribute to the wider cultural life of the department;

should be made aware of, and given access to, relevant opportunities to suppor learning and teaching;

should be made aware of, and given access to, relevant opportunities to communicate and present the outputs from their creative endeavours, including from their research.

Any examples from the PGR Faculty Forum initiatives to add here?

12. Professional Development

Essential Practice

Requirement:

It is essential that the department and supervisory team support the different career aspirations of individual doctoral research students be that to pursue an independent research career or a career outside of academia.

Examples of Implementation:

As outlined in the research student proposition, doctoral research students can expect to have access to high quality professional support services, covering the whole range of needs that support progression at TUoS (includes a professional development team providing access to opportunities for preparing future career paths).

The form of support can include signposting to relevant opportunities.  Doctoral research students could also use the Researcher Development Framework to help them consider what skills and experiences will enhance their career prospects and how to articulate their capabilities to future employers.  See the link to the researcher portal HERE

Other examples include:

- Doctoral research students co-presenting with staff at international conferences, joining departmental research clusters where they are encouraged to present data, or host journal discussions, and be extenral speakers.

- Doctoral research students organising, chairing and hosting a conference for their fellow students, enabling them to showcase their research and network with students and staff.

- Delivering high quality journal publications and presenting at international conferences being enshrined into the student progression procedures.

- Opportunities at faculty level to get involved in PGR forums, which aim to develop initiatives for the benefit of both doctoral research students and the University, enabling doctoral research students to: apply their doctoral skills in practice; enhance their skills as influencers and entrepreneurs; gain skills and experience in areas including event management, public engagement, business development and leadership; gain skills in cross-faculty networking and networking with external colleagues/organisations.

13. Involving Alumni

Examples of Good Practice

Aim:

It is good practice for departments to involve alumni in the doctoral research student work of the department - the recruitment process and events on careers options - to help evaluate whether the research degree programme has an impact on both academic success and future employability and whether there are any gaps in provision.

Examples of Implementation:

This could be by informally chatting to prospective students and supporting practical assessments at application days, by attending events to talk about career options and developing networks.