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Coronavirus advice

Dear GSLS Students,

Supporting our research students lies at the heart of what the Graduate School of Life Sciences (GSLS) does, never more so than at this time.  We know that this is a time of great uncertainty and the situation is moving rapidly so we wanted to give you an outline framework for your education going forward.  You will appreciate that things can and may change, but we are working hard on developing strategies that will allow you to continue your training remotely from Cambridge and not disadvantage you in obtaining your Degrees, even if the format of your training may have to be adapted. 

The various graduate offices are operating remotely and we will do our best to provide whatever help we can. The most effective course of action over the coming months is for you to keep in close contact with your supervisors and departments.

In the meantime, we have put together some information that we hope will help. This information is intended to complement  the general guidance issued by the University, with the aim of giving you information that is more directly applicable to GSLS students. 

 

Contents

  1. Contacts
  2. Useful websites
  3. Working from home during the pandemic
  4. If you have been given permission to return to continue your research
  5. Information per degree
  6. Changes in student status
  7. Your progress

  

Contacts

GSLS students fall under the remit of either the Degree Committee for the Faculty of Biology (dcbiology@admin.cam.ac.uk) or the Degree Committee for the Faculties of Clinical and Veterinary Medicine (degree_committee@medschl.cam.ac.uk).

Each student can contact their supervisor, their departmental graduate office and their departmental director of graduate education for support, as well as their college.

Enquiry relating to:

Contact:

Accommodation, financial hardship, pastoral support

College

Day-to-day queries about your project, plans for making the most of the University closure for your degree

Supervisor

Submission of MPhil/PhD thesis, corrections, approvals

Degree Committee

Organisation of viva, questions regarding intermission, leave to work away, extensions

Departmental graduate office

Funding

Cambridge contact for your funder, e.g. DTP course or PhD programme administrator, Cambridge Trust etc.

Taught courses

Course director and administrator

Visas

International Student office

DTP courses, internships/placements (e.g. PIPS), rotations

Course administrator (E.g. BBSRC or NERC DTP administrator)

 

Useful websites

University’s main COVID-19 website: https://www.cam.ac.uk/coronavirus/students

GSLS Student Moodle site: https://www.vle.cam.ac.uk/course/view.php?id=144821

Changes to Student Status: www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/graduate-study/your-student-status

Researcher development website: https://www.rdp.cam.ac.uk/

 

Working from home during the pandemic

The issues relating to PhD and MPhil students will be many and varied but in almost all cases it is clear that several months working at home (or in college for those students who cannot go home) can be very productively used in writing a thesis-ready introduction, materials and methods, analysing and collating findings or results, producing discussion etc. Examples can be seen on this poster. In addition, you might want to explore undertaking additional online skills development, especially if directly relevant to your research project. In many cases extensions to submission dates may not be required. However, you can be assured that if required, submission date extensions will be possible in due course - do this around six months before your submission deadline when you and your supervisor will have a clearer idea of the amount of additional time needed. 

 

If you have been given permission to return to Cambridge to continue your research 

As the lockdown is eased, some postgraduate research students have been given permission to return to Cambridge to continue with their research from June 2020 onwards. 

If this applies to you, you need to follow the advice from your Department or place of research. For further guidance you should read the University's protocol for the return of postgraduate research students to conduct research on University premises.

If you are intending to take up College accommodation or to use College facilities in the coming months, you need to read the guidance for returning to College.

 

Information per degree

MPhil by Research

Most of you will have arrived in October 2019 and will already have 5 months of research completed.

Some of you will be undertaking “dry-lab” projects that can still be effectively completed from home, although in some cases computational resources away from Cambridge may be an issue.  Please talk to your supervisor about your individual situations and how much you are able to carry on with “business as usual”.

In the case of “wet-lab” projects, some of you may have many results but some of you may have very few, as is the nature of research. You should work with your Supervisor to develop the form of your dissertation. This may involve a mixture of experiments already undertaken (successful or not!) combined with an extended literature review, critical evaluation of past and future experiments, computational analysis etc.  The exact nature of your Dissertation is likely to be dependent on the nature of your research, which varies hugely across the GSLS.

The Dissertation may be different and our assessment more flexible compared to normal, but we currently aim to keep examining as similar to the usual schedule as possible, including timetable of submission and the possibility of on-line vivas etc.   We understand that our students come from very different backgrounds and have different resources at home and we aim to accommodate this where we can on a case by case basis.  

MPhil by Advanced Study (Taught Courses)

Your individual course organisers should be the first port of call for questions concerning your course, including assessment.

Please note that, if you have moved away from Cambridge but are still able to work on your course, you should apply for Leave to Work Away as described below. If you do not think that you will be able to work effectively in your current circumstances, please contact your Course Director. 

MRes/PhD 1st years undertaking rotations

Your individual course organisers should be the first port of call for questions concerning your course, including assessment. 

PhD students

Year 1

First Year PhD students should proceed as per MPhil by Research Students to prepare a 1st year report with the data you have, but with an extended literature review/analysis as directed by your supervisor by the usual deadline, mode of examination to be decided.  In some cases we may need a little bit more time to confirm transition from 1st to 2nd year when you get back to Cambridge but in the overwhelming majority of cases, this will be straightforward and so should not be a cause to worry.

Years 2-3

The issues related to PhDs will be many and varied but in almost all cases it is clear that several months working at home (or in College for those students who can’t go home) can be very productively used in writing a thesis-ready introduction, materials and methods, collating results, discussions etc. and undertaking additional online training in transferable or project-specific skills.

It would not be appropriate to intermit as you can be working at home very productively for a number of months whichever year you are in, and this seems to be the view of many of the funding agencies who do not recommend intermission at this time. More clarity about the projected duration of the lock-down should emerge over the next few weeks. The situation will begin to become clearer as other research activities are able to resume, in some shape or form. In most cases it may well be possible to keep to the original schedule, albeit with somewhat modified expectations on the size and/or shape of the thesis. However, you can be assured that if required, submission date extensions will be possible in due course - do this around six months before your submission deadline when you and your supervisor will have a clearer idea of the amount of additional time needed.

Final Year 

These are challenging times. It is not business as usual. We have to accept that some of the things we had once planned are no longer possible. In adjusting to this new reality, it is helpful to be aware that across the globe, labs, students and supervisors are all affected. 

  • Our commitment is to ensure that there will be no detrimental effects on students’ ability to obtain their degrees. Though theses might have to be re-adjusted, examiners and Degree Committees will be flexible and understanding; they are aware of the difficulties during this period.
  • For the time being, students should continue to work on their research projects, in any meaningful way possible; this is the best course of action for most postgraduate students (even if part-time work is the only option because of other, eg. caring, responsibilities etc).
  • If a student is unable to progress their work in a meaningful way, it may be possible to apply for an extension to existing studentship funding, subject to eligibility.
  • Students who have concerns about extensions should contact their supervisors to discuss, in the first instance; then approach their funder and let their Graduate Office know.
  • Applications for funded extensions will generally be considered by Funding Bodies on a case-by-case basis.
  • Students who are self-funding or where their funder is not in a position to help financially should, if necessary, consider applying to The Postgraduate Hardship Fund or The Special Hardship Fund via their Senior College Tutor. 

Clinically qualified graduate students

If you have returned to front-line clinical service in the UK you DO NOT need to apply for either ‘Non-medical Intermission’ or ‘Leave to Work Away’. Instead you may apply for an ‘Extension’, on the basis of these circumstances 6 months in advance of when you intend to submit your final thesis. If you have returned to front-line clinical service in a hospital outside Cambridge, or in another country, please contact your course administrator so that they can record your location.

 

Changes in student status

Leave to Work Away (LTWA)

If you are no longer in Cambridge but still working on your research, you need to apply to work away from Cambridge. This is the case even if you are unable to work at your normal rate or carry out your normal research activities. Full information on applying for Leave to Work Away can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/graduate-study/your-student-status/work-away

Masters students will be exempted from the normal requirement to be resident in Cambridge during the Easter Term.  

What if I am not able to work effectively remotely? (Research Students)

If you have not been given permission to return to Cambridge or are unable to do so and after discussion with your supervisor, you reach the conclusion that the nature of your research or the circumstances in your home country mean that you are unable to work at all without the use of Cambridge facilities, you have four options:

1. Apply for non-medical intermission, which is effectively a break from study. Your submission date will be extended to make up for the time you lose while intermitting. However, please note that this may lead to your funding being suspended (although some funders have committed to funding students on intermission at this time, depending on your circumstances). Please discuss with your course organiser/graduate office contact and together consult your funding body before applying for non-medical intermission. If you are on a visa, please also consult the University’s International Student Team. Information on applying for non-medical intermission can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/graduate-study/your-student-status/non-medical-intermission 

2. Apply for medical intermission, which is much like non-medical intermission, but for those who are incapacitated by illness for more than two weeks. Students who contract COVID‐19 should apply for medical intermission. They will not need to submit medical evidence. You should still consult your funding body before applying, but most funders will pay sick pay for a limited period.  If you are on a visa, please also consult the University’s International Student Team. Information on applying for medical intermission can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/graduate-study/your-student-status/medical-intermission 

3. Apply to change mode of study to part-time. This would also extend your submission deadline. You would be able to take up other employment while working part-time. Please discuss with your course organiser/graduate office contact and together consult your funding body before applying to change mode of study. If you are on a visa, please also consult the University’s International Student Team. Information on applying for part-time study can be found here:

https://www.cambridgestudents.cam.ac.uk/your-course/graduate-study/your-student-status/changing-your-mode-study 

4. Apply for Leave to Work Away, and then apply for an extension to your submission date about six months before your submission deadline, with a clear indication of the amount of additional time needed. This is the best option if applying for non-medical intermission or for part-time study would leave you in a financially unviable position. However, please note that funding to cover the extension period will depend on your funder and your individual circumstances. At this stage, we cannot guarantee any funding. 

 

Your progress

First Year Assessments

First Year PhD students should proceed to prepare a first year report. This normally includes a literature review/analysis as directed by your supervisors.  Deadlines and modes of assessment/review are determined by departments. In some cases we may need a little more time to confirm transition from 1st to 2nd year, but in the majority of cases, this will be straightforward and so should not be a cause to worry. Your department will organise the submission of your first year report and the oral examination. The viva can take place via videoconference if both assessors and the student consent. The Degree Committee does not need to be informed. However, advice given below regarding MPhil/PhD vivas regarding practicalities and wellbeing also apply.

It is not uncommon that a first year viva highlights some concerns about the project design and/or feasibility. Thesis advisors will then give you (and your supervisor) clear constructive guidance on how to deal with those concerns and recommend a reassessment within a short period of time (as needed to implement changes). You will be asked to re-submit a revised first year progress report and often students will also be asked to have a second viva. 

Examination of graduate research students

Submission of Softbound Thesis

The Board of Graduate Studies has waived the need to submit a physical version of the softbound thesis. Instead, submission will take place electronically via Moodle. Students are able to upload both their thesis and their declaration form on Moodle. Students in the Clinical School or Faculty of Veterinary Medicine should contact their Graduate Administrator for details. Students in the School of Biological Sciences will be enrolled when they send their intention to submit form to the Degree Committee Office. 

Viva Voce Examination

The University has waived the usual restrictions on viva voce examinations taking place by video conference. 

However, every party to the viva (i.e., the internal examiner, the external examiner, the student, and any independent chair) must consent to the viva taking place this way. If any party does not consent, the viva will be delayed until the University buildings re-open. In some cases, postponement may be a preferred option; if you feel that having your oral examination via video-conference will cause you undue stress, or you do not have access to a quiet space with appropriate equipment, you are free to request it is postponed (as are the examiners).

The hardware and connection should be tested at least 24 hours in advance of the viva. Please note that, if the video link should fail during the viva, it should only be resumed when the video can be re-established – even if that is on a different day. The viva voce examination should not be continued by phone or audio only under any circumstances. The examiners may record the viva. 

Committee Meetings and recommendations/approvals for degrees

The Degree Committees and the Board of Graduate Studies will continue to meet, via video conference. The meeting schedule has not changed. 

Corrections

Students can submit their corrections to their examiners as usual, and the examiners will email approval of corrections to the Degree Committee offices as normal. Please note that corrections are approved on behalf of the Degree Committee and the Board by their respective Secretaries under delegated authority, and so corrections do not need to go to an additional meeting to be approved. 

Hardbound and E-theses

The Student Services Centre is not open to receive theses. 

The Student Registry have therefore arranged with JS Wilson Bookbinders that they will store any hardbound theses bound by them until such time as the Student Services Centre re-opens. JS Wilson will inform the Student Registry when your thesis has been bound and we will take that date as the date of submission of your hardbound thesis.

Contact JS Wilson

If you do not use JS Wilson you may need to apply for an extension for the submission of your hardbound thesis. You can do this by emailing recordsandexams@admin.cam.ac.uk.

You should submit your e-thesis unless informed otherwise by the Student Registry.