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Program and scholarship leave (aka 'suspension of program')

Students may take leave from their PhD program if they are unable to pursue their research for personal or professional reasons. This is not the same as Annual leave. Any program and/or scholarship leave must be formally approved and an application should be submitted online well in advance of the date on which leave is envisaged to commence.

In the first instance, the student should write to you explaining why they wish to suspend their course. If you agree with the suspension of program, the student should then make an application for program leave via eForms; after this, it will come to you for endorsement. Once you have endorsed the application, it next goes to the Delegated Authority (the HDR Director) for approval and then to Central Administration for processing. Central will send the student an email confirming their leave.

If the change being applied for is retrospective (i.e., the start date for the leave is earlier than 'today's' date), then the student will need to contact the HDR Administrator.

Read more about Program and scholarship leave (aka 'suspension of program').

Change to program intensity/study load

Domestic students can change from full-time to part-time study and vice versa. Commonly this occurs for health, family, or employment reasons. International students cannot normally change their program intensity.

Students should discuss any proposed change in program intensity with you. If you agree with the proposed change in program intensity, the student should then make an application for the change leave via eForms; after this, it will come to you for endorsement. Once you have endorsed the application, it next goes to the Delegated Authority (the HDR Director) for approval and then to Central Administration for processing. Central will send the student an email confirming the change to intensity.

If the change being applied for is retrospective (i.e., the start date for the leave is earlier than 'today's' date), then the student will need to contact the HDR Administrator.

Read more about Change to program intensity/study load.

Change of research program

It is possible for students to move their HDR candidature to another school or college within the University. Students wishing to do so should discuss the matter with you and with your area's HDR Convenor. The student will then need to consult with the HDR Administrator about which form to fill out and who it should be signed by.
Before any of this can happen, however, the student needs to have found a new Chair of Panel who has agreed to take the student on. Once a new Chair has indicated their willingness to take the student on, this is what happens:
  1. The student fills out the Application for Change of Research Program form
  2. The form then comes to you for endorsement before going to Crawford's Delegated Authority (DA, the HDR Director) for approval
  3. The form then goes to the other area's DA for approval
  4. The new Chair of Panel (in the other area) signs the form
  5. The other area's local administrator send the form to Central Administration for processing
  6. The student moves once all is finalised.

Changes to research program can only become effective on four dates a year, i.e., there are quarterly restrictions on when students can move to another area. Contact the HDR Administrator for more information.

Read more about Change of research program.

Extension of program

If the student's thesis will not be completed and submitted by the maximum submission date, they must request an extension of program. This should be requested two-to-three months before the end-of-program date.

A request for extension of program can be made only on academic grounds, that is, it must be related to progress of the research, and all the student's relevant milestones should be up-to-date. There should also be a strong indication that the thesis will be completed and submitted within the period of extension requested. The maximum extensions at any one time that can be sought are 6 months full-time or 12 months part-time. Students are required to finish their PhD within 5 years (if they are full-time); this includes time taken for leave. Students can apply for extensions after the 5-year limit, although the School Director might not approve the application.

The request should be made online by the student, after which an eForm will come to you for endorsement. From here, the form will go to the School Director for consideration (as there might be school-wide financial implications to consider), and then finally to the HDR Director) for final sign-off.

Some students keep wanting to extend their program and extend and extend it again; in such cases, you should consider whether or not the candidature should be terminated.

Read more about Extension of program, including important information about timeframes for applying for extensions.

Withdrawal, unsatisfactory progress, and termination of candidature

Supervisors are sometimes presented with situations in which students are clearly struggling to meet the requirements of the degree, whether they be intellectual and academic or administrative. In such instances, three options are available: withdrawal of the student from the PhD, management of the student for unsatisfactory progress (which is similar to managing underperformance by staff), or termination of the candidature.

Withdrawal
Students can withdraw from their HDR program at any time by providing notice in writing to the University Registrar. Sometimes this is the best option for all concerned, especially where there is agreement over the state of progress (or otherwise) of the candidature.

Managing unsatisfactory progress
If you consider your student's progress to be marginal or unsatisfactory, you should first consult with the supervisory panel. If the panel agrees with your assessment, then you must notify the student in writing and state that a failure to remedy this situation could result in the termination of the student's candidature.

You must then work with the student to develop an action plan to assist them to get back on track (this is akin to managing the underperformace of staff). This plan should feature clearly defined tasks and associated delivery dates, and should also be put in writing. You must then closely monitor your progress towards the accomplishment of these tasks. If the student meets the requirements of the action plan then they will return to the standard progress monitoring cycle. If they do not, you should request that the HDR Director make a recommendation to the College Dean that the candidature be terminated.

If there are other things getting in the way of a student's progress, such as personal issues, then program and scholarship leave or a change to program intensity/study load could be considered togive the student time to address those issues.

Termination of candidature
Termination of candidature can be recommended if the student has not pursued the program to the satisfaction of the Delegated Authority (DA), or if the student has contravened a rule or condition applied by the DA relating to the program (see section 48 of the Research Awards Rule 2016). Of course, the DA will normally be acting on your advice, here, so you should consider very, very carefully the case you are making for termination.

Most terminations are recommended on the basis of progress, i.e., the student has failed to meet their milestones; fewer terminations are recommended on academic grounds, i.e., the student is failing to meet the intellectual and academic requirements of the program.

Failure to meet milestones
Failure to meet milestones is often a sign that a student is struggling in some way: perhaps the student is not responding to the intellectual guidance they have received, or maybe they are feeling pushed in one research direction when they would really rather go in another, and so progress has stalled. Many can feel overwhelmed by the task at hand, and so they 'drop off the grid' and simply avoid their milestones altogether. Still others might be experiencing problems at home or with their mental and/or physical health, and these things are getting in the way of their being able to focus on the PhD. In other instances, however, it is the lack of adequate administrative and/or intellectual guidance from the supervisor is the problem: the student is entirely ready to present their TPR, for example, but the supervisor has not responded to multiple requests for feedback from the student, and so the student does not feel in a position to set a seminar time ... and this makes their milestones overdue.

If your student is failing to meet their milestones, you should seek to find out why. If the problem simply lies with your needing to provide the student with some comments on their paper before they present it at a seminar, then things are easily solved. If, however, the issues confronted are more intractable, extensive, and prolonged (e.g, physical or mental health problems, personal problems, lack of academic and/or intellectual proficiency), then you will need to consider whether these problems can be realistically addressed, supported, and resourced, or whether a recommendation for the termination of candidature would be appropriate.

Failure to meet academic and/or intellectual requirements
Students sometimes -- and maybe at different points in their candidature -- contend with the intellectual and/or academic aspects of their program. This might be because they have poor academic skills (e.g., reading, writing, time management, critical thinking), or because they are not intellectually prepared for or capable of meeting the standards required to obtain a PhD. The question for you, as a supervisor, is, Can the situation be remedied or remediated? Or are things rather more insoluble than this? In the former case, the student can be provided with the necessary assistance and professional development opportunities to get them up to speed; start by getting them to book in with the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor. The latter case is less-easily tackled -- that does not mean, however, that it should be avoided and that such students should be simply 'waved through'; after all, supervisors have moral, ethical, and, indeed, legal obligations to ensure that students graduating into the degree meet the standards of the degree.

If you are genuinely doubtful about your student's ability -- even with appropriate support, assistance, and resources -- to meet the base level of scholarship necessary, then you will need to contemplate whether or not to recommend termination of candidature. Allowing a student to continue in a program when they cannot evidence a standard of intellectual and academic rigour necessary for the degree could lead to the following possible outcomes:
  • Supervisors cannot give the student the time and attention the student needs to complete the thesis to the required standard.
  • The student-supervisor relationship can break down, or not get off to a decent start to begin with, and as a consequence, the student can be neglected under our care.
  • Supervisors might not, in the end, sign off on a piece of work whose standard does not satisfy them.
  • Examiners might fail a thesis or request major re-writes.
  • We can waste three or four years (more, in the case of domestic students) of a student’s life because we didn’t terminate their candidature when we should have done.

Formal procedures
Regardless, if you decide to proceed with recommending termination (via the Delegated Authority), you should have a very clear paper-trail that evidences the steps you took to assist the student, whether they be steps to help them achieve the intellectual and academic standard required, or steps to help them meet their milestones.

A recommendation for termination of candidature is presented to the College Dean (through the DA, in Crawford's case, the HDR Director) who will provide the student with 20 working days to present a case, orally or in writing, as to why this should not occur. The Dean will then decide if the termination is to be put into effect. Following the Dean’s decision to terminate a candidature, the student has two further rights of appeal through the Deputy Vice Chancellor.

Concluding remarks
Termination of candidature is rarely an easy and stress-free process -- for anyone. Some students will strongly contest any termination proceedings and in such cases you should be ready for a protracted process that involves your careful documentation of any all assistance, support, and information that has been provided to the student. Remember to keep all communications focused on the issue of termination, and not on the student. And although we have a duty of care to students to give them all the assistance necessary to help them succeed, remember that we also have a duty of care to staff: if you are feeling stressed, distressed, upset, or confused by the whole termination business, then be sure to seek out support yourself. Colleagues and other Crawford staff such as the HDR Administrator and the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor can be helpful in such situations.

Perhaps some broader points for consideration to help guide us in such situations might include:
  • We have a moral obligation to work closely with students who are struggling to give them every opportunity to succeed.
  • We have an ethical obligation to the Academy to terminate the candidature of any student who is not able to meet the standard or milestones necessary for PhD research.
  • We have a legal obligation to follow the procedures laid out in legislation under the Research Awards Rule 2016 and to the standards laid out in the AQF specification for the Doctoral Degree.

Read more about Unsatisfactory progress, termination, and withdrawal.
See also Termination of your research program and the Research Awards Rule 2016.

Mental health

Issues surrounding mental health are common amongst PhD students: some students come to us with mental health problems and others develop them during the course of their degree. Depression is probably the most common mental illness experienced by PhD students at Crawford, followed closely by anxiety -- although less common psychological and psychiatric conditions are also present amongst our student population. You, of course, are not paid to be a counsellor or mental health expert, and neither might you have the experience or expertise in mental illness to be of assistance to a student who requires such help. Nevertheless, you should be able to direct students to appropriate help and support services, should the need arise. You might want to suggest that students book in to see the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor, can provide pastoral support to students, or you could direct them to the Mental health resources described in the student section of this website.