The University of Newcastle, Australia

HDR COVID-19 FAQ

The University of Newcastle has a comprehensive framework for managing health emergencies and business continuity. We have a team working closely with NSW Health to ensure our response reflects the most up-to-date advice.

The goal of the University is to remain open and we will support HDR students to continue with their research plans, including possible changes depending on circumstances.

These specific COVID-19 FAQ for HDR Students supplement the information provided on the University’s COVID-19 Information for Students and HDR FAQs webpages.

I am feeling overwhelmed. What support is available to me?

We know that many of our HDR candidates are anxious about the current COVID-19 situation. It is perfectly normal to experience a range of emotions during times of uncertainty.

All of the University’s support services remain open at this time. Please note that though there may be some impact on face-to-face operations, alternative options – such as online counselling – are available.

For academic matters, wherever possible please first approach your supervisors for advice and guidance. Additionally, there are a number of other people who can offer assistance, including:

The University has an extended Easter recess, from Friday 10 April to Friday 24 April. During this time there will be limited support and on-campus services available.

I am unable to commence my program by the deadline listed in my offers of admission or scholarship – can I defer my commencement?

You may be eligible to be considered for a deferment up to a maximum of 12 months from the date of your Offer of Admission / Scholarship.

Please contact graduate-research@newcastle.edu.au for further advice specific to your circumstances.

I am unable to travel to Newcastle to commence my program. Can I commence by distance?

Applications will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will require students to demonstrate that this will not impede the viability of the research. You may complete the Off-Campus Enrolment form and submit it to graduate-research@newcastle.edu.au. Once the circumstances change and you are able to locate to Newcastle, you will then complete the On-Campus Enrolment form.

Please note that if you are the recipient of a living allowance scholarship, it will not be paid until you arrive in Australia and have an Australian bank account. However, this will then be backdated to your commencement date.

I am unable to physically attend campus – can I enrol as an off-campus student?

You will not be required to apply for an off-campus enrolment if you are unable to physically attend campus because of COVID-19 related issue, for instance carer’s responsibilities or due to illness or a need to self-isolate for a prolonged period. Instead, please discuss your situation with your Principal Supervisor any make any necessary arrangements to conduct your research remotely, if this is possible.

If there are significant disruptions to your ability to conduct your research, you are recommended to consider a leave of absence or part-time enrolment.

What do I need to do to ensure I receive all necessary software updates while working remotely?

Security and application upgrades usually occur in the background while you are connected to the University network.  For many people working from home over recent weeks these will not have been able to take place.

To maintain your computer’s security, and to ensure all your applications are running with the most up-to-date versions, it is important these upgrades are completed, including the latest Zoom upgrade. Zoom has advised that without the latest Zoom upgrade your Zoom software will stop working on 31 May 2020.

Connecting to the University network while on campus is the simplest way for this to happen. However, if this is not possible, IT Services has developed a one-off process which will enable upgrades to occur remotely (now and in future). For more information on the Zoom upgrade, see the ServiceUON article. If you will be connecting on campus in the next two weeks, there is nothing you need to do.

I have a University-funded scholarship – can I apply for an extension if my research has been impacted by COVID-19?

Requests for extensions for university-funded scholarships will be considered on a case-by-case basis by following existing processes.

Requests for extensions will need to demonstrate the circumstances which have been outside the student’s control. If the extension is sought because of the impact of COVID-19, evidence of how COVID-19 has resulted in a delay will need to be provided. You are advised to seek the support of your Principal Supervisor before making your formal request. Following that, please complete the Scholarship Extension Request form.

If you are experiencing difficulties or delays with your research resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic you are advised to maintain records of these as they are occurring, and any actions taken to deal with them, so that this evidence can be used in a later request for extension. Any such delays must also be recorded in your progress reports.

Requests for extensions, or questions around whether a scholarship could possibly be extended should not be submitted until 3 months prior to the current expiry date. As the situation is changing daily, it is not practical to provide individual advice ahead of time.

For as long as you can continue productive work your candidature and scholarship payment will be continued.

The Federal Government has recently announced that Research Training Program (RTP) scholarships may be extended to four and half years if a student is:

1.      Otherwise making satisfactory progress;

2.      The grounds for the extension relate to the student’s course of study being materially adversely impacted by COVID-19 restrictions; and

3.      The student was enrolled as at 1 March 2020 (or enrolled prior to this and on a leave of absence as at 1 March 2020).

I am facing major disruption to my research – can I apply for an extension of candidature?

Requests for extensions of candidature will be considered on a case-by-case basis by following existing processes. They should not be submitted until 3 months prior to the candidature end date.

Requests are to be made using the extension to candidature form, detailing the reasons for the extension request. It must include a completion plan, with the anticipated submission date, giving details of tasks and timelines. Approval must be obtained from your supervisor.

My research lab has been closed, will this impact on my scholarship?

If, for any reason, you are unable to continue with your experimental or practical research we encourage you to work with your supervisors to find other desk-based work that you can productively continue. Your candidature and living allowance payments will continue as long as you are able to continue with productive research work.

What leave options are available to me?

All candidates are entitled to four weeks annual leave. You do not need to complete a form to take annual leave but you must discuss each instance with your supervisor.

Scholarship recipients may also apply for up to 10 days paid sick leave a year, calculated on a pro-rata basis. This is approved by your supervisor. Additional sick leave is dependent on your scholarship conditions and will require the presentation of a medical certificate.

Given the quite extraordinary health emergency we are facing, the Dean of Graduate Research has decided to grant all HDR students, including casual and sessional staff, a safety net of up to 10 working days of Special COVID-19 leave. This will support you in the event that you contract COVID-19 or are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19 exposure and are not fit to or are unable to continue your research while in self-isolation.

Please note that the University will be on recess for an extended period following the Easter weekend, from Friday 10 April to Friday 24 April. During this time many staff will be on annual leave. The extended Easter recess does not apply to HDR students. However, if you are unable to continue working on your research while your supervisor or other staff on leave, you may consider taking annual leave. Scholarship recipients will continue to be paid their living allowance this period.

For significant disruptions please note that a leave of absence covers an entire semester (i.e. 1 January to 30 June for Semester 1; 1 July to 31 December for Semester 2). The application must be made using the leave of absence variation form. In exceptional circumstances the Assistant Dean Research Training (ADRT) for your Faculty may recommend to the Dean of Graduate Research that a shorter period of leave be considered.

Can I enrol as a part-time student?

To change your enrolment load from full-time to part-time you should first discuss your request with your supervisor.

If you are a scholarship holder, you must consider your scholarship conditions, as restrictions on part-time study may apply. For University-funded scholarships, the University may approve part-time study at its discretion where there are compassionate and compelling reasons to do so; the adverse impacts of COVID-19 fall into this category.

Holders of an international student visa are required to maintain full-time study.

How do I submit my thesis?

Your thesis is submitted electronically, via Blackboard.

In addition to your thesis, you must submit a completed Thesis Examination Application Form, signed by both yourself and your principal supervisor.

You may refer to the Thesis Submission Step-by-Step Guide and the FAQs available on the HDR Thesis Examination Blackboard page.

If your thesis exceed the file size limit of 40MB, please note there are many ways to reduce the file size of a PDF, though these will vary depending on the version of software you have installed.

You should be able to check and reduce your PDF file size by completing the following steps:

  • Press "Ctrl" and “D” on your keyboard to open the "Document Properties" window and check the current size of your PDF.
  • Look for the "File Size" field under the "Description - Advanced" section.
  • If the file exceeds 40MB, click “File" from the menu bar, highlight “Save As Other” from the drop-down menu and then select “Reduce Size PDF” to compress the PDF.

If your thesis contains creative components that cannot be compressed, please contact thesis@newcastle.edu.au to discuss alternative thesis submission arrangements.

If your thesis is due to be submitted during the extended Easter recess (i.e. Friday 10 April to Friday 24 April), your submission date is extended until Monday 27 April 2020. This will be adjusted after submission.

I have further questions regarding my research project – who do I contact?

Your first point of contact is your Principal Supervisor. You are encouraged, as far as possible, to maintain regular contact with your supervisory team throughout your degree.

The School HDR Coordinator or Deputy Head of School Research Training is available as an alternative contact for consultation. The Assistant Dean (Research Training) is the senior academic officer overseeing HDR in your Faculty. Your Faculty's Research Training Officer (RTO) will also be able to assist with any local administrative queries you may have. Each Faculty's contacts can be found on the list of responsible officers.

Graduate Research is your central point of contact for information and support on the administration and management of your research degree. Please note that while the team will continue to provide a full service to HDR students and university staff, we are now working from home until further notice. Reception is still being monitored so you are able to use the usual contact details for our office (phone and email):

T: +61 2 4921 6537
E: graduate-research@newcastle.edu.au

2020 Mid-Year Progress Reports

Q: I am not normally required to complete a Mid-Year Progress Report. Is this mandatory?

A: Yes. The 2020 Mid-Year Progress Report round is an opportunity for all candidates to note any impacts that COVID-19 may have had on their research, and an opportunity to detail transition plans or innovative solutions that were required in response to any disruption.

Q: Where can I note details of how COVID-19 has impacted my HDR study?

A: If you would like to note any impacts or transition plans resulting from COVID-19, please include them in the “OTHER COMMENTS” section  under the ‘Other Requirements’ tab in Section A of your Progress Report. When noting these details, please make sure that this information is specific and details how your research may have been impacted.

Timeframes and any proposed solutions going forward can be discussed with your supervisory team and will form part of Section C.

Q: I was on an approved Leave of Absence for Semester 1 2020. Do I need to complete a 2020 Mid-Year Progress Report?

A: Yes. If you are actively enrolled when the 2020 Mid Year Progress Report round is open, you are required to complete the report. However, you can note that you were on an approved Leave of Absence in your report.

Q: Will I need to complete a 2020 Annual Progress Report at the end of the year?

A: Yes. All candidates are required to complete an Annual Progress Report. More details will be released about this round in November/December.

Q: How do I complete my Progress Report?

A: You can complete your sections in myHub (through myUON) – via ‘My Research’ and ‘My RHD Progress Reports’. A Video Guide and PDF User Guide are also available.

Q: Is my Progress Report confidential?

A: Section A of your progress report is not shared with your supervisors and will be reviewed by your Head of School/Nominee, Assistant Dean (Research Training) and the Dean of Graduate Research. If the Head of School/Nominee or ADRT is part of your supervisory team, your report will be reviewed by another senior academic.

Please submit an honest account of your progress. Section C is a joint report, in which you and your supervisors will work together to complete.

Advice on Social Distancing and Hygiene

We understand that many of you would appreciate extra guidance to help you manage the social distancing and other additional hygiene measures needed due to COVID-19.

Q: Do I need to clean labs or shared spaces?

A: Please be assured additional cleaning routines have been applied to high use areas. This includes large offices and informal learning spaces. While it is preferable that spaces are cleaned between uses this is not practicable. NSW Public Health have proposed that the University places the onus on students and staff to supplement the cleaning for their own learning spaces (i.e. desks) and equipment. Consequently, IFS is providing sanitisation units at major entrances to buildings as well as wipe dispensers for desks and labs. Please use Maximo if you discover a sanitisation unit without supplies.

Q: Should I wear a mask, and can I require others in my shared space to do so?

A: Current health advice is that masks are only required when there is local community transfer or individuals are in very close contact. In such circumstances it is appropriate to wear a mask to protect others. Students can opt to wear a mask, but cannot be forced to do so unless there is a Public Health Order or a professional requirement. Masks are available for purchase from the University chemist (Callaghan) and most local pharmacies.

Q: What should I do if someone becomes ill in my HDR workspace?

A: Anyone who develops COVID-19 like symptoms should go home and get tested. To minimise the risk of further spread as your colleague travels home, please recommend they visit the closest hubs/library which carry mask hygiene packs. Anyone who collects a pack will be contacted and offered support and advice by our COVID team.

Q: I would like to put a notice in the HDR work space to remind everyone of their obligations. Am I allowed?

A: We recognise that managing physical distancing in shared areas is complex. It is not your role to police these areas. However, if worried, you could discuss with your School putting up a sign to remind everyone of their obligations. An example of an appropriate reminder may be:

“I’d like to remind everyone that unless you live in the same household as your neighbour you should maintain an appropriate social distance. Wipes/sanitiser stations are available around the building which you are encouraged to use. If you are unwell, please do not come onto campus. If you start to feel unwell with COVID-19 symptoms while on campus, please go home and get tested. Wear a mask when travelling home, these are available for anyone who is unwell to collect from our libraries and in Student Hubs.”

Advice on use of masks for HDR students

It is important that you comply with directions regarding masks in whichever area you are residing. For those on our campuses in NSW, you may be aware the NSW Premier has indicated in her latest advice (2 August) that she ‘strongly encourages’ the use of face masks in certain circumstances. Remember that face masks are your last line of defence. So, it’s most important that you:

  1. Stay at home if you are unwell and get tested,
  2. Try and always practice social distancing, and
  3. Use good cough and hand hygiene.

However, when social distancing is hard, the fourth line of defence is a mask. Masks may provide some advantage, and particularly act as a barrier should you be infected. Consequently, the University is updating its guidance and HDR students are guided to bring and use masks in the following situations.

  1. HDR students may use a mask at any time while on campus, including in classrooms.
  2. HDR students are strongly encouraged, but not required, to use masks when on campus if they are medically ‘at risk’ or when in enclosed areas where social distancing is difficult. This includes while on public transport and in some class settings such as labs where students need to move around.
  3. HDR Students are required to use masks where they have been informed there is a professional/accreditation requirement (such as for nursing or medical disciplines). While students are typically required to provide their own mask, anyone who occasionally forgets can collect a disposable mask from Student Hubs or a library.

HDR students can request a disposable mask in the following scenarios (although for sustainability reasons individuals are urged to purchase your own cloth masks if you can):

  1. Are a close contact of someone who is awaiting COVID-19 test results.
  2. Returned in the last 14-days from an area of increased testing and surveillance area.

Students can obtain a mask from Student Hubs and libraries.