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Effect of Covid-19 restrictions on PGR projects/theses 

Guidance for PGRs, departments and examiners

We recognise that the Covid-19 restrictions have had, and may continue to have, a significant impact on PGR’s research projects and/or theses. Many PGRs will have had/have to adapt their research project, sometimes significantly, in response to the Covid-19 restrictions and this may be a cause of concern.

In response to this situation, we are introducing an optional impact statement to enable a PGR to explain to their examiners how their project/thesis has changed as a consequence of the Covid-19 restrictions. There is no change to the criteria that a PGR needs to meet to obtain a particular award (section 2 of the Policy on Research Degrees) which means that the integrity of our awards is protected.

It is important to note that the impact statement is not designed to replace a request from a PGR for a leave of absence (LoA) or extension if a PGR believes that they have grounds for a LoA/extension due to the effect of the Covid-19 restrictions on their research project/thesis.

PGRs should be reassured that adapting research projects in the light of unforeseen circumstances is a normal part of research and they will not be disadvantaged for doing so, as long as they are still able to meet the criteria for the relevant award (section 2 of the Policy on Research Degrees) which are set at a threshold level. Indeed, the criteria for a PhD specifically highlights that successful candidates are expected to demonstrate: ‘the general ability to conceptualise, design and implement a project for the generation of new knowledge, applications or understanding at the forefront of the discipline, and to adjust the project design in the light of unforeseen problems;’ and will have ‘the qualities and transferable skills necessary for employment requiring the exercise of personal responsibility and largely autonomous initiative in complex and unpredictable situations, in professional or equivalent environments’.

Covid-19 and personal circumstances

The impact statement is designed to capture information about the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic restrictions on a PGR’s research project/thesis. If a PGR believes that the Covid-19 pandemic is having/has had a significant negative impact on their personal circumstances (e.g. led to ill-health or a challenging domestic situation) they should request a leave of absenceextension on those grounds. We have made some changes to how PGRs apply for a leave of absence/extension due to Covid-19 in order to make it quicker and simpler; for many of the ways a PGR might have been affected by the pandemic there is no need to provide evidence.

The approach we are taking at York is very similar to that now being adopted across many UK universities. As always, if a PGR wants to seek independent advice they should get in touch with the Graduate Student's Association advice team.

Impact statement

All PGRs who started on or before 31 March 2021 and will submit from 30/31 December 2020 onwards will have the option of submitting a short impact statement to give contextual information about the effect of the Covid-19 restrictions on their research project/thesis.

Submitted statements will be shared by PGRA with their examiners to enable them to understand how a PGR’s research project/thesis has altered as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions.

The statement will enable a PGR to explain, if they so choose:

  • the challenges that the Covid-19 restrictions presented for their research project/thesis, for example:
    • difficulty or delay in collecting or analysing data due to the closure of/restrictions on laboratories/other specialist facilities/expertise, curtailed/cancelled fieldwork due to travel restrictions or social distancing measures
    • reduced data in one or more theis chapters, and/or thesis chapters that are shorter and/or not as closely linked as might be expected

and how the planned (i.e. pre-Covid-19 restrictions) research would have fitted into the thesis’ narrative

  • what steps they took to address the challenges arising from the Covid-19 restrictions, in terms of adjusting the scope, design or phasing of their research project/thesis, for example:
    • one or more changes of research topic
    • a change in emphasis from empirical to theoretical research
    • a change of research location (fieldwork, archive etc.)
    • a change a method (e.g. running experiments remotely rather than in person, using simulation, moving from in-person data collection to online data collection, analysing existing data sets)
    • altering the timing of, or substituting, one or more experiments.

Submit an impact statement

You should complete the impact statement just before you submit your thesis for examination. Please upload the completed impact statement (as a PDF file) with your thesis.

PGR Covid-19 impact statement (MS Word , 39kb)

Examiners and the impact statement

Examiners are required to read the impact statement (if submitted) and may choose to explore the contents with the PGR during the oral examination (see below). Examiners should note that the University is not lowering standards: there is no change to the criteria that a PGR needs to meet to obtain a particular award (section 2 of the Policy on Research Degrees).

Most PGR programmes include an oral examination by default, which provides PGRs with a further opportunity (i.e. additional to the thesis itself) to demonstrate to the examiners how they have met the criteria for the award. Where MA/MSc (by research) programmes do not include an oral examination by default, examiners’ attention is drawn to the Policy on Research Degrees which states that ‘where not required by the programme, an oral examination may nevertheless be required for an individual candidate, at the discretion of the examiners, in order to ensure that... the candidate meets the standard required for the degree.’