An open letter from Rory Duncan, UKRI Director of Talent and Skills, containing an update on extensions for doctoral students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dear WRTDP Doctoral Researchers,
This page contains the latest information regarding the impacts of Covid-19 and is updated on a regular basis. We are committed to providing answers to your questions, and support to the WRDTP community wherever possible. If you have any questions after reading, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of the team will be in touch as soon as possible.
We suggest that the UKRI webpages should be your first port of call for up to date guidance and correspondence surrounding Covid-19. The section ‘Support for students’ in particular, outlines the guidelines which have been issued to DTPs nationwide, and have informed the WRDTP’s decision-making and next steps.
We have added some WRDTP-specific information and some FAQs below which should help answer some of the typical queries we have received from students during this time.
We would urge students to email the WRDTP Office with any queries or problems not covered by the guidance below. We are working as usual, albeit remotely, and are here to help in any way that we can.
- Homeworking for students
- Student health and well-being
- Training, events and placements
- Additional costs
- 2020/21 new starters
- Part-time students
Can I work on my research from home?
Yes, and you should try to do this if at all possible.
Will I still get my ESRC funding while my University is closed?
You should still receive your maintenance payments as usual. Your fees will continue to be paid directly until the end of your third year.
I am close to submitting or have already submitted, how will I be affected?
Your department or school will be best placed to let you know how to submit your thesis, and will make arrangements for your viva voce to be held virtually. Please speak to your supervisor in the first instance if you have queries about this.
How can I stay in touch with the WRDTP/my cohort?
Whilst we are all doing our bit and socially distancing ourselves, please do remember that you are part of a community and at this time in particular we all need each other to stay mentally healthy. We will continue to send out emails about training, tweets about current opportunities, and our DTP Matters newsletters where you can catch up on news and student experiences from your peers.
Will the WRDTP Annual Conference take place this year?
The WRDTP Annual Conference will be held on a virtual basis over a number of days in June, and will focus on the theme of well-being in research. More information can be found on the training section of our website. All sessions will be recorded and added to the VIRE, so if you are unavailable at the specified date and time, you will still be able to benefit from the sessions.
Where can I access further support if I need it?
We recommend meeting regularly with your supervisory team too, who can direct you to the support mechanisms which are available within your HEI at this time. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact us too and we’ll do our best to help – email@example.com. Don’t forget to keep in touch with your networks; Google Hangouts and Skype are free resources so use them!
In addition to the above, please find below a list of links to helpful resources for support:
Department for Education helpline
The Department for Education has a helpline to answer questions about coronavirus concerns related to education for staff and students.
You can contact 0800 046 8687 (opening hours are 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday) or email DfE.firstname.lastname@example.org with any further questions.
My funding will end between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021, can I request an extension?
All students with funding end dates between 1 March 2020 and 31 March 2021 are eligible to apply for a funded extension of up to six months. The WRDTP has contacted all affected students and supervisors via your institution’s Scholarships Officers, and the deadline to confirm whether or not you required an extension was Wednesday 20 May 2020.
The WRDTP has submitted this information to the ESRC, and on Friday 5 June, informed Scholarships Officers of the outcomes of all extension requests, who in turn will inform all affected students. If your extension has been approved, colleagues at your institutions will update your Je-S records accordingly. If you have any questions about this process, please contact your institution’s Scholarships Officer in the first instance.
My funding will end on or after 1 April 2021, what actions should I be taking? Can I request an extension?
All students with funding end dates on or after 1 April 2021 were encouraged by the WRDTP Director to keep a log of how their research had been affected by Covid-19 back in April (a copy of the email can be found further down this web page).
What training opportunities are available to me during this time?
The WRDTP has decided to postpone all face-to-face training events for the foreseeable future. Where possible all planned training will either be rearranged to a later date, most likely in the new academic year, and on a virtual basis wherever social distancing measures are in place.
In some cases we may be able to offer online training sessions and information regarding this will be communicated to students as and when it becomes available. If you are concerned or unsure if a training session is to be delivered please contact us at email@example.com.
The training web pages and calendar will be updated regularly with developing information do please keep checking for more information. Where participants and session-holders have given consent, materials from online training sessions will be uploaded to the VIRE shortly after they have taken place.
Could I use my RTSG for additional online training?
Definitely, this would be a good time to use these funds for this type of training.
I am currently working/studying overseas, how does Covid-19 affect my fieldwork/placement/visit?
UKRI have confirmed that DTPs should be in regular contact with their students on any overseas placements. In the first instance, students and their supervisors should check their HEI’s insurance cover for any repatriation to the UK in cases of pandemic. Any additional costs associated with returning to the UK will be met by the WRDTP. Students should in the first instance follow Goverment advice and that of their research organisation – if your RO requires you to return to the UK for example, you should do so if at all possible, or seek special dispensation from your university to remain overseas. If you have any questions about this, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can put you in touch with the right people at your HEI to ask.
Can I apply for an extension if I want to undertake a placement in future?
Generally, UKRI do not expect an extension to be granted on the basis of the need to undertake a placement. However, an exception for placements that are critical to completing the research project or that are an integral part of the training scheme should be made. Extensions should not be given to support other placements. UKRI recognise that this means some students will not get the training experience they expected, but priority must be given to support students to complete a doctoral-level research project.
Where the ability to conduct a placement is critical to completing the research project, or is an integral part of the training scheme, this should be considered as part of discussions for the need and length of an extension.
I have been able to reschedule my planned visit/placement, but the new dates will fall in the last six months of my PhD, is this permitted?
Although students are not usually allowed to plan placements or visits overseas that will fall into the last six months of their PhD, The ESRC have given DTPs more flexibility due to current circumstances. If you think this may affect you and want to run the details of an essential placement or visit by us, please email email@example.com and we’ll be able to discuss this further with you.
More details about planned events and activities can be found here under the Events, activities and placements section.
My travel plans have been impacted by Covid-19 restrictions, what do I need to do?
Where travel is impacted, if researchers or students cannot travel due to government/official advice, or it poses a risk to the individual (due to an underlying medical condition etc.), this can be covered by the WRDTP in line with any other cost. However, we’d ask students to check with their HEI’s travel insurance providers in the first instance to see if costs for their trip can be claimed back via this route.
When will I be able to resume planning for overseas visits, fieldwork or conference attendance?
We would advise you not to book or pay for any travel to or accommodation in any countries to which access is already limited or blocked. Given the rapidly developing situation, this advice effectively amounts to recommending that you do not book or pay for any research or conference travel.
It’s very difficult to predict when travel can resume for the purposes above, and all of our partner institutions will have slightly different guidelines, but on the whole, we would assume that the Goverment’s position will form the guiding principles for universities to follow. Students must adhere to their HEI’s guidelines surrounding travel, and the WRDTP will defer to the RO’s judgement in any case. We will let all students know as soon as possible when we are able to consider funding overseas visits, fieldwork or conference attendance – this will be communicated via email, our website and Twitter.
Can I still apply for funding under one of the ESRC’s additional funding scheme calls?
Due to the continuing impact of COVID-19 on travel, work and study both in the UK and abroad, we have suspended all applications for OIV, OFE, DLT and CIS with immediate effect. This decision has been made in line with other ESRC DTPs/DTCs and will remain thus until we have a clearer picture of what will happen in the future and are able to assess applications accordingly, and in a timely manner.
Any decision to re-open OIV, OFE, DLT and CIS applications will be subject to advice being shared at the time regarding travel and working/studying outside the home. We will let you know as soon as possible when we are in a position to consider applications to these schemes again.
Please note that applications for RTSG Top-up will remain open, but we will be unable to consider funding for travel, accommodation, in person conference/training/summer school attendance and UK-based fieldwork at this time. For more information on the alternative items/activities covered by the RTSG Top-up scheme, please visit the website: https://wrdtp.ac.uk/rtsg-top-
If you have any queries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get back to you.
Can I get help with increased home-working costs? Can I use my RTSG to buy equipment in order to help me work from home?
As broadband is now considered a utility, UKRI will not cover the costs of providing broadband or enhancing it.
UKRI will not provide extra funding for office equipment, however, the purchase of equipment to support students’ homeworking may be considered by the WRDTP and the costs drawn from our grant if such support is needed by individuals. If students would like to use their RTSG for home-working equipment, please contact your institution’s Scholarships Officer, who will liaise with the WRDTP team regarding your request.
Please note that before purchasing new items, students should explore with their department, the possibility of collecting equipment from campus if it is something they usually have access to in the course of their studies. If the purchase of equipment is deemed necessary, please bear in mind that as per the ESRC’s Postgraduate Funding Guide, any equipment purchased via a student’s RTSG in excess of £200 will remain in the custody of the RO following completion of the award.
Your RTSG funds should be accessible as normal for all expenditure which is not impacted by Covid-19. Please speak to your department or school’s finance team if you need any guidance on how to make purchases during this period.
Can I access any dedicated student hardship funds through the WRDTP?
Usually your institution would be the first place to enquire about dedicated student hardship funds. If you wish to explore any options for additional funding, please liaise with your department or school, or your Scholarships Officer in the first instance.
I have been awarded a studentship and I’m due to start in October 2020, what are my options?
The UKRI has acknowledged the need for flexibility for students due to start their doctoral studies in October 2020. This situation will be reviewed nearer the time, but research organisations are encouraged to indicate the potential for late starts in offer letters.
The WRDTP is part of ongoing discussions with all of our partner institutions to confirm their plans for the new intake of doctoral students (and for our 1+3 students, their plans for the MA Social Research programmes). If you have been awarded a studentship from the WRDTP and have questions about when/how your studies will commence in the new academic year , please contact the PGR Admissions Officer in your department or school in the first instance. If you are unsure of who to contact, email email@example.com and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
I can’t work on my thesis as much as I would normally, should I temporarily apply for part-time study and then switch back later when the situation has improved?
UKRI recognises that many students will be unable to work their usual hours during the crisis. The purpose of extensions for final year students is, in part, to ensure that these students can complete their studies. They do not need to move to part-time modes of study.
However, there may be circumstances in which a student wants to change their mode of study in response to the pandemic, for example where it has resulted in changes to personal or household circumstances (such as a partner no longer working), or as part of redeployment activity. In such cases a change in the mode of study is permitted, whether from full to part-time or vice versa. UKRI will allow the number of mode changes to exceed the maximum set out in the UKRI standard Training Grant Terms and Conditions where the additional mode changes are directly related to the pandemic.
More details can be found here under ‘Part-time students’.
UKRI are aware that due to the coronavirus outbreak that there is an increase in demand on the clinical service and that students may be asked to undertake additional clinical sessions. Although they expect doctoral students to fully concentrate on their research, they understand that this is an exceptional situation and they are fully supportive of any decision to reduce the time spent on research during the outbreak.
If students do decide to reduce the time spent on research, then UKRI will agree an extension to the studentship. However, students may wish to consider whether a suspension would be appropriate. If there will be any on-going expenditure for the student, then an extension would be required.
COVID-19 related research
If it has been agreed that a student’s doctoral research project can be repurposed towards COVID-19 research, their funding can continue as normal. A costed extension to cover the time needed to adapt the research direction could be covered, in the same way as other case-by-case extensions.
Where a student is undertaking COVID-19 research outside of their doctoral studies (e.g. seconded), in the first instance the funding for the individual during this time should come from the COVID-19 research funding and the studentship suspended if possible. We will consider supporting some modest consumable/running costs (e.g. maintaining animal colonies) during the absence period, but if such on-going expenditure is required then a studentship extension would be required.
More information on the above can be found in the UKRI guidelines.
WRDTP Director’s initial announcement on COVID-19
Email sent 03/04/2020
Dear WRDTP Doctoral Researchers
We’d like to thank everyone for their patience and resilience over the last couple of weeks of rapid change. The WRDTP team have been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that we understand the current situation and its implications for yourselves as students and your research.
Last week we met online with other UK DTP Directors and the ESRC’s Director for Skills and Strategy, Frances Burlow. The ESRC outlined its position regarding the impact of COVID-19 on Doctoral and Postdoctoral research students, which has informed our guidance below:
Sickness leave related to COVID-19 – The WRDTP will continue to follow its standard sickness policy throughout this period, with students able to claim up to 13 weeks sick pay within a 12 month period. If you become sick during this period of lockdown, please notify your home institution as soon as possible so that they can pass this information on to us. You do not need to provide a doctor’s note for the first 7 days of sickness, however due to the current circumstances and government advice we will also be flexible if you are unable to provide a medical note as evidence of sickness which extends beyond 7 days. If you have already used your 13 weeks sickness allowance within the last 12 months for other reasons you will be eligible for further support if you fall ill with COVID-19.
Extensions – We are aware that, for some of you, the current lockdown will affect your ability to continue with your planned research, and that you may be considering whether to apply for a funded extension. Please be aware that whilst the ESRC are is understanding of this situation and the added complications the pandemic has caused, it has stated that it does not intend to provide the WRDTP with any additional funds to cover the cost of extensions. Any extensions will be paid for from the WRDTP’s existing funding resource, which is currently allocated to future studentships. Please only apply for an extension if your research is severely compromised by the current situation, and if there is no recourse to adjust or adapt your research plans in response. We would all like to ensure that funds are available in the coming years for future students and their research projects.
If you are in the last 3 months of your current stipend, and you are thinking of applying for an extension, please speak to your supervisor and local institution’s PGR team for advice on how to apply. We are also happy to speak to you via firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re at an earlier stage of your studies but think that the current situation will affect your completion timeframe significantly, our advice at this point is to keep a log of how this is affecting you, including dates, planned activities which will be delayed etc. This can then be used as evidence later to apply for a funded extension.
In all cases please remember, you are all intelligent, sensible and adaptable people, and we are here to support you. Whilst the current situation may have many of you biting your knuckles and wondering what this will mean for your research, there will be a solution!
The 2020/21 ESRC WRDTP Studentship and Postdoctoral Competitions – Our intention is to commit to the existing time frames for this year’s competitions. Studentship applications are currently being scored and the panel meeting to award scholarships will take place online next week. Successful applicants will be informed in due course, and we are hopeful that the new cohort of students will start as planned in semester 1 of the 2020/21 academic year. The postdoctoral fellowship competition will also proceed as planned with the panel meeting online in May and successful applicants being informed shortly after this meeting.
Travel – Please comply with current UK guidelines when considering any non-essential travel. Travel for research is not classed as essential travel, do not put yourself or other people at risk.
Online training and resources – Our Pathway Directors and Matthew Wheeler, our TEL Manager, are currently working on ways to deliver training sessions and VIRE resources for you all to participate in online. We hope to deliver our key training sessions, including Working Beyond Disciplines for MA Social Research Students and the AQUALM Taster day in May, with several other Pathway training sessions coming to a screen near you soon. Look out for our emails from the email@example.com to alert you to upcoming sessions and how to login.
Social connectedness – Whilst we are all doing our bit and socially distancing ourselves, please do remember that you are part of a community and at this time in particular we all need each other to stay mentally healthy. We will continue to send out emails about training, tweets about current opportunities, and we will be releasing the next DTP Matters Newsletter next week where you can catch up on news and student experiences from your peers. Please keep in touch with your networks; Google Hangouts and Skype are free resources so use them! And if you plan any interesting social hangouts online, get together for a movie night via hangouts or have a distance dance party in your kitchen, please tweet about it and tag #wrssdtp to share.
Please keep checking in to the UKRI guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic, as any updates to policy, funding or sickness will be announced there first. If you need the team at any point during this time, please do email us at the enquiries inbox. We are still connected and will do what we can to help.
Professor Charlie Burns