Guidance on ISMs, Dissertations and Projects

Supporting Masters, PGCert and PGDip students

While everyone is living in unprecedented circumstances, Postgraduate Taught students typically have demands and difficulties beyond those of many others.

We recognise how unsettling the past few weeks have been for you, and we are committed to explaining how our decisions on policy and the provision of support apply to you.

Many of the steps we have taken to support all students are particularly relevant to those with family responsibilities or doing part time work, especially postgraduates.

For example, the extended durations of online assessments and the revised exceptional circumstances policy are to help you to perform well, or if your personal situation means you cannot, quickly and straightforwardly get an appropriate adjustment.

We have also been thinking hard about how we need to adapt the way we recognise students’ achievement in their degree award and transcript. Postgraduate taught students will receive a degree transcript that summarises the difficult and extraordinary conditions under which you have had to complete your studies. We will enable you to demonstrate your ability despite the context of the pandemic, in ways that reflect the nature of your degree, as well as the flexibility that comes from the independence of your study.

The following guidance is an update on support for your independent study modules, dissertations and projects.

Why there isn't a 'safety net' for PGT students

The idea of a safety net is that if we can form a reliable estimate of how someone would have done across the whole academic year, we can use that number as a guaranteed minimum for the year average. To find out more, see our undergraduate safety net page.

At postgraduate level, we have introduced other protections in the way that we award merits and distinctions (see below). We haven't introduced a safety net because we have concerns about the validity and robustness of the estimator, the equity between students who have different amounts of credits in the bag, and how we could apply it to different student types eg those that are part-time. This video explains some of these issues in more detail.

We've also produced a video explaining our move to online assessments, including how we're trying to reduce stress for our students and ensure that their degrees still have the value that they always have had. You can watch this on our teaching, learning, assessment and progression page.

Protecting and supporting the academic achievement of our PGT students

Normally, to get a distinction, you need to get at least 70% overall, AND at least 70% in your Independent Study Module (ISM- your dissertation or project). You also cannot have failed anything. To achieve a merit you need to get 60% in each of those things, and can only have failed 20 credits, with no marks below 40%.

To reflect the challenges facing our students we are introducing more flexibility in how we will calculate a classification of merit or distinction.

For students enrolled on a taught postgraduate degree right now, we will award distinctions to any student who receives an average of 70% in their taught modules OR their ISM. We’ll also allow you to have up to 20 credits in modules that you have failed at first attempt, so long as you get a mark of at least 40 in all of them.

Similarly, we will award merits to any student who receives an average of 60% on their taught modules OR at least 60% on their ISM. You’ll be able to receive a merit with up to 40 credits of modules that you’ve failed at first attempt, so long as no more than 20 credits have marks below 40%.

Please note: This doesn’t apply to York Online courses, but other measures are being put in place for those degrees, which have a very different structure. We are working to determine whether it can apply to HYMS masters degrees.

Like the undergraduate safety net, this provides a protective factor for your degree classification. Importantly, students still need to meet all the usual progression and award criteria, ie you need to pass your degree as normal.

Unlike the undergraduate approach however, we cannot provide right now an indication of your best possible outcome in advance of you completing all of your assessments. This is why we are not calling it a 'safety net'. But you will have a very good idea of what your average is on your taught component, and this should provide you with a similar level of reassurance when your department meets to determine if you’ll progress to the ISM section of the degree (mid- to late-May for most departments).

Further explanation can be found in the email sent to all PGT students from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students on Monday 27 April.

Extensions and sits as if for the first time under exceptional circumstances

Students on taught postgraduate degrees will be able to ask for extensions on coursework and ‘sits as if for the first time’ of exams at a later date under the special variations to the Exceptional Circumstances Policy without the requirement of evidence. But unlike undergraduates, who will have to wait until the next academic year to join a following cohort if they aren’t able to get a full run of marks by the start of the next academic year, we will be much more flexible in the setting of replacement assessment dates. So you won’t have to wait until next spring or summer to make up assessments that you haven’t been in a position to write during this difficult time.

Supervision and support

We understand how important your masters dissertation is to you.

Therefore, please be assured the University is committed to supporting you through your independent study module, dissertation or project. Because each independent project is unique we recognise that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the social distancing measures will be different for every student.The individual circumstances in which you find yourself will dictate the type and level of support you will need to complete your dissertation. Your support requirements may also change at any point during the next few months. Your dissertation supervisor should have spoken to you about what you had planned to do for your project , and about possible adjustments that can be made to your plan to allow you to continue during the period of social distancing. If that conversation hasn’t yet happened, please contact your supervisor now.

If you don’t already have a dissertation supervisor, speak to your ‘normal’ supervisor or email your department office, and they will point you to the right person. Departments have already considered how students might be able to access additional online resources, data sets, and human participants in the new environment, and we aim to allow the majority of our Masters students to continue to pursue their topic and to submit dissertations that display their high level of skill and ingenuity.

Requesting an extension

Some kinds of projects will be more affected than others. If your currently planned work cannot be done without access to specific facilities or resources, your department can help you to consider alternatives.

However, if appropriate changes are not possible, or if your future plans or funding are reliant on your having seen through the original plan, you can also apply for an extension to your registration. This will enable you to complete your work when you have access to the resources you need again. Extension requests will not require evidence, but will require that you and your supervisor present a reasonable timetable for the completion of the award.

We recommend that if you choose to request an extension, you continue to make the most of this current period of time. Please discuss with your supervisor how to best use the time available to you, for example you might spend the time completing your literature review, undertaking preliminary research, working on methodology or planning your project between now and the delayed submission date. The advantage of an extension, over a Leave of Absence, is that you will continue to have access to all of the digital, pastoral, and academic resources of the University during the restrictions we currently face, and we can continue to support you to make progress to allow you to complete your project as soon as possible once things return to normal.

Requesting a leave of absence

At any point during the remainder of the year, your ability to study may be hindered or halted completely for example by serious illness, by lack of internet or available IT equipment, by family or work commitments, or in the worst case, by bereavement. If you find that you are not in a position to study for an extended period of time, please discuss your situation with your supervisor. Extensions can be allowed on exams, coursework and on dissertations, and in some rare cases a Leave of Absence until the relevant point in the following academic year may be the best option for you. If you do need to do that, you can ask for a Leave of Absence without having to provide evidence, so long as you let us know before your break begins.

Choosing the right options for you

We know that our students’ plans for the future vary hugely, as do their reasons for pursuing a Masters degree. The University (your supervisors, your department, your college, and central support services) are all committed to helping you to achieve your very personal academic goals. Extensions might be exactly the right solution for some, and for others, commitments after September might mean that the timeframe for completing your dissertation is fixed. We know that the support and advice needed will vary from person to person, whether you are undertaking a masters degree to fulfill a lifelong passion for the subject or you are studying as a stepping stone to further study or to progress your career.

Whatever your circumstances, or motivations for study, an honest conversation with your supervisor can help you make choices that are right for you in a way that will allow you to fulfil your goals notwithstanding the unprecedented circumstances.

Other sources of academic support

The Library services continue to provide you support with your resources, academic skills, research and subject specific enquiries.