Friday 3 April 2020

Postgraduate taught student email

Updated PGT Guidance on ISMs, Dissertations and Projects


Dear Postgraduate Taught Student,

I hope you are keeping well and safe. This email updates you on support for your Independent Study Modules, Dissertations and Projects, and also provides more general information about studying at this very difficult time.


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.

We have given a great deal of thought as to whether a numerical ‘safety net’ --- something we can offer to undergraduate students --- might be possible for postgraduates too. The ‘safety net’ guarantees students’ academic-year averages. It relies on being able to summarise reliably their ‘bankable’ performance before the crisis began. Unfortunately there isn’t sufficient information to do this for postgraduates.

The undergraduate ‘safety net’ depends on the fact that we are able to take a long-term view of what a student has achieved. As Postgraduate Taught students, you are with us for a much shorter period, and so we do not have a sufficient run of marks within your degree that shows what you are capable of. Many of you have completed only a small portion of the assessed work planned for you this year. Some have completed a single essay, or a poster presentation. We feel it would be unfair to extrapolate a whole award mark based on less than half of the total credits in the year. This could lead to you receiving a very high or a very low mark that does not reflect your capabilities. We really want to ensure that future employers or places of study are able to have an accurate reflection of your achievements.

We continue to explore other ways to support you towards a degree outcome that reflects your true ability. I referred to some of these earlier; the remainder of this email deals with the crucial area of dissertation support.


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.


Supporting your wellbeing

We are committed to supporting your health and wellbeing during this difficult time and have put in place a number of measures to ensure that you can access relevant support remotely. University of York students now have access to the Big White Wall. This is a 24/7 online peer and professional support service with trained counsellors. Big White Wall provides a safe space to share your thoughts and feelings. While on the site, you are totally anonymous to other members in the community.

We have also created a new web page all about looking after your wellbeing during the pandemic. It brings together and outlines the support available from the University, the Students’ Unions and has links to useful external advice.

These two new services complement existing University services, such as:

  • the Student Hub and Colleges who are happy to arrange telephone or email appointments to discuss anything that is worrying you - from advice on your private rental contract, to problems with your flatmate or reporting self-isolation.
  • the Open Door team continues to offer appointments. If you are new to Open Door, simply complete the online referral form and they will get in touch with you via email or telephone.
  • the Writing and Language Skills Centre, and the Math Skills Centre continue to support you improving your academic and language skills

The Students’ Unions are also working hard to help students during this time. YUSU and GSA have launched a range of online wellbeing initiatives. 'Keep Home and Carry On' from the GSA includes a calendar of online activities such as: fitness schedules, music playlists, family activities, online coffee meet-ups, book recommendations and even online karaoke. And, there is a YUSU Covid 19 Community Facebook page, for students to link up and swap tips, events, activities and ideas for dealing with the challenges we are all facing. In addition, the YUSU Advice & Support Centre (ASC) and the GSA Advice Service are available via email.

Please keep checking your University email and the Covid-19 webpages for news and updates. In the meantime please keep yourselves safe, and keep reaching out to us and each other.


Kind regards

John Robinson

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching, Learning and Students