Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- I need to complete a form, where do I find it?
All forms are available here
- I need Leave of Absence, what do I need to do and what will happen?
If you experience some health, family or other problems that make it difficult for you to continue working on your PhD research project, you may need to consider applying for leave of absence. Funded PhD researchers should be aware that they may normally only be allowed Leave of Absence for a maximum of one year, and that their maintenance allowance is suspended during any Leave of Absence. It is also important to note that Leave of Absence is not permitted if the main reason is to take up paid employment. Please read the terms and conditions of your award at DfE or VCRS as appropriate; for other awards please go to Fees and Funding and follow the appropriate links).
If you do decide to request leave of absence, please complete the relevant form available here. Please read the instructions carefully in relation to providing medical or other evidence to support your request. If your application is granted, your expected submission date will also be amended accordingly.
Funding for conferences and fieldwork
- Does the Doctoral College fund conferences, fieldwork and other funding for PhD researchers?
No, the Doctoral College distributes funding to Faculties, who are responsible for the research training and support of PhD researchers.
- I want to apply to present my work at a conference, what should I do first?
In the first instance you should discuss this with your supervisors, who will be able to advise you and read a draft submission. If the submission is accepted, you will need to ask the relevant Research Director (your supervisor will advise, or see the list of Faculty Contacts) for prior approval. Before you do this, you will need to estimate the full costs of attendance (including registration, travel, accommodation and any other foreseeable expenses) and include brief details and a total amount when you email the request. If your request is for more than £1000 you will also need to provide a Business Case (outlining the purpose of the trip, the expected benefits, the estimated costs, and justification for the trip), the form for this will be available from the same person who gave you the Prior Approval form.
- How do I find and complete a prior approval form?
Your supervisor will advise on where to obtain the form, often from an administrator (see Faculty Contacts). Completing the form is straightforward but please ensure that estimated costs are likely to cover actual expenditure, as you may not be able to claim the full amount if you have underestimated. While you are away, please ensure that you keep original receipts for expenses as bank or credit card statements are not accepted by finance. It is possible to ask for an advance payment of part of the total amount, if you would find it difficult to pay expenses out of pocket.
- How do I claim money I spent on a conference visit or field trip when I return?
You will need to gather all your receipts and complete a claim form, obtainable from the same person who provided the Prior Approval form. Only receipted expenses can be claimed back. Payment may take a few weeks. It is advisable that you photocopy or scan the entire claim including receipts in case of loss in the internal mail system.
- I’m planning a period of study or fieldwork abroad, what administrative preparations do I need to make?
You will need to first of all complete the relevant form (available here) which includes a risk assessment, details for your trip and a section for supervisors to confirm how supervision will be maintained during your period away from the University. You also need to obtain details of the University travel insurance, and print the summary policy to take with you. If you will be working at another organisation during your trip, you should also ask for confirmation that they have insurance cover in place for any damages or injuries arising from negligence of another party.
- Where can I find information about Research Training?
The Researcher Development Programme (RDP) at Ulster is an integral part of your doctoral programme. The RDP offers a suite of workshops, specialist skills sessions, online courses and personal development planning activities which will provide you with opportunities to gain the experience and skills required to be a competent and professional researcher.
- The training I need is not available as part of the RDP, what should I do?
First discuss with your supervisors who will help you to find out if your Faculty can provide the training, or may wish to support you to access essential external training. The Doctoral College also encourages student led training initiatives with an annual competition for funding to run specific events.
- I need ethical approval, where are the forms and guidance?
The University Research Integrity page includes links to relevant policies. To access the specific guidance and forms used to apply for Ethical Approval you will need to sign into the Portal.
- I don’t know where to submit my forms for ethical approval?
Your supervisor, Postgraduate Tutor or Research Director should be able to direct you to the relevant Committee which will consider your application for ethical approval.
- I need ethical approval from ORECNI where can I get advice on this?
Relationships and Support
- What are my main sources of support?
You will find many characterisations of PhD research as a lonely and miserable experience. At Ulster we aim to ensure this is not the case. Your immediate sources of support are your supervisors and your peers. However you also have the Doctoral College staff organising the Researcher Development Programme as well as social events, the Docs are places where you can meet other PhD researchers socially and we have a PhD Researcher Forum with representatives on each campus. At Jordanstown there is a Student Union supported Doctoral Society which organises monthly outings. For more details of Doctoral College events, please also see the What’s On page. In addition, within each Faculty or School there will be a range of seminars, a Research Director, in most cases also a Postgraduate Tutor and various research groups to which you have access. Don’t forget about online support on relevant Facebook groups (both Jordanstown and Magee have Facebook pages and details of these are on the What’s On page) and on Twitter (@UlsterUniPhD is the Doctoral College account which is a good place to start); these can be surprisingly helpful. If you have any problems in finding sources of support, please contact your Head of Doctoral College or Research Director for advice.
- How should I manage relationships, meetings etc with my supervisors
In a word, professionally. Clearly this means being punctual (whether for meetings or in submitting written work), respectful etc but it also means taking responsibility and attempting to find a resolution if things are not going well. Supervisors are often busy and meetings are therefore an important issue for many PhD researchers who want to make the most of the time with their supervisors. Where difficulties arise, these are often a result of the supervisors and PhD researcher having different expectations and the PhD researcher feeling they cannot take a lead in resolving the problem. It is important to realise that it is not disrespectful to ‘manage up’, in fact it is a useful skill to learn. Simply taking the initiative and asking to discuss the format of meetings, keeping records of meetings, asking for dates on which feedback can be expected (and following up with a polite email if it does not appear) should not offend your supervisors provided it is done professionally.
- I find one of my supervisors difficult, what can I do?
First consider what ‘difficult’ means. If a supervisor does not attend meetings or fails to provide feedback, consider managing up in the first instance. Simple measures, such as asking when you can expect to receive feedback, are often effective. The sooner you act, the better as if these issues are not addressed they may delay your progress. If interpersonal relations are difficult (perhaps you find the supervisor rude or consider them to be harassing you; see University Policy and Procedures on Dignity at Work and Study), you may want to discuss with the other supervisor(s), or with your Postgraduate Tutor, Research Director or Head of Doctoral College. The University also has in place Harassment Advisers who can support you, provide you with information and explain courses of action open to you. All advice is confidential and no action will be taken without your agreement.
- I have tried everything possible to resolve my issue with a supervisor, but without success – is there anything else I can do?
If you have tried to resolve the situation without success it may be useful to consider the PhD Researcher Charter which has details of what to expect from supervisors as well as what is expected of PhD Researchers, and also has details of the Complaints Procedure should this be appropriate.
- One of my fellow PhDs is harassing me, who should I contact?
You may wish to discuss the situation with your supervisors or PGT, and again the University Policy and Procedures on Dignity at Work and Study provides relevant information. The University has in place Harassment Advisers who can support you in deciding what if anything you want to do in the particular circumstances. All advice is fully confidential and no action will be taken on your behalf without your agreement.
Central University Support
The Student Support website is very comprehensive and you should check it out so that you know what sorts of support are available should you need assistance. There are sections on Health and Wellbeing (including physical and mental health, academic support) and Money advice (including dealing with debt and crisis funds available to all PhD researchers who can evidence hardship). The range of support is impressive and feedback from PhD researchers who have accessed support is extremely positive.
- I have a disability, where can I find out if I can get any help in managing it?
AccessAbility provides a wide range of support to those PhD researchers who disclose and provide medical evidence of a disability or long term medical condition. An appointment with an accessibility advisor will provide you with individual information on the support available to you; these range from assistive technologies to one to one support and all services are free. Again, feedback from PhD researchers who have used these services is excellent.
- I am living on campus and the accommodation is unsuitable, who can I contact?
While Residential Services does attempt to place all PhD researchers in suitable accommodation, this is not always possible for a variety of reasons. You should be aware that you are bound by the terms of your lease (so if you move off campus before the end of the lease you will be liable to pay the outstanding amount). If your accommodation is unsuitable, you should contact the relevant accommodation officer for your campus, explain the problem and they will work with you to resolve the problem.
- Are there any orientation activities for International PhD researchers?
The University’s International Student Experience programme provides a number of orientation activities in mid September for International PhD researchers and you will receive information on how to participate in these as part of your pre-enrolment documentation. You should therefore ideally arrange to arrive in Northern Ireland in time to participate in these. Some sessions are free (for example on how to access healthcare) while you need to pay for others (such as a visit to the world famous Titanic Centre, lunch at St George’s market and free time in Belfast). The Doctoral College also organises a range of induction events aiming to introduce our international PhD researchers to each other and the wider PhD community.
- I am finding it difficult to settle in, what can I do?
Ulster has provides a range of support for International students, including two International Experience Officers who may be able to advise you. The Students Union supports a number of clubs and societies which may interest you and also provides a range of support services as well as offering volunteer opportunities. The Sports Union also has a busy calendar of events and activities. In addition, on each campus the Doc is available for all PhD researchers and their supervisors to socialise and get to know each other, and the Doctoral College organises regular monthly coffee mornings, lunchtime get togethers, and a range of training and social events, for example #Shut Up and Write sessions. For more details please see the Doctoral College What’s On page.
- I am having difficulties with my English language in written work, what can I do?
Ulster Centre for English Language Teaching (CELT) provides a range of in session (term time) support for international PhD researchers. These are free of charge and you can attend a range of modules and/or avail of individual academic consultations (please see brochure for more details). Ulster also currently subscribes to Studiosity, an online service which provides speedy feedback on written work. In addition to #Shut Up and Write sessions, we encourage self-organised study groups which can provide excellent peer support.