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Guidance for supervisors on managing inadequate progress

Whether a PhD researcher is DfE or university funded, funded by a research grant or self-funding, supervisors are obliged to assess progress on an ongoing basis.

Where progress is inadequate over a sustained period, it is clearly unethical to allow registration to continue, given potential financial consequences.

It is therefore important that PhD researchers who are not making adequate progress are given every opportunity and support to remedy this, and registration should be discontinued if they remain unable to demonstrate this.

Identifying inadequate progress

From the outset, a provisional project timeline should be discussed and a Training Needs Analysis to support this should be developed and regularly revisited. Both should be uploaded to PhD Manager for further reference and amendment as the project proceeds.

Regular meetings are required on at least a monthly basis and these should be recorded on PhD Manager. It is advised that PhD researchers are asked to submit written work regularly from the outset, and that feedback provided on written work should be explicit, including description of deficiencies. Feedback should be discussed with the PhD researcher to ensure that it is understood.

Recording and managing inadequate progress

In line with general best practice, meetings should be regular and all written work and associated feedback should be uploaded to PhD Manager.

Feedback should be comprehensive and explicit in relation to any inadequacies of the work, but please bear in mind that unduly diligent supervision is not a solution for inadequate progress (repeatedly spending hours on unusually detailed feedback is not required).

Main points of discussion of feedback with the PhD researcher should be recorded in meeting notes, on PhD Manager, with any lack of progress detailed.

Where lack of progress has been noted and/or feedback is not implemented, this should also be recorded. Further advice should be provided to the PhD researcher on what is required to bring the work up to standard.

Support measures may include additional meetings, signposting to relevant literature or to specific training such as that provided by RDP workshops or CELT. Advice and support measures should also be recorded, and the Research Director and/or Postgraduate Tutor should be consulted in relation to appropriate advice and support.

Where sustained feedback and support, including training, does not result in sufficient improvement, possible reasons for this should be discussed with the PhD researcher, and where appropriate, assistance (including academic support) may be sought from Student Wellbeing and/or AccessAbility. Again this should be noted on PhD Manager.

When inadequate progress is sustained

Formal assessments

Formal assessments may provide an opportunity for wider feedback and supervisor reports should include specific details of progress concerns and support provided.

Where adequate progress has not been evidenced in the submission, panels should either recommend withdrawal or defer a decision, allowing the PhD researcher to remedy the shortcomings of the submission in line with panel advice.

The Research Director and/or Postgraduate Tutor should be advised.

Should the resubmission fail to demonstrate that the researcher has been able to address the panel’s concerns, both withdrawal and continuation to MPhil should be considered as options.

Annual reports

Likewise, annual reports require supervisors to summarise what has been done and record any concerns.

These should be completed in detail for all PhD researchers, but where there are concerns about progress these should be fully documented along with details of support provided so that the Annual Progress Review Board is in a position to make an informed decision on whether the PhD researcher should be progressed to the next academic year.

There are three formal assessments and three annual reports during a full-time PhD programme, which should be sufficient to address most cases of inadequate progress in a timely fashion.

However, particularly for part-time PhD researchers, there may be cases where waiting for the next reporting point would result in undue delay.

Outside formal assessments and annual reports

Outside of formal assessments and annual reports, if supervisors consider that progress remains inadequate despite sustained provision of appropriate feedback, support, training and advice, they should consult with the relevant Research Director and/or Postgraduate Tutor.

A request for withdrawal on grounds of inadequate progress can then be made and will be actioned by the Doctoral College. No exit interview will be required, and 'N/A' should be recorded in both of the ‘Notes from the exit interview’ sections of PhD Manager.

In all cases the supervisory team is asked to ensure that all feedback on lack of progress and support provided has been documented and lodged on PhD Manager.