Applying for personal circumstances

Applying

Go to the Graduate School PGR online research degree forms web page and read the personal circumstances guidance notes and/or look at the personal circumstances flow chart to determine which option is most suitable for your circumstance. For five working day submission extensions or viva postponement email or telephone the Graduate School as advised in the notes. For all other options complete the personal circumstances form and submit this to the Graduate School attaching your supporting evidence.

When to submit your application for personal circumstances

  • You should submit your application as soon as you know that you are going to need to, please read the PGR personal circumstances guidance notes (PDF) for more information.
  • It is not usually possible to submit an application for a milestone extension or a suspension of registration retrospectively (ie after the event).
  • If you are submitting personal circumstances about a progression exam viva or a progress review meeting which is just about to take place (eg within four days including weekends), you must get in touch with your DoS and the Graduate School as soon as possible by phone or email. This is so that examiners/reviewers can, be notified an alternative arrangements put in place.
  • If you need to submit personal circumstances during the final assessment period, you must follow the procedures in the personal circumstances guidance note about contacting the Graduate School urgently. Also, read the FAQs below.

Evidence

  • Read the list of acceptable supporting evidence included in the personal circumstances guidance notes. This also shows circumstances that are not likely to be accepted.
  • Please note that, for PGRs, self-certification is only available for an extension of up to five working days (this means Monday to Friday) and only if other appropriate evidence is not available. This is different from self-certification for exams or coursework on taught programmes and is more like self-certification of sickness used in a workplace environment.

Until otherwise advised, all cases that are related to COVID-19 circumstances will not require supporting evidence and PGRs may self-certify.

In all other cases (except the five-day self-certification), appropriate supporting evidence will be required. The process for making an application is described on the Graduate School PGR personal circumstances guidance notes (PDF) with the exception of International PGRs on Tier 4 visas who should refer to the information on Authorised Absence in Section 4. of this handbook. 

Late personal circumstances

If you were affected by personal circumstances but did not apply at the time, you may be able to apply for your personal circumstances to be taken into account by the FRDC or the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) on an exceptional basis, but only if you can show that your circumstances impaired your ability to make a decision at the time about whether you were fit enough submit your work or attend your viva/review meeting. Read the PGR personal circumstances guidance notes (PDF) for further information. Any application must be supported by appropriate evidence and you must submit your application within 10 working days of the submission deadline, viva exam, or progress review.

Finding out the outcome of your personal circumstances application

Depending on your stage of registration, the FRDC or the RDAB will consider your application will write to you with the outcome. This will normally be in the form of an email letter sent to your UWE Bristol student email address. Applications will normally be considered at the next scheduled Committee meeting. Committees and the Award Board meet regularly. In very urgent cases, the Chair of the FRDC or RDAB may consider your application between meetings.

Progress milestone extension

  • A milestone extension gives you up to a maximum of 28 days to catch up with your work and submit, or to postpone your progression exam viva or progress review meeting by up to 28 days, to allow you to resolve your circumstances. It is not a reasonable adjustment and is different from a complete suspension because you are allowed to carry on working on your research.
  • If your work rate has been affected by your circumstances (i.e. your progress has been slower or you have not been able to work to your full capacity), and you can provide valid evidence to support this, then this may be the best option for you.
  • Your overall registration completion date will not be extended and neither will your subsequent milestones in later stages.
  • Your fees will still be payable because you are still working, accessing supervision and other resources. Any bursary or funding will still be paid, but will not be extended.
  • You can only apply for this extension once per stage of your registration. This is because the extra time will in effect be taken from the time available for your next stage. The University considers that anything more than a month would be likely to have a detrimental impact on your later progress and might ultimately impact upon your ability to complete your project on time.
  • If you are an international PGR who is subject to Tier 4 visa requirements you must ensure that you remain compliant with the University’s attendance and engagement monitoring requirements.
  • Before applying for this support you need to consider carefully whether your situation will be resolved within 28 days. If your circumstances are serious or will have a longer term impact then a suspension may be more appropriate.
  • You are advised to discuss your application with your Director of Studies (DoS) before submitting and your DoS must confirm sign to say that they support your application. You must provide supporting evidence with your application.

Suspension of registration

  • A suspension is a complete break from your studies because your circumstances mean you are unable to work actively on your research at all. It is a time out of one month or more and up to 12 months. Your registration completion date and any progress milestone dates along the way are moved on by the length of your suspension.
  • It is not an opportunity to catch up on work if you have fallen behind.
  • A suspension is not a reasonable adjustment and is different to a milestone extension.
  • During a suspension, you must not work actively on your research and this includes writing up. You will not be able to access the University library, labs or other resources. You will not be entitled to any active supervision beyond that needed to ensure that your Director of Studies remains in pastoral contact with you – ie contacting you to see how you are.
  • You can continue to access some Wellbeing Service support services, but will not be able to access mentoring support activities.
  • Because you are not using resources or supervision your fees will be suspended but it is important to note that so too will any bursary funding. This can result in your funding running out before your revised registration completion date and you will be financially liable for any shortfall in fees.
  • If you are in receipt of UK Research Councils funding, your funder will need to be informed of your suspension by the Graduate School or UKRI project co-ordinator.
  • Before applying for a suspension, you need to think carefully whether this is the best way to deal with your particular situation. For example, if what you really want is to catch up with work that you have been unable to complete because of your circumstances and you can be confident of getting this done within a month, then a progress deadline extension may be better for you.
  • You are strongly advised to discuss your application with your DoS before submitting. Your DoS must confirm that they support your application.
  • Tier 4 visa PGRs who want to apply for a suspension of more than 2 weeks must also get authorised absence approval before going on suspension; You should seek advice from an Information Point.
  • Note; only in exceptional cases will the FRDC approve contiguous suspension applications ie repeat applications, one to run straight on from the other.

Personal circumstances in the final assessment period (after submitting your thesis)

  • Please note you are expected to make every effort to attend the viva on the date arranged and to plan ahead for most common eventualities e.g. normal childcare or care of other dependants, and we encourage you to think about what alternative arrangements you might need to put in place if a dependent is ill.
  • Final assessment viva voce examinations will be postponed at short notice only in the most extreme circumstances.
  • If your viva is more than a week away, you should contact your DoS and the Graduate School Postgraduate Research Assessment Team as soon as possible by phone or email for further guidance.
  • If your final assessment viva voce is about to take place (eg within four days including weekends), you must contact your DoS and the Graduate School Postgraduate Research Assessment Team immediately, without fail.
  • If you cannot get through to the Assessment Team by telephone because the office is closed, then you must email the Assessment Team at Research.Degrees@uwe.ac.uk with ‘Urgent: Final viva personal circumstances’ in the email subject line.
  • You must then telephone as soon as the office re-opens (Office hours: Monday – Friday 09:00 – 16:00). This is so that examiners can be contacted urgently, especially if they are external to the University and travelling long distance, eg. flying in from abroad. The Assessment Team will provide you with guidance about what to do next.

If you were granted a progress milestone extension but your circumstances worsen

  • If having been granted a milestone extension and your circumstances then worsen or turn out to be much more serious than you first thought, meaning that you are unable to work on your research at all, you should speak to your Director of Studies as soon as you realise and then apply for a suspension of your registration using the PGR personal circumstances form (DOC), together with supporting evidence. Your evidence will need to show why you can’t work at all.
  • This is so that your registration is put on hold while you get better or resolve your circumstances. If you continue with the milestone extension, the Graduate School will assume that you are working and you will be eating into the time available for the next stage of your studies. It is not normally possible to permit a suspension retrospectively.

If you do not need a suspension or a milestone extension

  • If you do not think a suspension or a milestone extension will provide you with the support you need, there may be other ways in which the University can support you so that you can continue with your research. For example, if you have a disability or an ongoing health or other condition, or are a primary carer for someone who has, it may be possible to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your registration.
  • In order to access this support, you should disclose your situation to the University as soon as possible, by contacting the Graduate School or Disability Service for guidance. You should also read the section later on in this chapter of the handbook about reasonable adjustments. If you are contacting Disability Service, please ensure that you let them know you are a PGR.
  • It is not normally possible to change the outcome decision of a progression examination, progress review or final assessment viva voce on the basis of reasonable adjustment needs disclosed retrospectively after your viva or review.

Ill during your progression exam viva, progress review meeting or final assessment viva

  • Your examiners or reviewers, or the Independent Chair (final assessment viva), will offer you a short break to give you a chance to take medication, visit the bathroom, have a glass of water etc, and if you are able to, your viva/review can resume. They may also contact the Graduate School for advice;
  • Breaks of this kind will be noted on the examiners’/reviewer’s report form, especially in situations where the examiners/reviewers felt that your performance was adversely affected;
  • If you manage to complete your viva but feel that your overall performance has been significantly and detrimentally affected, you should contact the Graduate School for advice about what to do next. If this happened during your final assessment viva, you should contact the Graduate School Postgraduate Research Assessment Team. You will normally be asked to submit a personal circumstances form to the FRDC or RDAB explaining how you were affected.
  • If you are too ill to continue and the examiners determine that the viva is not sufficiently complete, the viva/meeting will be halted and the examiners/reviewers will contact the Graduate School for further advice. Your viva may be re-arranged for another date as soon as possible after you are better.
  • Note, nervousness and anxiety is normal during a viva and will not normally be sufficient reason for halting or postponing the examination, but you may be offered a short break during the viva to collect yourself. If you are aware that you suffer from serious anxiety that is a recognised and ongoing health condition for which you have supporting evidence, you should contact the Graduate School at least six weeks prior to your viva so that reasonable adjustments can be discussed.

Self-certification for an illness affecting your submission or viva

  • Yes you can, but only if you are applying for a five day extension to your submission deadline, or if you are taken ill immediately prior to your viva, and you cannot obtain other appropriate supporting evidence eg if you contract a highly contagious illness and you have been advised by your doctor to stay at home and not visit the doctor’s surgery.

Reasonable adjustments to viva arrangements due to disability, ongoing health condition or specific learning difficulty

  • If these have not already been agreed during a previous support needs meeting, you should get in touch with the Graduate School as soon as possible, normally no later than six weeks before your expected viva date so that arrangements can be discussed.
  • If your needs have changed since reasonable adjustments were first agreed you should contact the Graduate School or Disability Service so that they can be reviewed.

Difficulty meeting a progress milestone submission deadline, with reasonable adjustments already in place

  • You will not normally be able to apply for personal circumstances on these grounds unless there is an unexpected and sudden worsening/deterioration in your condition prior to your submission deadline or viva and you can provide appropriate evidence to support this. In such cases you may be granted a milestone extension or your viva may be postponed.
  • You can also apply for personal circumstances if your situation is not related to your ongoing condition.
  • If a sudden deterioration in your condition means that you are likely to be affected for longer than 28 days (the milestone extension maximum) you may still be able to apply for a suspension of your registration where you can provide appropriate evidence to support this. However a suspension of registration is not in itself a reasonable adjustment.
  • If your needs have changed since the reasonable adjustments were agreed you should contact the Graduate School or your Disability Services advisor to discuss whether the reasonable adjustments are still appropriate or need to be reviewed.
  • Please see also part 7c below Reasonable Adjustments.

Anxiety about your progression examination/final viva

  • It is normal to feel some anxiety about exams. Many PGRs find the viva voce and preparation for it a challenge.
  • While stress is not an illness, excessive stress if not recognised and addressed can lead to serious illness such as depression. If stress is affecting your ability to work and prepare for your progression exam or final viva you should speak to your Director of Studies in the first instance to discuss strategies for preparing for the viva.
  • If you are approaching the final assessment period, then you may find a mock viva useful. Speak to your Director of Studies about arranging this. Remember, however, that there is no guarantee that the questions you are asked in the mock will come up in the real viva.
  • There are also sessions about the progression exam and final assessment which you can attend during your registration as part of the Graduate School’s programme of PGR Skills Development Workshops.
  • If you have already submitted for final assessment and are getting ready for your viva, the Graduate School Skills Development Team have sets of viva preparation cards which you can borrow to help your preparations.
  • You can also find advice about managing your stress levels on the University student health and wellbeing web pages, as well as a link to the University Wellbeing Service who can provide one-to-one help and support. You can also drop into the Graduate School Office in room 3E37 for general advice and guidance and a friendly ear.