Postgraduate Research Essentials: finding support and making changes to your degree
Updated on 2 December 2021
Withdrawals, extensions, terminations and the Postgraduate Appeals Process
What to do if you are struggling with your degree
If you are having difficulties during your research degree, please know that you are not alone. There are lots of people and groups in the University who are there to support you and help get things back on track. Whether you are facing academic concerns, problems in your personal life or a mixture of both, we have a variety of teams who are here to help you. Please do not struggle in silence.
In the first instance, please consider approaching your supervisory team for a discussion about the difficulties you have been having. We encourage open and honest communication between postgraduate researchers and their supervisors, and your supervisors will be able to help you more effectively if they are aware of issues that are impacting on your progress.
Your School also has wider support systems in place to help, and you may wish to approach these contacts first if you are uncomfortable approaching your supervisors for any reason:
- Your Thesis Monitoring Committee (TMC) is there to ensure that you have the support you need and to give you space to discuss your concerns confidentially with academics who are not your supervisor.
- Your School’s PGR Lead is an academic with overarching responsibility for your School’s PGR programmes.
You can also seek help and advice outside of your School:
- The Doctoral Academy supports postgraduate researchers across the University, and it can help to connect you with resources and specialist services – see their Resources page.
- The Enquiry Centre can put you in touch with dedicated pastoral support staff and the Counselling Service.
- The Early Dispute Resolution (mediation) system is designed to help you to anticipate, avoid, prevent and resolve disputes, and it can support you if you are struggling with conflict in your workplace.
- The Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) provides an independent and non-judgemental advice service. They can give you free, impartial advice on a variety of academic and personal matters, and they can represent you if you need to make an appeal or complaint.
- The University Chaplaincy can support your health and wellbeing through email or personal meetings.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and have no idea where to turn, please contact the Doctoral Academy.
Making changes to your degree
If you are considering making any changes to your research degree, for example a change of degree programme, degree length, degree mode (full-time/part-time) or supervisor, please discuss this with your supervisory team in the first instance. You should do this as far in advance as possible.
Any changes will require the approval of your supervisor and School, and they will need to go through the official channels so that your University records are kept accurate and your tuition fees are charged correctly. If you have any questions about the administrative process of making a change to your degree, please approach your School’s PGR Office first.
You must make sure that you are aware of any conditions or restrictions attached to your funding or current degree programme that would prevent you from making changes. It is your responsibility to obtain approval from your funding body/sponsor where this is required, as well as obtaining permission from your School.
For PGRs on Student visas: please discuss any possible changes to your degree course with our Immigration Compliance Officer as well as your School. They will make you aware of the implications the change would have for your visa.
Temporary withdrawal from study
If you need to be absent from study for reasons other than short illness or agreed holiday leave, you should consider temporary withdrawal from study.
Talk to your supervisors about your reasons for considering temporary withdrawal and, if you all agree to go forward with the withdrawal, notify your School’s PGR Office. You should begin discussions as far in advance as possible to allow enough time for the School to consider your temporary withdrawal request. Please be aware that retrospective applications for temporary withdrawal are not normally accepted, so you should secure full approval from your School well in advance of your temporary withdrawal period.
Temporary withdrawal effectively ‘stops the clock’ on your study period, but you will also lose certain aspects of your student status during this time. You should ensure that you understand how taking a temporary withdrawal will affect your tuition fee rates, access to University resources, council tax status and other aspects of your life. If you have any questions about this, your School’s PGR Office can help you.
For PGRs on Student visas: you must ensure that you are fully aware of the impact that a temporary withdrawal will have on your visa. Refer to the terms of your visa and discuss your possible withdrawal with our Immigration Compliance Officer as soon as possible.
If you have an external sponsor or funding body, you must make sure that you are fully aware of their processes for requesting a temporary withdrawal, the effect that temporary withdrawal will have on your studentship etc, and any conditions imposed by the funding body on withdrawal periods. You must keep them fully updated and seek approval from them within an appropriate timeframe alongside the approval of your School.
If you wish to request a temporary withdrawal, confirm this with your supervisor and your School’s PGR Office. You will be asked to fill out a form outlining your proposed length of time away and the reasons for your request, and to submit any relevant documentation connected to your reasons for withdrawing. Your School will then consider your request and, if approved, will inform Registry so that your records are updated.
If you do temporarily withdraw from your studies, you should ensure that you keep your supervisors and your School’s PGR Office updated about your plans to return to study, and that you notify them of your intention to return in a timely manner.
There are two different ways of granting you extra time in your research degree. The first one is called a ‘discount period’ and the second one an ‘extension of studies’.
A discount period is extra time added which does not show as exceeding the maximum length of your degree. This is usually assessed and granted retrospectively.
An extension of studies is extra time added which shows as exceeding the maximum length of your degree. This is usually not granted retrospectively.
If you are facing medical, personal or other circumstances that are serious but do not merit a longer period of temporary withdrawal, your School may consider recommending that a period of study be discounted from your maximum study period. Please discuss this with your supervisors in the first instance, and your School’s PGR Office will be able to advise you on the administrative processes.
You must make sure you understand the effect of a discount period on your funding, that your funding body or sponsor is kept updated about your study end date and, where necessary, approval is sought from your funding body or sponsor as well as from your School.
For PGRs on Student visas: you must ensure that you are fully aware of all considerations for your visa and residency status. Refer to the terms of your visa and discuss your situation with our Immigration Compliance Officer as soon as possible.
Extension of studies
If you think you might need to extend your studies beyond the maximum permitted period, please discuss this with your supervisor as soon as possible. If there is strong justification for your case, you may be able to apply for an extension of studies with your School. If your supervisor is in agreement that you should submit an extension request, you can obtain an extension request form from your School’s PGR Office.
Please note that extension requests are not guaranteed to be approved, and Senate approval is required if the total time you are requesting is longer than 12 months. Extension periods are also not normally granted retrospectively.
You must make sure you understand the effect of an extension on your funding and that, where relevant, your funding body or sponsor is kept updated about your plans for extension. Please note that you may need written approval for extension from your funding body as well as your School.
For PGRs on Student visas: you must ensure that you are fully aware of all considerations for your visa and residency status. Refer to the terms of your visa and discuss your possible extension with our Immigration Compliance Officer as soon as possible.
Permanent withdrawal from your degree
If you are considering withdrawing from your research degree permanently, we are here to support you. There are a large variety of people at the University whom you can approach for advice, and we would encourage you to have open and honest discussions with more than one person to help you to come to a decision that is right for you. We would also suggest that you give yourself plenty of time and space to consider all the factors playing into your possible withdrawal and explore all the alternatives – you should not feel pressurised to come to an immediate decision.
Firstly, we would encourage you to talk to your supervisors if you are considering permanent withdrawal. They can help you to review the issues you are facing and evaluate the pros and cons of withdrawing, and they will be able to suggest adjustments, accommodations and alternatives to withdrawal that could help you to continue with your research degree. If you would like to withdraw from your degree to pursue other opportunities, they may also be able to provide careers advice.
You can find a list of other contacts to consider approaching in the section on what to do if you are struggling with your degree. The Careers Service is also available to advise you about alternative opportunities: they offer free information, support and guidance on all aspects of careers and employability to postgraduate researchers.
For PGRs on Student visas: if you are considering permanently withdrawing from your degree, you must ensure you are fully aware of the impact this will have on your visa and residency status, and of the University’s obligations to report your withdrawal to UKVI. Refer to the terms of your visa and discuss your possible permanent withdrawal with our Immigration Compliance Officer as soon as possible.
If you do decide to withdraw from your degree, you should confirm this with your supervisors and your School’s PGR Office, and they will advise you on the process of formalising your withdrawal.
Termination of studies
‘Termination of studies’ refers to a School/University decision to stop your research degree, rather than a voluntary withdrawal. Please read Section 4.4 of the Research Degrees Quality Code for full details of the process.
You can only become liable for termination of studies if you meet one or more specific circumstances laid out in University policy, such as a sustained lack of engagement with supervisors or TMCs, failure to meet mandatory attendance requirements, unsatisfactory progress, or failure to meet previously agreed conditions for continued studies.
If you become liable for termination of studies, your School must issue you a formal Liable for Termination notification. This will specify the reasons for termination and allow you at least one month to rectify the situation in consultation with your supervisory team.
If you do not rectify the situation in accordance with the deadline specified in your Liable for Termination notification, then your studies will be terminated on the date specified in the notification.
You can appeal against a termination of studies: please see our information on the Postgraduate Appeals Process for more details.
Postgraduate Appeals Process
If you wish to appeal against a decision made by the University, please read the guidance for the Postgraduate Appeals Procedure. These detailed guidelines explain the remit of the Postgraduate Appeals Procedure and the process of submitting an appeal.
Please note that every appeal must be in writing and must be lodged with the University Secretary within four weeks of the date on which you were informed of the decision against which the appeal is directed.
You can get help preparing your appeal from the Students’ Assessors, and you can find their contact details and those of others who can help you on our Assistance and Support page.