The PhD programme is supported by a rigorous process for reporting progress as required by the regulations for the PhD degree.
The relevant regulations are as follows:
(a) While a candidate is provisionally admitted to the degree programme, progress reports signed by the candidate, supervisor(s), Head of Department and Pro-Vice-Chancellor shall be submitted at six-monthly intervals from the date of initial admission.
(b) Once confirmation has been granted, progress reports signed by the candidate, supervisors and Head of Department shall be submitted annually.
(c) If an unsatisfactory report is received, the Senate may, after appropriate consultation, terminate the candidacy.
Principles And Purposes
The progress reporting system employed at Otago is based on three major principles:
- The process should provide a stimulus for honest dialogue between the candidate, supervisors and the department; and
- The process should encourage candidates to conduct a careful and regular review of their achievements and to set goals for the next phase of research; and
- The process should provide opportunity to discuss career plans and relevant professional development opportunities.
Progress reports are used for the following purposes:
- To support recommendations regarding confirmation of candidature (The first year)
- To ensure that the project is properly "on track", particularly with regard to the planned completion date (a clear record of any research related problems which have resulted in delays to the completion of the thesis can be used when justifying a 5th EFT to Senate and the Ministry of Education)
- To identify any problems inhibiting the progress of the PhD
- To indicate any changes to the project or its academic support (such as changes of title, changes of supervision, etc)
- To support recommendations regarding the tenure of scholarships
- To discuss career pathways and professional development opportunities
It is particularly important that the reporting process be used as a means of determining the adequacy of supervision and support. Where problems are identified, these should be signalled in the report, together with measures to rectify them.
Timing of Progress Reports
The timing of all progress reports is calculated from the date of admission to the programme.
Progress reports are due at the following intervals: six monthly until confirmation, and then annually thereafter until the submission of the thesis or termination of candidature. Note that the date of subsequent meetings is usually set by the entry of the progress report into eVision. If there is a delay in entering this report, subsequent meetings will be delayed.
The progress reporting procedure is initiated by eVision reminders that are sent to the Primary supervisor and departmental administrator nine weeks prior to the reporting period. At that stage, the student receives an alert in their eVision portal to complete their section and the self-review, and if it is their first progress report they should also complete the student-supervisor agreement. The student has two weeks to complete these questions and upload the documents.
The Reporting Process
A Convener who is independent of the supervisory process oversees this reporting process. This person will usually be the Head of Department or the Head of Department's nominee. The candidate and supervisor should be consulted on this matter before the convenor is finalised. The reporting process comprises four parts:
- The preparation of a self-review document by the candidate.
- Confidential conversations between the Convener and the candidate, and between the Convener and the supervisors to determine if there have been any issues with supervision.
- A meeting, chaired by the Convener to discuss the self-review and other matters relating to the candidate's work. The meeting should be attended by the candidate and the supervisors. It should be chaired by a Convener, who is independent of the supervisory process.
- The completion of the PhD Progress Report Form in eVision on the basis of the discussion, which is then printed and sent to the appropriate authorities for endorsement and is uploaded to the candidate's file on eVision by the Doctoral Office once the report is approved by the Dean of the Graduate Research School.
Part 1: Self-Review
In every case, the self-review is the instrument for initiating the reporting process. The production of the self-review is the responsibility of the candidate. Although there is no standard layout for a self-review document, the following two sections (Six-month Self-Review and Annual Self-Review) should provide general guidance. In all cases, candidates should discuss and agree upon the precise format of the self-review document with their supervisors. The self-review need not be overly long. It should be a summary of work and may be augmented by appendices containing more detail. Previous self-reviews and reports should be used as a point of reference when indicating goals achieved and tasks completed. Ordinarily, a self-review should be completed within two weeks.
As well as providing a succinct account of the work done during the reporting period, the self-review can be used to indicate any specific areas of concern that the candidate wishes to be addressed at the subsequent meeting. We draw particular attention to the sections "Support and Resources" and "Candidate and Supervisor Responsibilities" in the PhD Progress Report Form.
The self-review should also list any publications, seminar or conference presentations related to the PhD completed during the reporting period.
The candidate should circulate the self-review document at least a week ahead of the planned meeting time, submitting this review to the panel comprising the supervisors (or the supervisor and the Departmental Advisory Committee) and the meeting Convener.
As the first self-review, the six-month self-review marks a crucial moment in the candidacy. The candidate's self-review should build on the original research proposal, signalling how that proposal has been converted into a definite plan and what work has been done towards the goals set out in the plan.
As a minimum, the report will typically contain or refer to:
- A statement of the research topic or problem
- An outline of the significance of the problem and an indication of how it will meet the requirements for originality and a contribution to knowledge which define the PhD
- A literature review
- A statement of research questions or hypotheses
- An account of the methodologies by which the questions or hypotheses will be investigated and/or the theoretical model(s) which will be applied
- A thesis outline
- A timetable for the work planned for the next reporting period
- Identification of possible career pathways and desired professional development opportunities (e.g. teaching, research-grant writing, internship etc)
Note that the Student-Supervisor Agreement must be attached to the six-month Progress Report when the report is circulated for endorsements and then forwarded to the Doctoral and Scholarships Office.
All self-reviews for annual reports should take the preceding report as a point of reference. The self-review will typically contain, or refer to:
- An assessment of progress made with reference to the tasks set in the timetable in the last report
- An indication of new developments which have led to a change of direction or emphasis for the project
- Detailed plans and/or drafts of work completed
- An updated outline of the thesis
- A timetable for the work planned for the next reporting period
- Ongoing professional development plans targetted to possible career pathways
- The self-reviews do not need to reproduce work already done by the candidate and seen by the supervisors. A self-review should be a summary document, to which any relevant pieces of work can be appended, if necessary.
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Part 2: Confidential Conversations with the Meeting Convener (optional)
Prior to the Progress Meeting, the Convener should contact the candidate and supervisors independently to see if there have been any issues with the supervisory relationship. If the candidate has not been contacted by the Convener, and they wish to talk to them, they should initiate a discussion. This is a very important stage, since the candidate may feel unable to raise or admit to issues of supervision with their supervisors are present. If there are issues with supervision, the Convener should negotiate with the candidate (or supervisors) which, if any, aspects will be raised in the formal meeting and by whom, or whether the matter will be taken up with the Head of Department, a Postgraduate Co-ordinator, an Associate Dean or with the Manager or Dean of the Graduate Research School.
Part 3: Progress Report Meeting To Discuss The Self-Review
The Progress Report meeting is chaired by the Convener. Typically the format involves methodically going through the Progress Report form in eVision (either online or by printing out the form in advance and annotating), noting changes where appropriate and providing commentary where necessary.
The Convener should ensure that all matters raised in the self-review are discussed at the meeting. Moreover, if there are any supervisory issues that have been raised for discussion from the pre-meetings, these should be openly discussed. The candidate and the supervisors should also be asked to address the questions raised in each section of the report form.
If the panel members have any doubts about the candidate's performance in any area of their work, these should be raised courteously and frankly. The panel should also suggest practical measures to counter any perceived deficiencies in performance.
It is particularly important that, at the time of the six-month and first annual report, the candidate is given a clear warning where performance is deemed to be unsatisfactory. If the panel feels that confirmation of the candidacy is seriously in question, the candidate should be advised of this at the first opportunity (ideally, this would be at the time of the six-month report) and alternative options (such as termination of candidacy or enrolment for a Master's degree) outlined. Indeed, if at six months, work at the expected doctoral standard looks unlikely, a plan of work should be devised to write-up research in a format that could be considered for a lesser degree (e.g., Masters of Postgraduate Diploma) and the candidate may be placed 'Under Review'.
The meeting with the candidate should also provide the opportunity for open discussion of supervisory arrangements, issues, practical, technical and financial support. It is imperative that the projected completion date of the project be monitored and that any significant changes to the project, its supervision or support be recorded in the progress report.
Part 4: Completing The Report Form
During the meeting, the Convener will, in consultation with the candidate and the supervisors, fill out the standard PhD Progress Report form (either online or on a hard copy), being sure to answer all the questions. Minutes may also be taken of the meeting, which are then uploaded in eVision as a record of the meeting. The report form is designed to identify any matters of concern which need to be addressed and commentary should be provided in the appropriate areas or in the meeting minutes (if these are being kept). If no matters of serious concern are identified, the commentary need not be lengthy, but if progress is "fair" or "unsatisfactory", then an explanation is required in terms of what has led to this rating and steps that will be taken to try and improve progress.
Once completed, the PhD Progress Report form should be printed off (if completed online) and signed by all parties, who should receive a copy of the signed report. If a hard copy form has been annotated in the meeting, the convenor should arrange for any annotations to be entered into eVision (e.g., by themselves or an administrator in the department) and then the form should be printed and circulated for signatures. If there is disagreement about the report, this should be signalled by the Convener when returning the report. In such cases, a candidate or a supervisor may make a personal written statement relating to a progress report.
Once signatures have been gathered, the PhD Progress Report form should be sent to the Doctoral Office. Supervisors and candidates are also advised to retain a copy for their records.
Copies of the PhD Progress Report form are available for download from eVision by authorised staff, or can be obtained on request from the Doctoral Office.