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FAQ for Higher Degrees by Research students

March 14, 2020

FAQ to assist Higher Degrees by Research students – 5 August 2020

With Victoria being declared a State of Disaster, Deakin campuses must respond to new government restrictions. We continue to review and adjust our plans for on-campus activity based on evolving government advice. This advice is effective immediately, adapting to the new Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne and Stage 3 restrictions in regional Victoria.

For our HDR students, approved critical research activity will continue at Burwood Campus under strict protocols and monitoring and Local Area Management Plans. Please contact your supervisor if you are unsure or have questions. In regional areas, Geelong and Warrnambool, on-campus and fieldwork research activity that has already been prioritised and approved will continue unchanged, under strict protocols and monitoring and Local Area Management Plans.


Should students provide any particular form or supporting evidence when applying for intermission or extension of candidature?

Students should apply for changes to candidature in the usual way and identify if they have been impacted by COVID-19. The GRA will make a note in the student file of students who need to make changes due to COVID-19. This will then be on the record for consideration of further changes in future. If students are unwell or have carer responsibilities related to COVID-19 then they should obtain medical certificates to support their applications.

My research project has been delayed due to COVID-19, can I extend my scholarship?

All HDR students who have been legitimately delayed will be given an appropriate extension. A template has been developed to clarify what a legitimate delay is and to help you record any delays whether related to COVID-19 or other reasons. We’ll be providing guidance and examples to help you with this. Students eligible for a COVID-19 scholarship extension are being contacted directly via email.

Intermission is the best option for me right now due to COVID-19 but I’m in my first year of candidature, can an exception be made?

We hope that you can work with your supervisor to continue your research training however we also understand that many of our HDR students may not be able to focus on research at this time for a range of reasons. For students needing intermission in their first year due to COVID-19 there is additional flexibility. Please apply using the online form.

I need to make a change to my candidature, how do I do that?

As you work through your plans with your supervisors it may be appropriate to consider changes to candidature. Please use the normal processes and online forms for changes.

I need to take a break from my candidature, what are my options?

If you are unable to continue your research at this time and need to take a break from your candidature, there are a number of options available. Frequently asked questions about the different kinds of leave and the online forms to apply for leave form

HDR students are entitled to different types of leave, such as annual leave, intermission, sick leave, additional sick leave, and parental leave. For students on scholarship, please check your scholarship terms and conditions for your allowances and impact on payments.

Depending on the reason for the leave request, and the leave type requested, the requirement for supporting documentation (such as a medical certificate) may be relaxed. (Noting that scholarship terms and conditions may require formal documentation.)

International students will need to consult an International Student Adviser (ISA) for impacts on their visa before making any changes to their candidature such as intermission.

What do students do if they have limited internet access and are unable to access the online forms to change candidature (e.g. intermit, take leave, change topic etc.)?

If you are unable to access the online forms, contact our team at research-hdr@deakin.edu.au for Candidature only, or research-scholarships@deakin.edu.au for Scholarship students. The team will then work through the process manually with you.

Will deferrals for international students be extended to accommodate travel bans? Will students be able to maintain their DUPR offer?

All international students will have a start date or deferred start date to accommodate travel bans. Deferred students that have been offered a DUPR will maintain their scholarships. If travel bans are lifted earlier then the GRA will contact students; if it goes on for longer, a further deferral can be arranged.

Will candidates’ Maximum Completion Date (MCD) be extended?

Not automatically. Students can make a case for an extension and apply through the online form

Can we carry out Confirmations of Candidature and other panel discussions (e.g. Progress Support Panels) remotely?

Yes, videoconferencing is already a standard process for remote or internationally-located students, with Zoom being the recommended option. Confirmation of Candidature and other panel discussions can be held via Zoom, with follow up support provided to students, e.g. arranging a follow up an informal conversation for debriefing or discussing concerns.

Can we carry out oral exams remotely?

Yes, provided arrangements are clearly discussed between the student and the examination panel. Students will receive support before and after the examination, e.g. a designated support person outside the examination panel.

I’m a HDR student who is overseas for research and cannot return home now due to travel bans or lack of flights. What should I do?

  • Existing HDR students who are overseas and unable to return to Australia have the following options available to them:
  • If research cannot be undertaken remotely focus on analysing data, writing literature reviews, thesis chapters, publications or other documents. HDR students can also complete PhD Xtra online coursework units.
  • Seek an intermission to candidature or scholarship if the activities listed above cannot be undertaken.
  • Our International Research Partnerships team are contacting all students in this situation. If you haven’t been contacted, please email international-partnerships@deakin.edu.au

Are there online study options available to HDR students?

Researcher Training and Development

Visit our one-stop shop researcher training and development site for training and development workshops and online modules.

There are online study options for HDR students. PhD Xtra offers online coursework units. The PhD Xtra CloudDeakin site offers:

  • Research Integrity Training and HDR Induction (CloudDeakin) – both are compulsory
  • Modules for Orientation, Confirmation, ILP, skills development and approaching completion
  • Access to the University Epigeum subscription

Respectful Relationships training (CloudDeakin) is recommended for all Deakin students.

The Library can be accessed to support publication and thesis chapter writing. The Library also has online training guides for a range of research skills. There is online study support available from Smart Thinking. For advice, questions and support you can contact your supervisor, HDR Coordinator, HDR staff or the GRA.

What options are available to International HDR students who have a confirmed offer but have yet to arrive in Australia?

Applicants who have a confirmed offer but have yet to arrive in Australia should defer their offer.  For queries, please contact deakin-int-hdr@deakin.edu.au.

What services are available to HDR students who have family overseas and are impacted by COVID-19?

If a student is concerned about their family overseas, for example, family members in lock-down, and this is impacting the student’s health, please refer to the Health and Wellbeing site for support

Human research ethics

What restrictions will affect human research during the COVID-19 period?

  1. Deakin University researchers need to comply with Government, University and third party (i.e. those imposed by external organisations involved in the research) restrictions.

When may I need to modify my research?

For those who wish to continue their research while travel bans and other isolation restrictions are in place, you may need to modify your research if:

  • Your project involves planned international travel. Modifications may relate to the approved methodology.
  • Your project involves people who are already overseas (whether they are people who are local to the area, or Australian researchers visiting the country) conducting the research and that country now requires people to self-isolate, or has other COVID-19 related restrictions that may affect your planned research.
  • Your research is being conducted in remote Aboriginal communities in Australia, and you intend to continue your research during the period that the COVID-19 health threat remains active. Please see Remote communities and New directions to protect remote Aboriginal communities from COVID-19.
  • Your research involves attending gatherings either indoors or outdoors, that do not comply with current government restrictions. See Department of Health Limits on public gatherings for coronavirus (COVID-19) for up to date details on restrictions. It is imperative that all research projects that remain active during this time are compliant with restrictions.
  • Your project involves participants who are classified as being ‘at risk’ (e.g., the elderly, people with compromised immune systems or people with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart and lung disease), and you intend to continue your research during the period that COVID-19 restrictions are in force. Please see DHHS ‘Who is most at risk of coronavirus and Advice for aged care facilities and visitors to residents.
  • There are restrictions placed on your research activities by third parties (e.g. schools, aged care facilities, hospitals, etc.) which mean that you can no longer conduct your research as approved.
  • You identify other aspects of your project that place research team members, participants or others at an unacceptable risk of exposure to COVID-19.
  • It becomes necessary to add, remove or change the role of any member of the research team. Please note that any researcher or participant showing cold or flu-like symptoms, or who has been in contact with someone with these symptoms or with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or who has returned from overseas within the last 14 days, must adhere to government guidance in relation to self-isolation.
  • Conducting your project as approved would have required you to breach social distancing guidelines (e.g. if you are required to touch another person, touch objects that have been touched by participants or have multiple participants touch the same objects without appropriate sterilisation procedures, be physically closer than 1.5m from a participant or others during the research etc.). Please see the Department of Health Social distancing.
  • Your research requires you to travel interstate. All non-essential domestic travel should be cancelled. Please see the Department of Health and Human Services Actions for organisations, workplaces, or employers Please be aware that there may be additional restrictions imposed by individual States and Territories of Australia. Please see Department of Health Travelling in Australia.
  • Your research involves the provision of an incentive of any kind that may encourage participants to participate and not self-declare overseas travel and/or symptoms. It becomes necessary to reopen previously completed projects.

When don’t I need to seek ethics approval to modify my research?

  • You determine that it is appropriate to conduct your project online rather than face-to-face but every other aspect of your project remains the same (e.g. you have the approval to conduct face-to-face interviews which you now wish to conduct via Zoom or Skype, or you have the approval to administer a hard copy survey that you now wish to administer via Qualtrics) and there are no known ethical issues associated with this change (e.g. accessibility limitations for certain participant groups). Where ethical issues are associated with the proposed change, seek approval for a modification. Please note: if you received approval to audio record interviews in your original application, you may still record the interviews via an online platform but video recording will not be permitted without further approval.
  • You are taking the additional precautions described below to protect yourself and your research team from the possibility of COVID-19 infections. See Additional precautions.
  • Your research has been delayed because you are unable to conduct it for a period of time in light of COVID-19 restrictions and its completion will, therefore, exceed the approval period. Please note, once restrictions are lifted, you may continue your research, extending your previously approved end date for the length of time that your research was delayed. This can be done without the need to seek an extension of time.

You should indicate in your next Annual/Final Report that you have adopted the above recommendations without requiring approval.

What are some examples of the kinds of modifications I may consider?

Examples of possible modifications may include:

  • Amending the nature of the participant experience beyond simply conducting your project online where it was originally approved to be conducted face-to-face.
  • Changing your research sites, the size of your participant groups, or recruitment methods.
  • Introducing a screening tool to identify individuals who are part of a vulnerable group (e.g. the elderly, those with a lowered immune system or with pre-existing medical conditions such as heart or lung disease).
  • Removing or amending your approach to techniques that would otherwise require you to breach social distancing guidelines (e.g. collection of biospecimens directly from participants).
  • Where face-to-face contact with participants is required, decreasing, removing, or not informing participants of incentives that may encourage non-disclosure of symptoms/overseas travel.

How do I seek approval to modify my project?

If you are required to modify your research in order to avoid breaching COVID-19 restrictions, you must pause your research until you receive approval to commence your project in its modified form. When seeking approval, please complete a Request for Modification Form. The completed form and any required supplementary documents (e.g. modified Plain Language Statements) should be submitted to DUHREC or the HEAG responsible for the original approval of your project as per the instructions on the human research ethics website

You can submit a Request for Modification at any time (no deadlines apply) and the vast majority of modifications will be approved via circulation to expedite approval.

DUHREC and the HEAGs will continue to review and approve requests for modification to approved projects and new applications as usual, with committee meetings being conducted virtually as appropriate. While every effort will be made to issue approvals in a timely fashion, there may be some unavoidable delays due to an increase in requests associated with the impact of COVID-19.

Will the Human Research Ethics committee still continue?

The Human Ethics Team is following all current advice regarding COVID-19 as provided by the Vice-Chancellor and the Chief Operating Officer. In light of this advice, from the April 2020 meeting, the committee will meet virtually. The previously advertised committee submission deadlines and meeting dates will remain in place.

Some of our regular services will, unfortunately, be put on hold as we prioritise the continued support of the committee to deliver your approvals as expeditiously as possible. Affected services include pre-reviews (of both higher than low risk and low-risk ethics applications), delivery of training seminars and one on one meetings with researchers.

We regret this reduction in service and any impact this may have on your research and are working to restore these services as quickly as we can. 

What should I do if my research was originally approved by an external Australian HREC?

For projects approved by external Australian ethics review bodies, please refer to their advice regarding the modification of approved projects and the approval of new projects. Where such institutions have not issued specific guidance, researchers should refer to the Deakin advice.

Are there any special requirements for clinical trials?

The guidance that is endorsed by all of the Australian State and Territory Departments of Health, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), the NHMRC and the Clinical Trials Project Reference Group (CTPRG) has been released for institutions, HRECs, researchers and sponsors. Please see COVID-19: Guidance on clinical trials for institutions, HRECs, researchers and sponsors on the NHMRC website and the Department of Health’s website.

If I modify my project to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, do I need to seek approval to return to my original project design once the restrictions are lifted?

If you modify your project in order to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, you will not need to seek approval to return to your original, approved project design once the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted unless there are flow-on effects from the COVID-19 situation that affect the ethical acceptability of the original design. Examples of when a modification might be required include:

  • If your research as originally approved is likely to cause distress in the wake of the COVID-19 restrictions, or
  • As a consequence of the COVID-19 restrictions, the political situation in an overseas location has changed resulting in an unacceptable risk to researcher safety.

You should document in your Annual/Final report when the project reverted back to its original approved form.


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