Specific advice for research supervisors at the University of Surrey. Please check back regularly for any updates and read our general advice for health information and travel guidance.

As we are aware there is the potential that the University may experience disruption due the coronavirus outbreak. This may lead to self-isolation of supervisors and/or doctoral researchers, disruption of research or conference travel and/or staff and students staying away from campus for a specified period of time. Therefore, we wish to provide guidance for supervisors regarding how to prepare and support their doctoral researchers through this time.

The following inboxes will be monitored throughout:

  • Doctoral College: for any general queries related to Doctoral College Operations, including studentships.
  • Researcher Development: for training, skills, writing and career development queries; general support and advice related to project planning or organising effective virtual working; guidance and advice for supervisors about any of the above. Please note we will aim to continue to run a full suite of workshops virtually with minimal cancellation.
  • Research Degrees Office: for all queries regarding regulations, policy and procedures. Including but not limited to thesis submission, examiner queries, temporary withdrawal, progress, and APESC-related queries.

Step 1: preparation

  • Ensure you keep updated on all official University advice and guidance. This is a changing situation and there are likely to be frequent updates. Ensure your contact details are correct on the HR system, including a phone number for text alerts.
  • Check in with PGRs to see if they have any concerns or are distressed by the current situation or have fears about the impact on their research. Be particularly mindful that there may be people with circumstances that make this time particularly stressful, i.e. those with underlying conditions or with close family members with underlying conditions, those with anxiety disorders, particularly those that have a health component to that anxiety or those that are at a particularly critical stage in their research progress. It is important to be supportive of these different situations and utilise all the resources the University has available to support the student, including the Centre for Wellbeing and the Doctoral College. Feel free to email the Doctoral College or RDP if you have specific queries or concerns.
    • This could be a very helpful lesson for your PGRs in contingency planning.
    • Consider framing this as finding the opportunity in this challenging time. What could they do that perhaps they have been putting off? Writing thesis chapters or publications? Spending a bit more time looking at a certain data set? Reading up on a topic that they haven’t gotten around to yet?
    •  Discuss with your researchers what they could do from home and to re-plan the scheduled work to ensure they do not feel concerned about their progress.
  • Check with each doctoral researcher and discuss what ‘resources’ they have/need to work from home e.g. laptop, suitable place to work, access to internet, phone line etc. and remote access to the S drive/OneDrive/Zoom/ Skype/MS Teams/specific analysis software (as appropriate).
  • Discuss what should be taken home on a daily basis or left at home to ensure smooth transition to working from home.
  • Discuss how doctoral researchers would prefer to be contacted by the supervisory team, i.e. email/text/phone call/what’s app groups/Zoom/Skype/MS Teams.
  • Ensure understanding of virtual options for communication, for example, team meetings or one-to-ones using Skype or Zoom. Does everyone have Skype accounts? Do people know how to use Zoom? It may be worth testing this out.
  • Consider asking PGRs to try out working from home if this is something they do not usually do, to ensure they are appropriately set up and supported at home.
    • It would be much better to find out that something doesn’t work well from home now, when you can get IT and/or other University support to fix it, then to find out when/if the University closes down.
  • If your PGR has travel plans for research or conference in the upcoming months, consider current travel advice, but recognise that this advice is changing as the situation evolves.
    • Discuss contingency plans if travel becomes impossible. Can the research be rescheduled? Can it be done in a different location? Could an alternative approach be used? It is worth thinking about this in advance of discussing it with your PGR as they are likely to be concerned and will look to you for guidance.
    • Consider whether travel is appropriate even if there are no current advisories against travel to the specific destination. Some researchers may have underlying conditions or family with underlying condition that would make travel more of a concern for them at this time.
    • Consider the impact of changing advice on travel occurs whilst your PGR is away, making it more difficult to return to the UK or requiring self-isolation upon return. This possibility may mean that non-essential travel to some locations, particularly if there are virtual alternatives, may not be the best option.
  • If your PGR has a viva approaching, please consider the arrangements in light of not being able to attend on campus or the possibility of the student or examiners being required to self-isolate. Arrangements can be put in place for a viva examination using online remote access, but this does take some preparation so please plan ahead and contact the Research Degrees Office if you require assistance with this. We do have guidelines in place to help you manage this eventuality.
  • If your PGR has concerns about funding, registration period, or visas, do bear in mind that advice is being updated as the situation evolves. Funding councils are taking a pragmatic approach, seeking a way to minimise any impact on PGRs, and are posting advice and updates on their websites. Rather than trying to pass these details on to supervisors and risk accessing out-of-date advice, we suggest you look at the relevant website yourself to ensure you are reading the latest advice. If you have concerns about registration or visas please do contact the Research Degrees Office.

Step 2: keeping people safe and communicating

  • If you or your PGR are required to self-isolate, ensure that all members of the research team are aware of the situation and work together to support each other.
  • If it self-isolation is a precautionary measure with no sign of illness, establish how supervisory support will be maintained.
    • If you are self-isolating, it may be that your co-supervisor can step in and cover the supervisory role for this period.
    • Alternatively, you can plan virtual support via email, Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or by phone, depending on what works best for you and your PGR.
    • If your PGR is self-isolating, it is advisable that you check in virtually at least twice a week. Not just to check on their progress, but to ensure their wellbeing. They may need much more supervisory contact and overall support than normal in these circumstances. You should utilise your supervisory team, the Doctoral College and other University services available during this time to help with this support as needed.
  • If you are self-isolated and you are ill, inform your co-supervisor and they should take over supervisory duties for this period of time.
  • If your PGR is self-isolating due to illness, check in virtually and reassure them. Set up a line of communication that they are comfortable with. Inform your local PGR director that they are ill and self-isolating.

Supervisors have a responsibility for ensuring the safety of doctoral researchers and that those staff are kept updated throughout.

To those ends, supervisors should:

  • Contact each of their PGRs to make sure they do not have any immediate questions or concerns.
  • Supervisors and PGRs should agree working hours during the period if research activity is not possible on campus, which may need to be different than the normal core hours as they need to take into account the PGR’s and supervisor's circumstances, such as caring responsibilities, which may be different than under normal circumstances. This will help to maintain a healthy work\life balance.
  • Working with your PGRs, plan a schedule of check-ins to check on their wellbeing and make sure they have what they need to do the agreed upon work.
  • Discuss your availability for phone or Skype conversations. Ensure that at least one member of the supervisory team is available for a phone or Skype conversation an absolute minimum of once a week. In most cases this contact should be more frequent, depending on the stage of the doctorate and the degree to which disruption is impacting planned progress.
    • It is likely that your researchers may need extra pastoral support during this time, in addition to guidance on their research. Ensure you give space and time for them to talk to you about a range of issues which could be impacted.
    • Do also think about what additional support you may need. You will be leading your team through this uncertainty and no doubt also concerned about your own research. Please do talk with your Department Heads and PGRDs, as well as with the Doctoral College and the Centre of Wellbeing to ensure that people know the type of support that supervisors and their researchers are likely to need during this time.
    • Also remember you are a supervisory team, so use your co-supervisor to help support your researchers as well. Just make sure you both have the same understanding of the contingency plan and stay in contact.
  • Currently the Doctoral College is planning to have some degree of virtual working, including frontline support for queries, one-to-one skills and career development virtual meetings (this includes writing support), and even some virtual workshops. Please feel free to encourage your researchers to contact us as needed and perhaps take this as an opportunity to develop their skills or polish up their CV. (
  • Reassure your PGRs that the University recognises that there will be individual circumstances that may make this situation more challenging for some PGRs than for others, for example those in the final stages of data collection. Please be reassured that APESC will take these circumstances into consideration in terms of time lost/impact due to the disruption, and consequently, adjustments to deadlines would be considered. If there are specific concerns please contact the Research Degrees Office (, your departmental PGRD or your faculty’s Associate Dean for Doctoral College.
    • FEPS: Jeremy Allam
    • FHMS: Ruan Elliot
    • FASS: Allan Kilner-Johnson

Please observe the above advice and rest assured that the Doctoral College will be working closely with the Silver Command and University senior management to ensure that our PGRs are supported. Further guidance will be made available if this type of disruption occurs.

Step 3: Potential additional challenges

Below are some additional challenges that may occur. It may be helpful to discuss with your PGRs what other possible challenges they may face. Even if you cannot fix everything, it is good to understand potential problems and provide reassurance.

  • Children’s schools close.
    • This could seriously impact some doctoral researchers’ ability to work if they have caring responsibilities.
    • This should be identified and discussed as early as possible and it should be understood that these PGRs may not be able to work effectively from home during this period. You should provide support and reassurance.
  • Doctoral Researcher not having access to necessary resources.
    • Supervisors to identify early and either provide resources or contingency plan around this.
  • IT problems, either isolated for an individual team member or more University wide.
  • Public transportation delays or cancellations.
  • Absence of key support staff responsible for maintenance and safety of equipment.
  • Disruption to planned or scheduled travel.