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Research degrees at Edge Hill

Your academic experience

Research degrees at Edge Hill tailor the specific experience of each PGR to his or her individual learning and skills needs in becoming a fully developed researcher, and in completing a specific individual research project.

You will be supported in your research by a Director of Studies (DoS) and, in the case of PhD or professional doctorate, up to two additional academics with expertise in the areas of investigation or method(s) being used.2 You will also receive research training reflecting our commitments and obligations identified in the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

To tailor your experience your learning and skills needs are assessed at the beginning of each academic year and reviewed regularly. Your supervisors are central to this. They will help you to develop an understanding of the ways in which the concepts, ideas and problems covered in postgraduate researcher development sessions manifest themselves in your individual research project and specific disciplinary areas.

All Edge Hill research degrees have the following components:

  • A research project
  • Non-modular postgraduate researcher development sessions
  • Learning and Skills Needs Analysis – a structured evaluation of your requirements in relation to the development of appropriate knowledge, understanding, and skills. This will be reviewed at regular intervals
  • A programme of related studies to address learning and skills needs
  • Supervision, through which your particular PGR experience will be tailored to your needs

Information regarding these components can be found in the booklets and on the PGR Blackboard space. Whilst each research degree takes a specific form, they always preserve these five core components. There are, of course, differences in the length of the research proposal required after the first few months of registration, and in the length of the final thesis or dissertation.

Additional Tuition: Academic Concepts and communicating your Research

Roles and responsibilities

Three post grad students looking at a laptop

Postgraduate Researchers (PGRs)

The key to understanding the nature of postgraduate education is recognition of the fact that in such education should take place ‘under your own management’.6 This significantly alters the nature of responsibilities PGRs have, compared with taught postgraduate students or undergraduates. This is one of the reasons that we go out of our way not to refer to those registered on a research degree as ‘students’. The expressions ‘research student’ and ‘postgraduate research student’ are common enough, although increasingly falling from favour, but they can be misleading as they can bring some people to fail to appreciate the essential role of independence in research degree work.

You have sole responsibility for the production of your own work and, therefore, for ensuring that the work is your own work; correctly referenced and presented. While your supervisors will give advice, it is your responsibility to make decisions about whether to take that advice and precisely how to follow it.

Your supervisors cannot advise you unless you produce work on which they can give advice. Therefore, you, and not your supervisor(s), are responsible for driving the work forward. You are also responsible for the submission of work and the completion of any other documentation, including an annual appraisal report where required. It is your responsibility to ensure that such tasks are completed in accordance with any deadlines.

It is also your responsibility to do the following:

Registration

Personal details

Postgraduate researcher development sessions

Supervision

Ethics

Submissions

Research degree supervisors

Your Director of Studies is responsible for ensuring supervision on a regular and frequent basis and, where appropriate, managing the supervisory team. The Director of Studies will be a permanent member of Edge Hill staff. Guidance on supervisory teams can be found online.

Normally, MRes PGRs will be supervised solely by the Director of Studies but some may have an additional supervisor. Doctoral PGRs (PhD and Professional Doctorate) normally have two or three supervisors in total. Occasionally, there is also an advisor who has specific expertise in one element of the research, but who will not be involved in the supervision of the thesis in its entirety.

The following responsibilities apply for research degree supervisors:

  • Ensure that there is at least monthly written, online, or telephone contact between the PGR and all members of the supervisory team. Normally in the first semester this contact will be more frequent. As noted above, you are also jointly responsible with your supervisor for ensuring that there is regular contact (a minimum of four meetings per year for part-time PGRs, or eight meetings per year for full-time PGRs). Under normal circumstances these would be face-to-face meetings, but as a result of COVID-19, such stipulations are impossible. That being the case, while COVID-19 remains an issue, we will make no distinction between face-to-face meetings in person and meetings conducted by video conferencing. Any meetings in person should ensure the appropriate social distancing measures are taken, in line with government and Edge Hill guidance at the time
  • All supervisors are responsible for reading and commenting on your work in a timely manner – normally within four working weeks. You must recognise, however, that supervisors have many other responsibilities as part of their role as academic staff. As a consequence, there will be occasions when staff are unable to provide feedback quickly. You and your supervisors should plan accordingly
  • Supervisors are responsible for making themselves available for regular supervisory meetings. Again, there will be times in the academic year, or periods when staff are on annual leave or attending conferences, when it will not be possible for meetings to take place. You should discuss this with your Director of Studies, or supervisory team, and plan accordingly. While you may meet with your supervisors individually, in cases where there is a team, you should also meet with them collectively on a regular basis
  • The Director of Studies is responsible for the completion of the learning and skills needs assessment with you, while you are responsible for keeping a record of skills development activities
  • The Director of Studies is responsible for submitting proposals for the progression examination team (if you’re a doctoral PGR) and final examination team proposals (for all PGRs) to the Graduate School at least three months prior to final submission of the thesis/dissertation
  • Supervisors are required to attend research degree supervisor development sessions on a regular basis
  • Where necessary, directing you to support services for advice and assistance, including any appropriate advice or assistance in relation to your wellbeing

PGRs can request a change to their supervisory team by the Graduate School at any point during their research degree. We strongly advise, however, that this only happens in exceptional circumstances, such as a change in the direction of a project where there is a resulting need for a different combination of supervisory expertise.

If you feel that a request for an alteration to a supervisory team is necessary, ideally, your Director of Studies should submit a supervisory team change request form19 to the Graduate School for approval prior to the implementation of the change. If that is not possible for any reason, please contact the Graduate School for advice. You are entitled to make a request for an alteration to your supervisory team, but the Graduate School is not obliged to approve such an alteration. We will consider the merits of any request and act accordingly. It is important to understand that no changes to supervisory teams have any status until they have been given formal written approval by the Graduate School. All issues relating to supervision should be raised with the Graduate School in the first instance.

The Graduate School Board of Studies is the progression and award board for research degrees at Edge Hill. It operates with delegated authority from the Academic Board in confirming Progression and Award results for all Edge Hill University Research Awards. Specifically, it is responsible for:

  1. Confirming examination outcomes for project registration, progression, and final examinations
  2. Monitoring and reviewing individual PGR progress, including reviewing the recommendations of the annual appraisal process and taking final decisions on appraisal outcomes.
  3. Taking final decisions on malpractice outcomes.
  4. Taking final decisions on fitness to study outcomes.
  5. Taking final decisions on termination of registration.

The Graduate School Board of Studies meets on a monthly basis. Each meeting deals with matters received by the Graduate School by 15th of each month.

The Graduate School, rather than the Graduate School Board of Studies considers the following:

  • interruption of studies requests
  • extension requests
  • changes to mode of study
  • changes to target award sought
  • requests for changes to supervisory teams
  • final examination team requests

Should you or your supervisor need to submit any examination paperwork to the Graduate School (e.g. examination teams for approval), you should do so via [email protected]

The Research Degrees Sub-Committee is responsible for research degree matters relating to the sector, quality, regulations, policies and postgraduate researcher experience. Its terms of reference are:

  1. To consider proposals for modifications to regulations and policies pertaining to research degrees.
  2. To make recommendations to Academic Board, through the Research and Innovation Committee, where appropriate, for modification of the Research Degree Regulations and their operation.
  3. To provide oversight of any research degree developments in the sector, as well as quality & regulatory matters in relation to research degrees and alert the University through the Research and Innovation Committee where appropriate.
  4. To identify, evaluate, promote and disseminate good practice in postgraduate researcher supervision.
  5. To consider issues relating to postgraduate researcher experience, making recommendations as appropriate.
  6. To consider matters as requested by the Graduate School.
  7. To monitor the effectiveness of the sub-committee on an annual basis.
  8. To ensure that equality considerations are taken into account in the conduct of the sub-committee’s business.

The Research Degrees Sub-Committee meets three times per year and is chaired by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Researcher development

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education, advice and guidance for research degrees, defines six guiding principles of sound practice in relation to research degrees. Indicator four states:

Providers ensure that research students are provided with appropriate opportunities to regularly reflect on and develop their personal, professional and research skills in consultation with their supervisory team.

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education

By including a Learning and Skills Needs Analysis that informs the development of a programme of related studies, research degrees at Edge Hill not only meet the relevant guidance principle, but also add an additional level of learning experience by tailoring research development opportunities to your needs in tutorial supervision.

Such tailoring means that the core sessions, methodological sessions, known as the postgraduate researcher development programme, and programme of related studies are not discrete components of the programme of research. Rather, these learning experiences are interconnected through classroom sessions and consideration, during tutorial supervision, of the way the various issues raised manifest themselves in your specific research project and the relevant academic discipline in which you are working.

You will need to complete a Learning and Skills Needs Analysis in order to identify your development requirements.21 Each subject area has its own guidance on needs analysis, paperwork for recording the results of the needs analyses, and details of the resulting programme of related studies. All such guidance will, in some way, be influenced by the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).

In the induction week, you will be introduced to the concept of needs analysis and will then discuss your needs with your Director of Studies and identify concrete targets for development, on the basis of which you will design your programme of related studies.

As a result of COVID-19, our approach to the delivery of the postgraduate researcher development programme must be flexible for the foreseeable future. If no new restrictions are introduced by the Government we will combine sessions using Zoom and Collaborate and on campus sessions in three weekend events and a summer school in order to take advantage of the benefits of each method of delivery.

This portion of the development programme must be attended by all PGRs in their first year, including MRes PGRs.

The material in core sessions covers research design, research project management, research data management, research ethics, and some of the more general conceptual, epistemological and methodological matters in relation to research. The core sessions include a series of short sessions designed to introduce you to some considerations that, while not generic because they apply in different ways in different cases, are of relevance to all research. These sessions are facilitated by a small team of academics from a range of disciplinary backgrounds and will take the form of structured discussions.

Additional sessions are provided for PGRs in subsequent years focusing more on professional development and preparing for postdoctoral life. These sessions include understanding the HE environment, including the Research Excellence Framework (REF), preparing for post-doctoral positions, critical discussions, understanding impact, open access and research data management (key developments which affect all researchers and are increasingly prominent). There will also be sessions on topics such as preparing CVs, responding to peer review, how to publish, and support in navigating your career options. The full programme of development sessions can be found in appendix 1. It is also available via Blackboard.

If you are an Edge Hill MRes graduate continuing your studies as a PhD PGR, it is not expected that you attend the core or methodological sessions. We do, however, advise you to attend as these do change regularly and provide further insight into your studies. There are considerable benefits of engaging with those sessions a second time as you begin the doctorate and have progressed in your development compared to the early stages of the MRes.

Please note: it is imperative that your attendance is registered for each development session in order to meet the requirements of project registration. If you are unable to attend a session, please contact the Graduate School for advice on a suitable alternative activity.

All MRes and Professional Doctorate PGRs must attend a minimum of six methodological sessions (you are free to select which six sessions you attend, but you should seek supervisory advice in making that decision).

PhD PGRs should draw on the methodological sessions as necessary as part of their programme of related studies. There are no restrictions as to which sessions any given PGR can attend, nor on the maximum number of sessions you can attend. All PGRs can attend any of the methodological development sessions and should take supervisory advice on which would be most appropriate.

The methodological sessions form a programme of structured discussion activities. Some of the sessions address issues principally of interest to those working in science subjects, some address issues principally of interest to those working in social science subjects, and some address issues most likely to be of interest to those working in arts and humanities subjects. In addition, there are a small number of methodological sessions that are designed to transcend specific disciplinary boundaries.
The full programme of methodological sessions can be found in appendix 2. It is also available via Blackboard.

Please note: it is imperative that you sign the attendance register for each session that you attend. If you do not sign the register, you have not attended according to our records.

If you do not attend the requisite number of methodological sessions for your research degree route you will be unable to pass your project registration examination without completing a Graduate School-approved alternative activity. Should you miss a session please contact the Graduate School for advice.

Along with your Director of Studies, you will design a programme of related studies to meet specific learning and skills needs identified through your learning and skills needs analysis.

Your programme of related studies could include attendance at research seminars covering appropriate topics, regardless of which department, faculty or research institute organises them, any other research institute events, research training sessions offered by any department or faculty, sessions that are part of the University’s Researcher Development Programme, individual tutorials that you arrange with members of staff other than those on your supervisory team, and, with the agreement of module leaders, attendance at certain lectures delivered as part of masters or third year undergraduate modules.

In addition, as noted above, PhD PGRs may include some of the methodological sessions as part of their programme of related studies, while MRes and professional doctorate PGRs may include additional methodological sessions, beyond the six that they are required to attend.

It is important to understand that the programme of related studies can include anything that meets the needs identified by the learning and skills needs analysis. There is no stipulated content for the programme of related studies, because, for each individual, it will be tailored to their specific needs, and so unique to them.
The University also has a Researcher Development Programme23, which is open to all academic staff and PGRs in the University. Enrolment on sessions is by email24. This programme is unlikely to plug significant gaps in knowledge, particularly around methods, but will be able to introduce you to different approaches, which can then be developed further.

External training events are provided by organisations such as Vitae25, the National Centre for Research Methods,26 Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research27, the UK Data service28, among others. In addition, there are MOOCs (massive open online courses) across a vast range of subject areas. While many of these external training opportunities are free or low cost, some incur a considerable fee. You need to consult with your supervisory team before committing to external training as there are no specific funds to support this, although you can apply to the PGR Bursary Fund for a contribution to the costs if you can demonstrate that the need is sufficient, could not have been predicted, and cannot be met within the University.

Research governance and conduct

All researchers at Edge Hill University (EHU) must design and conduct their research to the highest standards. The key principles you should follow to achieve this can be found in the Code of Practice for the Conduct of Research26. Best practice should be followed for all research matters, including:

  • Research design
  • Ethics
  • Research data management
  • Insurance and indemnity

Information and policies on all of these can be found on the University research governance web pages.

Research ethics

All research projects at Edge Hill, including your PhD, ProfDoc or MRes, must be registered on Haplo, our research ethics system.28 Once registered, projects undergo ethical review by one of the five subject research ethics committees (SRECs): projects will be assessed to determine whether they require expedited, standard or enhanced review. All research degree PGRs should read the Research Ethics Policy (REP)29 and the Code of Practice for the conduct of Research26. Full details on the functioning of the SRECs can be found in appendix 1 of the REP.

Research ethics will be discussed in your project registration proposal and those on PhD and professional doctorate routes will be asked about ethics in your registration viva. Ethical approval can only be granted by one of the University’s research ethics committees; you must have received ethical approval before commencing data collection. You should discuss the ethical dimensions of your project with your supervisors. Additionally, you can consult the relevant ethics committee for your

particular subject area by contacting the secretary. Names are listed in appendix 4.

An approved registration of the project (an outcome of project registration examination/viva) is still conditional on attaining ethical approval from an appropriate ethics committee – normally required to be within three months of the date of project registration.

No data can be collected, or evidence gathered, before you have received written confirmation that the project has passed appropriate ethical scrutiny/approval.

If you collect any data before ethical approval has been granted, that data cannot be used in the thesis and must be destroyed in compliance with data protection. In addition, this could leave you open to an accusation of research misconduct, so it is vital that you seek advice from your supervisors before engaging in any data collection (or the equivalent for creative projects).You should remember that you could be asked by anyone with an interest in the research to produce proof that ethical review has been undertaken and that you have permission to embark on data collection.

Additional ethics for health-related research

If the research is being carried out within the NHS or within a social care setting you may need to apply for approval from the Health Research Authority (HRA)30 31. EHU will usually be the Sponsor for your research. You will need to apply for sponsorship, it is not automatic32. In addition, when you have completed your research it is essential, for any research under HRA approval, that you notify the HRA Research Ethics Committee within 90 days of the end of study33. The Graduate School ([email protected]) and Research Office ([email protected]) must also be informed, please copy in both to any messages regarding closing research sites/projects for their records.

Research Ethics Committees

The University Research Ethics Sub-committee (URESC) acts on behalf of its parent committee, the University Research and Innovation Committee (URIC), and is charged with responsibility for overseeing the ethical standards for the conduct of research at Edge Hill.

There are five subject RECs, all reporting to URESC: arts and humanities; social sciences; education; health-related research; and sciences (see figure B). It is the nature of the project, not the department in which the researcher is based, that determines which is the most appropriate committee although the default route will reflect the department in which you are based. All projects undergoing Health Research Authority (HRA) approval must be scrutinised by the Health Research Ethics Committee (HREC) and all projects working under the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) licence must be reviewed by the Science Research Ethics Committee (ScREC). While departments do not grant ethical approval, it is expected that projects will be reviewed and feedback given to researchers before proceeding to the formal process. This is part of a mentoring process and helps to avoid rejection of projects for reasons that could easily be identified by a third person.

Edge Hill research ethics committees can also accept ethical approval from some appropriate research ethics committees outside Edge Hill. In such circumstances the Edge Hill REC must scrutinise the documentation to satisfy itself that the standard of approval meets our own before you begin your data collection – you will be informed of this in writing. Please see the Research Ethics Policy for further details.

Working with human tissue

If your research will involve the collection, use or storage of human tissue it will be subject to the Human Tissue Act 2004.34 You must seek advice from your supervisor. In addition, if you haven’t undertaken the training for seeking consent, or if it has been more than 3 years since you undertook this training, you must contact the University’s designated individual with responsibility for research involving human tissue (Professor Adrian Midgley, Department of Sport and Physical Activity). You can also contact Professor Midgely, or one of the persons designate, if you have any queries relating to the governance of human tissue at EHU before submission.

Applications for ethical approval for projects involving human tissue can take longer than other ethics applications so you should plan accordingly and ensure that you follow any advice and guidance provided. Further details are available on the University human tissue web pages.

Other important considerations

While most people work in areas where there are limited risks, or the risks can be well managed and mitigated, there are certain subject areas where particular consideration is needed. If you are working with genetic resources and/or traditional knowledge held by indigenous and local communities that is associated with genetic resources, the Nagoya Protocol may apply: this is an international agreement to promote the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits of research that uses genetic resources. Please consult the guidance and checklist and discuss with your supervisors.35

The University also has a separate policy on working with sensitive materials. It is important that you comply with the University’s IT acceptable use policy for accessing high risk materials so we can support you in carrying out legitimate research. We also have a duty of care to our staff and PGRs and viewing material that is excluded from our acceptable use policy may be distressing. Should your work fall into these categories, please consult the University’s Policy on Researching and Handling Sensitive Material and discuss your particular situation with your supervisors.36

Risk assessment

All research projects should undergo a risk assessment – for many this will be a simple process that requires the researcher to identify all the different elements of risk associated with the project and then consider the likelihood of them happening and the anticipated impact if they should. Once you have identified the risk, you need to establish how you will mitigate that risk. You should review your risk assessment regularly as circumstances change and therefore the mitigation of risk will also change. There is no Edge Hill risk assessment form for you to complete but the University’s Risk Assessment Guidance37 is available on the University governance web pages and your risk assessment should be appended to your ethical review application in Haplo28. In addition, your professional association may require you to complete a specific risk assessment. All heads of department must be satisfied that the research in their areas is properly risk assessed and all mitigations in place, and they will be alerted that your ethics application has been completed. Failure to engage with risk assessment could undermine the insurance and indemnity cover for your project and leave you with personal liabilities.

Data protection

Many research projects require that you collect data from a range of sources. All data must be managed carefully (i.e. data storage and data sharing) to ensure its security and integrity in line with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and related data protection legislation. All projects involving data collection will require a data management plan38. Data that is based on human subjects has, of course, strict rules and regulations regarding its use and particular care must be given to the management of personal data where individuals have legally enforced rights. It is essential that you provide the right information to your research subjects about how you will process the data collected and what you will do with it in the long term – this information should be clearly stated in the participant information sheet. Poor information at the point of data collection can limit its usefulness and, in the worst cases, will make the data unusable.

In an age of open research, there is an expectation that data will be curated and shared for reuse by you and others where appropriate – indeed, in some subject areas, journals expect researchers to publish the data as an annex to the article or to direct readers to where it is publicly available (at Edge Hill we have Figshare as a data repository).39 In doing so, you must balance the need for openness with the requirements of data protection. Any data that you publish will be anonymised so will largely be acceptable to share by the rules of the GDPR, but you should ensure that your participants are aware of how you may share it.

More information on data protection is available on the research governance webpages and Edge Hill’s Information Governance wiki.