PhD Xtra information session

The video below is an information session conducted by Professor Joe Graffam, Grant Michie and Amanda Mayor introducing the new PhD Xtra program.

Following the video is a selection of questions and answers addressed during the session.

Please email phdxtra@deakin.edu.au with any enquiries.

Questions and Answers

The overall PhD Xtra program

Q.    Does the PhD Xtra program apply to masters students as well as PhD students?
A.    Yes. PhD Xtra applies to all higher degree by research students. The program is called PhD Xtra partly because PhD students make up the vast majority. Furthermore, calling it something like HDR Xtra was considered unlikely to mean much to some groups of students, such as internationals, to whom the term ‘HDR’ is not widely known.

Q.    Does a current student who started before 31 October 2016 have a deadline for opting into the PhD Xtra program and what is the process?
A.    No. Such students do not have any kind of deadline for opting in and they do not need to inform Deakin Research that they are doing so. They can opt into PhD Xtra simply by starting to use one or more of the elements. The Individual Learning Plan is the most likely example and the student would just start browsing the training components and selecting any they wished to complete by adding them to their learning plan.

Q.    Does PhD Xtra apply to the ‘in-country’ students who spend most of their candidature in their home country?
A.    Yes, ‘in-country’ students are required to comply with the requirements of PhD Xtra and they are also encouraged to take advantage of it. Unfortunately not all of the training components are currently available to such students but Deakin’s is endeavouring to make as many as possible available. It is also possible for such students to undertake training during the period they are in Australia (which is usually up to six months in duration).

Q.    Given the introduction of additional content into higher degrees, such as coursework and training, will the thesis carry less weight?
A.    No. The thesis will continue to have the same weight it has always had.

Q.    Coursework units are to be recorded in the student’s academic transcript but mandatory training components required by an academic unit will be recorded in the Individual Learning Plan report. Why is that and what’s the difference?
A.    Coursework refers to formal research training coursework required by an academic unit, generally amounting to at least one credit point of study and requiring something like 160 hours. The other mandatory training components are smaller items of training, typically involving something like three or four hours. One example is where a faculty, school or institute requires students to complete induction to the area. Another example might be where an academic unit requires its students to complete occupational health and safety training.

Individual learning plan

Q.    When should a student discuss their Individual Learning Plan with their supervisor?
A.    At the earliest possible opportunity and as often as appropriate thereafter. Students are encouraged to start this discussion in the first month while completing their Candidature Agreement but, if possible, it might even be worthwhile to start this discussion before candidature, during the admission phase. The key thing is to think about what skills and knowledge the student needs to complete their degree, but also to set themself up for life after they graduate. The ILP can be reviewed at any time. The frequency will vary between students and between student-supervisor pairings, and it’s also likely to vary depending on the stage of candidature. It seems likely that students will engage with their ILP less during the lead up to major milestone events such as confirmation or thesis submission. If that’s the case, then students are encouraged to make sure they get the most out of their ILP during the periods when they are not required to be as focussed on those milestone events.

Q.    If a student undertakes some external training as part of their Individual Learning Plan, will they need to pay for it?
A.    If there is a cost attached to the external training, it will need to be discussed as to whether the student or the academic unit will pay for this, or possibly share the cost? It’s an important conversation which needs to happen early in the process.

Q.    Can a student do external training as part of their Individual Learning Plan?
A.    Yes, subject to the approval of the academic unit. It’s likely that there will be a cost attached to such training so that will be one of the issues to consider. It will need to be decided who pays: academic unit, student or shared cost?

Q.    Can a supervisor view the training components in the Individual Learning Plan catalogue, particularly with a view to recommending some to their student?
A.    Yes, they can browse the catalogue. In fact, it is hoped that supervisors will browse the catalogue in exactly this way, as one means of starting the conversation with their student about the skills and knowledge the student should consider incorporating in their program. Training which is external to Deakin should also be considered. A supervisor cannot add a training component to a student’s plan, but they can make the suggestion verbally.
The supervisor does not need to look at every training component in the catalogue (there are currently between 140 and 150). They can use the search function to narrow down the list.

Q.    Can you please explain more about the concept of bundling in the Individual Learning Plan?
A.    The catalogue in the Individual Learning Plan currently contains approximately 150 training components. They can be divided up in various ways, such as the area which delivers them (e.g. faculty, school, Library, Deakin Research) and the skill type (e.g. research methods, advanced statistics, writing/communication, publication strategies, OH&S). Another very important way in which they are divided is by the level/volume of training:

  • The high-level training components, which meet the AHEGS-worthy criteria (such as a minimum of 20 hours in which the student achieves mastery) will go into the student’s AHEG Statement (Australian Higher Education Graduate Statement). That is one of the suite of University documents a student receives when they complete. It sits alongside the testamur and the academic transcript.
     
  • The lower level training components are the ones which do not meet the 20-hour threshold for AHEGS worthiness. They will be recorded in the student’s Individual Learning Plan report. While they do not on their own meet the AHEGS criteria, it may be possible for a number of smaller training components to be bundled together to meet the AHEGS criteria. This is something which academic units are looking at seriously and we can expect to see more and more bundling of training components to create AHEGS-worthy items. For components to be bundled together, they need to be related. You cannot bundle together a disparate set of training components.

Q.    Can a student create their own bundles of training components?
A.    No. This is something that can only be done by the area which provides the training, such as the faculty, school or central division of the University.

Q.    What happens to a student’s Individual Learning Plan if they complete a research masters at Deakin and then commence a PhD, or if they transfer from masters to PhD?
A.    The Individual Learning Plan continues to exist for that student. It is not tied to the specific course they are enrolled in. There will not be any doubling up in terms of repeating mandatory requirements. The student can simply continue adding and completing training components.

Q.  Will in-country supervisors have access to the Individual Learning Plan and other systems such as the Candidature Review System?
A. No, only supervisors who are Deakin staff members will have access to these systems. All systems are in a secure environment which can only be accessed by Deakin staff. It is expected that the Deakin principal supervisor would discuss the student’s situation with an in-country supervisor before completing their section of an online system. In the case of the Individual Learning Plan, the principal supervisor would discuss significant training components before recommending or approving them. In the case of the annual Candidature Review, they would discuss the student’s progress before completing the supervisor’s section of the review.

Coursework

Q.    How will a student select their coursework unit or units?
A.    For new students, the mandatory coursework available in their faculty, school or institute will be listed and, where there is a choice, the unit(s) will be determined during the admission to candidature process. If a current student, i.e. somebody who started before PhD Xtra, wants to complete some coursework, this will need to be discussed with their supervisor and approved by the academic unit. For both new and current students, Deakin Research will need to be notified about the coursework to be undertaken so that enrolment can be arranged.

Q.    What happens if a student has already completed the mandatory coursework unit prescribed by their faculty, school or institute?
A.    This is an unlikely scenario but, if it should happen, the student will be required to complete an alternative unit (or units if a multiple is required). PhD Xtra is about delivering an enhanced learning experience and a limited amount of coursework is regarded as an important way of achieving this.

Q.    In a faculty or institute which only has one mandated unit of coursework, can the student do additional coursework?
A.    Yes, but obviously subject to the approval of the academic unit.

Q.    Will students have to pay fees for the coursework they undertake?
A.    No, not for any coursework undertaken at Deakin. Domestic HDR students do not pay fees at all and that situation is unchanged. For international students who pay fees for their course, there will be no additional charge for the coursework component. The coursework will be included in the normal course fee. If a student (domestic or international) wanted to undertake some additional coursework offered outside Deakin for which a fee applied, there would need to be a discussion within the academic unit about the payment, i.e. would the fee be paid by the unit or the student, or a combination?

Q.    If a student has completed the compulsory coursework as part of a masters at Deakin, are they required to re-do the coursework if they commence a PhD?
A.    There are two possible ways of commencing a PhD from a masters. Either the student completes the masters and then commences the PhD as an entirely separate degree or they transfer from an incomplete masters into a PhD. Regardless of the pathway, the student will not be required to undertake coursework they have already completed. It’s possible that they might like to complete some new coursework to enhance the learning experience in their PhD, but this will not be mandatory.

Placements

Q.    Can students conduct a teaching placement?
A.    Yes, that is definitely one of the options.

Q.    Where will the rules and guidelines around placements be held?
A.    There will be a placements web site which will provide information about the Student Placements Procedure, the guidelines for HDR student placement and other placement-related information.

Q.    Will all students have equal access to placements, and will schools be able to ensure this?
A.    The rules and guidelines around placements apply equally to all students. However, it seems inevitable that placement opportunities will vary based on a range of factors, including the student’s personal interests and career aspirations, the availability of a suitable placement provider, the feasibility of the proposed placement arrangements in the context of the overall candidature, and the network contacts of the academic unit, supervisor and even the student. The University will endeavour to coordinate placement opportunities, as will academic units. The Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI), which has considerable experience in brokering placement arrangements between universities and industry (industry being defined as virtually any organisation outside the university), has received approval from the Commonwealth Government to increase significantly its placement/internship scheme, and to do so across all disciplines. Deakin is a partner in that scheme and hopes to be able to increase the number of students who are sent on a placement. Nevertheless, it is likely that there will still be a need for supervisors and students to initiate their own placement arrangements in some cases.

Confirmation of Candidature System

Q.    Can the Confirmation of System send automatic reminders to students up to six months before their confirmation is due?
A.    No, not that early. The system has not been designed to do that because faculties have a range of different approaches to the confirmation process and its timing. If a faculty or other academic unit wanted to contact students at a very early stage, they would need to do that outside the system. The system is intended for the actual planning of a confirmation event for a student, when arrangements are being made for a specific date (its other purpose is as a conveniently accessible record of the process). The preliminary arrangements about finding a convenient date should be done outside the system.

Q.    Can an academic unit download the documents in the Confirmation of Candidature system, such as the ones uploaded by the student?
A.    Yes, definitely.

Candidature Review System (Annual Review of Progress)

Q.    Can students make confidential comments within the Annual Review system?
A.    No, but the system prompts students to contact other parties if there is a need to discuss something confidentially. The system has been designed to make the review process as transparent as possible. However, if a student needs to seek advice or talk to somebody else confidentially (e.g. an HDR Coordinator or member of Deakin Research), the system invites them to do so.

Q.    Is it possible for an academic unit such as a school to hold a meeting, involving people such as the HDR Coordinator, to review the progress of its students?
A.    Yes, they are welcome to arrange meetings for their students. The process does not only have to involve the student and supervisor reporting independently through the Annual Review system. If the HDR Coordinator or even a panel of people in the school wanted to meet with the student and supervisor, either together or separately, they can do that. The only condition is that the student’s progress is recorded in the Annual Review system (i.e. that the student, supervisor and head of academic unit sections are completed).

Q.    Why is the Individual Learning Plan not included in the Annual Review?
A.    The Annual Review system was developed in-house whereas the ILP is an external vendor-developed system. Linking the two systems directly was too complex at this point, but there is a prompt in the Annual Review which asks the student and supervisor if the ILP has been reviewed.

Q.    Who is able to view the documents uploaded into the Candidature Review System?
A.    The only people who have access to a student’s record are the student, supervisors, head of academic unit and Deakin Research. It’s a very secure environment which requires Deakin usernames and passwords.

Q.    What is the purpose of the student being required to upload documents in the candidature Review System?
A.    There are a number of purposes to this:

  • It is about relationships, specifically the student-supervisor relationship. We know that the areas with the highest completion rates also have the closest supervision styles. The most effective student-supervisor relationships are the ones where there is a close supervisory style. Close does not mean overbearing. The expectation is that the student and supervisor will jointly decide which documents are the most appropriate to upload for that particular annual review.
  • The supervisor should not be seeing a document for the first time when they log in to complete their section of the review.
    It is also about providing other people involved in the candidature review with the information they need to determine whether the student has been making progress appropriate to their stage of candidature. The person completing the review at head of academic unit level, most likely the HDR Coordinator, may not be closely connected with the student’s project or research group. In exercising their duty of care to assess the student’s progress, they need to be able to see exactly how much progress the student has made and how close they are to completing their degree within the remaining time.


Q.  Will in-country supervisors have access to the Individual Learning Plan and other systems such as the Candidature Review System?
A. No, only supervisors who are Deakin staff members will have access to these systems. All systems are in a secure environment which can only be accessed by Deakin staff. It is expected that the Deakin principal supervisor would discuss the student’s situation with an in-country supervisor before completing their section of an online system. In the case of the Individual Learning Plan, the principal supervisor would discuss significant training components before recommending or approving them. In the case of the annual Candidature Review, they would discuss the student’s progress before completing the supervisor’s section of the review.

Oral Thesis Examinations

Q.   Are oral examinations compulsory?
A    No, except for a very specific group of students. Only students studying in the Institute for Frontier Materials who commence on or after 31 October 2016 will be required to undergo an oral examination. It is not a requirement for any other student. No other area of the University has adopted oral examinations. If they were to introduce orals in the future, only students admitted to the area after that date would be required to undergo an oral. It would be made clear in the student’s terms and conditions at the start of their candidature. An oral examination will never be imposed retrospectively on a student who was not admitted under those terms. If, on the other hand, a student wanted to participate in an oral examination, they could request to do so. It would need the approval of the academic unit because there are some fairly significant logistical arrangements to do with orals and the academic unit would need to be amenable to that.

Systems in general

Q.    Will students who started before 31 October 2016 use the new online systems?
A.    Yes, they will use DeakinSync to access the Individual Learning Plan (assuming they want to opt into this feature), the Candidature Review System (when it is time to do their progress review each year), the Confirmation of Candidature system (if they are yet to be confirmed) and the Progress Management Panel system (only a minority of students will need it).