HDR candidates are entitled to take leave for a number of reasons, and you should use these entitlements when appropriate. Taking leave can help you to manage certain kinds of challenges, which could otherwise impact on your ability to finish your degree in the requisite time frame.
The University requires a doctoral candidate to submit their thesis for examination in a maximum of four years’ equivalent full-time study load (EFTSL). Master by Research candidates are required to submit in a maximum of two years’ EFTSL. Check out the University of Sydney (Higher Degree by Research) Rule 2011 for the length of candidature requirements.
Within these maximum time limits, HDR candidates are entitled to take time off for various reasons. If you require more than a few days off, make sure you check with the University whether you should suspend so you don’t continue to use up your allocated candidature time.
The timeline for HDR candidature is organised around blocks known as Research Periods (RP): https://sydney.edu.au/students/research-dates.html. An academic year comprises of four RPs. RPs are important for calculating tuition fees, scholarship payments, and the amount of time a candidate has left before they should submit their thesis for examination.
HDR candidates who think they might need to take time off should first consult two sources of information.
For the University’s outline of HDR leave entitlements, see:
If you need to take a break for less than one Research Period, apply for a leave of absence. You will need to inform your coordinating supervisor of your intention to apply for the leave, as the application process requires supervisor approval.
A leave of absence does not stop the time on your candidature, meaning you will be considered enrolled for the relevant research period (and will be liable for tuition fees, if applicable). A leave of absence does not change your completion timeline.
If you need to take a longer period of time away from your research, you can apply to suspend your candidature for one or more Research Periods. A suspension stops the time on your candidature for the approved Research Period, and will therefore change your candidature submission date. This means you will need to adjust your progress plan to amend your latest possible thesis submission date:
Usually, an HDR candidate can undertake a suspension only after they have completed 12 months of full-time equivalent study load and have had their candidature confirmed (i.e. passed probation). However, you can request a suspension within your first 12 months for exceptional circumstances (e.g. for health, family, or work matters). If you’re in receipt of particular types of scholarships, check for restrictions. For example, the Research Training Program Stipend Scholarship (RTPSS) does not currently permit suspensions in the first six months of candidature – which means that you will continue to receive your stipend. It may be wise to think about saving some of these funds to use at the end of your candidature when your scholarship has ended.
Tip: access to University resources while on suspension
A student who has suspended their studies will lose access to the library borrowing privileges. You will need to apply for a temporary library account. Make sure you do this before your suspension starts. To speed up the registration process, the Library suggests submitting the required form in person to the Student Centre rather than electronically. Contact the library for further information.
Holders of a RTP (domestic) or a University of Sydney International Scholarship (USydIS) are entitled to up to 20 working days of recreational leave for each year they receive the award. This leave does accrue, any portion unused by the end of your award will be forfeited. So don’t forget to take a holiday!
RTP or USydIS holders can apply for a maximum of 12 weeks of paid parental leave if they give birth or adopt during the tenure of the award, and if they have already completed 12 months of their scholarship. Candidates must apply for this kind of paid leave at least four weeks prior to their expected date of delivery. If students want to take a longer period of time off, they can suspend their candidature (see above).
RTP or USydIS holders may apply for up to 10 working days of paid sick leave each year of their award. If you need to take off more time than this, you should contact HDRAC to discuss your options. Consult the terms and conditions of your scholarship as well for provisions for longer periods of paid sick leave. If you need to care for sick children or other loved ones, there is the possibility to use some of your annual entitlement of paid sick leave for this commitment. If you’re deemed ineligible for paid sick leave of longer than 10 days, you can still try to access leave through a leave of absence or suspension.
Tip: international students are allowed to take leave too!
If you’re an international student experiencing exceptional circumstances (like pregnancy, illness, or misadventure), national legislation obligates the University to provide some opportunity for you to take time off from your research. You should contact HDRAC for information on applying for a suspension.
Leave entitlements exist in University policy because the University is legally obliged to look after its workers – which include which HDR candidates.
Ignoring a worker’s or student’s health could mean the University is contravening its responsibility to provide a safe workplace.
Discrimination against a worker due to pregnancy is illegal in Australia. Making a research student feel like they have done something wrong by becoming a parent during their degree is not behaviour the University wants to see in its supervisory cohort. University staff must adhere to policy and treat all students with respect. HDR supervisors must be responsive and supportive to a candidate’s health needs and be prepared to discuss leave entitlements.
Even if you’re accessing the recreational leave allowed by your RTP or USydIS funding, you still need to give your coordinating supervisor notice, or in the case of paid sick leave, inform your supervisor as soon as you reasonably can of your intention. Coordinating supervisors need to agree with (for recreational, sick or maternity leave) or approve (for leaves of absence or suspensions) leave requests. All leave requests should be made via Sydney Student, which will include a step for supervisor approval.
Just as it’s important to officially inform the University of any intention to take leave ahead of time, it’s vital that you comply with any necessary administrative obligations to inform the University when you resume active candidature. This is will also ensure any scholarship payments commence again.
Sometimes a candidate works very hard but still runs out of time. Don’t despair! You might be able to apply for an extension. Candidates can apply for an extension of up to one year’s equivalent full-time study load (i.e. four research periods of full-time enrolment). You’ll need to take this step within six months of your latest completion date. However, University policy makes it clear that HDR candidates don’t have an automatic entitlement to an extension. Additionally, extensions beyond the maximum allowable time may be approved by your Faculty Dean or Associate Dean, but only in exceptional circumstances. An application for an extension is more likely to be approved if you can show good academic progress earlier in your candidature and if you have the support of your coordinating supervisor (i.e. if they feel that you would complete your thesis if they granted an extension). If extenuating circumstances such as illness, injury or misadventure have impacted your research completion time, you should include the issues in your request to extend candidature. You should also include any issues with your research, such as equipment, data, change in supervisors etc. It’s important you also document and discuss these issues during your Progress Review.