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Dealing with life problems

While all students would like to breeze through their degrees without any problems, it’s good to remember that life does not stop because you have to meet a deadline. For instance, someone close to you might fall ill and require your attention and care; or you may experience a serious illness or relationship breakdown, resulting in a delay in your research progress or meeting your required milestones. Many candidatures will be trouble free, but if not, consider the following tips.

6 tips to stay on top of non-academic problems

  1. Consider taking leave or suspending

You may want to resolve issues impacting your studies without informing the University, applying for leave or suspending. The University will be less understanding of any requests to extend your candidature if you have not already accessed your leave entitlements, if you have eligible leave entitlements. Don’t let your candidature clock run on while you try to resolve personal problems. Stop the clock if necessary, by suspending or accessing your leave entitlements. See also: Leave from HDR studies for more information.

  1. Don’t be afraid to speak up

HDR candidates often worry that their position in their department or their academic record will be affected if they speak up about personal matters that are impacting their research commitments. However, what is important to Faculties is that students complete their degrees, and do so with minimal amounts of stress. Don’t be embarrassed. Seek out support in your Faculty from the senior academics who are responsible for providing guidance to HDR candidates, such as Postgraduate Coordinators or Associate Deans (Research). If you’re really worried about your reputation or your privacy, explain in writing that you would like your issue to remain confidential.

  1. Keep good records

No candidate likes to think they are going to miss a milestone. However, since life is not always predictable, SUPRA advises that you keep copies of important documentation about personal circumstances in case issues arise. Keep all documents, such as:

These are all important to support any claim of unforeseeable problems or misadventure that you may have to demonstrate.

  1. Familiarise yourself with University policy and procedure

As a researcher you already have quite a long reading list, but you should consider the benefits of knowing the rules that govern your candidature. These can be found in the University’s policy register:

and the student administration pages dedicated to HDR candidates:

Understanding how the University normally interprets a policy clause is very important to properly understanding how a rule or process can affect your candidature. For assistance in interpreting University policy, approach the Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre (HDRAC). If you’re still confused by how a particular provision applies to your candidature, contact SUPRA for assistance.

  1. Access appropriate support services

You don’t need to face every personal challenge by yourself. Under University policy, an HDR candidate is responsible for informing their Faculty early of any obstacles to their academic progress – especially through regular updates with their supervisory team, or at their Progress Reviews. This responsibility does not mean you have to disclose sensitive information. Rather, it’s a reminder that the University can provide support for HDR candidates facing personal challenges, or refer them to appropriate services.

  1. Conscientious skill development

Even the most dedicated HDR candidates can improve their research skills. By improving your academic, project and organisational skills, you can help to minimise the impact unexpected personal problems have on your research progress. Consult the free services the University provides for research students, especially in the Learning Centre, Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and the Open Learning Environment (OLE).

Participate actively in any seminars, symposia or workshops held in your Faculty regarding discipline-specific research skills. For more free assistance, check out the offerings of the big providers of Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCS): Coursera, Udacity, and edX. Ask academics in your field about which MOOCS might be useful. Read the many blogs, websites and social media accounts and forums that are dedicated to giving advice to research students. We have included links to some of the most well-known of these throughout this guide.

Relevant links

Learning Centre:


Open Learning Environment (OLE):




The SUPRA office is closed – but you can still get help!

To help protect the health of our community during COVID-19 SUPRA’s Student Advice and Advocacy Service, Legal Service and council are working from home. We are working to full capacity and are providing timely and accurate information, advice and support.