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Progress reviews

The University of Sydney requires that every higher degree by research (HDR) student, whether full time or part time, has a progress review (PR) at least once every twelve (12) months. The progress review is a face-to-face interview with academic staff. Until recently this was known as an annual progress review (APR), and you are likely to still come across this term.

Your PR is a critical opportunity for you to constructively discuss your achievements, areas of concern, or any challenges you are facing; to ensure you are heading in the right direction in your candidature; and to receive beneficial feedback. Your PR is designed to assist you to successfully complete your candidature by assessing whether:

  • you have adequate support and resources
  • your supervisory arrangements are satisfactory
  • your current progress plan is feasible
  • your current timeline is feasible
  • you are getting the support you need

Students re-enrolling for a period of more than six (6) months to revise and resubmit must also participate in a progress review between 3 to 6 months from the date of re-enrolment.

Progress plan

You will submit your progress plan as part of your progress review each year. All HDR students must have a progress plan within three (3) months of commencement of candidature for full-time students, or within six (6) months of commencement of candidature for part-time students. Students are responsible for creating and maintaining their progress plan, in consultation with their supervisor. Your progress plan must follow the University’s template and will typically include all activities and milestones required to be awarded your degree. There are progress plan templates for each faculty.

We encourage you to regularly review your progress plan with your supervisor and certainly before a progress review. Variations to your plan can include: a change in attendance mode, leave or suspension, achievement or failure in a milestone, extension, other unanticipated barriers or major changes to the research project. You may have unexpected health issues or require academic adjustments due to a short-term or permanent disability. Remember, a clear and updated progress plan that is agreed upon by your supervisor will make for a smoother progress review.

First year milestone integrity check

Your first progress review will include your ‘first year milestone integrity check’. The University conducts this integrity check for all HDR students within the first year of your degree. The University is hoping to detect any issues with academic honesty, plagiarism or research integrity early on in your degree. This will help you and your supervision team improve your research and writing practices, as well as identifying any serious problems early on.

For the integrity check, you will be required to submit a substantial piece of writing, negotiated with your supervisor, to Turnitin. Turnitin will compare your work to text from the internet, published works and other students’ work (whether submitted to Sydney University or other universities). When you are close to finishing your degree, your final thesis will also be submitted to Turnitin and checked in the same way. Check for further information specific to your faculty about this process.

Your progress review: what is the process?

There are two parts to your progress review: an online form and an interview.

Progress review form

For each PR all postgraduate research students must complete a PR form, which will also be completed by your supervisor. HDRAC will notify you when your PR form is due. HDRAC will provide instructions on completing the PR form online and uploading relevant support documentation, such as your progress plan and thesis abstract. This form will then go to your supervisor to complete and should come back to you so you can read the comments made by your supervisor prior to your interview. Your progress review panel will also read your PR form and documentation before your interview. The completed PR form is an important part of your performance evaluation and provides a record of your work progress.

Progress review interview

Your interview will typically be for 15 to 30 minutes. Your progress review interview will be conducted by your progress review panel. The interview will focus on your progress plan and any required variation to the plan as presented by you or your supervisor. The interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your level of knowledge relating to your research and your degree. Your progress review interview is normally conducted without your supervisor being present. Any of your supervisors may be invited to attend an interview, but you will be notified if this is the case. If there are or will be variations to your progress plan, the panel may need to interview your supervisor. But you must also be given the opportunity to speak with the panel without any of your supervisors being present.

At the end of your interview the panel will discuss and evaluate your performance and prepare a written report for your head of school or postgraduate coordinator. At this stage, you will have an opportunity to respond to the panel report before the head of school or postgraduate coordinator determines the final outcome. The deadline to provide a response will be listed in the PR form online.

Progress review panel

Your PR panel will usually consist of at least one or two academic staff and your postgraduate coordinator. PR panel members may not necessarily have expertise within your area of research, and your supervisor will not be on the panel.

Confidentiality and raising your concerns at your progress review interview

If you are having an issue with your supervisor or any other University staff, or if you are experiencing a personal difficulty, you may want to raise the issue for discussion at your progress review interview. You may be able to raise sensitive issues by writing to your panel chair, who is normally your postgraduate coordinator, to arrange a confidential discussion at the interview. Be aware that complaints about supervision should be raised in a professional manner and, if possible, with evidence. We advise that you contact HDRAC first for advice on how your faculty manages requests for confidentiality in your progress review interview. If you are going to bring up a serious issue, you may want to seek confidential advice from us first. Remember that anything you write on your PR form will not be confidential.

You have the right to bring a support person to your interview, and this could be one of our SAAOs (SUPRA Advice and Advocacy Officers). You will need to notify HDRAC or the postgraduate coordinator prior to your interview that you will be bringing a support person.

Preparing for your progress review interview

Some students may feel anxious, nervous or even overwhelmed by their progress review, and particularly the interview. Remember this is not an examination; it is a review of your progress.

Below are some tips for a successful interview:

  • know your rights and responsibilities by reading the relevant University policies
  • get support if you need it, such as having a support person at your interview
  • think of your progress review as a way to gain support and feedback
  • review the responses you wrote in the PR form and prepare examples of achievements, or reasons for any difficulties
  • practice speaking about your research and progress plan
  • break down your progress plan into what, how and why, and prepare a concise and developed answer for each area
  • demonstrate interest and passion in your research project and don’t be afraid to tell the panel what you find exciting, or even disappointing
  • if you are asked a difficult question, take your time to respond and refer to notes if relevant
  • bring support documents, especially if you have experienced delays and have not made the progress you want (these include medical certificates, draft papers, emails, etc.)
  • ask for additional resources, like training or other assistance, if you need them
  • raise sensitive issues by writing to your panel chair prior to your interview to arrange a confidential discussion at the interview
  • be aware that complaints about supervision should be raised in a professional manner and with evidence – your supervisor will be informed
  • the Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre provides support with progress reviews
  • please contact us if you require advice or support

Outcomes of your progress review

There are 3 possible outcomes:

  1. progress meets or exceeds objectives
  2. marginal progress
  3. unsatisfactory progress

If it is decided that you have made marginal progress, you will be given some required actions and deadlines. Your research or coordinating supervisor will be responsible for overseeing completion of the required actions. You will also need to do an extra progress review between 2-6 months from the date of this review. A marginal progress decision is considered satisfactory for continuation of a scholarship (where the terms and conditions of the scholarship are under the University’s control). A marginal progress rating will not mean that you have to Show Good Cause.

If it is decided that you have made unsatisfactory progress, the head of school may allow you to continue and set conditions for your continuation. You will be given some required actions and deadlines. Your research or coordinating supervisor will be responsible for overseeing completion of the required actions. You will also be required to do an extra progress review at a date between 2-6 months from the date of this review. The head of school may also recommend to the University that your scholarship be terminated and recommend to the associate dean that you be asked to Show Good Cause as to why you should be allowed to continue your candidature. If this is the second time in consecutive progress reviews that you have received an unsatisfactory progress rating, the recommendation to the associate dean will be to ask you to Show Good Cause.

Right to appeal

If it is decided that you have made marginal progress or unsatisfactory progress, you have the right to appeal to the faculty. The conditions and time frame for making an appeal will be in your outcome letter.

If your faculty decides to exclude you for not showing good cause, you have a right to a faculty-level appeal. The conditions and time frame for making an appeal will be in your outcome letter. If your faculty rejects this appeal you have an option to appeal to the Student Appeals Body (SAB), which is your final level of appeal.

Probationary period

Candidates may be enrolled in a master’s by research degree or PhD on a probationary basis for up to two research periods (for a master’s degree) or four research periods (for a PhD). After this time your progress will be reviewed and the head of school will either confirm your candidature or ask you to Show Good Cause as to why your candidature should not be terminated.

We recommend that you keep your own personal file which includes copies of all progress reports, medical certificates, research plans, meeting minutes or your own notes of meetings and all emails or other documents (both academic and personal) that relate to or discuss your progress. Remember to record dates of events.

If you require assistance or advice on any aspect of your progression, especially on appealing a progression outcome or exclusion, please contact us.

Relevant University policies:

All University of Sydney policies can be found at the University Policy Register.

  • Progress Planning and Review for HDR Students Policy 2015
  • University of Sydney (Higher Degree by Research) Rule 2011
  • University of Sydney (Student Appeals Against Academic Decisions) Rule 2006

Additional Resources:

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Student Advice and Advocacy Service

Our Student Advice and Advocacy Officers (SAAOs) can help with academic and wellbeing issues, such as academic appeals, renting and supervision.

Read more about the SUPRA SAAO Service

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