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Making progress


Progress Reviews

The University of Sydney requires that every Higher Degree by Research student, whether full time or part time, has a Progress Review (PR) in the form of a face-to-face interview at least once every 12 months. 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 in accordance with your progress plan
  • whether your supervisory arrangements are satisfactory
  • feasibility of the current progress plan
  • assess your progress and rating to make sure you are on track with your timeline
  • ensure 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 3-6 months from the date of re-enrolment.


Progress plan

All HDR students must have a progress plan within three (3) months of commencement of candidature (within six (6) months of candidature for part-time HDR 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 achieve the award of the degree. Progress plan templates for each Faculty are available at:

See also: Higher Degree Research Administration Centre (HDRAC)

You are encouraged to regularly review your progress plan with your supervisor and certainly before a Progress Review. Variations to your plan can include: 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.


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 disciplinary expertise, and your supervisor will not be on the panel.


Progress Review form

All postgraduate research students must complete the PR form, which will also be completed by your supervisor. The Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre (HDRAC) will notify you when your PR is due. The 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. The panel will 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.

At the end of your interview the panel will discuss and evaluate your performance and prepare a written report for the 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 interview

Your interview will typically be for 15-30 minutes. 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. You must be given the opportunity to speak with the panel without any of your supervisors being present.


Confidentiality and raising your concerns at your Progress Review

If you are having an issue with your supervisor or any other member/s of 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. SUPRA advises 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 advice from SUPRA 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 a SUPRA SAAO. 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.


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
  • Approach your PR 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
  • Contact SUPRA if you require advice or support.


Outcomes of your Progress Review

There are 3 possible outcomes:

  • Meets or exceeds objectives
  • Marginal progress
  • Unsatisfactory progress.

If your progress is deemed Marginal you will be given set required actions and deadlines, as well as a supplementary Progress Review between 2-6 months from the date of the previous review. Your research or coordinating supervisor will be responsible for overseeing completion of the required set of actions. A marginal progress rating will be 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 trigger the requirement to Show Good Cause.

If your progress is deemed Unsatisfactory, the Head of School may allow you to continue, and set conditions for your continuation. You will also be required to participate in a supplementary Progress Review at a date between 2-6 months from the date of the previous review. Your research or coordinating supervisor will be responsible for overseeing completion of the required set of actions. 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 your progress is deemed Marginal or Unsatisfactory, you have the right to appeal to the Faculty. The conditions and time frame are set out in your outcome letter.

If the Faculty decides to exclude you for not showing good cause, you have a right to a Faculty-level appeal. The conditions and time frame are set out in the decision letter. If the Faculty rejects your 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 (Master’s) or four (PhD) research periods, after which progress is reviewed and the Head of School will then confirm your candidature or ask you to Show Good Cause as to why your candidature should not be terminated.

SUPRA recommends 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 SUPRA.

Relevant policies on the 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

Thesis Editing Guidelines:

Sample Thesis at Monash University:

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University:

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