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Show Good Cause and exclusion for HDR students

The University of Sydney’s Show Good Cause process can seem daunting. If you receive a stage 3 notification asking you to show good cause, try to remain calm and carefully work through the required steps.

What does ‘to show cause’ or ‘to show good cause’ mean?

A faculty may ask an HDR student to ‘show good cause’ if they decide that academic progression requirements have not been met. Being asked to ‘show cause’ by your faculty means that you have been asked to show them why you should be allowed to continue in your degree. You will have to explain why you did not meet your progress requirements and to defend your ability to complete your degree successfully. You must support your claims with evidence if possible and demonstrate to your faculty why you should be allowed to continue in your degree.

When are Show Good Cause notices received?

A Show Good Cause notice will be received after an unsatisfactory progress outcome from your progress review. If it is decided that you have made unsatisfactory progress at two consecutive progress reviews, you are likely to be asked to show good cause. The faculty may also ask you to show good cause on the recommendation of the head of school or the postgraduate research coordinator. A Show Good Cause notice can be received if you have not submitted your thesis for examination by the latest possible date to do so. SUPRA has also seen HDR students being asked to show good cause after receiving an allegation of a potential breach of academic honesty or research misconduct.

What do Show Good Cause notices say?

The notice should set out:

  • the reasons that you have been asked to show good cause
  • the actions that might have to be taken in regards to your candidature
  • your entitlement to seek independent advice (e.g. from SUPRA) in preparing your response

You will be required to provide your response by a specific date.

How to respond to a Show Good Cause notice

Read the Show Good Cause notice very carefully. Make sure you correctly note the deadline for response.

Gather your supporting documents early. It can take time to collate documents for lodgement. If you encounter problems in your personal life throughout your candidature, we advise you to gather documentation (e.g. medical certificates) at the time the issue arises. Keep these documents in case you need to submit them to the faculty at a later date.

Start writing your response letter early. It might take a few drafts before you are able to effectively explain your circumstances. Don’t leave writing your response to the last minute. There is no need to rush to submit your Show Good Cause response before the due date. Responding quickly will not affect the faculty’s decision making.

Reflect seriously on why your progress has not met the required standards. Your ability to meet milestones might have been impacted by ill health, injury or misadventure, or lack of access to appropriate resources or effective supervisory support.

  1. Explain how these circumstances were exceptional, meaning why you could not predict or control how they would impact your research progress.
  2. If there were circumstances that you felt were out of your reasonable control, explain these in detail, even if it seems obvious to you how they impacted on your academic progress. Don’t just list things that went wrong in your personal life. In your letter, elaborate on how your issues impacted your progress and prevented you from having enough time, energy, motivation, funding, or knowledge etc. to achieve your candidature milestones.
  3. If it applies, explain why you did not access entitlements to take leave or to consult support services which could have helped you address problems. For example: if you did not apply for a suspension, or inform your supervisors that you were struggling with health or other personal issues, explain why.

Develop a new progress or completion plan for your remaining degree requirements. Seek advice from your supervisors, other mentors or senior faculty staff (such as postgraduate research coordinators) on preparing a new timeline for completing your thesis. Be realistic about your capacity to resolve all of the issues that have hindered your progress so far. Reflect on your publication and conference goals. You might find that your faculty would prefer for you to concentrate on your thesis and devote less time to other academic endeavours.

A weekly plan (like a timetable) might make your letter more persuasive. Address concerns from your faculty by clearly outlining how much time you can devote to writing your thesis amid other commitments. This might be helpful where:

Consult appropriate support services. It’s important to do this before you finalise your Show Good Cause response letter. If you have an ongoing health issue, include evidence that you are consulting appropriate professionals. Attach evidence like medical certificates, psychologist reports, or medical appointment bookings. This will help demonstrate your commitment to successfully completing your degree.

Commit to improving your academic and research skills. Even if your research progress has been hindered by poor supervision or non-academic issues, it is still useful to demonstrate to your faculty that you are improving your research skills so you can complete on time. Seek out resources such as one-on-one appointments with lecturers in the Learning Centre or Mathematics Learning Centre, or attend a CAPS workshop on avoiding perfectionism. Think about whether you need a private tutor, or look up Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for online courses relevant to your research topic.

Start writing your draft Show Cause letter. See below for more details on what to include in your letter

After preparing your first draft, and gathering some supporting documents, get advice from one of our SAAOs (Student Advice and Advocacy Officers) to help you strengthen your Show Good Cause response.

Finalise your supporting documentation. If you don’t have official evidence to support the arguments you make in your Show Good Cause letter, you might need to complete a statutory declaration. This is a written legal document, which must be witnessed and signed by an authorised person (a Justice of the Peace, or a lawyer). One of the lawyers at SUPRA can do this for you. A statutory declaration is used as evidence of your claims in the absence of other independent, documentary proof.

Submit your final response. Make sure you upload all of your supporting documents to the correct email address as stated on the Show Good Cause notice. Retain a copy of everything you submit for your records. If one of our SAAOs assisted you in preparing your Show Cause response, email them a copy of everything that you submitted.

Your faculty will send you a confirmation email after receiving your Show Good Cause submission. Keep a copy of this email. It might take some time to receive this confirmation, depending on how many student cases your faculty has to process.

While waiting for the University’s decision, try to remain focused on your studies. Continue with your research (if you’re not currently suspended), or otherwise continue working on addressing any issues impacting your personal or academic progress.

Once you receive the decision about your Show Good Cause response, please send a copy to the SAAO who assisted you (if any), even if you are satisfied with the University’s decision.

What to write in your Show Good Cause letter

We suggest that you include the following in your letter. You don’t have to set them out in the order below, but we encourage you to include all of these points and back them up with supporting documentation:

  1. A brief explanation of why you are being asked to show good cause. This is to demonstrate that you understand the process the University has asked you to go through.
  2. A clear explanation of the reasons that you have not made satisfactory progress. Include an explanation of each circumstance, and why it has impacted your ability to meet your research requirements.
  3. An outline of strategies you have begun to develop to overcome these issues, whether personal matters, or areas for improvement in your research skills.
  4. An outline of your academic history (especially progress reports), prior to the period in which you started struggling. Highlight reasons why you felt you made satisfactory progress during these times to demonstrate that you are capable of achieving the required academic standards.
  5. A reasonable explanation of why and how you can complete your candidature successfully, if allowed to continue.
  6. Emphasize the strength of your ongoing interest in your research topic. Keep this point concise. You can briefly mention the value you think your research will give to the University’s research output and reputation.
  7. After your signature, at the end of the letter, include a list of the attached documents. Give each attachment a number and short title and be consistent in these titles whenever you mention a supporting document within your letter. Remember to refer to the relevant supporting document at the appropriate points in your letter. Don’t simply write a letter and hand in some supporting documents without explanation about how they relate.

What are the possible outcomes?

The faculty will consider: your letter and supporting documents; progress reports; and reports by your coordinating supervisor, associate supervisors or other senior academics, such as a postgraduate coordinator. A decision will be made by senior academic(s). These are the possible decisions outlined in University policy:

  • your faculty could decide that you have shown good cause and permit you to continue your candidature
  • your faculty could decide that you have not shown good cause and, in the letter outlining their decision, they must explain the reasons why they have made this decision

If they decide that you have not shown good cause to be allowed to continue in your degree, your faculty dean:

  • could decide to terminate your candidature, or
  • could impose conditions or restrictions on the continuation of your candidature
  • might also offer you the opportunity to transfer to another course within the faculty and they might impose conditions or restrictions on that offer

If your candidature for a higher degree by research (HDR) is terminated, you might be excluded for applying for admission to a research degree at the University of Sydney for up to two academic years. While excluded from USyd, a person cannot receive an award like an RTP stipend scholarship.

What can you do if you’re unhappy with the outcome?

  1. Faculty level appeal

You can lodge an appeal to your faculty if you disagree with the outcome or parts of the outcome. The letter notifying you of the University’s decision regarding your Show Good Cause response should outline your entitlement to appeal. You have twenty (20) working days from the date on the outcome letter to lodge your faculty appeal. PhD students may bypass this level of appeal if they choose and lodge an appeal straight to the Student Appeals Body (SAB). Contact us for assistance with your faculty level appeal.

  1. Student Appeals Body (SAB) level appeal

If you are dissatisfied with the result of your faculty level appeal (or you are a PhD student and decide to bypass the faculty level appeal) you can apply to appeal to the University’s Student Appeals Body (SAB). For your appeal to be successful at this final level, your application must demonstrate that your faculty breached due academic process. For advice on this, contact us.

If you appeal to the SAB, your case may be referred to a hearing. You can take a representative or support person to the hearing with you, such as one of our SAAOs. Please contact us in advance of your hearing date to ensure availability. Your faculty will also be invited to send a representative, usually a senior academic. Your appeal will be considered by a three-person panel, consisting of: a chair of the panel, a senior academic staff from a faculty other than your own, and a postgraduate student from another faculty. A staff member from the Student Affairs Unit (SAU) will take minutes of the meeting. During this hearing, the panel may ask you and the faculty representatives questions to clarify any points in your appeal or the faculty response to your appeal. After the hearing, you will be informed in writing of the SAB’s decision and the reasons for this decision, as soon as is practicable. The SAB’s decision is final within the University.

What if you’re unhappy with the outcome of the University appeals process?

You can consider lodging a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman. For domestic students, recommendations made by the NSW Ombudsman are non-binding for the University. For international students, legislation requires the University to implement any decision and/or corrective action the NSW Ombudsman recommends.


As an HDR student, it is expected you understand progression obligations outlined in the Progress Planning and Review for HDR Students Policy 2015 and the University of Sydney (Higher Degree by Research) Rule 2011 on the University’s Policy Register.

You can also discuss the show cause policy and procedures for HDR students with your supervisor or the University’s Higher Degree Research Administration Centre (HDRAC).

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.