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Progress evaluation meetings – frequently asked questions

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Q. What is the purpose of a progress evaluation meeting (PEM)?

A. PEMs are important in supporting your candidature. Your faculty wants to know how you are progressing, and what can be done to improve your potential for success.

Your evaluation meeting will be part of the process to assess 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.

Q. How often do PEMs happen?

A. You will have a probationary evaluation meeting in the first 6 months of your candidature. This first evaluation includes your first-year milestone integrity check, where any issues with academic honesty, plagiarism or research integrity can be picked up and resolved. This will also help you and your supervisors improve your research and writing practices by recommending appropriate development courses.

After this, progress evaluations happen on an annual basis. If your progress is deemed to be marginal or unsatisfactory, you may be asked to come to a follow-up evaluation meeting in 3–6 months.

Q. How does a PEM work?

A. When progress evaluations are due, you will receive an automatic notification from RECS to complete your PEM form. After you finish completing your section of the form, your lead supervisor will complete their section of the form.

Then you will be invited to attend an interview with a panel of academic staff to discuss your research progress. Your supervisors are not part of this panel, but may be invited to attend a separate interview. Your interview should take about 15–30 minutes. When the progress evaluation process is completed, all parties will be sent the panel’s report.

The postgraduate coordinator determines the final outcome of the evaluation – unless that outcome is unsatisfactory. If the outcome is unsatisfactory, they must refer it to the associate dean, and the associate dean will either confirm the outcome, or change it. The progress evaluation must be conducted in accordance with the Progress Planning and Review for Higher Degree by Research Students Policy 2015.

Read more about the PEM process.

Q. How should I prepare for my PEM?

A. Before your evaluation meeting, read our article on Supervision to learn your rights and responsibilities. You should also read the relevant University policies that are listed at the bottom of this article. If you have any questions about your rights or responsibilities, contact us for help.

Review your progress evaluation form, and prepare examples of your achievements, as well as reasons for any difficulties. Break down your progress plan into ‘what, how and why’, and prepare a concise and developed answer for each area. Make a list of milestones you’ve reached and be sure to share them with the panel. Demonstrate interest and passion in your research project, and don’t be afraid to tell the panel what you find exciting about your project.

You might benefit from practicing some responses out loud before the interview.

Q. Who will be on my academic panel? I am worried they may not understand my research project.

A. The panel must comprise 3 academics that collectively have relevant disciplinary expertise, supervision experience, and other relevant specialist knowledge. They can be from outside your faculty. If you believe the panel lacked understanding of your project, you may write this on the report form (in Section 6) when it is sent back to you.

Q. What if I’m unwell on the date of my PEM?

A. If you’re unwell at the time of your progress evaluation meeting you may request a new date from the postgraduate coordinator.

Q. I‘m worried that I haven’t made sufficient progress before my PEM date. What can I do?

A. It’s normal to feel anxious about your PEM. If you have concerns about progress, speak with your supervisor early on, and regularly review your progress plan with your supervisor.

Use the PEM as an opportunity to discuss all achievements you have made, as well as difficulties in your candidature.

Below are some tips for a successful progress evaluation meeting:

  • review the responses you wrote in the online form, and prepare examples of achievements, or reasons for any difficulties
  • practice speaking about your research and progress plan
  • demonstrate interest and passion in your research project and don’t be afraid to tell the panel what you find exciting, or even disappointing
  • ask for additional resources, like training or other assistance.

Q. Can I mention variations or changes to my research plan or candidature?

A. Yes, your PEM is a good time to mention things that have impacted progress in your research project. These may include:

  • change to part-time candidature
  • leave or suspension
  • unexpected failure in a milestone
  • extension
  • unanticipated barriers or major changes to the research project
  • unanticipated life issues, such as health problems or requirements for academic adjustments.

Q. What if I’m asked difficult questions?

A. If you’re asked a difficult question, take your time to respond and refer to your notes if relevant. Don’t feel rushed. The faculty schedules plenty of time for these interviews, so feel free to take a deep breath and prepare a thoughtful response. If the question does not make sense to you, you should ask for a clarification. It’s better to clarify than to take a guess at what the interviewer might have meant.

Q. Can I ask for additional support or resources in my PEM?

A. Yes, this is a great opportunity to request additional resources like training in a certain area, or other support you require. Don’t feel like you can’t ask for things because you want to demonstrate competency – identifying and requesting resources you need shows good insight into your project and capacity.

Q. I’m close to submitting my thesis for examination. Do I still need to have a PEM?

A. Yes. This is a good opportunity to discuss any final steps in your progression.

Q. Can I bring a support person to my PEM?

A. Yes, you have the right to bring a support person to your evaluation meeting. You can choose who to bring – SUPRA caseworkers are often available to support students at their PEMs. You will need to advise the postgraduate coordinator that you are bringing a support person before the meeting. Do this through RECS.

Q. I disagree with the outcome of my PEM. What can I do?

A. You have the right to appeal a marginal or unsatsifactory outcome. The appeal is made to your faculty associate dean. The conditions and time frame for making an appeal will be in your outcome letter.

Read more about appealing an outcome.

Our caseworkers can help with your appeal – contact us for assistance.

Q. My progress evaluation is complete, but I don’t agree with the details of the report. What can I do?

A. You will have an opportunity to respond to the panel report under Section 6 of the form – before the postgraduate coordinator makes a recommendation to the associate dean. The deadline to provide a response will be listed in the progress evaluation form.

Nothing you write on your review form will be confidential. If confidentiality is necessary, you should contact HDRAC first for advice on how your faculty manages requests for confidentiality in progress evaluations.

Q. I read my supervisor’s assessment of my progress and I don’t agree with their comments. What can I do?

A. It’s okay if your assessment of your progress is different to your supervisor’s assessment. You can note any differences in your section of the progress evaluation after reading your supervisor’s comments. You can also explain the reasons for any differences during your evaluation meeting. If you have ongoing concerns about your supervisor’s assessment, you have the right to raise these with your postgraduate coordinator.

Q. I’m having difficulties with my supervisor and these are reflected in my PEM. What can I do?

A. The University expects students to report concerns about supervision as soon as they come up. Complaints about supervision should be raised in a professional manner and, if possible, with evidence.

To raise an issue:

  • If you have a good working relationship with your supervisor, you can raise concerns about your progress with them directly.
  • Raise sensitive issues to your PEM panel by writing to your panel chair prior to your interview to arrange a confidential discussion at the interview.
  • You can request a confidential meeting with the postgraduate coordinator in your faculty to discuss any concerns and explore your options. If there is a conflict of interest with your postgraduate coordinator, you can also ask the Associate Dean (Research Education) in your school for a confidential meeting.
  • You have the right to change your supervisory arrangements. Consult your faculty postgraduate coordinator on the steps for this process.

If your concerns are not resolved, or you feel unsafe in raising concerns within the faculty, contact us for assistance.

Q. Where can I get copies of my PEM?

A. You will receive a copy of your completed progress evaluation report through RECS.

Q. I’m feeling stressed and anxious about my PEM. Who can I ask for help?

A. SUPRA caseworkers can help you prepare for your PEM and talk through any concerns you have. Contact us for help.

Talking about your anxiety with a counsellor may be helpful in preparation for your progress evaluation meeting. Access free counselling with the University’s Student Counselling Service, by phone or Zoom.

If you’re in Australia, you can also contact the University’s mental wellbeing support line 24 hours a day.

These services are external to the University, and also provide mental health support:

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Written by SUPRA Postgraduate Advocacy Service March 2023.

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