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Progress evaluation meetings

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The University of Sydney requires that every higher degree by research (HDR) student, whether full time or part time, has a progress evaluation meeting (PEM) at least once every 12 months. Students who re-enrol for a period of more than 6 months to revise and resubmit must also participate in a PEM.

Your PEM is an opportunity to:

  • constructively discuss your achievements, areas of concern, or any challenges you are facing
  • ensure you are heading in the right direction in your candidature
  • receive beneficial feedback.

Research Education Candidature System (RECS)

RECS is the online system used by the University of Sydney to manage HDR students’ candidatures. It allows you to upload documentation at every stage of your candidature – from your research progress plan, all the way through to your Notice of intent to submit. You will use RECS for each progress review, and your faculty will use the documents you upload to RECS to determine your progress, so it is vital to make sure you document everything in RECS.

Documents and notes you submit to RECS are visible to your supervisory team and Postgraduate Coordinator and are not confidential. If you are unsure whether you should upload something to RECS, contact us for advice.

Keep your own records and documents

We recommend that you keep your own personal file that includes:

  • records of all supervisory meetings, and any agreed outcomes from these meetings
  • copies of all progress reports
  • medical certificates
  • research plans
  • meeting minutes or your own notes of meetings
  • all emails or other documents (both academic and personal) that relate to or discuss your progress.

Remember to record dates of events. You should also lodge these records on RECS so that you have an easily accessible, cloud-based record of events that your supervisor can also access and review.

If you wish to record something but keep it confidential, do not upload it to RECS. Instead, secure it safely on your own device or cloud-based storage system.

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

Progress plan

Your progress plan is probably the most important task to complete within your probation period or first year of candidature. The progress plan records all of your project activities, compulsory milestones and completions, with timelines, and provides your faculty with an objective assessment of your research progress. Your progress plan should be lodged in RECS. There are progress plan templates for each faculty.

You should review your progress plan with your lead supervisor regularly throughout your candidature, and certainly before a progress review. Variations to your plan may include:

  • going part time
  • taking leave or suspending your candidature
  • achievement or failure in a milestone
  • changes to your research project
  • unexpected health issues
  • short-term or permanent disability that requires academic adjustments.

Remember, a clear and updated progress plan that is agreed upon by your lead supervisor will make for a smoother PEM and will help you maintain your confidence in a timely completion.

All changes should be clearly documented in RECS.

First year milestone integrity check

Your first PEM 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.

It may sound daunting, but it’s best for you to approach this check as an opportunity to ensure that your research and writing practices are at the standards required by your faculty and the University. The check includes:

  • correct referencing
  • academic honesty
  • ethical practices
  • written expression.

If the check identifies that you have not met the standards, your lead supervisor will work with you to make improvements, for example by referring you to complete a course or training.

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

How to approach your PEM

Your PEM interview is a chance to demonstrate ownership of your project and show any progress you have made. It is also an opportunity to raise any issues you are having in your candidature. This could include problems with supervision or other essential resources, or personal misadventure or illness that has resulted in delays in your progress. It is important to be honest about your progress and any delays in your candidature – if you don’t raise critical issues or requests for changes at your progress review interview, it may be difficult for your faculty to provide the required support for you.

If you do need to explain delays in your progress, you should refer to documents or notes you have uploaded to RECS.  Our caseworkers can assist you to prepare for your PEM interview – contact us for help.

The PEM process

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

PEM form

RECS will notify you when your progress evaluation is due, with a link to complete your form.

Read the University’s information about your PEM form.

You should complete your form and upload any relevant support documentation, such as your progress plan and thesis abstract. This form will then go to your lead supervisor to complete. Your supervisor will not see what you have written until your meeting date is confirmed.

Your progress review panel will read your form and documentation before your interview. The completed PEM form is an important part of your performance evaluation and provides a record of your work progress, so it’s important that you read the form to make sure that it is correct and contains no surprises to you.

PEM interview

Your interview will be conducted by your progress review panel and will typically take 15 – 30 minutes. The interview will focus on your progress plan and any required variation to the plan as presented by you or your lead supervisor. The interview is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your level of knowledge relating to your research and your degree.

Your progress review panel is appointed by your postgraduate coordinator and will consist of at least two academics. Each member will have at least one of: disciplinary expertise; supervisory experience; or relevant specialist knowledge. PR panel members do not include any of your supervisors and may be from outside the faculty or school. If you have concerns about the composition of your progress review panel, contact us for advice.

Your supervisors may be invited to your progress review meeting if there is a concern about your candidature. Read the University’s information about PEM interviews.

At the end of your interview the panel will discuss and evaluate your performance and prepare a written report for your postgraduate coordinator. You will have an opportunity to respond to the panel report. If you disagree with the panel’s comments we strongly recommend you respond in Section 6 of the form, before the postgraduate coordinator determines the final outcome. The deadline to provide a response will be listed on the PR form online.

Confidentiality and raising your concerns at your PEM

If you are having an issue with your supervisors 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 raise sensitive issues by writing to your panel chair, or your postgraduate coordinator, to arrange a confidential discussion at the interview.

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 submit to RECS will not be confidential.

You have the right to bring a support person to your PEM, and this could be one of our caseworkers. You will need to notify HDRAC or the postgraduate coordinator prior to your interview that you will be bringing a support person.

Outcomes of your progress review

There are 3 possible outcomes of a progress review:

  1. Progress meets or exceeds objectives

This means the faculty is satisfied that since your last PR you have completed, or are close to completing, your milestones and are on track for submitting your thesis on time.

  1. Marginal progress

If it is decided that you have made marginal progress you will be given some required actions and deadlines. Your lead supervisor will be responsible for overseeing completion of the required actions. You will also need to do an extra PEM 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.

  1. Unsatisfactory progress

If it is decided that you have made unsatisfactory progress, the associate dean of research education may allow you to continue and set conditions for your continuation. You will be required to meet the same conditions as for a marginal progress outcome, but your scholarship may be suspended.

It is possible that the postgraduate coordinator 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 PEMs that you have received an unsatisfactory progress rating, you will be asked 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 against your appeal or to exclude you for not showing good cause, you have a right to either a faculty-level appeal or appeal to the Student Appeals Body. The conditions and time frame for making an appeal will be in your outcome letter.

If you appeal to your faculty and that appeal is rejected, you still have the option to appeal to the Student Appeals Body (SAB). A decision to bypass the faculty and instead to appeal to the SAB allows you a slightly longer period to submit an appeal, but it is also your final level of appeal. Contact us for assistance with your appeal.

If you are enrolled on a probationary basis

Some students may be enrolled in a master’s degree by research or PhD on a probationary basis, for up to 4 research periods. There is a lot to get done within this period, so please read our article: Starting your PhD.

After your probationary period, you will participate in a progress review and the associate dean will either confirm your candidature or ask you to Show Good Cause as to why your candidature should not be terminated.


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

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Written by SUPRA Postgraduate Advocacy Service March 2023.

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