Annex A: Graduate induction in departments: examples of good practice

  1.     Department facilities

•    Topics covered might include: building layout, access to buildings, fire alarm and evacuation procedures, catering facilities, areas and facilities available to student use etc.

2.    Health and safety (where relevant)

•    Topics covered might include: laboratory safety, risk assessments, control of substances hazardous to health, chemical safety, emergency first aid.

3.    Introduction to staff and their roles

Policy requires departments to provide the following information for students:   

•    An introduction to, and explanation of the role of

o    The DGS and anyone who supports him or her

o    The course director/organizer/convenor (in the case of PGT students)

o    Other academic staff involved in the course

•    An overview of supervision arrangements, and the role of the supervisor (in the case of PGR students)

•    An explanation of who to go to with a concern or a complaint

The induction programme for new graduate students in the Department of Politics and International Relations includes a session introducing the Head of Department, Deputy Head, Director of Graduate Studies, Course Directors, Director of Research Training, Divisional Training Coordinator, Graduate Studies Administrator, Graduate Research Administrator, and Courses Manager.

4.    Orientation to programme

For PGT students this might comprise:

•    Components of the programme, core and options, and the curriculum plan

•    Teaching types (lectures, seminars, small-group teaching, lab-work etc)

•    The weekly teaching timetable

•    Components of assessment

•    Assessment timetable

•    Handbook and online information: orientation

The School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies includes in its induction programme for its MSc students a session on getting to know the course handbook, in addition to an introductory session on the MSc programme.

 

The Department of Education includes on its website a page describing a typical week for an MSc student, which gives new and prospective students an idea of how an MSc student’s time might be occupied during the week.

For PGR students this might comprise:

•    Key milestones and terms permitted to reach completion (transfer and confirmation of status, submission of the thesis deadlines)

•    Starting work with the supervisor

•    Pattern of independent work

•    Expected attendance (e.g. lab hours where relevant, compulsory seminars or meetings)

•    Handbook and online information: orientation

The Department of Materials provides its new DPhil students with a ‘DPhil Diary’ which outlines the schedule for the entire DPhil programme by week and term.  As well as listing the timings of the milestones, the Diary also gives the approximate timings of various workshops, courses  and seminars for the programme.

5.    Departmental IT and library

An introduction to departmental IT might include:

•    IT policies

•    Departmental support and help

•    University IT Services

The Mathematical Institute provides an IT induction booklet for new students which covers: privacy and information security; facilities access (accounts); departmental network; passwords; data storage; email; web; support and help; personal machines; mailing lists; safety.

Topics covered in library induction might include:

•    An overview of the departmental library

•    A library tour

•    An introduction to finding sources in the library

The centrally provided Research Skills Toolkit explores IT & library tools, tips and techniques to support researchers in their work  http://www.skillstoolkit.ox.ac.uk/

6.    Preparation for Week 1 work

It is important that all students know what they are expected to do in the first week of their course. PGT students should be guided as to what preparatory reading or work they should undertake for their teaching sessions in their first week.

It is not always the case that supervisors are immediately available to meet their supervisees (though they are obliged to meet with their student no later than the end of Week 2) and departments should advise research students how they might profitably spend their time if this is the case.

7.    Academic expectations and academic skills support

An introduction to the standard expected, the kind of skills that students will need to have or acquire, and how support and guidance is provided by the department, is amongst the most valuable information that can be offered to new students.

Skill level

Many students will be anxious about the level of attainment expected of them. One approach to addressing this is to use the experience of current or recent students who can give an insight into their experiences of adjusting to the level of work required.   Examples of previous dissertations, both PGT and research, might also be useful in illustrating what students should be aiming for. In addition, an experienced member of staff might offer a session on the typical challenges which may face students, and sources of support and guidance in times of difficulty.

The Medical Sciences Division uses this approach in its induction programme for new students with a session on ‘A current research student’s experience’.

Support with academic skill acquisition

PGT students

Needs will vary according to previous academic background but these are generic skills with which some students might need help early on in their studies:

•    Time management (online resource at https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/guidance/skills/)

•    Participating in tutorials/ seminars/ supervision

•    Critical thinking and reasoning

•    Academic writing

•    Group and self-study strategies

•    Revision and examination techniques

Using PGR teaching, some departments also give introductory sessions on research to both their taught Master’s and PGR students.

New students on the MSc Mathematical Modelling and Scientific Computing are required to attend ‘Additional Skills’ sessions throughout their first term, which cover topics such as the use of  mathematical software and the web, sources of numerical software, literature searches, communication and career development.

PGR students

Although the supervisor is responsible for supporting their supervisee, the department can (and in many cases does) offer a programme for the PRS or research student cohort. This has the advantage of bringing the cohort together: peer support is particularly beneficial in research studies.

Some of the MPLS DTCs (Systems Approaches to Biomedical Science IDC/ Systems Biology DTC/ Life Sciences Interface DTC) provide a programme for the PRS/research student cohort, comprising:

•    What is research? (induction programme)

•    Presentation skills (induction programme)

•    Managing your supervisor (second year)

•    Planning to write a DPhil  (third year)

•    Interview techniques (third year)

•    Completing your DPhil (fourth year)

•    Non-academic careers (fourth year).

8.    Academic good practice (research ethics, avoiding plagiarism)

Departmental induction sessions should – in Education Committee’s view – always incorporate separate sessions on good academic practice and the avoidance of plagiarism. These should include advice on note-taking, referencing practice and study skills. Ideally, further sessions on plagiarism and academic practice should be organised as students prepare to undertake projects and dissertations. Education Committee material for students is found on the Student Gateway: https://www.ox.ac.uk/students/academic/guidance/skills/plagiarism/

Whilst supervisors should work through the research integrity checklist with their students (http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/rso/integrity/), departments should ensure that research students and master’s students undertaking research projects are aware in general terms of their responsibilities and any restrictions, for example on the ownership and protection of data, or on the protocol for publication, at a time that is relevant for them to understand that information. This may be induction for research students and later in the course for PGT, depending on their programme.

The Centre for Criminology includes the following note in its induction timetable:

Compulsory Plagiarism and Reference Management Seminar

For your dissertation or thesis you will need to cite your sources and organise them in a properly formatted bibliography. This is vital to avoid plagiarism. A well-researched bibliography adds credibility to your work and shows the quality of resources you have used. This session will outline the key referencing styles used in the social sciences and will demonstrate the benefits of using reference management software. Clear advice on how to incorporate the ideas of others without plagiarising their work will assist you in maintaining a high standard of academic integrity.

PLEASE NOTE:  A register of attendance will be taken at this compulsory session

Followed by

Introduction to the Social Science Library

An introduction to the Social Science Library, online resources and a library tour

9.    Overview of wider academic opportunities (seminars, research presentations, etc)

Students should be made aware of other University or college seminars or lectures that are taking place and that they might attend.

The Department of Population Health offers a session on ‘Wider academic opportunities’ to both its MSc and DPhil students, which covers both teaching opportunities and seminars in the Department.

The graduate induction programme for the Faculty of Classics includes a session which gives an introduction to work-in-progress seminars.

Many departments  now advertise talks and seminars open to the wider academic community through OxTalks http://talks.ox.ac.uk/

10.    Responsibilities of the research/PGT student

From October 2014, the responsibilities of PGR students will no longer be found in the ‘Memorandum of Guidance for Supervisors and Research Students’ in Examination Regulations. The relevant material from this section has been revised and incorporated in the Policy on Research Degrees, Section 5: Responsibilities of the Student. http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/policiesandguidance/policyonresearchdegrees/ Departments should draw students’ attention to this section

There is also now an equivalent policy for PGT students in the Policy and Guidance on Postgraduate Taught Courses (see Section 6).

11.    Skills training (Researcher development)

Departments are responsible for ensuring that their research students have access to skills training and this should begin at induction. Students should be made aware of how resources for their development are to be found, including those offered at divisional and institution-wide level as well as within the department. Supervisors of research students are responsible for discussing students’ needs with them in their first term of study. Additionally, where there are opportunities for PGT students to participate in generic or transferable skills training, these should be drawn to their attention.

Some departments cover teaching opportunities as part of induction sessions on skills training, even though opportunities to teach do not arise until later in the research programme.

The Department of Computer Science includes in its induction programme for new DPhil students two seminars on teaching and demonstrating.  These seminars are compulsory for those students wishing to do class teaching or practical demonstrating, and students not planning to do either are still encouraged to attend the seminar on demonstrating as a part of transferable skill development.

 

This handbook entry for research programmes in Chemical Biology gives a good introductory overview to available skills training:

You will have the opportunity to attend a variety of skills training sessions offered by the Department, as appropriate to the different stages of your graduate career. The MPLS Division also organises courses and career planning events, details of which are emailed to students via their departments.  Information about transferable skills training is provided in the division’s WebLearn site http://www.weblearn.ox.ac.uk/site/mathsphys/gradstudents/. Information about divisional training and other courses offered across the University is also available through the Graduate Training site at https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/hierarchy/grad

This site provides information about transferable skills development for research students and research staff at Oxford University, and includes a searchable database of skills training opportunities, links to articles on subjects such as project management, teaching and career planning, and message boards for asking questions and discussing issues with other researchers.  An online Personal Development Planning System is also available through the Graduate Training site.

12.    Student representation

Students should be advised of the arrangements for student representation in the department, the duties of student representatives, and the procedure and timing for the election of representatives or the names of representatives if these have already been elected for the year.

The course handbook for the MTh Applied Theology includes a section on student representation which outlines the purpose and composition of, and arrangements for election to its Graduate Joint Consultative Committee.  The Faculty of Theology and Religion’s Graduate Studies website lists the names and email addresses of the current student representatives, and also  links to the minutes of GJCC meeting minutes in WebLearn (restricted access).

 

Acknowledgements

Education Committee is grateful to colleagues across the collegiate University for providing example induction programmes.