In the wake of the rapid 2020 global on-line development of higher education curriculum, many reports focus on the structured coursework student and their transition to the inadvertent on-line learner. However, there are fewer conversations on this transition for the unstructured non-coursework student, specifically Higher Degree Research (HDR) students.

These students are mostly conducting independent research projects to attain a masters or doctoral level degree. Even though they are “independent” learners, they are still under the guidance of academic supervisors/mentors. The impact of COVID-19 on these students, who have also had to adjust to on-line environments, has different ramifications. Self-motivation, communication with the supervisory panel, data collection activities, attendance at conferences and building research reputations through networking, have all been hampered by the necessity to remain isolated and on-line.

Responding to this relatively neglected COVID-19 cohort and working across two universities, we have drawn together best practise, tools and/or activities that build capability for HDR supervisors when guiding their remote students.

A sample of techniques that were applied successfully in 2020 include:

Supervision and maintaining focus

* activities used in Agile project management such as daily scrums to motivate and keep students on-track. For example, sending a daily scrum note, which essentially sets out the “nano-goals” for the day

* meeting more frequently to support isolated students

* setting writing goals supported by apps such as Cold Turkey that temporarily block access to distracting applications.

* virtual pomodoro writing circles for focussed 25-minute writing blocks. Apps such as Pomofocus can be used to keep time.

Students’ professional development and connection

* building a HDR Community of Practice (CoP) focused on well-being and capability building

* virtual Doctoral Consortiums (DC) or mini conferences

* regular HDR Newsletters

* virtual coffee clubs

* on-line skill development workshops.

Project flexibility

Modifications in the timelines, deadlines and milestones were necessary for students engaging in field work, data collections, etc. Approaches to such accommodations appear to vary considerably between institutions.

Sharing examples of good practice across the sector can only enhance the experience for this important cohort, many of whom have suffered considerable hardship. There is no question these students also deserve the very best support we can provide in these disrupted times and, with the lessons learnt, on into the future. We would like to encourage this community to expand on our ideas to build a repertoire of best practise resources.


Professor Trina Myers, Academic Lead Learning and Teaching, School of Information systems, QUT ([email protected])

Dr Wasana Bandara, Academic Lead Research Education, School of Information systems, QUT ([email protected])

Sharon Altena, Senior Curriculum and Learning Designer, QUT ([email protected])

Dr Rebecca Evans, Senior Lecturer, College of Medicine & Dentistry, JCU ([email protected])


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