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University of Bath

Guidance for doctoral students on returning to campus

Read the latest information on how and when we may be able to return to offices and laboratories on campus

Progress towards returning to campus for doctoral students

Although many doctoral students have been able to continue to study during the Covid-19 lockdown, we recognise that a significant proportion of our doctoral students need to access specialist resources on campus, or need to travel.

Whilst the University is hoping that the situation will have improved to enable it to open up more of its resources for the start of the new academic year in September 2020, the process will be slow and measured, reflecting the need to ensure that core support measures and infrastructure are in place, and that social distancing requirements are maintained.

New web pages have been set up for information on plans for summer and the 2020/21 academic year and you'll find details published there over the next two weeks.

Working in doctoral offices

The Government guidance is clear that we should continue to work from home if possible. Therefore, currently there are no plans to open offices for staff or students to return to work. This will be reviewed in-light of updates to government advice, and any revisions will be communicated to staff and students.

The Doctoral College is aware that some students have asked to access offices to pick-up equipment, papers and belongings (but not to work) – we are currently in contact with Faculties / School to ascertain local arrangements, and to try to provide consistency of availability for all students. More information will follow.

Should anyone – staff or student – wish to access facilities on campus to retrieve something, you must follow the Essential Visiting Procedures, which involves obtaining permission from the relevant Dean (or equivalent senior manager) and liaising with Security in advance of the visit. You must then report to the Security Desk in the Library, and bring a copy of the email illustrating proof of permission. You will be taken to the relevant room by Security, who will unlock the room.

Working in laboratories

On 11 May, the Government made an exception to returning to work in publishing guidelines for returning to Research & Development working environments safely under social distancing arrangements.

Informed by this Government guidance, the University has developed a Risk Assessment Framework and has been working with three research groups to pilot the opening of research laboratories on campus. Everyone participating in the pilot activity has done so on a voluntary basis. The University has been learning lessons about the carrying capacity of its laboratories, the introduction of one-way systems around buildings and the use of rotas to support social distancing in research laboratories. The University is now planning to gradually scale up our lab-based research on campus.

Underpinning the University’s opening of research laboratories are the Government’s five key points:

  1. Work from home, if you can
  2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions
  3. Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible
  4. Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk
  5. Reinforcing cleaning processes

Importantly, research that does not require access to specialist campus-based facilities should continue to be pursued from home as the Government guidance remains that we should continue to work from home if we can.

Recognising that our research laboratories have lower carrying capacity under the Government guidance, the scaling-up of laboratory-based research activities on campus is being prioritised by the Deans. All activities are subject to risk assessments which are being signed off by the Deans, with support and advice from technical support teams and the University’s Health & Safety advisors. The process is being overseen by a new university-wide Summer Priority Restarts Group.

A few points to note:

  • not all laboratories in all departments will be able to be opened at this stage e.g. if there are issues with the ventilation systems, or social distancing cannot be achieved
  • for those laboratories that are open, arrangements will vary by department/laboratory, hence the importance of liaising with your supervisor, DoS or HoD (or other member of staff with the designated authority e.g. Dept. Lab Technical Manager, Health & Safety Officer, etc.)
  • capacity of these laboratories will be reduced to ensure that social distancing can be maintained and this may mean that you might only be able to access your laboratory on a rota basis, or that you are unable to access the laboratory for some time.

The additional risk assessment requirements that are now in-place due to Covid-19, comprise:

  1. A Covid Risk Assessment for each research laboratory/research group.
  2. An operation plan for each research laboratory.
  3. A risk assessment checklist
  4. A rota for access to the laboratory (as necessary)

As a laboratory user, you will already be familiar with the Health & Safety procedures in place for your particular situation – in our Health & Safety Guide for Doctoral Students and, importantly, those relating to the specific laboratory concerned. You will already have discussed these with your supervisor(s) in relation to your original planned research activities.

Before you return to your laboratory, and in light of the four items listed above (in relation to your specific laboratory) you will need to:

  1. Review your existing experimental risk assessments in the light of the additional Covid-related risk assessments. It is good practice to agree with your Supervisor a time frame in which you both review the risk assessment once you have resumed working in the laboratory.
  2. Complete a Restart Activities Questionnaire to confirm that you are not suffering from any Covid-19 symptoms and you can identify any particular circumstances that need to be considered. At the end of the survey, you will be asked to confirm that you have seen the operation plan for the laboratory. Importantly, should your situation change, you must cease working in the lab and inform your supervisor immediately.

Recognising that you may be keen to return as soon as possible, it is important that this process is treated seriously, and that you allocate sufficient time to thoroughly discuss your return to laboratories with your supervisor.

The Risk Assessment Framework takes into account those researchers who may not be able to return to laboratories, including those who may be clinically-vulnerable themselves, who may be in a household including someone who is clinically vulnerable, and those who have caring (or other) responsibilities due to the pandemic. Despite best-efforts, it may be that revised laboratory protocols make it difficult for those with certain disabilities to return. Likewise, we also appreciate the stressful nature of the current situation, and that some doctoral students may not feel confident in returning at this stage.

In the event of you having any concerns about the safety of you or colleagues, you should raise these in the first instance with your supervisor, DoS or HoD (or other member of staff with the designated authority e.g. Dept. Lab Technical Manager, H&S Officer, etc.)

Access to the library

The library team provided the following information:

We are working hard with various senior University staff groups to plan the reopening of the Library building. As you may be aware, they are meeting regularly to examine the practical means by which the Library (and all other campus services, facilities and buildings) may reopen safely for staff and students alike in light of ongoing social distancing requirements and management of the risks associated with Covid-19 across campus.

In relation to specific information requirements PhD students may have, while the building itself and the print collections are not accessible, the Library’s services and digital collections are still very much open and I would strongly encourage them to email us at library@bath.ac.uk with their specific needs. Library staff are working remotely and queries received are being passed on to our Subject Librarians, Acquisitions and Inter-Library Loans teams in order to try and get hold of the resources requested (for example, scanned chapters, ebooks) in a format that can be delivered directly to them.

As and when we know when the Library building is permitted to open again, this will be communicated widely to all our students and staff accordingly.

Overseas travel on University business

At the start of lockdown, the University suspended all travel on University business in light of the FCO advice – this remains the situation.

Overseas travel has been authorised only in very exceptional circumstances, through an Exceptional Travel Waiver. For example, travel is permitted to access resources that are crucial for the completion of studies, which are only available elsewhere, and which is time-critical. In such rare cases, and with reference to the Health & Safety Guide for Doctoral Students, you need to complete a Risk Assessment, including reference to current UK government guidance regarding travel to the specific location, as well as host institution and national policies, procedures and regulations with reference to Covid-19. As with all travel it is crucial that you have a clear communication protocol to ensure regular contact with your supervisor during the visit, and that you continue to monitor for any changes in organisational or national guidance – both in your location and in the University of Bath/UK.

All details must then be emailed to Dr Nicky Kemp, the University Director of Policy, Planning & Compliance, for her consideration.

Importantly, whilst authorisation for the trip will enable the trip to be covered by the University’s insurance, you would be advised to clarify any limitations (for example, whether cancellation/curtailment due to a second wave of Covid-19 would not be covered).

Previous updates

An email was sent on 22 May from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) following the government's advice for those who are unable to work from home.

A further email was sent on 1 June, on the progress of the pilot scheme and how the University will seek to scale up laboratory-based research activities on campus.

You can read both of these updates on the pilot scheme for returning to work in laboratories on campus.

An email was sent on 2 June from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International & Doctoral), outlining the University's plans to be open for the next academic year with students on campus. You can read the full guidance on returning to campus for the new academic year.