Research components in coursework programs instruction

Instruction statement

This instruction sets out the requirements for supervision and assessment of the component of independent research in bachelor honours, graduate certificate, graduate diploma and masters by coursework programs. The Program design procedure states that this component may take the form of independent research or project work or practice-related learning or an equivalent piece of scholarship.

The instruction is intended to ensure that:

  • students receive adequate supervision in what may be their first experience of undertaking a substantial research activity
  • the research is carried out in accordance with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
  • there is independent or group assessment of the research component, to ensure that the research component is assessed as impartially as possible.

Research components in coursework programs fall into two main categories: traditional theses/dissertations, which prepare students for more advanced research; and creative or professional practice research components, which may involve several related assessment tasks. Accordingly, the instruction defines different sets of requirements for:

1. theses/dissertations weighted at 48 credit points or more (in Section A), and

2. creative or professional practice research component courses (in Section B).

This instruction applies only to research components weighted at 24 credit points or more, not including any research methods or research planning courses, but including research components that are structured as two 12 credit point courses. Single research component courses weighted at 12 credit points are assessed in accordance with the Assessment: conduct of assessment and appeals procedure.

For requirements in relation to projects and placements or internships with industry partners, see the Work integrated learning procedure.

Exclusions

  • Courses in HDR programs
  • Research methods and research planning courses in coursework programs
  • Courses in coursework programs other than research component courses weighted at a total of 24 credit points or more
  • Courses in vocational education programs
  • Courses in foundation studies
  • Courses for the Victorian Certificate of Education

Instruction steps and actions

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SECTION A

Requirements for dissertations/theses weighted at 48 credit points or more (including where a single dissertation/thesis is completed in a series of courses: e.g., two 24 credit point courses or four 12 credit point courses).


1. For one year stand-alone bachelor honours programs that require a dissertation or thesis weighted at 48 credit points or more, the School or College may appoint an honours program committee. The honours program committee is responsible for:

  • monitoring the allocation of supervisors and examiners to honours research components
  • serving as the course assessment committee for honours research components
  • serving as the program assessment board for the relevant honours programs.

2. The program will define in the course guide a normal word length for the dissertation/thesis appropriate to the discipline.

Required level of qualification for supervision or examination

3. To be the principal supervisor for or to examine the dissertation or thesis, a person must possess expertise in the relevant discipline area and:

  • for supervision or examination for an honours degree, a masters degree or doctorate, or
  • for supervision or examination for a masters degree, a doctorate.

Supervisors

4. For each student, a principal supervisor of their dissertation/thesis is appointed, who is an RMIT staff member. The School must make every effort to ensure that the principal supervisor will be present to provide the student with adequate supervision during the research component course. One or more co-supervisors may be appointed, who may be other RMIT staff, or external to the University.

5. If the principal supervisor is absent for four weeks or more,

  • a co-supervisor who is an RMIT staff member may stand in as principal supervisor for the period of absence, or
  • the School will arrange an interim principal supervisor for the period of absence. The student must be informed about the arrangement of an interim principal supervisor who is not already a co-supervisor, and must be given an opportunity to raise concerns and/or suggest a different supervisor. Where the fact that the supervisor will be absent is known well in advance, the interim arrangement must be in place before the absence starts.

Research ethics

6. The student and supervisors will conduct the research and supervisory relationship in accordance with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and the RMIT Human research ethics policy process.

7. Research involving human or animal subjects requires ethical approval by the relevant research ethics committee. The ensuing research must be carried out in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the approval.

8. The principal supervisor is chief investigator of the research project, and as such, is responsible for identifying whether the research requires ethical approval and, if so, collaborating with the student on the research ethics application, and submitting it to the relevant research ethics committee on the student’s behalf.

9. The principal supervisor is responsible for overseeing the ethical conduct of the research and ensuring that any reporting required by the ethics approval is done.

The supervisory relationship

10. Supervisors are responsible for:

    10.1. allocating the student sufficient time for adequate supervision during the course, and agreeing with the student on a schedule of meetings

    10.2. guiding the student on:

    • the choice of research topic
    • planning the research
    • the relevant literature
    • research methods and techniques

    10.3. providing the student with feedback on work in progress and suggestions for improvement within a reasonable time-frame

    10.4. where the student’s progress is too slow or the standard of their work is inadequate, informing the student of this and suggesting ways to address these problems. Such concerns should initially be discussed with the student, and then stated in an email, which should be retained in case of dispute.

11. The student is responsible for:

11.1. discussing with the supervisor the type of guidance and comments considered most helpful

11.2. agreeing on and adhering to a schedule of meetings

11.3. at all times following safe and ethical study/research practices relevant to the field of research, and adhering to health and safety requirements in places of study and work

11.4. where the research has ethics approval, ensuring that data is handled in accordance with the approved processes and the RMIT Privacy and data protection policy.

Submission

12. When the student believes that the dissertation or thesis is ready to be submitted, they are advised to discuss with the supervisor whether the supervisor agrees that it is ready to be submitted. The supervisor will confirm the outcome of that discussion in writing or by email to the student within five working days. The student may choose to submit without consulting the supervisor or even if the supervisor does not agree that the thesis/project is ready, but should note that unsupported submission risks a poorer mark.

13. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the thesis/dissertation must be submitted by the deadline stated to students in the information on assessment in the course. Where, however, the student requires an extension to the deadline for submission of the research component:

13.1. because of difficulty accessing equipment or facilities, or delays in providing supervision, the program manager or research component course coordinator may grant an extension

13.2. because of unforeseen personal or health circumstances outside the student’s control, the student should apply for an extension in accordance with the Assessment: adjustments to assessment procedure.

Approved late submission may mean that the student’s final results are not approved in time for the following round of higher degree by research scholarship applications.

Examination

14. Dissertations and theses are examined as follows.

14.1. Two examiners are proposed by the principal supervisor. To avoid a conflict of interest, neither of the examiners can have supervised the student’s research component. The College Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Learning can approve an exception to this rule where the School demonstrates exceptional circumstances.

14.2.The examiners are approved by the program manager or research component course coordinator and notified to the program assessment board.

14.3.The program manager provides the examiners with the instructions to students for undertaking the dissertation or thesis and the criteria for assessment, which are aligned with the course learning outcomes. The program manager also provides the table of honours levels in bachelor honours degrees in Part C of this instruction.

14.4.Examiners provide written reports including a short statement of the reasons for the mark awarded, and a statement to be provided to the student. They are expected to return their reports within two weeks of receiving the research component for examination.

    14.4.1.Students are provided with the examiners’ statements, but not the marks awarded by the examiners.

14.5. Where the two examiners’ marks differ by more than 15% of the maximum possible total mark, the Dean/Head of School or nominee will appoint a third examiner, who may be from within the University or external to it, but who must not have supervised the dissertation or thesis. They must be provided with the same materials for the examination as were the two original examiners.

14.6. The examiners’ reports and marks are referred to the course assessment committee for determination of a final grade.

15. Assessment of theses or dissertations should as far as possible be scheduled to ensure that the results are approved in time to enable graduates to compete in the next round of scholarships to undertake a higher degree by research or to start employment in their profession after the end of the relevant teaching period. In Melbourne programs this means that results should as far as possible be approved in October or at latest by late November. Students should note that this time-frame may need to be extended where a third examiner is required under 14.5-6 above, or for other reasons.

16. The program assessment board for the program will determine the student’s level of honours or award level in accordance with the Award levels section of the Program design procedure.

17. Students are entitled to appeal against the result of an honours research component by the appeal process set out in the Assessment: conduct of assessment and appeals procedure. The dissertation/thesis examination process is considered already to have provided a review of the result, in that it is based on marking by at least two independent examiners.

SECTION B

Requirements for creative or professional practice research components (in which there are multiple assessment tasks, or a single thesis, dissertation or projects which is the only assessment task for a course or series of courses weighted at less than 48 credit points).


18. The program will define, in the course guide(s) for the creative/professional practice research component,

  • requirements for the written work appropriate to the discipline and type of research component, and
  • where the research component involves output other than written work, what constitutes an appropriate durable record or practical demonstration of what is produced by the project.

Required level of qualification for supervision or assessment

19. To be the principal supervisor for a creative/professional practice research component, a person must possess expertise in the relevant discipline area, and:

  • for supervision for an honours degree, a masters degree or doctorate, or
  • for supervision for a masters degree, a doctorate.

19.1. Where supervision is by a group or panel of supervisors, the group/panel must be led by a staff member with the required level of qualification.

19.2. Where day-to-day supervision is done by an industry practitioner who does not have the required level of qualification, there must also be a supervisor who is an RMIT staff member and who has the required level of qualification.

20. Staff assessing assessment work for creative/professional practice research component courses must possess the levels of qualifications in section 21 above. Where an industry practitioner assesses some assessment tasks, their assessment must be moderated by a staff member with the required level of qualification.

Supervision

21. See section 19 above for the levels of qualification supervisors are required to have.

22. Each student in a creative/professional practice research component course either:

  • has a designated supervisor who is available for individual meetings to advise the student on the conduct of their research, or
  • receives regular supervision from one or more supervisors as part of a group of students.

Research ethics

23. The student and supervisors will conduct the research and supervisory relationship in accordance with the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research and the RMIT Human research ethics policy process.

24. Research involving human or animal subjects requires ethical approval by the relevant research ethics committee. The ensuing research must be carried out in accordance with the conditions stipulated in the approval.

25. The creative/professional practice research component course coordinator is responsible for:

  • where the research requires blanket ethical approval, ensuring that ethical approval is in place for the research and informing students of the limits on the research under the approval.
  • where the research requires individual ethical approval, collaborating with the student on the research ethics application, and submitting it to the relevant research ethics committee on the student’s behalf.

26. The course coordinator is responsible for ensuring the ethical conduct of the research and that any reporting required by the ethics approval is done.

The supervisory relationship

27. Supervisors are responsible for:

  • supporting the student as they undertake the creative/professional practice research component, by providing advice and being available to answer questions
  • providing the student with feedback on work in progress and suggestions for improvement
  • where the student’s progress is too slow or the standard of their work is inadequate, informing the student of this and suggesting ways to address these problems.

28. The student is responsible for:

  • attending supervisory meetings and engaging with the supervisory process
  • management of their time to ensure that they provide work of a satisfactory standard by the deadlines in the information on assessment in the course
  • at all times following safe and ethical study/research practices relevant to the field of research
  • where the research has ethics approval, ensuring that data is handled in accordance with the approved processes and RMIT privacy and data collection policies.

Submission

29. Other than in exceptional circumstances, the assessment tasks in creative/professional practice research component courses must be submitted by the deadline stated to students in the information on assessment in the course. Where, however, the student requires an extension to the deadline for submission of the research component:

29.1. because of unforeseen personal or health circumstances outside the student’s control, the student should apply for an extension in accordance with the Assessment: adjustments to assessment procedure.

29.2. because of unexpected and exceptional difficulties other than unforeseen personal or health circumstances, the program manager or course coordinator has discretion to grant an extension.

30. Assessment should as far as possible be scheduled to ensure that the results are approved in time to enable graduates to compete in the next round of scholarships to undertake a higher degree by research or to start employment in their profession after the end of the relevant teaching period. In Melbourne programs this means that results should as far as possible be approved in October or at latest by late November. Students should note that this time-frame may need to be extended where assessment deadlines are extended under section 29 above.

Assessment

31. In these types of course, major assessment tasks (weighted at 50% or more of the weighting of a single course) are assessed by more than one assessor. At least one of the assessors must have the level of qualification required under section 19 above.

32. Other assessment tasks (weighted at less than 50% of the weighting of a single course) are assessed by more than one assessor, except where there are practical reasons why they can only be assessed by one staff member. At least one of the assessors of any assessment task must have the level of qualification required under section 19 above.

SECTION C

Table of mark levels in research components for bachelor honours degrees.

Mark range

Honours level

Standard of work

80-100%

Honours first class (H1)

Excellent

Work of exceptional quality showing clear understanding of subject matter and appreciation of issues; well formulated; arguments sustained; figures and diagrams where relevant; appropriate literature referenced; strong evidence of creative ability and originality; high level of intellectual work.

Excellent analysis, comprehensive research, sophisticated theoretical or methodological understanding, impeccable presentation.

70-79%

Honours second class, division A (H2A)

Very good

Work of high quality showing strong grasp of subject matter and appreciation of dominant issues though not necessarily of the finer points; arguments clearly developed; relevant literature referenced; evidence of creative ability and solid intellectual work.

Very good work that is very well researched, shows critical analytical skills, is well argued, with scholarly presentation and documentation.

Work that shows limited room for improvement.

60-69%

Honours second class, division B (H2B)

Good

Work of solid quality showing competent understanding of subject matter and appreciation of main issues though possibly with some lapses and inadequacies and with clearly identifiable deficiencies in logic, presentation or originality.

Some evidence of critical analysis and creative ability; well researched, prepared and presented.

Work that shows some room for improvement.

50-59%

Pass

Satisfactory

Completion of key tasks at an adequate level of performance with demonstrated understanding of key ideas and some analytical skills. Satisfactory presentation, research and documentation.

Adequate report, reasonable quality but showing a minimal understanding of the research area with deficiencies in content or experimental rigour; little evidence of creative ability or original thought.

0-49%

Fail

Not satisfactory

Work that fails to demonstrate a satisfactory understanding of the research area, adequate critical analysis, and/or competence in addressing the objectives of the program.

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