Frequently Asked Questions about HDR Processes

This page contains the answers to some of the issues that may cause confusion for HDR candidates and their advisors.

Applying for a HDR

No. Before applying, applicants must include a “Brief Description of the Project” (no more than 100 words), “Background and Significance of the Research” (no more than 500 words) and an outline of the “Methods and Techniques” (no more than 500 words) as part of the “Supplementary Form for Higher Degree by Research Applications” which is submitted at the time of application. A full research proposal is prepared well after enrolment at the Confirmation of Candidature milestone, for the subject RD/RM7001 ‘Planning the Research.’

Two. Before an application can be assessed it must contain the names of at least two advisors. Students who do not have a nominated secondary advisor should discuss with their proposed primary advisor potential advisors for this role, before approaching them with a request to take on this role. Please note that every Advisory Panel must have an “advisor mentor” status advisor, and a third advisor must be nominated to take on this role if neither the primary nor secondary advisors are advisor mentors.

The academic entry requirements for a JCU HDR degree is previous research experience. Therefore, we require applicants to have completed an advanced level research project that resulted in the production of a thesis or dissertation that was formally examined. If such a qualification had not been completed, an applicant may complete the Graduate Diploma or Certificate of Research Methods at JCU, which provides such experience, before applying for a higher degree by research.

HDR Subjects and requirements

Yes, because higher-order synthesis skills are essential for HDR candidature and this subject is designed to examine those skills. Exceptions are possible, particularly in the Humanities, where the nature of the research project may mean that a literature review is redundant or otherwise not appropriate. Please note that the GRS does not evaluate the work submitted for this subject. The Candidature Committee is responsible for evaluating the material presented, within GRS guidelines.

Fewer than half of all research degree graduates in Australia are going to become academics at the end of their degree. Instead, they will join a wide range of professions, all of which require high-level skills that are broader than those needed to undertake the research itself. A research degree from James Cook University is designed to prepare graduates these diverse careers by building professional development activities into the degree program. Professional Development is now central to HDR study at JCU. Both Masters and Doctoral candidates must complete 32 hours of Compulsory Components. In addition, Doctoral candidates must complete and formally document at least 48 hours of professional development activities.

RD7003 Professional Development includes an Elective Component that is intended to provide training to the candidate during their doctoral studies. This training should be directed not just at acquiring skills needed for the HDR project, but also those needed for future careers. Professional Development in this context is defined as activity designed to increase professional knowledge through guided learning (either in a workshop or class, online or in apprenticeship mode). Attendance at conferences is not acceptable as guided learning. Sitting in a conference does not meet the learning outcome for RD7003: ‘Transferable skills required to fulfil individual career aspirations as an internationally-competitive research professional, plus specific skills required to undertake the proposed research’.

Some examples of what might/might not be classed as professional development are provided in the table below. This list is not exhaustive. Candidates must check if the activities they plan to undertake to make up the elective hours of RD7003 are acceptable.  If in any doubt, candidates and/or their advisors should contact the subject convenor.

Classed as professional developmentNot classed as professional development
Dedicated training course that is designed to teach specific skills. Advisor accompanying HDR candidate to make sure that data are collected correctly.
Volunteering to gain a generic skill, in apprentice mode. HDR candidate volunteering to assist advisor with research/data collecting task.
Enrolled in a subject (that is, undertaking all assessment tasks as part of that subject) Auditing a subject (that is, just attending classes without producing assessable work)
Formally taking a subject/course on tertiary teaching. Auditing a subject as preparation for teaching.
Taking seminar-delivered course with assessment Attending conferences, whether as a presenter or just as an attendee.
Workshops in the GRS Professional Development Program that are designated as suitable for inclusion in RD7003. Organising postgraduate seminar day or volunteering as a conference organiser.

No. Only those HDR candidates who come under the 2014 HDR Requirements are required to enrol in the subjects.

Refer to HDR Bridging Policy and Transitional Arrangements

Yes. If you wish to enrol in one or more of the subjects, please discuss the matter with your Advisory Panel and seek their endorsement. Contact the Graduate Research School to arrange enrolment.

Refer to GRS Contacts webpage

The two subjects do not have to be completed together, but your candidature cannot be confirmed until you have passed both subjects successfully.

Confirmation of Candidature

The two (Pass/Fail) subjects are designed to strengthen the Confirmation of Candidature milestone process across the University. You will not be required to attend classes for these subjects but are strongly encouraged to attend the relevant workshops offered during the intensive weeks of induction and compulsory session conducted by the Graduate Research School twice each year (or, in some cases, the online equivalents) and to complete the online module on writing a Literature Review, which is available to all JCU HDR candidates on Learn JCU. If you are enrolled as an external HDR candidate you will not be disadvantaged but are strongly encouraged to attend an induction week or the equivalent organised by cohort programs. You should also undertake the online Literature Reviews module as part of the subject RD/RM 7002 Situating the Research. Some workshops form the compulsory components of your professional development as outlined in the Professional Development section of this Handbook. Because of the strict time limitation imposed by visa requirements, international HDR candidates are required to undertake the Skills for International Postgraduates (SKIP) Program to help them complete their Confirmation of Candidature.

The purpose of this initiative is to protect you as the candidate and to ensure that your project is appropriate for the degree. You will also benefit from external input during the early stages of your candidature. The review is compulsory and should be organised by your Advisory Panel. Reviewers will not be paid. Experienced reviewers should not be too hard to find. Reviewers must be external to JCU and have published in the field of research of the proposal.

In order to do this you must:

  1. Be eligible for entry to a research doctorate; and
  2. Indicate on the Confirmation of Candidature Report Form that you wish to upgrade as part of the Confirmation of Candidature milestone assessment process. You should make it known to your Candidature Committee that you intend to upgrade your degree least two months prior to your scheduled seminar presentation, specifying the doctoral degree in which you want to enrol. The application to upgrade must be supported by all members of your Advisory Panel and the Dean of your College.  If you do not hold the entry qualifications for a research doctorate, the upgrade process will be more complicated and you should talk with your Associate Dean Research Education.

If you were enrolled before the 2014 HDR Requirements came into effect, follow the procedure outlined in Appendix 1 (Doctoral Candidates) or Appendix 2 (Research Masters Candidates) of the HDR Requirements Bridging Policy and Transitional Requirements.

The options available to you will depend on the standard of your performance. Talk to the Chair of your Candidature Committee in the first instance.

Milestones, progress reports and reviews

The Academic Services Officer (ASO) within the College. Each College has an ASO for HDR related matters. The details of each person on College Contacts. Once the academic aspects of your milestone have been prepared by yourself with the advice of your advisor/s, the ASO will arrange the seminar.

There are two reasons. The first is that it’s a requirement for JCU’s CRICOS Registration[2] for international students. The second reason is that it is important to maintain a record of student progress.

If you are a doctoral candidate enrolled before the 2014 HDR Requirements came into effect, follow the procedure outlined in Appendix 1 of the HDR Requirements Bridging Policy and Transitional Requirements. If you are a Research Masters candidate who did not commence under the 2014 HDR Requirements, you will not be required to undertake a Mid-Candidature Review.

Otherwise, follow the HDR Mid-candidature Review Milestone Procedure.

Your options will depend on the standard of your performance.

Your progress will be recorded in the student system as ‘Progress Requires Review’ unless an alternative outcome is formally approved by the Dean, Graduate Research. You will then be placed Under Review. If you fail to submit two successive Progress Reports your candidature may be discontinued.

Follow the process outlined in the HDR Pre-completion Evaluation Milestone Procedure.

Your options depend on the standard of your performance. Talk to the Chair of your Candidature Committee in the first instance.

Talk to the Associate Dean Research Education or Academic Services Officer responsible for HDR candidates in your College in your College. There are several options.

Your presentation should be no longer than 30 minutes including questions and should provide a synthesis of one aspect of your research findings.

Everyone reads text with different emphasis. It is not uncommon for examiners to make very different assessments of a thesis.

A candidate whose current performance is of concern may be placed Under Review with the aim of rectifying the problem in a constructive manner.

Candidates who are Under Review must develop and submit a Candidature Management Plan that is endorsed by their Candidature Committee and submitted to the Graduate Research School.

At the end of the specified Under Review period (normally six months), the Candidate Committee will assess the candidate’s progress against the agreed Candidature Management Plan and will make recommendation to the Dean, Graduate Research Studies.

Failure to meet the conditions in the Candidature Management Plan normally leads to discontinuation of the degree.

Refer to Section 8.2 in the Higher Degree by Research Requirements

Leave of absence and deadlines

A maximum of six months in total of Leave(s) of Absence will apply to HDR candidates from 1 July 2014. Leave of Absence arrangements approved before 1 July 2014 will be honoured.

Refer to Section 2.6 in the Higher Degree by Research Requirements

No. A Leave of Absence means whilst there is a “pause” placed on the enrolment, but the enrolment is still current, people whose status is Leave of Absence cannot borrow books from the library

From 1 October 2014, JCU HDR candidates who exceed the maximum duration of their degree without an approved extension of candidature will be placed Under Review.

Refer to Section 8.2 in the Higher Degree by Research Requirements.

You must apply for an extension of candidature, or withdraw from your course by completing a Variation of Candidature form.

Refer to GRS Forms Index for Variation of Candidature form.

Primary Advisors will be copied into requests for progress reports. They can then advise the Graduate Research School of periods of absence of their HDR candidates.

Writing your thesis

This reaction is common. Put the reports away for a few days and calm down. Then ask your Advisors to help you work out what you have to do. The changes required are usually less onerous than they appear at first reading of the examiners’ reports.

Generally, no. A research degree is a supervised degree.

Talk with your Advisors about the convention in your discipline.  Refer to other theses in the Library and online. Consider the pros and cons of preparing chapters as papers.

There is no single answer to this question. The answer depends on the discipline and the length of the papers.

Talk to the Talk to the Associate Dean Research Education or Academic Services Officer responsible for HDR candidates in your College about organising your Pre-Completion Evaluation as soon as possible. Your thesis cannot be sent for examination unless you complete the pre-completion process successfully, unless special permission has been granted by the Dean, Graduate Research. Permission will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.


Any arrangements for self-funding of HDR candidature or project costs must be made formal through correspondence between the candidate and the University, preferably before the commencement of candidature or at Confirmation of Candidature. If circumstances change during the candidature, such changes must also be formalised in writing. It is usually very difficult to obtain an ethics permit for self-funded research.

Check the Procedure and ask to read the policy of your College. If you are still concerned discuss with your Advisors or your college Associate Dean listed in the section ‘Obtaining Help When You Need It’ in this Handbook.