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Show Cause & Exclusion for HDR Candidates

 

The University of Sydney’s Show Good Cause process can seem daunting. If you receive a stage 3 notification asking you to Show Good Cause, try to remain calm and carefully work through the required steps.

 

What does ‘to show (good) cause’ mean?

A Faculty may ask an HDR candidate to Show Good Cause if they deem that academic progression requirements have not been met. The candidate is required to defend their progress and capacity to complete their degree successfully. To Show Cause means to explain why you did not meet your progress requirements. You must support your claims with evidence if possible and demonstrate to your faculty why you should be allowed to continue in your degree.

 

When are show cause notices issued?

A Show Good Cause notice will be issued after an unsatisfactory Progress Review (see also: Chapter 8. Making progress). However, SUPRA has also seen HDR candidates being asked to Show Cause after receiving an allegation of a potential breach of academic honesty or research misconduct (see also: Academic Honesty). A Show Good Cause notice can also be issued when a candidate has not submitted their thesis for examination by the latest possible date to do so.

 

What do show cause notices say?

You will be required to provide your response by a specific date. The notice should set out:

  • the reasons that you have been asked to Show Good Cause
  • the actions that might have to be taken in regards to your candidature
  • your entitlement to seek independent advice (e.g. from SUPRA) in preparing your response.

 

Checklist for an HDR show cause response

  • Read the Show Good Cause notice very carefully. Make sure you correctly note the deadline for lodgement.
  • Gather your supporting documents early. It can take time to collate documents for lodgement. If you encounter problems in your personal life throughout your candidature, e.g. illness, we advise you gather documentation (e.g. medical certificates) at the time the issue arises, and file them in case you need to submit them to the faculty at a later date. See also: Dealing with Life Problems for further advice on supporting documents.
  • Start writing your response letter early. It might take a few drafts before you are able to effectively explain your circumstances. Don’t leave your writing your response to the last minute. There is no need to rush to submit your show good cause response before the due date. An early submission won’t be a factor in the Faculty’s decision making.
  • Reflect seriously to find reasonable grounds for why your progress has not met the required standards. Your ability to meet milestones might have been impacted by ill health, injury or misadventure, or lack of access to appropriate resources or effective supervisory support.
  1. Explain how these circumstances were exceptional, meaning why you could not predict or control how they would impact your research progress.
  2. Wherever there were circumstances that you felt were out of your reasonable control, explain in detail even if seems obvious to you how they impacted on your academic progress. Don’t just list things that went wrong in your personal life. In your letter, elaborate on how your issues impacted your progress and prevented you from having enough time, energy, motivation, funding, or knowledge etc. to achieve your candidature milestones.
  3. If it applies, explain why you did not access entitlements to take leave or to consult support services which could have helped you address problems. For example, if you did not apply for a suspension, or inform your supervisors that you were struggling with health or other personal issues, outline why.
  • Develop a new progress or completion plan for your remaining degree requirements. Seek advice from your supervisors and other mentors or senior Faculty staff, like Postgraduate Research Co-ordinators, on preparing a new timeline for completing your thesis. Be realistic about your capacity to resolve all of the issues that have hindered your progress so far. Reflect on your publication and conference goals. You might find that your Faculty would prefer for you to concentrate on your thesis, rather than devote time to these other academic endeavours.
  • Think about whether providing a weekly plan (like a timetable) would make your case more persuasive. This might be helpful where your challenges are ongoing (e.g. carer’s duties, managing chronic health conditions) or if you’re an international student who will have to complete your thesis in your home country (see also: Offshore Candidature). Address concerns from your Faculty by clearly outlining how much time you can devote to writing your thesis amid other commitments.
  • Consult appropriate support services. It’s important to do this before you finalise your Show Cause submission, to demonstrate your commitment to successfully completing your degree. Include evidence that you are consulting appropriate professionals, if you have an ongoing health issue. Attach evidence like medical certificates, psychologist reports, or medical appointment bookings.
  • Commit to developing your academic and research skills. You might feel that only poor supervision, or non-academic factors, like tenancy problems or relationship matters, have hindered your research progress. Demonstrate to your faculty that you are making every attempt to improve your research skills so you can complete on time. Seek out resources such as one-on-one appointments with lecturers in the Learning Centre or Mathematics Learning Centre, or attend a CAPS workshop on avoiding perfectionism. Think about whether you need a private tutor, or look up Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) for online courses relevant to your research topic.
  • Start writing your draft Show Cause letter. See our advice on formatting your Show Good Cause letter.
  • After preparing your first draft, and gathering some supporting documents, consult a SUPRA Student Advice and Advocacy Officer (SAAO) for advice on strengthening your Show Cause response.
  • Finalise your supporting documentation. If you don’t have official evidence of a claim you’re making in your Show Cause letter, you might need to complete a Statutory Declaration: http://www.jp.nsw.gov.au/justices-of-the-peace/information-for-jps/performing-your-role-as-a-jp/nsw-statutory-declaration.
    This is a written legal document, which must be witnessed and counter-signed by an authorised person (a Justice of the Peace, or lawyer). A Statutory Declaration is used to demonstrate the validity of your claims, in the absence of other independent, documentary proof.
  • Submit your final response. Make sure you upload all of your supporting documents to the correct email address as stated on the notice to Show Cause (PDF of Word document). Retain a copy for your records. If a SUPRA Student Advice and Advocacy Officer assisted you in preparing your Show Cause response, email them a copy of the full submission version of your package.
  • Keep a copy of the confirmation email that your faculty has received your Show Cause package. This might take some time to receive, depending on how many student cases your Faculty has to process.
  • While waiting for the University’s decision, try to remain focused on your studies. Continue with your research (if you’re not currently suspended), or otherwise continue working on addressing any issues impacting your personal or academic progress.
  • Once you receive the decision about your Show Cause response, send a copy to the SAAO who assisted you, even if you are satisfied with the University’s decision.

 

Issues to address in your show cause letter

Here are our suggestions for points to address in your letter. You don’t have to set them out in the order below, but we encourage you to address all these issues and back them up with supporting documentation.

  1. A brief explanation of why you are being asked to Show Cause. This is to demonstrate that you understand the process the University has asked you to go through.
  2. A clear explanation of the reasons that you have not made satisfactory progress. Include an explanation of why each factor has hindered your capacity to meet your research requirements.
  3. An outline of strategies you have started to develop to overcome issues, whether personal matters, or areas for improvement in your research skills.
  4. An outline of your academic history (especially Progress Reports), prior to the period in which you started struggling. Highlight reasons why you felt you made satisfactory progress during these times, to demonstrate that you have the capacity to achieve the required academic standards.
  5. A reasonable explanation of why, if allowed to continue, you can complete your candidature successfully.
  6. A concise highlighting of the strength of your ongoing interest in your research topic. You can briefly mention the value you think it will give to the University’s research output and reputation.
  7. After your signature, at the end of the letter, list attachments. Give each attachment a number and short title, and be consistent in these titles whenever you mention a supporting document in your letter. Remember to refer to the relevant supporting document at the appropriate point(s) in your letter. Don’t simply write a letter and hand in some supporting documents without explanation about how they relate.

 

Possible outcomes to your response to show cause

The Faculty will consider: your letter and supporting documents; Progress Reports; and reports by your co-ordinating supervisor, associate supervisors or other senior academics, such as a Postgraduate Co-ordinator. A decision will be made by senior academic(s). These are the possible decisions permissible in University policy:

  • Your Faculty could form the opinion that you have Shown Good Cause, and permit you to continue your candidature
  • Your Faculty could form the opinion that you have not Shown Good Cause. In their letter outlining their decision, they must explain the reasons why they have made such a determination

If they decide that you have not Shown Good Cause:

  • Your Faculty Dean could decide to terminate your candidature, or
  • The Dean could impose conditions or restrictions on the continuation of your candidature
  • The Dean might also offer you the opportunity to transfer to another course within the Faculty. They might impose conditions or restrictions on that offer to transfer course

If your candidature for a Higher Degree by Research (HDR) is terminated, you might be excluded for applying for admission to a research degree at the University of Sydney for up to two academic years. While excluded from USyd, a person cannot receive an award like an RTP Stipend Scholarship.

 

What can you do if you’re unhappy with the outcome?

  1. Faculty level appeal

You can lodge an appeal to your Faculty if you disagree with the outcome or parts of the outcome. The letter notifying you of the University’s decision regarding your Show Good Cause response should outline your entitlement to appeal. You have 20 working days from the date on the outcome letter to lodge your Faculty appeal. PhD candidates may bypass this level of appeal if they chose and lodge an appeal straight to the Student Appeals Body (SAB). Contact SUPRA for assistance with your faculty level appeal.

  1. Student Appeals Body (SAB) level appeal

If you are dissatisfied with the result of your Faculty-level appeal, or you decide to bypass the faculty level appeal, you can apply to appeal to the University’s Student Appeals Body (SAB). In order for your appeal to be successful at this final level, your application must demonstrate that your Faculty breached due academic process. For advice on this, contact SUPRA.

If you appeal to the SAB, your case may be referred to a hearing. You can take a representative or support person to the hearing with you, such as a SUPRA Student Advice and Advocacy Officer (please contact SUPRA in advance of your hearing date to ensure availability). Your Faculty will also be invited to send a representative, usually a senior academic. Your appeal will be considered by a three-person panel, consisting of: a chair of the panel, senior academic staff from a faculty other than your own, and a postgraduate student from another Faculty. A staff member from the Student Affairs Unit (SAU) will take minutes. During this hearing, the SAB panellists may ask you and the Faculty representatives questions to clarify any points in your appeal or the faculty response to your appeal. After the hearing, you will be informed in writing of the SAB’s decision and the reasons for this decision, as soon as is practicable. The SAB’s decision is final within the University.

 

What if you’re unhappy with the outcome of the University appeals process?

You can consider lodging a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman: https://www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/complaints. For domestic student, however, recommendations made by the NSW Ombudsman are non-binding on the University. For international students, legislation requires the University to implement any decision and/or corrective action the NSW Ombudsman recommends.

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