Annex 13 - Policy on placements for research students


  1. This policy defines the University requirements for placements for research students. It sets the standards and framework for the development and management of those arrangements. All University of Bristol research students who undertake placements are covered by this policy. 

Definition of placements

  1. Placements (which are sometimes referred to as internships) involve research students spending a defined period of time at another organisation to gain work-based practical experience or to undertake activities or research that contributes directly to their training. The host organisation will normally expect that the research student engages with the organisation’s objectives during the placement, with a work plan agreed before the placement starts.
  1. The policy applies to the following: 
    • Where a research student remains subject to the University’s regulations but where there is a transfer of direct day-to-day supervision/management to the host organisation; and
    • Where the duration is for two weeks or more.
  1. Research students who are sponsored by an external funder (including those funded by UK Research Councils) are covered by this policy and may also be subject to specific terms and conditions from their funder in relation to placements. In cases where research students are based at the premises of their external funder for a period of time (for example where the funder is a professional or industrial organisation), a separate placement agreement is not required if this has been covered in the overall student agreement.
  1. Illustrative examples of what types of activity require or do not require placement agreements are included at the end of the policy.
  1. The policy does not apply to the following:
    • Joint/dual awards;
    • Joint supervisory arrangements;
    • Fieldwork or site visits;
    • Secondments; and
    • Purely extracurricular employment that research students have arranged for themselves, such as part-time, term-time or vacation work. 
  1. Research students who are registered at other institutions and who undertake a placement at the University are not covered by this policy.

  2. Placements will vary depending on research student and supervisor choices, on the funder and on the circumstances. Placements may be an optional opportunity for research students, or a requirement of their programme of study, funded by an external funder. A suspension of study may be required, or a placement may be integral to the programme of study. Placements may be connected to students’ research projects, or they may provide opportunities to gain new skills and experience away from the research. This policy sets out the general principles that relate to all types of placements for research students.


9. The University recognises the value of placements in the professional development and in expanding career options for research students. Potential benefits include opportunities to learn new skills, to enhance employability prospects, to experience other workplaces, and to gain new insights for research projects. Research students are therefore encouraged to take up opportunities offered to them.

10. The University values the opportunities provided by a wide range of organisations that host its research students for placements and aims to have constructive relationships with them.

11. The University has a duty of care for its students, and a member of University staff must be assigned as a point of contact for research students when they are on placements. This would normally be the main supervisor or a nominee. The University-assigned contact has a responsibility to maintain contact with the research student and with the hosting organisation.

12. Organisations that host placements have a responsibility to ensure that research students receive appropriate support and have access to facilities and resources, and that there is a named local supervisor/manager to provide direct guidance for the research student.

13. Research students undertaking placements should be diligent and professional and remain subject to the University’s regulations. They should keep their University-assigned contact informed of their progress and of any problems that occur.

14. The decision on whether the research student needs to suspend may be determined by a range of factors, such as requirements of the funding body and the duration of the placement.

Developing placements

15. There is a University process, based on the principles set out in this policy, to assist faculties and schools in developing and approving placements for research students.
16. Placement opportunities will originate from multiple sources. For example, there may be existing links between the University and potential hosting organisations, or research students and their supervisors may locate opportunities themselves.
17. All placements must have a written, legally binding, agreement in place prior to their start. The process to develop a placement agreement will cover a due diligence check on the proposed hosting organisation, a consideration of the support that will be available to the student during the placement, and any necessary visa requirements. The supervisor or nominee must notify the School PGR Director (or equivalent) and, with guidance from the Secretary’s Office, will work with the proposed hosting organisation to develop the basis for the agreement, which will normally include establishing a work plan for the research student during the placement.
18. The placement agreement will inter alia include:
a)    The responsibilities of all relevant parties, including reference to any agreed work plans;
b)    Confirmation that suitable insurance is in place, such as employers’ liability cover;
c)    Confirmation that health, safety and welfare requirements are covered;
d)    A consideration of confidentiality and Intellectual Property; and
e)    Provisions for the withdrawal or termination of the agreement if a students’ wellbeing is compromised, if there are instances of serious misconduct, or for other reasons.
19. The placement agreement will be signed by the research student, by a representative of the hosting organisation and by the Faculty PGR Director for the relevant faculty.


Annual review process

20. A research student’s placement should be considered in the annual progress review process as part of their reflections on, and plans for, their personal and professional development.


Illustrative examples of where a placement agreement is or is not required

  • Example A: Student goes to a third party to conduct work for their PhD and a placement agreement is required

Student A is undertaking a PhD on the impact of hypertension drugs on patients with Alzheimer’s. The student will be based at a private laboratory for three months testing patient samples to gain expertise in testing techniques and to gather data. During their time at the laboratory, the student will engage with its work and will be managed by a member of its staff. The results of the testing will form part of the student’s PhD project. A placement agreement will be required, which will include Intellectual Property considerations.

  • Example B: Student goes to a third party for work-based experience and a placement agreement is required

Student B’s PhD relates to carbon dating techniques and the student wishes to gain a wider knowledge of relevant sectors to enhance their career options. The student will spend one month at the Plant Museum to work on applications of carbon dating for cataloguing plant specimens. The work will not contribute to Student B’s PhD project, but it will provide work-based practical experience. The student will engage fully with the objectives of, and will be managed by, the Plant Museum. There is no existing Student Agreement in place as the Plant Museum is not involved in the funding of the student’s PhD, and a placement agreement must therefore be put in place. As the data or information arising from the placement will not relate to the student’s PhD, this does not have to be owned by the student or the University.

  • Example C: Student goes to a facility of a funder/project sponsor and a placement agreement is not required

Student C is undertaking a PhD in aeronautical engineering funded by Aerospace plc. As part of their studies, the student will be based at Aerospace plc’s research establishment for six months to carry out work that will contribute to their PhD project. Day-to-day management of the student will be undertaken by a member of staff from Aerospace plc. A placement agreement is not required as the arrangements for Student C’s placement will be addressed in the overall Studentship Agreement with Aerospace plc.

  • Example D: Student goes to another organisation to learn a new technique and a placement agreement is required

Student D’s supervisor recommends that the student spends a month as part of their PhD training at a research group in another university to learn a new experimental technique. There is no partnership in place and day-to-day supervision of the student transfers to the other university for the duration. A placement agreement will be required. As the focus of the placement is on learning a new technique rather than in producing results, a provision for the student/University to own the data is not required.

  • Example E: Student goes to another organisation to learn a new technique and a placement agreement is not required

Student E wishes to learn how to use a particular technique as part of their PhD project. A research establishment is willing to host the student for a few days to demonstrate how the technique is used. The supervisory team at the University remains responsible for the student and a placement agreement is not required in this case.