This morning I have been sitting in ANU postgraduate seminars. These are an opportunity for the students to report what they are doing and get input from other students, their supervisors, but more importantly from people outside their immediate area of research. These seminars can be very stressful for the students, having to deal with everyone from specialists in their specialisation to those who have never heard of the field before.
Questions can be very blunt and negative: "What is your thesis? Who are your supervisors? That is an old text, where are your recent readings?". Some of the comments say more about the questioner than the presenter, such as "I am one of your supervisors, why have I not seen you before today?".
There seems to be far fewer support tools for students doing research than coursework. A student doing a course is given a timetable with deliverables at set dates and an assessment outline. These are now implemented with Learning Management Systems, such as Moodle. It should be possible to use the same tools for researchers. This would set out when the student has to report and would keep a copy of the reports and the supervisor's response. Tools such as Moodle may be too inflexible for research and tools such as Mahara too inflexible.
It may be useful to incorporate some of the features of academic publishing support systems such as OJS. These have a work-flow built in, with editors allocating papers to reviewers, which is similar to the research process. The system will automatically remind reviewers that they are required to submit work (unlike Moodle, which simply records when work is submitted).