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Supervision

This section outlines the composition of the supervisory team and the pre-requisites for appointment as a supervisor. The frequency of formal meetings and responsibilities of supervisors are highlighted, alongside training requirements and guidelines for changes to supervision arrangements.

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Supervisor Responsibilities PDF

Key Information for Supervisors PDF

Section contents:

THE SUPERVISORY TEAM

  1. Each research student must have a supervisory team comprising at least two academic supervisors. Examples include:

        1. Main supervisor plus second supervisor(s) where the subject expertise is substantially or primarily provided by one supervisor: at the very least, a second supervisor provides an additional contact to whom the student can discuss general academic issues, and provides input as part of the Six-Monthly reporting cycle.

        2. Joint supervision where, for example, the research project is interdisciplinary, involves collaboration with a partner university or research organisation, or where an inexperienced supervisor is being supported by an experienced colleague: both joint supervisors provide expert guidance to the student, but one is designated as the principal supervisor, assumes overall responsibility for the management of the student, and is recognised as their first point of contact; further supervisory team members may also be appointed.

  2. The supervisory team may include additional academic and/or professional supervisors, and/or post-doctoral researchers. All must have a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities, which is also shared by the student. In all cases, the primary point of contact must be clear to the student, and an alternative contact if the main supervisor is not available.

  3. As part of the admissions process, the School will have given thought to the replacement supervision arrangements that might be put in place in the event of the main supervisor and/or other key contributors to the supervision leaving the University or becoming unable to continue in their role. This may mean the identification of a replacement supervisor who will play no role in the student’s supervision unless unforeseen circumstances arise. The breadth of expertise and experience provided across the supervisory team ensures that the student always has access to continuity of adequate support to help bridge any change to arrangements. 

THE APPOINTMENT OF SUPERVISORS

  1. Heads of School are responsible for the appointment of staff as supervisors to the research students enrolled in their School, and for ensuring the continuation of regular and appropriate supervision throughout each candidature.

  2. At least one main supervisor must be appointed from the School concerned, in accordance with relevant Senate Regulations; joint supervisors and/or members of the supervisory team can be appointed from another School or organisation, but the Head of School is responsible for the ongoing adequacy of the supervision arrangements.

  3. The Head of School is also responsible for ensuring that:

        1. supervisors have received appropriate training and guidance, in both research supervision skills and the relevant University regulations and policies;

        2. second or joint supervisors who are external to the University have received the necessary instruction and guidance, as appropriate to their role;

        3. the performance of supervisors is monitored, through staff appraisal and routine feedback, e.g. from students and examiners, and appropriate action is taken as necessary;

        4. less experienced supervisors are supported by more practised supervisory team members:

          • the normal expectation is that new supervisors assist more experienced staff with their supervisory duties as part of their training;

          • a probationary member of staff should not normally be appointed as a sole main supervisor but can provide main supervision jointly with an experienced colleague.

        1. if circumstances dictate either a temporary or permanent change to supervisory arrangements, new arrangements are put in place with minimal delay wherever feasible;

        2. there is sufficient time for supervision of an appropriate standard, its associated administration and development activities: development of a University Framework for Academic Workload Planning is ensuring a common mechanism for determining and monitoring staff workloads;

          • as a guide, an individual member of staff should not normally, at any one time, be supervising more than six students as a main (or ‘joint-main’) supervisor;

          • it is recognised, however, that some supervisors may have the capacity to supervise a higher numbers of students effectively, depending on their individual commitments and the nature of the research environment in which they work.

  4. To be appointed to a supervisory team, a supervisor should:

        1. be experienced in research;

        2. possess an appropriate understanding of the proposed project to be able to make a positive contribution.

  5. At least one member of the supervisory team, typically a main supervisor, should:

        1. have supported at least one successful completion of the relevant research degree;

        2. be currently engaged in high-quality research in the discipline.

  6. School handbooks, or equivalent, should state the local policies and procedures in place for supervision, which may include the models of supervisory arrangement adopted by the School and the expected frequency of supervisory meetings.

  7. The School must provide the student with a regular opportunity to comment on their satisfaction with their supervisory arrangements, typically coinciding with the Six-Monthly reporting cycle that forms part of the Research Student Progress Monitoring Procedure. There must also be clearly defined procedures for students to make representation at any time to the Head of School or the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies if they feel that their work is not proceeding satisfactorily for reasons outside their control, including difficulties in a supervisory relationship. The means for discussing the possibility of changing the supervision arrangements must to be made clear to students and staff. 

SUPERVISORY MEETINGS AND FORMAL CONTACTS

  1. A supervisory meeting is considered to be a formal, uninterrupted event, to which sufficient time and attention should be devoted. Both the student and supervisor(s) should be clear on the purpose of the meetings and keep agreed, documented records of the outcomes.

  2. The expected frequency and format  schedule meetings with both the main supervisor(s) and with member(s) of the wider supervisory team should be agreed at the outset and adjusted, as appropriate, as the project progresses. The University expects that:

        1. the student will meet formally with their main supervisor(s) at the commencement of their programme;

        2.  the student and their supervisors will then meet in accordance with an agreed frequency of formal meetings;

        3. although the frequency may vary (between disciplines and mode of study, according to the relative development and needs of the student, and at different stages of the research project), formal meetings should generally take place between student and main supervisor(s) on at least a monthly basis, in person or by video chat;

        4. the schedule of supervisory meetings will be integrated with the requirements of the Research Student Progress Monitoring Procedure.

  3. These expectations apply to both full-time and part-time students.

  4. Some students may encounter or work alongside their supervisor on a far more frequent basis, especially if the project is being undertaken in a laboratory-based research group: this kind of interaction is additional to the formal meeting schedule.

  5. Where the student or supervisor is working away from the University for a period of time and video meetings are not feasible, a schedule of formal contacts should be agreed: the student should normally be required to provide a report to their supervisor on at least a monthly basis, and the supervisor should respond with feedback within an agreed time. 

SUPERVISORS’ RESPONSIBILITIES

  1. Supervisors are responsible to the Head of School for supporting the research students assigned to them.

  2. As part of the admissions process, and before agreeing to supervise a research student, supervisors should satisfy themselves that they have the necessary knowledge and expertise to supervise the project which the student wishes to undertake, that the project is appropriate for the level of degree and can reasonably be undertaken with the resources available and within the required time-scale, and they are confident, as far as is possible, that the student is capable of undertaking the project successfully.

  3. It is expected that all supervisors will provide appropriate advice and guidance, will encourage their students to achieve their research potential and will support them in submitting a completed thesis by the end of their period of fee-paying registration (by their expected thesis submission date). It is also expected that supervisors will be sensitive to the diverse needs of individual students and the support required in different circumstances.

  4. A main supervisor is primarily responsible for ensuring that the research project is of appropriate scope and significance, for advising the student on organising the research, and supporting the student in obtaining high-quality research training. 

  5. Specific responsibilities of a main supervisor include:

    1. giving guidance on:

            • the nature of research in the discipline concerned;
            • the standard of work expected in relation to the qualification-aim;
            • the planning of the research programme, bearing in mind the expected submission deadline;
            • sources, methods and techniques, and specialist research skills required;
            • the development of professional skills;
            • ethical, intellectual property and/or confidentiality considerations;
            • research integrity and professionalism, and the implications of research misconduct;
            • the drafting of the thesis;
    2. ensuring that the student is competent to perform their tasks safely, and that they comply with University and local health and safety procedures;

    3. when a student commences their studies at a point other than the start of the academic year, ensuring that they receive the necessary School induction;

    4. assessing the student’s research and professional skills needs, and encouraging them to participate in training and development opportunities through which they can acquire and practise their skills and apply them to their research work;

    5. supporting and monitoring the student’s progress through the Research Plan, the planned schedule of meetings and formal contacts, and the reporting requirements of the Research Student Progress Monitoring Procedure;

    6. requesting written work from the student and returning it with constructive feedback and within a reasonable time;

    7. giving prompt and candid advice about any inadequacy of progress or the standard of the written work being produced, and alerting the director of Postgraduate Research Studies to any difficulties in this regard;

    8. being accessible to the student, within reason, and responding to requests for advice and guidance within a reasonable timescale;

    9. encouraging students to interact with other researchers, to engage in the research environment, and to take opportunities to present and debate their work, both within and beyond the University;

    10. giving guidance on the submission of conference and journal papers;

    11. being aware of how to access the appropriate University’s Regulations, Codes of Practice and Procedures governing research degrees, and drawing the student’s attention to them as appropriate;

    12. ensuring that the student is aware of sources of advice, guidance, support and counselling in the University;

    13. alerting the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies to any particular difficulties the student is experiencing which might affect the progress of work;

    14. advising the Director of Postgraduate Research Studies of planned absences and suggesting alternative arrangements;

    15. reading the draft thesis and advising on its amendment, before formal submission for examination;

    16. providing continued guidance to those candidates whose examined work is to be revised and re-submitted for further examination;

    17. updating their knowledge and skills with regard to research student supervision;

    18. maintaining a proper and professional relationship with the student.

  6. Second supervisors provide independent advice to the student. A second supervisor may possess knowledge and skills relevant to the student’s research project, or be someone to whom the student can refer more general issues. Second supervisors are responsible for keeping acquainted with the progress of the student’s work and of being available to provide feedback and advice according to an agreed schedule.

  7. All members of the supervisory team are considered to have an active role in the student’s supervision and academic management. No member of the supervisory team is eligible for appointment either as an independent reviewer of the student’s progress, or as a member of the Examining Board.

SUPERVISOR TRAINING

  1. The Head of School is required to appoint as supervisors only those staff who have received adequate training and instruction appropriate for their supervisory role. This includes both:

        1. supervision skills training;

        2. regulatory and quality system briefing.

  2. Schools are expected to organise supervisor training and discussion sessions periodically, where experiences and best practice can be shared between all supervisors and topical issues can be explored, either as bespoke sessions or as items on staff away-days. 

CHANGING SUPERVISION ARRANGEMENTS

  1. The Head of School is responsible for ensuring that whenever circumstances dictate either a temporary or permanent change in supervisory arrangements, prompt consideration is given to how these might be resolved.

  2. Temporary absences can often be accommodated through the support provided by the existing supervisory team, particularly where the absent supervisor is able to remain accessible. In some cases, however, the School may need to appoint an additional supervisor to cover the absence.

  3. need for significant and permanent changes to be made to the supervision arrangements can arise for a number of reasons: e.g. the departure or incapacity of a main supervisor, or an irreconcilable breakdown in the relationship between the student and a main supervisor.

  4. The supervisory team approach means that there is always at least one other supervisor who has familiarity with the project and the student’s progress, allowing the project some immediate safeguard and the student continuity of support, but where a new appointment is required to replace a main supervisor (or a specialist second supervisor) options must be explored as quickly as is practicable.

  5. If a supervisor ceases to be a member of the University staff during a student’s research programme, they may continue to provide guidance as a member of the supervisory team, but the Head of School must ensure that, in the case of a main supervisor, a replacement appointment is made, since control of, and responsibility for, supervision and monitoring rests within the School.

  6. If difficulties arise in the relationship between student and a supervisor, and these cannot be resolved, the School should consider how it can make alternative arrangements, if not prohibited by sponsorship constraints. The School’s mechanism by which requests can be made to change supervision arrangements must to be made clear to students and staff.

  7. The match between student, project and supervisory team is arrived at on an individual basis: therefore each case that arises needs to be considered on its own merits. The stage of the project will also have a bearing, as may any sponsorship agreement. In some cases, a short-term solution may be identified until permanent new arrangements are agreed. The Head of School is obliged to seek a solution that safeguards continuity of supervision, support and the resources necessary for the project to continue, with as little disruption as possible.

  8. Where a new main supervisor is appointed, he or she will usually be from within the student’s home School but may be from a different School if this represents the best match of available expertise: depending on the proportional contributions, the Heads of School concerned may negotiate a joint registration status for the student, or even agree a School-transfer with the student. If relevant expertise is limited within the University, the Head of School may procure external supervisory support if this presents a workable solution.

  9. Where an agreed change to supervision arrangements requires the project to take a change of direction it may be appropriate to recalibrate the registration period and the thesis submission date.

  10. It is the responsibility of the School to take all reasonable measures to appoint replacement supervisors. In extreme circumstances, however, it may not be possible to find an adequate solution. In such cases, the School should provide information and guidance to the student in order for them to identify potential transfer opportunities if they wish to pursue their topic at another university.

Supporting information