Appointment of Skilled Supervisors
The Head of School (or nominee) is responsible for staff within the School and will normally appoint the supervisory team to a particular student upon their acceptance of a place on the RDP. The School will consider and appoint the most appropriate supervisory team to supervise the research project. Should the supervisors be partners, the following safeguards will be implemented:
- Appointment of a third supervisor – this will be a senior academic with significant RDP experience whose role will specifically be to facilitate project progression and appropriate supervision. They will be required to attend two documented meetings per year together with the student and other supervisors and will be otherwise available for the student to discuss any specific concerns in confidence.
- Full disclosure – students will be specifically informed of the relationship between the supervisors at the start of their RDP.
- Opportunities to raise concerns – students will be advised that they are able to raise concerns relating to their supervision, in complete confidence, both through Annual Progress Review and by contacting their adviser of studies/Chair of the School Postgraduate Research Committee at Centre/Institute/School level.
- RDP procedures – sections relating to supervision in School PGR handbooks provided to all students will be reviewed and updated to include all of the above.
The Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulations 6.1.1 – 6.1.10 outline the criteria for the appointment of supervisors at the University. These regulations ensure that Schools delegate supervisory responsibilities to suitably qualified academic staff. In exceptional circumstances, it may be appropriate for staff, for example holders of prestigious, personal postdoctoral fellowships who have considerable postdoctoral experience, to be appointed as principal supervisors following completion of the mandatory supervisor training course, and with the support of an experienced second supervisor. The Head of School/Institute should submit the RDP Exception Request - Supervisor Appointment Form (Microsoft Word) by email to email@example.com for the consideration of the Chair of the Research and Postgraduate Committee (or nominee), who will take advice from the appropriate Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor and determine whether the proposed individual is permitted to be appointed as a principal supervisor.
Where a lecturer on probation is appointed as a principal supervisor, the member of staff must have gained a doctoral degree and have at least three years’ experience since its award and should be employed on a contract that would cover the duration of the proposed research degree to be supervised. In addition, the second supervisor must be a senior academic with considerable experience of successful doctoral supervision - this would be someone at senior lecturer level or above with experience of successfully supervising at least two doctoral students through to completion as principal supervisor.
Each member of the supervisory team is expected to be actively engaged in research, therefore, Lecturers (Education) should not be considered for appointment unless a concession to the regulations has been approved for a specific appointment.
Supervisors are required to have the appropriate training and skills to perform the task of supervision satisfactorily. Supervisors new to the role of supervision must attend a one day training course, which is delivered by the Graduate School. There are three sessions per year, usually held in November, February and May, which are bookable through iTrent. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for any queries.
All supervisors (including those working in industry or professional practice) are expected to engage in developmental opportunities, to equip them to supervise research students, and to meet requirements for continuing professional development. People and Culture, and the Centre for Educational Development offer a range of ongoing personal development opportunities to build skills relevant to supervision for staff.
The Supervisory Team
Supervisory teams are normally appointed and made known to new students by the end of the induction process. The supervisory team normally comprises a principal supervisor and a secondary or co-supervisor. A third, external supervisor may be appointed where a student’s research is interdisciplinary, to provide a link between the disciplines; or to facilitate international engagement. Download further guidance on the composition of supervisory teams (PDF).
In line with the Postgraduate Admissions Policy, section 4.1.2, Schools consider whether appropriate supervision can be provided and maintained throughout the research period when admitting a student to a RDP. The Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulations 6.1.8 – 6.1.10 outline School responsibilities for ensuring the appointment of appropriate supervision in the event of a supervisor being unavailable for a significant period of the student’s research, or should a change in supervisor be required under different circumstances such as at the student’s request.
Normally the principal supervisor will be the initial point of contact for the student.
Responsibilities of the Supervisor
The student is responsible for the eventual success or failure of the RDP. (See Responsibilities of Students towards the University and their Supervisors). The supervisory team provides the student with advice, help and guidance over the course of the RDP, enabling access to relevant training and development opportunities, to support the completion of the RDP (see Useful Contacts).
In line with the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulation 6.1.11, at an initial supervisory meeting, the supervisor(s) and student agree the roles and responsibilities of the student and each member of the supervisory team; and the frequency, duration and format of formal meetings. In addition to the mandatory, recorded, ten (six for part-time and thesis-only students) formal meetings per year between the supervisors and student, there are normally additional, informal meetings as required, depending on the needs of the student and the supervisory team. Students and supervisors are jointly responsible for ensuring that regular and frequent contact is maintained.
Responsibilities are normally shared out amongst members of the supervisory team, however it is expected that the principal supervisor has overall responsibility, with the second or co-supervisor providing a supporting role.
- The principal supervisor must ensure the student is made aware of relevant policies and procedures including the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, Conduct Regulations, procedures for the use of similarity checking software, and specific policies, including gaining ethical approval, and health and safety practices at School level.
- The principal supervisor should ensure that the student understands the nature and requirements of postgraduate research, including progress requirements and deadlines, and is aware of the expected standards as a research student.
- The supervisory team should agree with the student what training and development requirements need to be fulfilled as part of the requirements for the completion of the RDP.
- As highlighted in the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulation 6.2, the supervisory team should agree an initial research plan with the student, which may be subject to change during the course of the RDP.
- The supervisory team (and in most cases the principal supervisor) should provide timely and constructive feedback on the student’s work and overall progress within the RDP, raising any concerns about progress at an early stage with the student.
- The supervisory team should ensure that appropriate records are maintained in relation to supervisory meetings, progress monitoring, and Annual Progress Review (including differentiation).
- The supervisory team should provide appropriate pastoral support as required, by providing advice and/or referring the student to other sources of support, including relevant support services.
- The supervisory team should help the student interact with others working in the field of research, for example, encouraging the student to attend relevant seminars and conferences; supporting the student in seeking funding for such events as required; and where appropriate, supporting the submission of conference papers and articles to refereed journals.
- The second or co-supervisor may be required to act as the principal supervisor, should the principal supervisor be away from the University for a prolonged period of time.
The Students' Union has developed a Student-Supervisor Relationship Toolkit, which provides useful guidance on establishing the relationship between student and supervisor.
Schools should ensure that the existing teaching, research and administration commitments of potential supervisors are fully taken into consideration before they are appointed, allowing supervisors to have sufficient time to monitor and support the progress of the student’s research, and to respond to the student in a timely manner.
In line with the Study Regulations for Research Degree Programmes, regulation 6.1.9, a supervisor may not be the principal supervisor for more than six full-time (or equivalent) research students (pro rata for those with co-supervisors) at any one time.
In addition to the supervisory team which comprises the principal and second or co-supervisor, students have access to support from a number of areas including other research staff in the research cluster/School, a School postgraduate research adviser and/or tutor, and other individuals/support areas across the University.
Following a pilot carried out in 2019-20 in the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Life Sciences, an assistant supervisor role has been created to officially recognise and regulate the contribution of postdoctoral researchers to the supervision of PhD students. The Assistant Supervisor Guidelines provide further information including roles and responsibilities, eligibility criteria and the appointment process.