Effective graduate student supervision requires complex interactions between graduate students and their supervisors. The role of a supervisor is threefold: to advise graduate students, monitor their academic progress, and act as a mentor. Supervisors not only provide guidance, instruction and encouragement in the research activities of their students, but also take part in the evaluation and examination of their students’ progress, performance and navigation through the requirements of their academic program with the goal to ensure that their students are successful.
Supervisors are responsible for fostering the intellectual and scholarly development of their students. They also play an important role in providing advice about professional development and both academic and non-academic career opportunities, as they are able, and based upon the student’s career interests. .
Responsibilities of the supervisor
At the outset of the research, the supervisor should explore in detail the student’s academic background in order to identify any areas in which further training is required. In particular the supervisor should advise the student in the choice of subject-specific knowledge and skills training required. Supervisors should be aware of the difficulties which may face international students who may in the early stages require more frequent contact and advice.
The supervisor will give guidance on the nature of the research and the standard expected; the selection of a research program and the topic to be covered; the planning and timing of the successive stages of the research program; literature and sources; research methods and instrumental techniques; attendance at appropriate courses; data management, avoidance of plagiarism and respect for copyright.
The supervisor should ensure that the student has a clear understanding in general terms of the main aspects of graduate research: the concept of originality; the different kinds of research; the form and structure of the thesis (including the appropriate forms of referencing); the necessary standards to be achieved; the importance of planning and time management; the procedures for monitoring and reporting progress.
The supervisor should ensure that the student is aware of the University’s Good Research and Innovation Practices (GRIP) Policy. In addition, the supervisor should ensure that the student has a clear understanding in general terms of ‘research ethics’, where this is relevant (i.e. if they are undertaking research that involves contact with human participants and/or with human data and/or human tissue) and a clear understanding of ‘research governance’, where this is relevant.
The supervisor should work with the student to establish an effective supervisory relationship, thereby supporting the student. This should include an agreement on the frequency of progress meetings and the arrangements for keeping records.
The supervisor should set a target date for Confirmation Review and a target submission date at induction to ensure that all parties acknowledge the length of time available for each stage of the project.
The supervisor should ensure that the research project can be completed fully, including preparation and submission of the dissertation or thesis, within the student’s funded period, and should advise the student accordingly.
The supervisor should comply with the attendance monitoring requirements of the department/University and notify their department at an early stage if a student’s attendance gives cause for concern.
The student and supervisor must have an agreed procedure for dealing with urgent problems (e.g. by telephone, e-mail and/or the arrangement of additional meetings at short notice).
The supervisor should, in discussion with the student, establish and maintain a satisfactory timetable for the research, including the necessary completion dates for each stage, so that the thesis may be submitted on time. This planning should take into account the requirements of the relevant funding body in relation to submission.
The supervisor should arrange, as appropriate, (in many departments it is a requirement) for the student to present work to staff or graduate seminars and should take an active part in introducing the student to meetings of learned societies and to other researchers in the field. The supervisor should provide advice, where appropriate, on publication of any of the research.
The supervisor should advise the student well in advance of any planned periods of absence from the University. If the period of absence is significant (more than the length of time between supervisory meetings), the supervisor should ensure that appropriate arrangements for alternative supervision are made and that the student is informed of them.
The supervisor should take note of feedback from the student.
The supervisor should ensure that the student is informed of any inadequacy of standards of work below that generally expected from research students and should suggest remedial action, or training, as appropriate.
From time to time the supervisor will be required, by both the University and external funding bodies, to provide a detailed written record of the student’s progress and should ensure that all departmental, faculty and/or sponsor requirements concerning the submission of progress reports are complied with.
The final stages
The supervisor should nominate appropriate examiners well in advance of the thesis being submitted, bearing in mind that all nominations require faculty approval before they can be appointed. Failure to do so will lead to delays in dispatching the student’s thesis and arranging the viva examination.
The supervisor should read and comment on drafts of the thesis before submission.
The supervisor should ensure that the student understands the procedures for the submission and examination of the dissertation or thesis.
Should the student be asked to resubmit their thesis, the supervisor will be responsible for continuing to provide support and supervision throughout the resubmission period.
The supervisor should discuss and agree with the student if there is a need to embargo the thesis and should sign off on the Access to Thesis form which specifies any embargo requirements.