The role of the supervisor

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Monitoring progress

The first responsibility for monitoring the progress of the student lies with the supervisory team. This is conducted through regular supervision sessions which focus upon progress and problems experienced in the work, and upon various pieces of written work which the supervisor requires to be completed. For example, within the first six months, the student may be required to submit a more detailed research proposal, a literature review, and possibly an account of the background to the methodology to be adopted, and a timetable for the work.

Subsequently, regular accounts of the progress of the work are required, including for instance, the preparation of research instruments, pilot tests, field work, and analysis - or such accounts as may be appropriate to the nature of research being undertaken.

Expertise and interaction

All supervisors are selected for their expertise and involvement in the appropriate field of study. The best student-supervisor relationships are those in which there is a two-way interaction of research and learning, and in which the student gains insights into aspects of the subject which are stimulating to the supervisor as well.

The relationship between the student and supervisor is not static and most students find that as they become more familiar with their field of research they become less directly dependent on their supervisor.

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 (including language 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 particular difficulties which may face international students who may in the early stages require more frequent contact and advice.
  • The supervisor should agree, with the student, the content of their Training Needs Analysis (TNA). This should be repeated annually.
  • The supervisor will give guidance on the nature of the research and the standard expected; the development of a research programme and the topic to be covered; the planning and timing of the successive stages of the research programme; literature and sources; research methods and instrumental techniques; attendance at appropriate courses; avoidance of plagiarism and respect for copyright.
  • The supervisor should ensure that he/she has a thorough understanding of the DDP and its benefits in order to ensure students make the most appropriate choice of units.
  • 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 Practice (GRP) Standards. In addition, the supervisor should ensure that the student has a clear understanding in general terms of 'research ethics' and a clear understanding of 'research governance', where this is relevant. The GRP Standards and guidance on research ethics and governance are available online.
  • 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 (e.g. written or electronic).
  • The supervisor should ensure the student is aware of their deadline for the submission of the Confirmation Review written report.

An Induction Checklist for Supervisors of new research students is available at the start of each academic year. This checklist provides advice on procedures to be followed when dealing with new research students and complements the Induction Passport which is available to students.


  • The supervisor should ensure that the research project can be completed fully, including preparation of a thesis, within the time available, and advise the student accordingly.
  • The supervisor must ensure that a clear agreement is made with the student on the frequency and nature of the supervisory contact required at any particular stage of the project. Supervisory sessions should be uninterrupted as far as possible by telephone calls, personal callers and departmental business. The frequency of such sessions should be every four to six weeks as a minimum (pro-rata for part-time); the frequency may depend on the nature of the research (e.g. whether laboratory work is involved) and the particular research project. The length of sessions will also vary, from student to student, over time and between research areas.
  • The supervisor should comply with the attendance monitoring requirements of the department/University.
  • Written or electronic records of supervisory sessions should be kept by both the student and supervisor and sent to the Research and Resources Administrator within three working days of each meeting.
  • Both the supervisor and student should keep a file of all correspondence, including emails (this is especially relevant to students registered on the Remote Location programme who are effectively studying via distance learning).
  • 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 within the scheduled time. This planning should take into account the requirements of the relevant funding body in relation, for example, to confirmation and submission.
  • The supervisor should read promptly all the written work submitted in accordance with the agreed timetable and provide constructive and timely criticism.
  • The supervisor should be aware of the level of acceptable support in the writing of the thesis. Details can be found in the Research Student Code of Practice.
  • The supervisor should arrange, as appropriate, 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 on writing up the research, or parts of it, for publication.
  • 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.

Academic progress

  • 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 as appropriate.
  • The supervisor will be required from time to time 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 and/or faculty requirements concerning the submission of progress reports are complied with. In particular it is essential that the Annual Progress Report form, supplied by Research & Innovation Services, is completed and returned within the specified timescale. The supervisor should discuss the completion of the Annual Progress Report with the student and it is essential that the student signs the form to acknowledge that s/he has seen and understood the contents of the completed report.
  • The supervisor will also be required to provide feedback on the progress of students at the School’s internal 6 monthly progress reports.

The final stages

  • The supervisor should initiate the procedures for the appointment of examiners well in advance of the thesis being submitted. The ‘Appointment of Examiners’ form should be completed and submitted at least 8 weeks prior to the submission of the thesis.
  • The supervisor should read and comment on a draft of the complete thesis. The Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes includes guidance on acceptable support in writing the thesis.
  • The supervisor should ensure that the student understands the procedures for the submission and examination of theses and should assist the student in preparing for the oral examination, including offering a mock viva.
  • Supervisors who believe their student will not complete within the allotted time limit should make the PGR Programme Working Group aware of this as early as possible so that appropriate action can be taken.
  • Should the student be asked to resubmit, the supervisor will be responsible for continuing to provide support and supervision throughout the resubmission period.

The role of second supervisors should be negotiated on a case by case basis and agreed between the supervisory team and the student. Second supervisors are normally expected to be involved in supervisory meetings accordingly.

(Source: Adapt.from the RIS Code of Practice for Research Students [1])

See also

What is expected of you
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