Understanding Supervision and the PhD (Essential Guides for Lecturers)

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It is the responsibility of the Head of School or nominee to ensure that suitable supervisors are appointed, that they have the appropriate knowledge and skills, and that they have time to carry out their supervisory duties. Each supervisory team must satisfy the relevant Quality Assurance Agency requirements. With regards to the suitability of supervisors, the Head of School or nominee shall consider whether there is an actual or potential conflict of interest before appointing main or co-supervisors.

Industrial or other professional supervisors if involved are included in these considerations. Note: An open contract of employment carries fully employment rights and has no fixed end date.

Chapter 5: Supervision of doctoral and research master's students

Some staff with proleptic appointments will have open contracts depending on the nature of their individual contracts of employment. Exceptionally, a school may appoint an individual who does not satisfy 4 and 5, provided an experienced co-supervisor is also appointed. The Faculty PGR Director must approve the arrangement and the main supervisor must comply with any faculty-specific training requirements. In such cases, the experienced co-supervisor will act as mentor to the main supervisor and will also act as the first point of contact for the student for non-academic matters.

The Faculty PGR Director must be satisfied that the supervisory team can provide an appropriate level of support and guidance to a candidate before confirming the appointment of the supervisor. Where co-supervisors are appointed, one is to be identified as the main supervisor. The following categories of staff may not be the main supervisor of a research degree candidate but may act as a co-supervisor with the permission of the Faculty PGR Director.

5 Mistakes PhD Candidates Make!

Mentors must be established supervisors who have experience of supervising one or more research students to successful completion of their degree and who have a good understanding of the relevant University, faculty and school policies and procedures. If a student is studying for a doctoral award at an affiliated institution, as defined in Ordinance 23, the main supervisor may be a member of staff of that institution with Honorary Academic Status at the University. In such cases, an academic member of staff from the University of Bristol will normally be appointed as co-supervisor.

However, in exceptional circumstances, a suitably qualified member of staff from the affiliated institution may be appointed as co-supervisor with the permission of the Faculty PGR Director. For some research students it may be necessary to appoint an external supervisor to provide particular expertise within the supervisory team or if the research project involves a collaboration with an external organisation.

How to be a PhD supervisor

External supervisors will be based in, for example, professional practice or industry. Honorary staff at the University of Bristol are not deemed to be external supervisors. In addition, supervisors from other Higher Education Institutions appointed as part of joint or dual awards are not covered by this term see Section 5. The role of the external supervisor is to complement the knowledge and expertise of the University of Bristol supervisors, and to provide a critical commentary on the planned research and on the work undertaken.

Where a research student has an external supervisor, the role of this supervisor within the team must be defined in the partnership agreement.


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A local support contact would not be part of the supervisory team, would not be involved in providing a critical commentary on the research, and would not have to be covered by a partnership agreement. Existing staff are encouraged to undertake continued professional development. The Head of School or nominee is responsible for ensuring that research students have continuous supervision during their period of registered study.

If a supervisor is absent for an extended period, leaves the University, or if there is an irreconcilable breakdown in the supervisory relationship, the Head of School or nominee must ensure that adequate supervisory support is maintained, including putting alternative arrangements in place where appropriate. Where a change of supervisor is required, the Head of School or nominee must keep the student informed throughout the process.

Replacement supervisors must meet the criteria for appointment in 5. The Head of School or nominee must take into account the requirements of any sponsors. Where a student is funded on a studentship attached to a particular supervisor or is on a specific research grant, it may not be possible to change supervisor. There may also be other circumstances where it is not feasible to change a supervisor.

In some circumstances, it may not be possible to identify a new supervisor for a student from within the University. If this is the case, the Head of School or nominee will explore options with the student. Where a supervisor is temporarily absent for an unexpected reason for example, through illness , the Head of School or nominee must ensure that the research student continues to receive adequate supervision, which could include a new temporary arrangement for the duration of the absence. Students must be informed of their new first point of contact if it is their main supervisor who is unavailable.


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  • Where the period of unexpected absence of a main supervisor is anticipated to exceed six months, the Head of School or nominee will normally appoint a permanent replacement or explore other options with the student. Where a supervisor has a planned temporary absence that prevents them from being reasonably accessible, the Head of School or nominee must ensure that the research student continues to receive adequate supervision.

    This could include a new temporary arrangement. In cases where the relationship suffers an irreconcilable breakdown, new supervisory arrangements or further options may be considered.

    A model for the supervisor–doctoral student relationship | SpringerLink

    Supervisory responsibilities may be changed at the request of a research student or a supervisor to the Head of School or nominee , who must take into account the requirements of any sponsors. Normally, any change of supervisor will be by mutual agreement between the student and the University.

    When a supervisor moves to another institution, the Head of School or nominee will explore the options available to the research student. This will take into account any sponsor requirements. It may be possible for co-supervision to continue at a distance, but the main supervisor must always meet the requirements set out in Section 5. Allocating a replacement supervisor from within the University may be the most appropriate action in these cases. It is the responsibility of the Head of School or nominee to take all reasonable measures to appoint replacement supervisors or to facilitate supervision at a distance.

    When a supervisor leaves the University but does not move to another institution for example, through retirement , the Head of School or nominee will explore the options available to the research student, including whether there is an appropriate replacement supervisor. It is possible however for retired members of staff to act as a co-supervisor for continuing students, as per Section 5. Postgraduate study Find a programme Visits and open days New postgraduates.

    International students. University of Bristol. Academic Quality and Policy Office. The minimum requirements for input from, and interactions with, supervisors for all research students: Identification of the main supervisor The normal expectation is that research students will be given the name and contact details of their main supervisor before arriving at the University. Formal supervisory meetings Supervisors must take the initiative in making the first contact with their research students.

    It can contribute to solving the three supervisory problems mentioned in the introduction of this paper. The QSDI maps the relationship between a doctoral student and his or her supervisor from the perspective of the student. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and source are credited. Skip to main content Skip to sections. Advertisement Hide. Download PDF. A model for the supervisor—doctoral student relationship.

    Open Access. First Online: 05 February Introduction This paper describes the development and quality of the questionnaire on supervisor—doctoral student interaction QSDI. Problems in the supervisory relationship Several problems in the supervisor—doctoral candidate relationship may emerge; here we list a few. Open image in new window.

    Procedure and instruments In order to represent the model for supervisor behavior Fig. Sample In total members of the PhD division of the Netherlands Educational Research Association were invited by mail for participation; 98 questionnaires were completed. Similarly, this disrupted correlation pattern led to a disturbance of the correlation pattern of the SC scale.

    Factor analyses showed that indeed two dimensions underlie the eight scales, and that the scales do follow each other in the correct order Fig. However, the scales are not evenly distributed over the circle. Because the two dimensions Influence and Proximity are supposed to be orthogonal the correlation between the two factors should be low. The actual correlation is 0. In case of a satisfactory concurrent validity high correlations should be found between Influence and Proximity of the QSDI and the supervisor-scale, and the correlation pattern of the supervisor-scale with the other scales of the PREQ should resemble the pattern of the Influence and Proximity dimensions.

    The scores for the perceptions of a specific doctoral student about his or her supervisor can be displayed in the model shown in Fig. As an example, the average profile in the data collected in this study is presented in Fig. The sector scores conveniently can be displayed in the model both for doctoral student and supervisor perceptions see Fig. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial License which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author s and source are credited.

    Anderson, M. The graduate student experience and subscription to the norms of science. Research in Higher Education, 35 3 , — CrossRef Google Scholar. Australian Council for Educational Research. Evaluation and validation of the trial postgraduate research experience questionnaires. Camberwell: Australian Council for Educational Research. Google Scholar. Bell-Ellison, B. What do doctoral students value in their ideal mentor? Research in Higher Education, 49 6 , — Braskamp, L. Assessing faculty work: Enhancing individual and institutional performance.

    Cashin, W. Using global student ratings for summative evaluation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84 4 , — Navigating student ratings of instruction. American Psychologist, 52 11 , — Denicolo, P.