Guidance, information and support for supervisors on dealing with problems arising in the supervisory relationship, including the responsibility of supervisors in dealing with issues and challenges and tips from experienced supervisors.
Expectations and Responsibilities
As supervisor, you have a key role in ensuring that you:
- identify clear expectations of your and the student’s responsibilities from the start
- ensure that your initial discussions cover all the aspects required (using the Crib Sheet)
- establish a professional but approachable relationship with the student from the start
- treat students with dignity & respect, considering them as a fellow researcher, and being aware of the power imbalance
- have regular meetings, identifying a clear work plan and milestones
- closely monitor progress, identifying and addressing any issues as early as possible
- have a clear knowledge of processes, referencing conversations back to key documentation (to avoid confusion)
- use the full range of support around you – including colleagues in the supervisory team and your Director of Studies as well as more broadly including the Doctoral College and Student Services – to seek advice and/or act as secondary points of contact for the student
…all of which will help avoid confusion/lack of clarity, which is often at the heart of challenges in the student/supervisory relationship.
Details of responsibilities can also be found at QA7 Sections 3.2 and 8, Responsibilities of the supervisor and supervisory team and QA7 Appendix 1 Responsibilities of the Supervisory team.
Where student progress is not satisfactory, you are expected to bring this to the attention of your student at the earliest opportunity to resolve issues promptly.
Managing personality clashes
Recognising and preventing challenges
Dealing with challenges
Conflicts of interest
If you are aware of a potential conflict of interest within the supervisory relationship as highlighted in Section 22 of QA7, you are need to inform the Director of Studies and/or Head of Department as soon as possible.
If you, or another member of the Supervisory team are leaving (even for a limited time), you are required to consult with the student, notify the Doctoral College and liaise with your Director of Studies as soon as possible to seek a suitable replacement.
If you are struggling to make progress in any aspect of your supervision, then do speak to colleagues in your department. It is likely that they will have found themselves in similar situations and have advice to share. If you would like to have a confidential conversation or get impartial advice, then consider contacting:
- the relevant doctoral Director of Studies for your department or School - they will have experienced a range of challenges relating to doctoral students
- the Doctoral College - staff can provide advice on the procedural aspects to any issues
The University Independent Advisors for Postgraduate Research Students
Usually problems with doctoral supervision can be resolved at the Department/School level either by consultation with the Director of Studies or the Head of Department/School. However, for cases where this appears to be ineffective or where the student considers this route inappropriate or inadvisable, you can contact (or guide your student to contact) the University’s Independent Advisor for Postgraduate Research Students.
Further resources and support
- Section 21: Complaints and academic appeals
- Section 22: Declaration of interests
- QA7 Appendix1: Responsibilities of the Supervisory team
- Guidance on Student Academic Appeals and Reviews
- Exploring the 'Expectations in Supervision' questionnaire (from Vitae)
- Checklist for initial meetings between supervisor and student
- Download the University of Sheffield’s structured reflection on difficult supervision relationship
Supervisors from The University of Glasgow discuss the challenges of supervision