Guidance and resources to help you prepare your student for doctoral study, including preparing for your student’s arrival, establishing the relationship and setting expectations, managing the research project, with tips from experienced supervisors.
As supervisor, you have a key role in ensuring that you:
- identify clear expectations of your and the student’s responsibilities
- 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
- ensure that your student attends all the relevant inductions (Departmental and Central)
- support the student in developing / completing the formal Candidature stage, including compulsory aspects AITT, RIT/Concordat, Ethics, Data Management and H&S
- ensure that your student has established a clear work plan as they commence their studies
- encourage your student to actively engage with broader activities including doctoral skills and doctoral engagement activities
Details of responsibilities can be found in the following sections of QA7:
- Sections 5, 6, 8 and 9 Induction, Candidature, Supervisory team and Programme of Work
- Appendix 1: Responsibilities of the Supervisory team
To effectively support students, supervisors must take care in developing and maintaining appropriate and professional boundaries. The challenge is to strike the right balance between supporting students and avoiding them becoming over-dependant on you. Get it wrong and the dangers can include:
- unacceptable expectations from students and/or supervisors
- concerns that staff may be perceived as giving favouritism to certain students
- risk of possible perceived (and actual) compromising situations
- risk of perception of (and actual) misuse of power or authority over students and / or harassment and bullying
Ground rules and expectations should be clearly set-out in the first meeting: trying to re-establish boundaries with students once broken can be challenging.
There is much online advice around boundary-setting, but a few recommendations might include:
- set clear expectations as to when you and the student can, and should not, contact each other
- preferably only meet students on University premises, not in private cafes, bars or restaurants, and certainly not in private accommodation
- not usually meeting students on a personal level outside of work (unless formal programme/departmental-related activities)
- in the past the advice has been to wherever possible use email or work telephone rather than exchanging mobile number – in practice this more common but ensure that this is only for work, and is a common policy across all students
- try to contact student only during working hours unless there is an emergency or where particular conditions require this, for example online learners
- beware use of social media but where these are being used ensure that all your students have the same access
- treat all students similarly to avoid perceived favouritism
It is essential that all students are treated with dignity and respect at all times. The University sets out the requirements of staff around personal relationships in its Personal & Professional Relationships Policy. It also sets out requirements around behaviour and ensuring dignity and respect of staff and students in its Dignity & Respect Policy.
UK HE institutions are expected to appoint a supervisory team (rather than a single supervisor) of at least two supervisors – driven by the UK QAA. The UoBath criteria for the appointment of members of the supervisory team are outlined in Section 8 of QA7 Research Degrees, and the responsibilities of the team at QA7 Research Degrees: Appendix 1 Responsibilities of the supervisory team. There must be at least two UoBath-based supervisors in the panel (excluding those based at other universities or those in the workplace), and the lead supervisor must be a member of academic staff at the UoBath.
Various models of supervisory teams exist to cover the key requisites of providing subject / methodology specialisms, supervisory experience, professional development of the student and pastoral care. The allocation of specific roles within the supervisory team is left to the discretion of Departments/Schools, in recognition that this may vary according to the discipline and the student’s needs. Members of the team might all be subject-specialists, and who then share other roles, or they may have specific roles e.g. two subject-specialists and a third focusing on pastoral and development aspects. Whatever the model adopted, it is crucial that this is clarified at the start, that the student is informed, and that the effectiveness of the model is reviewed over time.
Where researchers could be adversely affected by the nature of their research, one member of the team might have a H&S role, and in cases where students may be at risk from psychological risk, reference should be made to Vicarious trauma: a guide for doctoral students (in extreme cases a Clinical Psychologist may need to be employed as part of the team to provide support to the student).
It is important that the spirit of a supervisory team is respected such that the various members of the team all play important parts throughout the project. To facilitate this, each Faculty/School have set their own minimum % workloads/responsibilities for supervisors, avoiding effectively the lead doing all the work with a second supervisor only briefly appearing at some stage.
In cases where the student may be working mainly with one supervisor, thought should be given as how the other members of the team can be kept informed of progress: for example through 3-monthly full team meetings with the student. This is crucial to maintain the active involvement (and inputs) of the rest of the team, and should the key supervisor suddenly become unavailable e.g. through sickness, the student can continue to be supported by the rest of the team whilst a replacement is identified.
Anon (2018) UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Part B: Assuring & Enhancing Academic Quality, Chapter B11: Research Degrees. https://www.qaa.ac.uk/docs/qaa/quality-code/chapter-b11_-research-degrees.pdf(accessed 12/03/21), Quality Assurance Association for Higher Education
Watts, JH (2010) Team supervision of the doctorate: managing roles, relationships and contradictions, https://oro.open.ac.uk/21164/2/Revised_team_supervision_of_the_doctorate.pdf (accessed 12/03/21), Open Research Online, The Open University, UK
Before the student arrives
Meet with co-supervisors and agree the division of responsibility and expertise, as well as how you will resolve any disagreements within the supervisory team, and what style of supervision you intend to use - you may find it helpful to each complete the expectations questionnaire.
Think about what you and any co-supervisors can do to prepare yourselves, and the student, for arrival and induction e.g. allocate time in diary, arrange for a buddy, put together a reading/orientation list.
Arrange, prior to them starting, to meet the student as soon as they arrive.
Ensure your student books on to a university induction session.
Given that it is likely that you will not have met some international students face to face during the recruitment and selection process, think carefully about what you can do, or ask the student to do to ensure that you are both happy that you know what you are expecting and that you will be able to form an effective student-supervisor relationship.
The University's Student Immigration Service provides advice and information on visas and immigration.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) have advice and resources aimed at students arriving in the UK on a wide rage of topics including culture shock, cost of living, travel and transport and bringing your family to the UK.
The UK Government website provides a series of guides to living in the UK – it simply explains practices, legal information, requirements and processes involved in a variety of issues relating to life in the UK from TV and driving licenses to Housing and reporting a crime.
The Doctoral College co-ordinates central induction of Doctoral Students. You can guide your student to the relevant area of the Doctoral College web pages. This is a useful resource for students, providing guidance on a wide variety of topics from welcome events and registration, to healthcare, accessing software and connecting to Wi-Fi. You can also find further information about induction on the Doctoral College Resources for Staff page. You may also wish to liaise with your Director of Studies / DTEManager to find out what information is being provided locally for your student.
The Doctoral College Handbook provides useful introduction on what your student needs to do when they first start their degree. Section 5 of QA7 includes a useful overview of doctoral induction requirements and expectations. As highlighted in QA7 Appendix 1, lead supervisors are required to ensure that their student is acquainted with their home department or School. For those students who are cross-department/discipline, the supervision team should ensure that orientation activities are provided in each area.
First meetings and expectations
You are encouraged to meet with your student as soon as they start their degree or enter their research phase. These meetings are useful for setting expectations, identifying support requirements and raising awareness of important progression points, such as Candidature and Confirmation (where applicable). The “Expectations in Supervision” Questionnaire, is designed to be completed by both supervisor and student (as well as co-supervisors) to elicit any different points of view on their roles in the doctorate – complete and discuss this early in your supervision meetings.
To support discussion during your initial meetings, both you and your student can refer to the Checklist for first meetings between supervisor and doctoral student which is aligned to the requirements set out in QA7 Section 9. It is recommended that you speak with your Director of Studies is there is anything on the Checklist that you are unsure of.
Don't take a new student's prior knowledge for granted. There may well be gaps in their knowledge of basic issues.
It is crucial to set expectations from day one as to equality, diversity and inclusion: between yourself and the student, but also between your student and the rest of the university community, recognising that colleagues and students may be coming from diverse environments with very different expectations and experiences. The Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Resource Hub (Password belongatbath) includes toolkits, training, and advice on how to create an inclusive environment where everyone can belong, and continues to be developed to support us all in creating a truly inclusive culture where everyone can thrive.
All roles and relationships are complex, and ‘grey areas’, ambiguity or miscommunication can complicate boundaries, even when this is not intentional. We nevertheless have a responsibility to consciously consider the implications of our behaviour in every situation and to strive to ensure all colleagues and students are treated with dignity and respect. This means being continually self-aware, exercising careful judgement, and being aware of potential consequences for students, academics and the University of engaging in certain behaviours.
- Establishing the supervisory relationship (resource from Vitae)
- Creating a positive supervisory relationship (resource from Vitae)
- Getting off to a Good Start with your student (University of Sheffield)
- Co-supervision in Doctoral Education: Challenges and Responses (UKCGE)
- Interdisciplinary doctoral supervision (UKCGE)
Establishing the project and a programme of work
As lead supervisor, you are expected to give guidance on
- the nature of the research and the standard expected
- literature and sources
- the writing of reports and the thesis
It is your responsibility to provide advice on planning the research programme and completion dates of successive stages of work to ensure that submission is within the scheduled time. It is also important to ensure that the student is made aware and is notified in writing of inadequate progress or of standards of work below that generally expected.
The page Guidance and forms for doctoral students provide a range of useful links including Ethics: A Guide for Doctoral Students, Health and Safety Guide for Doctoral students, and Off-campus research activities: guidance for doctoral students which are very relevant at the early stages of planning the programme of work.
For more information, see QA&: Section 9.
There is a Health and Safety Guide for doctoral students which provides advice and information on all aspects of doctoral Health and Safety. There is also guidance for doctoral students about off-campus activities (such as fieldwork, data collection).
Research data management
Lead supervisors are required to ensure that the student produces a Data Management Plan prior to reaching the first progression point on their programme.
The Library’s Research Data Service provides a comprehensive guide to research Data Management at the University. There is specific guidance on gathering, working with, archiving, storing and sharing data. You can also find further guidance in the University’s Research Data Policy. The Library offers a number of training courses to support students in understanding what is required regarding responsibilities of data management. The Library Research Data Service offers support, advice and training to staff and students on all aspects of research data management.