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Making the most of your doctoral supervision

An explanation of what to expect from your doctoral supervision and how to make the most of it.

Your supervisory team

All doctoral students should be allocated a supervisory team who provides day-to-day support for their studies. If your research crosses discipline boundaries you may have cross-departmental or cross-faculty supervisory arrangements. Supervisory teams sometimes also include an externally-based subject expert or industrialist.

Arrangements for supervision of professional doctorate students are set out in the specific programme regulations. On some professional doctorates, a supervisory team will not be in place until approval of Candidature: should issues occur prior to the appointment of your supervisory team, your key contact is the programme’s Director of Studies or, in the case of unit-related issues, the Unit Convenor.

Role of the supervisory team

Regular review of your progress and development is extremely important to ensure that your studies, training and support are appropriately planned from the outset; that your work is completed within agreed timescales; and that any potential problems can be identified and addressed as soon as possible. Most students attempt to submit by the end of funding rather than by their eventual submission deadline/end of registration.

Formal monitoring of your progress and development is essential to ensure that you are making the expected progress towards your goals. To that end, there are some important key issues and milestones for you to be aware of, and to follow.

The aim of the supervisory arrangement is to ensure that you have regular access to a breadth of experience, both in your research discipline and in terms of general training and support. As a doctoral student, you are expected to actively engage with supervision in order to get the most out of the research support offered to you.

The University has clear responsibilities for supervisors and for doctoral students in relation to supervision. You may find these helpful in understanding the expectations on both parties:

Making the most of your supervision

Building an effective relationship with your supervisory team is important for the success of your research degree. Here are some ways in which you can develop an effective relationship:

  • Set expectations at the beginning of the relationship. You can use our Supervision Checklist to help you plan for your first meeting.
  • Meet regularly and prepare for these meetings. Ensure you lead the meeting and ask the questions you want to ask.
  • Ensure you complete your progress reports. These are completed every six months through SAMIS using the PGR2 form. This process is initiated by your Supervisor and you will be notified by email once it is your turn to complete the task.
  • Take note of your supervisors concerns. You don't always need to agree with your supervisors but do listen to concerns they may have related to your research.
  • Do discuss any development needs with your supervisors, they may be able to advise on the best development activities.
  • If something isn't go well, don't be afraid to admit your mistakes and concerns. Everyone had to start somewhere!

What to do if...

Below are some additional guides about responding to scenarios or challenges you may encounter during your doctorate:

If things go wrong

Sometimes things may go wrong and you may encounter difficulties that affect the supervisory relationship. If you feel confident enough, then do speak directly to your supervisor or supervisory team to find a resolution. Often or not, many issues just come down to a mismatch of expectations or miscommunication from either side.

If this wouldn't be appropriate or you would feel more confident speaking to somebody else then please speak to your department Director of Studies or Doctoral Programmes Administrator. They will be able to advise you on the best course of action.

If the problem persists, you can confidentially report an issue affecting your research by accessing the form reporting an issue online (this is also available in your six-monthly progress reports). This link will connect you to a simple form that when completed can be routed via the Doctoral College to your Faculty/School Director of Doctoral Studies or the Academic Director of the Doctoral College, who will get in touch to discuss the issue in confidence.

If issues are more serious or you would prefer some independent advice, then you can contact the following teams for advice and support:

Earlier intervention is always best, so we would encourage you to seek support as soon as you may need it.


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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