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What to do if your doctoral supervisor and you have different expectations or disagree

Advice and recommendations on steps to take if your doctoral supervisor and you have different expectations, or disagree on the direction of your project.

In the first instance, it is worth refreshing your understanding of what you and your supervisor agreed on at the start of your project.

Review the checklist which recommends what might be covered during those first few initial meetings. You may also wish to consider the Responsibilities of the Supervision Team as well as the Responsibilities of the Doctoral Student, both of which are appendices of QA7 which sets out the principles for doctoral study (including integrated PhDs and Professional Doctorates).

Read through this guide for additional information on what to expect from your doctoral supervision and how to make the most of it. It may also be useful to reference and refer to your six-monthly progress reports.

You might also find our guide What to do if you feel overworked or have additional responsibilities during your doctorate provides some useful tips.

Step 1: Discuss

Discuss your concerns with your supervisor and how you would like things to work in terms of research direction. It is important to manage expectations together.

Step 2: Seek informal advice

Talk to a member of staff informally to ask for advice e.g. another member of the supervisory team or someone you trust.

They may be able to give suggestions on how to proceed/help to work with your supervisor to agree on a way forward. You could also ask a 3rd party (e.g. Director of Doctoral Studies) to mediate a discussion between you and your supervisors.

They might also agree with your Supervisor's perspective. It could provide an opportunity to evaluate your own thoughts in-light of the advice from others.

Step 3: Formal supervisor meeting

If the problem persists, request a more formal supervisor meeting to outline concerns over project direction/feasibility of work timeframes. It might be a good idea to include others from the supervisory team in this meeting.

Attempt to draft an agreement of expectations including time for holidays and reasonable working hours.

Set expectations more formally - how do you want the project to progress in terms of direction and how much work is reasonable?

Step 4: Seek further advice

If you still disagree with your supervisor, if there is an issue with the relationship, or if you believe your supervisor is being unreasonable, talk to your Director of Doctoral Studies or Head of Department.

This is a more formal process and the DoS or HoD may communicate with your supervisor in order to set expectations – discussions will remain confidential and may not need to be communicated directly to your supervisor.

Step 5: If the problem is still not resolved

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 required, there is a formal process to change supervisor or raise a complaint:

At this point, people from the department and university will need to be made aware of the situation, and some information will need to be placed on record, though no information need necessarily be made public.

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


If you have any questions, please contact us.

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