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What to do if your doctoral supervisor is unresponsive or disengaged

Advice and recommendations on what steps to take if your doctoral supervisor is unresponsive or disengaged.

Every supervisory relationship is different so use your judgement to decide which steps to take, what the appropriate timescale is and what your personal approach should be.

Read this guide for additional information on what to expect from your doctoral supervision and how to make the most of it.

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).

For a short period (e.g. 1-2 weeks)

  1. Check they are not on holiday or on leave; check their online calendar or ask close colleagues (e.g. other members of the supervision team, department support contact).

  2. Check whether their other doctoral students have heard from them.

  3. Send a friendly email or message to check they are OK.

  4. Ask yourself how urgent it is; does the matter require their immediate attention? If it is urgent, send an explicit email (highlight it is urgent by putting the word "urgent" in the heading of the email), go to their office or call.

For a longer period (e.g. 3-4 weeks)

You might not want to wait this long before taking these actions if it is an urgent issue.

If it is non-urgent and they continue to not engage then you can:

  1. Talk to a member of staff informally to ask for advice (e.g. other members of the supervision team, Doctoral College department support contact, Director of Doctoral Studies or someone else you trust). They may be able to give suggestions on how to proceed, or help broker the discussion.

  2. Send a direct email requesting a quick response explaining why you need their input. Explain you are stuck and can’t make progress (be mindful they may have their own personal challenges of which you are unaware).

  3. Ask for a meeting to discuss the process for future engagement. Set expectations - how do you want the relationship to work and what progress would you like to make?

  4. If there is continued lack of engagement from your supervisor talk to the Director of Doctoral Studies or Head of Department. This is a more formal option as it is likely that the DoS or HoD would need to communicate with the supervisor in order to set expectations. Discussions will remain confidential and they may not need to be communicated directly to your supervisor.

If the problem persists

If you find that it is often difficult to contact your supervisor(s) and you have tried resolving it using the above methods, you can confidentially report an issue affecting your research by accessing a link available in your six-monthly progress reports or by reporting an issue online. 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:

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.