Handbook for Supervisors of Research Postgraduates

5.0  Supervision


Responsibilities of the Main Supervisor


General Expectations

The responsibilities of both the main supervisor and the research student are outlined in the A.U. Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates.

The responsibilities of the main supervisor include in particular:

  1. possessing sufficient knowledge of the research area to provide accurate guidance and advice on the feasibility and progress of the student's programme of research, and to facilitate the production of high quality research work;
  2. being accountable to the relevant Department and Faculty for monitoring the progress of the research;
  3. establishing and maintaining regular contact with the student according to any agreed schedule, and being accessible at appropriate times for consultation by whatever means is most suitable given the student's location and mode of study (the normal expectation would be 1 hour per fortnight over 44 weeks or the equivalent, as appropriate, throughout 3 years of full-time study: one hour per month for part-time);
  4. having input into the assessment of a student's development needs
  5. reading written drafts produced by the student and providing constructive and effective feedback within a specified time (as a guidance, feedback on a chapter should be provided within 3 working weeks);
  6. alerting the student if either the progress or standard of the research work is unsatisfactory, and arranging any supportive action which may be necessary;
  7. ensuring that the student is aware of the need to exercise probity and conduct his/her research according to ethical principles, and of the implications of research misconduct;
  8. ensuring that students are advised at an early stage in their registration of the essential need to avoid conduct amounting to the fabrication of research results or plagiarism;
  9. helping the student to interact with others working in the field of research, for example, encouraging the student to attend relevant conferences, supporting him/her in seeking funding for such events; and where appropriate to submit conference papers and articles to refereed journals;
  10. exercising any relevant formal duties in relation to health and safety regulations;
  11. maintaining the necessary supervisory expertise, including the appropriate skills, to perform all of the role satisfactorily, supported by relevant continuing professional development opportunities;
  12. ensuring that there is sufficient uninterrupted time available to dedicate to the needs of each individual research student that they are supervising;
  13. ensuring that the student receives due credit for any contribution to a collaborative project and providing advice on academic publication and intellectual property rights;
  14. providing effective pastoral support and/or referring the student to other sources of such support, including student advisers (or equivalent), the Postgraduate Co-ordinator and others within the student's academic community;
  15. ensuring that the student is aware of institutional-level sources of advice, including careers guidance, and equal opportunities policy;
  16. nurturing a sense of personal responsibility in research students for the quality of their research.
  17. reading and commenting on the whole of the thesis before submission (see further below)

Supervisors should be particularly sensitive to the diverse needs of individual students, including international students, and should be aware of the range of support available and how the students can access it.

Monitoring Progress and Record Keeping

The main supervisor is responsible for reporting regularly on the student's progress in accordance with the procedures of the Department and Faculty Research Monitoring Committees and of informing the student of the key issues of such reports. The supervisor should provide specific evidence where the decision is not to recommend satisfactory progress, e.g. requiring further probationary reports, advising the student to withdraw temporarily, requiring the student to withdraw from the programme or recommending the transfer to an MPhil rather than continuing to pursue a PhD. (For details of the role in progression see Section 6). Further information about University monitoring procedures, including proceeding from the probationary period and upgrading from a research Master's degree to a PhD, withdrawal, and suspension can be found in the A.U. Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates. In such cases students are required to have submitted a substantial piece of written work (usually one or two chapters and a full research proposal and plan) of a satisfactory standard that has been read by the candidate's supervisor and another member of staff.

In addition to monitoring report forms, and records of training needs analysis (see 4.3.3) records of formal meetings between supervisors and students which summarise the key discussion items and action points must be kept. An example may be found in Appendix 2. This record of the meeting must be seen and agreed to by both the supervisor and the student, with a final approved record being maintained by the department in the student's file. Some departments require the student to record the main outcomes of their meetings with supervisors, including agreed actions by all parties, and the date of the next meeting. This record is given to the supervisor who reviews it to ensure that they are an accurate reflection of the discussions. Supporting information relating to extenuating circumstances should also be kept. The supervisor must provide detailed advice on the necessary completion dates of successive stages of the work so that the student is informed of progression requirements, their progress and that the thesis may be submitted within the scheduled time.

Training Needs Analysis

The content of research and skills training in different fields of research activity will be determined by Departments and Faculties in conjunction with the Director of Postgraduate Studies, paying attention to the differing needs of differing cohorts of postgraduates and of individual postgraduates, arising from their diversity. Each student's research training, skills and development needs will be identified and agreed jointly by the student and the appropriate staff (usually the main supervisor in consultation with the Head of Department or Departmental Postgraduate Coordinator) during the Induction period and regularly reviewed during the research programme and amended as appropriate. This process is formalized for Research students who fall under the remit of the AHRC who are required to annually complete a Research Training Compact (see Appendix 3). The University is currently exploring the possibility of extending this Compact to all research students. The Faculty Postgraduate Research Monitoring Committees are responsible for overseeing that each student's research training, skills and development needs are being addressed. When postgraduate students are provided with opportunities for teaching appropriate guidance and support is provided at departmental and/or institutional level. Where this activity also extends to assessing students, training will reflect this. Within departments postgraduates will usually be part of a larger teaching team in order for them to benefit from the support and mentoring provided by experienced staff. For further information about research training, see the A.U. Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates, the Research Training Handbook issued by the Postgraduate Studies Office, and relevant departmental handbooks.

The Roberts Report on Research Assessment recommends that the equivalent of at least two weeks per year is allocated to transferable skills training. This training may be provided by the department or University or externally. Supervisors must allow students time to meet these training requirements. These needs may be specified by the research funding council sponsoring the student, and ring-fenced funding may be available for the training. Supervisors should familiarise themselves with how students can access such funding and also with how they can apply for any other Research Council, University or departmental research, training or skills funding and opportunities that might be available. The Postgraduate Admissions website provides useful information.

Reviewing Written Work and Providing Feedback

The supervisor must read written drafts produced by the student and provide constructive and effective feedback within a specified time (as a guidance, feedback on a chapter should be provided within 3 working weeks). Where requested, the supervisor must also provide advice and feedback on other assessment pieces, e.g. for departmental or institutional research training modules. A supervisor is expected to read and comment upon the whole of the thesis before submission and give feedback on its strengths and deficiencies. Theses should be the work of the students and not the supervisors, but supervisors should advise students to enable them to remedy major problems. Supervisors should alert students to weaknesses in language, presentation or layout, but it is not the role of the supervisors to act as copy editors or proof readers. The examination may be delayed if a thesis is seriously defective.

The student, in consultation with the supervisor, should then determine when the thesis is considered suitable for submission. Both parties should be aware however of the candidature deadlines regarding submission. Please see Section 6 for details of submission deadlines. Students unable to meet their deadlines may (only in exceptional circumstances) apply for an extension of time limit in which to submit their thesis. If students are intending to apply for an extension they should agree, with the supervisors, a timetable for completion in advance of the application. For further information see the A.U. Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates.

Intellectual Property, Unfair Practice, Plagiarism and Referencing

The supervisor should advise the student on issues relating to intellectual property (including the University's policy on Intellectual Property Rights), unfair practice and plagiarism and should be aware of the University's procedures for dealing with research misconduct. Further information on these issues can be found in the A.U. Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates. The supervisor is responsible for acquainting the student with the conventions applicable in the field as regards bibliographical references and of the acceptable form for footnotes and/or endnotes in the thesis. Guidance on the preparation of the thesis for submission is provided by the Academic Office prior to submission of the thesis.

Protecting Sensitive Research

Once approved, a copy of a PhD thesis is normally placed in the National Library of Wales and the Hugh Owen Library, where it can be accessed. Occasionally material contained within the thesis may be seen to be commercially sensitive or, for some other reason, the student may wish to restrict access to it. In such cases the supervisor (in conjunction with the Head of Department) should submit a request for a bar on access (which will prevent public access to the thesis for a specified period) to the Academic Office who will in turn request permission from the University of Wales. As the University of Wales must be consulted it is important that the request be made as soon as possible. If it is only recognised at the point of submission of the final thesis a number of unnecessary difficulties may arise.

Preparing for the Viva

The supervisor should help prepare the student for the viva by confirming the format of the examination board, explaining the procedures for the oral examination and ensuring that the student understands what the possible decisions of the examination board could be, and their implications. Further information can be found in the Code of Practice for Research Postgraduates. Where possible, the supervisor should arrange for the student to have a ‘mock' viva in advance of the event. Alternatively, the Office of Postgraduate Studies can facilitate arrangements for candidates to attend a training session on vivas.

Role of the Supervisor in the Examination Process

The main supervisor may not act as the internal examiner of the student's thesis. However with the prior consent of the candidate, the supervisor may attend the viva in an advisory capacity, but may only speak when invited to do so by the chair.