Section 4. Supervision

4.1 Appointment of the supervisor

Divisional boards and department/faculty boards are responsible for placing every research student that they admit under the supervision of a member of the University or other competent person, and for keeping the performance of the person in the role under review. In the case of divisional boards, this responsibility is delegated to and discharged by, departmental/ faculty boards. A responsible board may, for sufficient reason, change the supervisor of any student, or arrange for joint supervision by more than one supervisor, if it deems it necessary.

The responsible board must ensure that the person(s) appointed is appropriately qualified according to stated criteria and is aware of and implements divisional policy relating to the training needs of new and inexperienced supervisors. The board should be aware of the arrangements provided at all levels (department/faculty/division/University) for training for supervisors (especially new supervisors) and for continuing staff development in connection with all aspects of research supervision; and ensure that there is advice available for colleagues on training needs as appropriate.

The responsible board must also ensure that appropriate substitute arrangements are made in the case of the supervisor’s absence, illness or sabbatical leave.

It must be recognised that, once admitted, a research student remains the responsibility of that board (unless formally transferred elsewhere) while the student is entitled to be on the register of graduate students.

Where permitted by the terms of any sponsorship agreement, supervisory responsibilities can be changed at the request of either the student or a supervisor. This falls under the remit of the responsible board.

4.2 Notification to the student

New students should be made aware of when they can expect their supervisor to be appointed, where it is not the practice to assign supervisors before admission.

Each research student should be given an identified single point of contact who is the main supervisor. The student should be advised who the alternative contact is if the main supervisor is not available. This may either be the second supervisor or an additional designated member of academic staff able to provide advice and support. To avoid misunderstandings, the names, contact details and responsibilities of the main and any other supervisors are provided to research students at registration and readily available throughout their programme.

In addition to advising the student about the appointment of the supervisor, the responsible body should also ensure that as soon as possible students know:

  • how to contact the appropriate Director of Graduate Studies;
  • how to contact, the designated supervisor(s);
  • the name and role of the student’s academic advisor in the department or faculty or other person to whom they can go in addition to the supervisor(s).

4.3 Monitoring supervision

The responsible board should be in a position to know whether reports have been completed by both student and supervisor and returned at the end of each term up to and including the term in which the student submits his or her thesis but not beyond this term. It is important that the Director of Graduate Studies or other officer monitor the return of reports, and pursue unreturned reports after an appropriate time. The Director of Graduate Studies should review all reports via the Graduate Supervision System (GSS) and investigate any concerns that are likely to affect the progress of the student’s research.

4.4 Responsibilities of the supervisor

4.4.1 Agreeing to supervise

In agreeing to supervise a research student, the supervisor must recognise and accept the responsibilities both to the student and to the relevant department, faculty and division implicit in the supervisory relationship.

4.4.2 Prior to arrival and first meeting

Where possible, the supervisor should assign the student some directed reading before arrival. This might be of a general background nature so as to put the student in a position to discuss the topic with the supervisor soon after arrival, or it might form the start of a survey of current literature. The supervisor is required to meet the student not later than the second week of Full Term.

4.4.3 The initial term

The supervisor should ensure, in co-operation with the student, that the main framework for the student’s work is established as speedily as possible during the first term.

This may include all or some of the following:

  • the means by which the research student and supervisor(s) will communicate and how and when they will arrange regular meetings and monitor progress;
  • where there is a co-supervisor or a supervisory team, the supervisor should co-ordinate advice and guidance, and ensure that respective responsibilities are clear both to academic colleagues and to the student;
  • where a student undertakes research as part of a team or group, the supervisor should make clear the way in which the student’s own contribution fits into the work of the remainder of the group.
  • work to establish a clear project proposal with a good prospect of completion within the required time scale, and to identify the initial stages and early objectives of the project, taking account of the sponsor’s requirements where appropriate;
  • where completion of an initial research training course is required, identification of the structure, timetable and requirements of the course;
  • preliminary identification by the student and supervisor(s) of the skills, knowledge and aptitudes (including English for Academic Purposes) which are likely to be required for the successful completion of the research programme, and arrangements for supporting their acquisition or development;
  • identifying appropriate resources to support the research project and how these are to be accessed (including consumables, staffing and working facilities);
  • where the student’s research forms part of a funded research programme, the supervisor should ensure that sufficient financial support will be available for the duration of the student’s period of study: if there is any doubt, he or she should agree with the student an alternative fallback project at an early stage;
  • to ensure that appropriate health and safety training is undertaken by the student;
  • to advise at an early stage on experimental design and the effective collection and storage of data;
  • to draw to the student’s attention the need to consider any ethical issues which may arise during the course and any requirements for ethical approval (for further information see: http://www.admin.ox.ac.uk/curec/);
  • to identify (in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies for the department/ faculty) colleagues, where during his or her first year of research a student wishes, in addition to contact with his or her supervisor(s), to have limited consultation with one or two other academics, and to arrange for an approach to them by the student.

4.4.4 Supervisory meetings

The University does not stipulate (beyond the use of the term ‘regularly’) the number of meetings between research student and supervisor, which may be expected each term, since this will vary widely according to the subject, the individual, and the stage of the research reached. However, each department/faculty has been asked (via divisional codes of practice for supervision) to recommend a minimum frequency of formal supervisory contact for resident students and to state this on departmental websites. While variation from this figure is permissible, the onus will be on the student and supervisor jointly to agree to deviate from the recommendation. In addition, the University does not set down a common format for recording the outcomes of those meetings, although it endorses the view that both supervisors and students should keep some record of supervisory meetings.

Supervisors should:

  • meet with the student regularly in accordance with divisional and departmental/ faculty guidelines and as agreed with the student;
  • request written work as appropriate and in accordance with the plan discussed with the student and return submitted work with constructive criticism within a reasonable time;
  • be accessible to the student at appropriate times when advice is needed and respond to requests for advice within a reasonable timescale;
  • assist the student to work within a planned framework and timetable, (in particular by conducting regular reviews of the student’s progress);
  • monitor the student’s ability to write a coherent account of his or her work in good English;
  • avoid unnecessary delays in the progress of the research;
  • pursue opportunities for the student to discuss his or her work with others in the wider academic community (including the presentation of research outcomes where relevant) at University, national and international level.

4.4.5 Progress reports

It is the responsibility of the supervisor to provide the student with regular information as to the student’s progress (to ensure that the student feels properly directed and able to communicate with the supervisor), and, where problems arise, provide guidance and assistance as to necessary corrective action.

The completion of the termly supervision report, to which both student and supervisor now contribute via the Graduate Supervision System, is mandatory for supervisors. Departments/faculties are responsible for taking any action required in cases of non-submission by supervisors. The discussion of the contents of the report should be viewed as part of a regular termly review of progress. Each report should also state the nature and extent of recent contact with the student, and, if there has been none, state why this is so. At the end of the first term, the supervisor and student should review, not only academic progress, but also how well the student has adjusted to his or her new work environment, how well the environment is meeting his or her needs, and plans to remedy any deficiency. The supervisor should alert the Director of Graduate Studies to any problems experienced in supervising the student. Any student who has not satisfied his or her supervisor on at least one occasion in an academic year that he or she is making progress will be liable to have his or her name removed from the register.

4.4.6 Cover for absence

The supervisor should avoid absence on leave without appropriate temporary supervision having been arranged for the student. (Leave will not normally be approved without such arrangements being in place.) Heads of department/faculty should take this requirement into account when managing requests for sabbatical leave

4.4.7 Other responsibilities

The supervisor is expected to:

  • have reasonable familiarity with institutional, national and international expectations relating to research environments, research supervision and research training (see especially the relevant section of the UK Quality Code;
  • engage in continuing professional development to equip them to supervise research students, and to meet requirements for continuing professional development;
  • assist the student with the preparation, timetable and submission of material relating to applications for transfer of status, for re-admission after completion of a preliminary research training or other course, and for confirmation of status, and to provide appropriate feedback, especially where the student has failed to meet the required standards;
  • advise the student on the timing of the submission of the thesis and to consult with the student in order to make recommendations for the appointment of examiners;
  • encourage the student to obtain knowledge and information about career opportunities and to alert the student, where necessary, to other services provided within the University and elsewhere.

4.4.8 Health and safety

Supervisors of all students, whether in the arts or sciences, should consider carefully the safety implications of their students’ research. Those supervising students (particularly in the sciences) are responsible for all aspects of safety under their control, and in particular for the safe conduct of all experiments carried out in the course of their students’ research. In the event of an accident, inadequate supervision may render the supervisor liable to prosecution. Supervisors should also ensure that their students are aware that in the event of injury to other persons as a result of their negligence, the student could be subject to civil claims for damages. Advice on the legal responsibilities for safety may be obtained from the University Safety Officer. For their part, students must carry out research with proper regard to good health and safety practices. Supervisors and students should be aware of the need for adequate health insurance and health precautions when travelling abroad. In case of doubt, reference should be made to the University Medical Officer.