5.1 The supervisory process

Supervisors have a fundamental role in supporting their research students throughout the period of the students’ studies. The supervisory process will operate with some variance because of the nature of particular disciplines and related research environments. There are however a set of minimum requirements for supervisors that must be met across the University. 

5.1.1    The minimum requirements for the supervision of all research students are:

Each research student must have a supervisory team comprising at least two supervisors, including a main supervisor who has primary responsibility for supervisory support and in whose school the student should normally be registered. The main supervisor is always responsible for the regulatory and procedural elements of supervision (as defined in the Regulations and Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes) but another member of the supervisory team may take the lead for the key intellectual input. All members of the supervisory team must have defined roles and responsibilities, which must be communicated to the student. 

If a student's research requires working elsewhere (e.g. as part of a collaborative project), the School should ensure that appropriate supervisory arrangements, understood by the student, are in place to cover periods spent away from the University.

Information provided to research students that is of relevance to their supervisors’ academic and pastoral responsibilities must be copied to the main supervisor.

5.1.2. The minimum requirements for input from, and interactions with, supervisors for all research students:

Identification of the main supervisor 

The normal expectation is that research students will be given the name and contact details of their main supervisor before arriving at the University. For doctoral training entities with an integrated taught component, a named academic will be appointed to provide appropriate support if a supervisor is not in place for the first year of study. 

Formal supervisory meetings 

Supervisors must take the initiative in making the first contact with their research students. The first meeting should normally take place within a week of a student’s registration.

At the first meeting, it is usual to discuss the student’s outline research plan, and any sponsorship or other financial arrangements, if these have not been agreed beforehand. It is also an opportunity to discuss any specific support or training needs the student may have and to direct them to appropriate sources of support.

After the first meeting, it becomes a shared responsibility between student and supervisors to maintain regular and adequate contact, irrespective of the student’s location. Where a student has more than one supervisor, the supervisors should meet the student together to decide how they will divide responsibility for advice and to agree arrangements for future meetings.

The student and supervisors must agree the frequency, duration and format of their formal meetings, as well as the topics to be covered, and keep them under review thereafter.

The frequency of formal meetings will be determined by the nature and stage of the student’s research. As a guideline, formal meetings to review progress should normally be scheduled for at least once a month. These meetings should take place either in person or through video or audio link. It may be necessary or appropriate to change the frequency of meetings depending on progress and performance.

The student and supervisors must develop a shared understanding of the purpose of meetings, especially those that are about formal review of the student’s progress. A record of formal meetings must be kept, normally by the student.

Supervisors must also be reasonably accessible to their students outside of the formal meeting schedule to provide advice.

Supervisors share responsibility with the student to develop and maintain an effective working relationship.

The supervisory process

Supervisors must comment on their research student’s written work, with feedback being given promptly so as not to impede the student’s progress.

If a student is experiencing serious difficulty with the use of English, supervisors must discuss this with the student as early as possible, and it is recommended that the student should consult staff in the Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies for advice, if this is necessary.

Supervisors must ensure that students are made aware of the need to maintain academic integrity (see Section 2.3) and of the academic standards expected for the degree for which they are studying and of their responsibilities as set out in Section 4.6. This includes the submission of the student’s research project within the maximum period of study.

As set out in Section 7, supervisors must regularly review training needs with the student, including in relation to personal and professional development. 

Early in the programme, at their first meeting if possible, the student and supervisors must agree the nature and timing of any taught components of the student's programme and discuss the implications of failure to complete them.

Supervisors must provide guidance to their students on how to access pastoral advice and other forms of support from within the school, faculty and University. Students must be informed in detail of the full support structure available to them. Information for students is also available on the Current Students webpage (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/).

Supervisors and the dissertation

Supervisors must discuss preparations for the submission of the dissertation with the student and agree on the intended submission date (see Section 9.2.2 on the timing of submissions).

Supervisors must review a student’s progress no later than four months before the student’s agreed intended submission date. The supervisors and student must also discuss potential examiners at the review point if this discussion has not already started. The main supervisor must propose suitable examiners on the relevant appointment form no later than three months before the intended submission date (see Section 9.3 on the selection and appointment of examiners).

Supervisors and the student must agree a timetable for discussing the draft submission. The student is responsible for sharing drafts with supervisors so that there is sufficient time for the supervisors to comment. Supervisors in turn must provide written comments in good time so as not to jeopardise the timing of the formal submission of the dissertation.

Supervisors are responsible for offering guidance to their research students on the preparation of their dissertations, up to and including the final stages of drafting, and on corrections or a resubmission required by the examiners (see below for the expectations of support for corrections or a resubmission). However, the ultimate responsibility for the content of the dissertation and the decision to submit the work rests with the student. Supervisors should make it clear that their comments are advisory.

Supervisors must provide guidance to their students to assist them in understanding the nature and substance of supervisor comments so that, if appropriate, the comments may be incorporated into the final version of the dissertation.

Supervisors must ensure that the student is aware of the University’s Open Access policies and the copyright implications of publishing their dissertation in the institutional repository, providing advice and guidance on deferral procedures where needed (see Section 9.2.5 on deferrals).

Supervisors, if they consider the approach appropriate, should provide guidance to the student on the integration of publications as chapters within the dissertation (see Annex 5).

Responsibility for ensuring that proofreading is done to the required standard lies with the student (see Section 9.2.1 on proofreading and the dissertation for further information).

Supervisors must not contact examiners about the examination process beyond discussing the practical arrangements for the oral examination, which may cover any extenuating circumstances (see Section 9.4.6), with the internal examiner or the Independent Chair (if appointed). Supervisors must not discuss the examiners’ recommendation with examiners during any part of the examination process.

Supervisory support for corrections or a resubmission

Supervisors are responsible for supporting their research students through any corrections or a resubmission required by the examiners. Supervisors must agree a clear schedule with the student and must maintain contact at least on a monthly basis during the period allowed for corrections or for a resubmission. The research student may be remote from the University during this period, and the onus is on the supervisors to ensure that appropriate contact and support is provided. The research student also has a role in maintaining regular contact with their supervisors.

5.1.3 Guidance for supervisors on wider support and networking opportunities for their research students

Supervisors are part of a wider support network for their research students, and supervisors should be aware of the other available sources of support. Supervisors play an important part in helping a student to make contact with alternative sources of support within the school and in the wider University; for example: student advisers, school staff with designated responsibilities for pastoral care of research students, career advisers and other sources of pastoral advice and support for current students. Just Ask, a confidential advice service provided by Bristol Students’ Union, is also available to students). See also the practical guide for supervisors in supporting their research students in Annex 16

Supervisors should also help students to network with others working in their field of research, for example by attending relevant conferences and seeking sources of funding for such events, and submitting papers to conferences and journals. Supervisors should also help the student engage with other researchers by providing information of any relevant research being undertaken within the school or University more broadly.