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School of Social and Political Science: Graduate school



Postgraduate researchers normally have two supervisors, with whom they work closely throughout their degree. All new postgraduate researchers are allocated a principal supervisor when they are accepted for admission. Many are allocated a second supervisor at the same time, although a decision on the second supervisor may be delayed until an appropriate point in the first year. At least one supervisor will be from their main subject area.  However it is possible to arrange joint supervision with someone from another subject area whose expertise is especially relevant to the research topic. Decisions on supervision are made in consultation with the supervisor and adviser.

Working with supervisors is central to the postgraduate researcher’s career. The supervisors’ role is to provide guidance on the structure and content of the thesis.  This will usually include:

  • agreeing a suitable programme of study and appropriate training with the postgraduate researcher;
  • giving comments and suggestions on written work;
  • ensuring that the end of first year review, and subsequent annual reviews, are held and reported properly;
  • supporting the postgraduate researcher to plan and manage their research effectively, with the aim of submitting their thesis within the expected period;
  • being the first point of contact if there are any problems - whether intellectual, practical or emotional - which the postgraduate researcher wants to discuss;
  • applying for any suspensions or extensions of study that may be deemed necessary;
  • giving guidance on academic publishing and careers, and providing references for job applications after completion of the degree.

Supervisors and students should normally meet for at least one hour each month(or equivalent).  Supervision will usually include a review of written work submitted in advance by the student.

The postgraduate researcher and supervisors are jointly responsible for staying in touch throughout the period of study.  They should arrange to meet regularly, and exchange frequent correspondence if the postgraduate researcher is away on fieldwork. It is important that both supervisors know how to reach the student at all times. It is also important that the supervisors keep the postgraduate researcher informed of any periods when they will be away from the University.

Supervision styles

Individual supervisors differ greatly in their styles of supervision. Some prefer very frequent meetings and more structured tasks for the postgraduate researcher; others prefer more informal ways of working. Some are more directive, while others see their role more as encouraging and enabling.  Second supervisors may assume very different roles. Sometimes they become more important than the first supervisor; sometimes both supervisors choose to meet the postgraduate researcher together for supervision; and sometimes the role entails a more limited input to the postgraduate researcher's work. 

There are two standard patterns of supervision in the school.  Sometimes supervisors will work jointly as 'co-supervisors', and each will attend every monthly meeting.  In other cases, one wlll act very much as first supervisor, holding monthly supervisions and taking principal responsibility for managing a student's progress, while the other will take a more secondary role.  Under this arrangement, a student should expect to meet his or her second supervisor once each semester, either in conjunction with the first supervisor or separately.

Whatever the pattern of supervision that develops, it is vital that it suits the specific needs of the particular postgraduate researcher at the time, and that both parties discuss and negotiate how best to work.  What works well for one postgraduate researcher may not be appropriate for another.  Moreover, what students need from their supervisors may well vary over different stages of the degree.  The supervisory relationship is an evolving one. It is therefore crucial to a successful relationship that postgraduate researchers learn to say what they need from their supervisors, and that supervisors be flexible and open enough to respond constructively. 

All research students and supervisors should make themselves familiar with the sections on supervisors in the University Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Students.

Postgraduate Advisor

The subject area Postgraduate Advisor is responsible for administering the PhD and MPhil programmes in each subject area in the School. The Advisor is responsible for the smooth running of admissions, progress reviews for ongoing research students, programme evaluation and curriculum development. In addition, the Postgraduate Advisor is available to all research students as their first line of pastoral support and advice for any scholarly or personal issues which may arise.  These may include advice with course or topic choices at critical stages in the Programme, but may equally relate to less routine matters.

It is your responsibility to inform the Postgraduate Advisor immediately of any problems which are interfering with your coursework or progress through the programme, including any religious or medical requirements that might affect your participation in any aspects of the programme.

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