School of Social and Political Science

Guide to supervision


Your supervisors

As a postgraduate research student, you will normally have two supervisors, with whom you work closely throughout your degree.

All new postgraduate researchers are allocated a principal supervisor when 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 Year 1.

At least one supervisor will be from your 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 your supervisors

Working with supervisors is central to your student career. The supervisors’ role is to provide guidance on the structure and content of your thesis. 

This will usually include:

  • agreeing a suitable programme of study and appropriate training with you
  • giving comments and suggestions on your written work
  • ensuring that the end of first year review, and subsequent annual reviews, are held and reported properly
  • supporting you to plan and manage your research effectively, with the aim of submitting your thesis within the expected period
  • being the first point of contact if there are any problems - whether intellectual, practical or emotional - you may want 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

Supervision will usually include a review of written work, submitted in advance by you.

You should normally meet with your supervisor for at least one hour each month (or equivalent).

Staying in contact with your supervisors

Yourself and your supervisors are jointly responsible for staying in touch throughout the period of study. You should arrange to meet regularly, and exchange frequent correspondence if you are away on fieldwork.

It is important that both supervisors know how to reach you at all times. It is also important that the supervisors keep you 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 you; others prefer more informal ways of working.

Some are more directive, while others see their role more as encouraging and enabling. 

Patterns of supervision

Second supervisors may assume very different roles. Sometimes they become more important than the first supervisor; sometimes both supervisors choose to meet you together for supervision; and sometimes the role entails a more limited input to the postgraduate researcher's work. 

There are generally two standard patterns of supervision in the School.

  1. Supervisors will work jointly as 'co-supervisors', and each will attend every monthly meeting. 
  2. One supervisor will act very much as first supervisor, holding monthly supervisions and taking principal responsibility for managing your progress, while the other will take a more secondary role. 

Under the second arrangement, you should expect to meet your second supervisor once each semester, either in conjunction with your first supervisor or separately.

Suiting your needs

Whatever the pattern of supervision that develops, it is vital that it suits the specific needs of you at the time, and that both parties discuss and negotiate how best to work. What works well for one student may not be appropriate for another.

What you need from your 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 you learn to say what you need from your supervisors, and that supervisors be flexible and open enough to respond constructively. 

University Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Students

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 (PDF).

Postgraduate Advisors

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
  • 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.

Student category
PhD Students