Supervision problems

Throughout your PhD you should have a named ‘Primary’ Supervisor who has the main responsibility for supporting you in your research. You should also have one or more ‘Secondary’ Supervisors, particularly if your project is interdisciplinary. The Secondary Supervisor would usually support in the Doctoral Development Programme. The University recommends meetings between student and supervisor at least every 4 to 6 weeks. In the early stages you may see your supervisor more frequently.

Full details on what to expect in terms of supervision can be found in the Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes (PGR)

The close working relationship between student and supervisor means that problems or disputes that arise can be very upsetting and disruptive. It is important to address any concerns about your supervision arrangements promptly.

Common supervision problems include:

  • Supervisor lacking the necessary expertise to provide support
  • The absence of the supervisor due to study leave or sickness
  • Supervisor providing unclear guidance and advice
  • Supervisor being slow in providing feedback on written work
  • Supervisor leaving during student’s PhD
  • Student feeling undermined or bullied by a supervisor
  • Breakdown of relationship between student and supervisor

If you have a problem with supervision:

1. Know What to Expect

Understanding your own and your supervisor’s roles and responsibilities will help avoid misunderstandings that could lead to disputes. You may find it useful to refer to the PGR Code of Practice on Supervision to help understand the duties of your supervisor(s) and good practice in supervision.

2. Talk to Your Supervisor

Share your concerns with your supervisor. In many cases this will be enough to sort out any problems quickly and amicably. Keep written notes of supervision meetings, and agree these with your supervisor. These records can help avoid misunderstandings from occurring in the first place, and be referred to if any problems do arise. Any problems discussed in supervision meetings, as well as outcomes, should be also be recorded these written notes.

It is also advisable to keep a record of email exchanges between you and your supervisor, so that they can be referred to if required.

3. Talk to Your Department

If the first step of talking to your supervisor does not work or you do not feel able to raise concerns with them, you should discuss the problem with someone else in your department, for example the Postgraduate Tutor or Head of Department. They should be able to explore your options and help find a solution to the problem.

4. Change of Supervisor

Sometimes where issues cannot be resolved, a change of supervisor may be the most appropriate solution. Either you or your supervisor can request this change. Wherever possible a different or additional supervisor will be allocated. If you are considering asking for a change of supervisor you should discuss your options with the Postgraduate Tutor or Head of Department.

5. Make a Complaint

If the above steps have not resolved your issue, you may need to consider making a formal complaint. Please refer to our webpage on ‘Making a Complaint to the University’ for further information and guidance.

Last updated: January 2018