While the success of research supervision depends heavily on the supervisory team, it is essential that research degree candidates understand their own rights and responsibilities, as well as the role of their supervisors. Research degree candidates can then appreciate how to develop their own role in maintaining an effective professional relationship with their supervisory team.
This chapter introduces the supervisory team and its role and responsibilities and gives some tips to help both parties get the best from the supervisory relationship.
The Supervisory Team
Ensuring that all those who undertake research degrees participate in a meaningful, productive period of research and related training takes great effort and the role of the supervisor is of particular importance. For an MPhil/PhD or MD (Res), the First Supervisor will have been identified before a candidate registers. The faculty approves the supervisory team when the research student’s research proposal is approved.1
Each research degree candidate at Anglia Ruskin is normally supervised by a supervisory team which consists of:
a First Supervisor, who will
o supervise the candidate on a regular and frequent basis o act as the principal point of contact on administrative matters
o be accountable to the Faculty in the first instance, and to Anglia Ruskin University, for the proper conduct of the research programme, including compliance with relevant University policies.
A detailed document, Expectations of First Supervisors, is available on the RDCS website which summarises the main duties of the First Supervisor more fully.2
a Second Supervisor, and other supervisors, who may have a specialist or generalist role depending on the nature of the research, and can be equally active in terms of supervision as the First Supervisor
in some instances, an adviser, who will provide guidance on a specific aspect of the research or a link with an external organisation.
The First Supervisor must be a member of staff or Emeritus Professor of our University or a member of staff of a UK collaborating partner institution, whose appointment is approved by the Chair of the Research Degrees Subcommittee. There are criteria for the appointment of the supervisory team.3 These include the requirements that at least one member of the supervisory team must have supervised an equivalent research degree to completion and one must hold a doctoral qualification. Teams of supervisors are increasingly inter- disciplinary and their members may be drawn from more than one faculty.
1 Research Degrees Regulations 14th Edition (2013), Anglia Ruskin University, part A section 3, 3.2(c).
2 Expectations of First Supervisors (2013), available at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/info.phtml [accessed 14 October 2013].
3 Research Degrees Regulations op. cit., part A section 7; 7.4 – 7.7, 7.11 – 7.13 and 7.15 – 7.19. (http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchregs)
The Role of Research Degree Candidates in their Supervision
Good quality postgraduate research depends on a good professional relationship between candidate and supervisory team, as well as effective support and facilities. It is imperative that the expectations and assumptions of supervisors and candidates are shared and agreed. The Stage 1 Workshop Papers include reflective audits on these expectations for the research degree candidate.4 The Student Charter for Research Degree Students also sets out expectations regarding supervision and your progress.5 The online course on
‘Managing your Research Supervisor’ provides helpful advice and information. It is available at: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/training/Epigeum.phtml.
Candidates should therefore, at an early stage, discuss with their supervisory team the respective roles and responsibilities of the student and members of the supervisory team so that everyone is clear regarding expectations and responsibilities. The various arrangements for supervision should be reviewed regularly, so that a mutually rewarding partnership and collaboration between the candidate and the supervisory team is established and maintained.
For an effective professional relationship with their supervisors, research degree candidates should:
agree the format for supervision meetings with their supervisory team
take responsibility, when required, for initiating supervision meetings with the supervisory team, so that frequent and regular contact is maintained, recognising that this may vary during different stages of the research programme
maintain and monitor the progress of all work, including keeping notes of research supervision tutorials (A ‘Notes of a Meeting’ template is available at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/training/Research%20Supervision%20notes.doc or on http://progressplatform.anglia.ac.uk )
agree with the supervisory team a timetable for completion to include the approval of the thesis timetable, nomination of the examiners, entry for the examination, compliance with our Research Degrees Regulations and the deadline for the submission of the thesis, with the appropriate format and technical specification
raise any concerns or issues about the supervisory experience. Any serious problem with a supervisor, including access, should be taken up initially with the supervisor at the time. If a problem arises that cannot be resolved informally at the local level, research degree candidates should go to their Faculty Director of Research Students.6 If this does not resolve the problem then either the Assistant Director (Research Support) in Research, Development and Commercial Services (RDCS) or the Students' Union Advice Service may be asked to mediate. If this fails, the candidate can request a change of supervisor, if possible, and/or raise the complaint through our complaints procedure. For information about this, please see the section on Complaints in the Research Degrees Regulations. The student complaints
procedure and forms may be downloaded online at:
4 Stage 1 Workshop Papers, Anglia Ruskin University, Part 2. Available at http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchtraining at the end of the section on Stage 1 – induction.
5 Student Charter for Research Degree Students, July 2013. Available at:: http://www.anglia.ac.uk/medianew/pdf/research-student- charter.pdf. [Accessed 14 October 2013]
6 Contact details for each Faculty’s Director of Research Students are included in the list of contacts that is available at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/info.phtml
Please be aware that the research degree candidate takes responsibility for the quality of their research, their thesis and their preparation for the viva. The research degree candidate, however, needs to obtain permission from their First Supervisor before submitting their thesis for examination.7 Further information on preparation for the viva is available in the Stage 3 Workshop Papers at the end of the section on Stage 3 at http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchtraining.
Candidates should also see the section in chapter 4 on their more general responsibilities as a research student.
The Responsibilities of Supervisors
Research degree candidates often have specific assumptions and expectations of their supervisors. It is helpful therefore for both candidates and supervisors to be clear about the different roles and responsibilities of the First Supervisor and the wider supervisory team.
The following information is intended to act as a general guide as to what should be expected of those who supervise research degree candidates. As already noted above, more detailed information can be found in the Research Degree Regulations and in the Expectations of First Supervisors guidance notes.8
The main duties and responsibilities of supervisors normally include:
The Research Project
providing active and adequate supervision and support to the candidate, including convening frequent and regular research supervisions.
providing guidance on the research topic, research design and the practicalities of undertaking the research.
agreeing deadlines for the regular submission of written work and providing constructive feedback.
keeping a regular diary or notes of meetings, reviewing research activity and anticipating possible difficulties.
encouraging careful organisation of research data and records from the outset.
explaining the support services and facilities available to students from Anglia Ruskin University and other appropriate institutions.
Skills and professional development
supporting and monitoring the candidate’s acquisition of research skills and engagement in research training, based on the Researcher Development Framework, developed by Vitae.9 An introduction regarding our implementation of the Researcher Development Framework for research degree candidates is available at:
7 Research Degrees Regulations op. cit., part A section 11.8. (http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchregs)
8 Expectations of First Supervisors document, available at:
9 The Researcher Development Framework, Vitae. Available at http://www.vitae.ac.uk/rdf
conducting, on an annual basis with the research candidate, a research skills training needs analysis10 to identify appropriate training sessions to meet the candidate’s needs, and recording this in the Personal Development Plan.
identifying and providing training and support in research techniques and methodology; encouraging student attendance at research seminars
facilitating contact with other researchers
providing advice and support for the production of refereed scholarly papers and articles
Administrative processes and examination
providing information and advice on approval of the research proposal, transfer/confirmation of candidature, and any extensions and intermissions. This may include attendance at the Faculty Research Degrees Subcommittee (FRDSC) and possibly Research Degrees Subcommittee (RDSC) meetings.
providing advice on ethics and applying for ethics approval of the research project, where this is required
providing advice on health and safety requirements
providing guidance on writing up, thesis production and submission, the nomination of examiners, arranging a mock viva voce and de-briefing, attending the viva voce as an observer if requested by the research degree candidate
advising on referrals and the examiners’ reports and providing guidance on an action strategy and re-submission of thesis, where relevant.
attending, for MPhil/PhD and MD (Res) students, the additional review meeting with the candidate and convenor in the research degree candidate’s first year of study
attending the annual review meeting with the candidate and independent convenor.
All research degrees candidates have a record on ProgressPlatform, an online research degrees student progression monitoring system. This can be accessed by students and supervisors at http://progressplatform.anglia.ac.uk.
The system allows candidates and their supervisors to see the candidate’s record from the point of registration until completion. Students and their supervisors can see the key milestones a student needs to complete during his/her research programme. Supervisors can see when specific milestones are due to be completed, or have been completed, on their student’s progression page.
Forms related to research degrees processes including the Research Proposal, Confirmation of Candidature, Annual Monitoring and Nomination of Examiners are available for completion on ProgressPlatform and are attached to the associated milestone.
10 Research Skills Training needs Analysis, available at:
Candidates are able to book onto university training organised by Research Development and Commercial Services via ProgressPlatform and record details of any additional training they have completed.
Any queries related to ProgressPlatform should be directed to email@example.com
Supervision for Candidates Located Overseas
Where a candidate is to be supervised outside the UK, the arrangements must enable regular face-to-face supervision, preferably by appointing a local supervisor, or if this is not possible by making arrangements to hold supervision meetings over the web (IT Services can advise on webcams, video-conferencing technologies etc). The further arrangements are as specified in the Research Degrees Regulations.
Supervisors’ Timetable Allowance
The workload attached to supervision will vary according to the needs of candidates.
However, the UK Quality Code highlights the importance of manageability of supervision, stating that institutions should ‘ensure that individual supervisors have sufficient time to carry out their responsibilities effectively […] the role of supervisors
is critical in maintaining quality and academic standards when supporting research students' research.’11
Supervisors are expected to allocate appropriate time to support research candidates across a range of key areas. Features of good practice are discussed below. The recommended minimum levels of timetable allowance for supervision have been agreed to be a total of 35 hours per annum for full-time research candidates and a total of 20 hours for part-time candidates. The maximum number of candidates for whom a supervisor can be responsible is detailed in the Research Degrees Regulations.
Professional doctorates include a programme of research based workshops staffed by the programme team and individual faculties will have their own arrangements for resourcing these events.
Support and Development Opportunities for Supervisors
All new supervisors (including experienced supervisors transferring to Anglia Ruskin, or those based externally) are required to complete the training programme for supervisors (or an equivalent programme), The detailed requirements regarding training and continuing professional development are provided in the Research Degrees Regulations, section 7 and in the Senate Code of practice on Postgraduate programmes, Procedural Document.12
The training programme for supervisors contains a mixture of presentations and interactive workshops, discussions and role-play covering, for example:
a national and international perspective on research degrees
11 UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Chapter B11 – research degrees (2012), QAA, p.20. Available at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/Publications/InformationAndGuidance/Documents/Quality-Code-Chapter-B11.pdf [accessed 13 August 2012].
12 Senate Code of Practice on Postgraduate Research Programmes, Procedural Document for 2012/13. Seventh Edition, September 2012, section 2. Available at: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/academic/public/scop_resdegs_procdoc.pdf
our regulatory framework
the journey through a doctorate
supporting the research candidate
ethical dimensions and ethics approval
legal issues and how to avoid litigation
a presentation by a research degree candidate
the viva voce
There is a voluntary mentoring scheme for new research supervisors (independent of the probationary mentoring scheme and staff appraisal). A mentor, usually from another faculty, is appointed for a period of one year. Mentors are experienced supervisors and will not discuss the progress of the new supervisor with her/his line manager.
An annual Research Supervisors’ Conference is held at one of the two main campuses each year. The format for the day comprises presentations by guest speakers and workshops, often with a specific theme running through the day. A very important aspect of the conference is to provide an opportunity for supervisors to meet and share experiences.
The Research Supervisors’ Mailbase provides a facility for giving supervisors information and also enables supervisors to contact their colleagues on supervisory matters.
Further information about each of these initiatives and further support for supervisors is available on the RDCS website. To book a place at the training or the conference, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or to join the Mailbase, please contact Charlotte Neale (x4209, or email email@example.com).
Best Practice in Research Degree Supervision
Research supervision is almost by definition a joint process between the research degree candidate and the supervisory team. There is no single perfect template to describe how to conduct effective research supervision or tutorials. There will be differing needs in different types of doctorates and across different disciplines, different expectations at different points in the doctoral journey and, of course, every candidate, and their individual skills, abilities, expectations and needs, will vary enormously. However, there are some aspects of good research supervision that are worthy of comment.
The Senate Code of Practice sets out the issues that supervisors need to ensure that candidates appreciate and understand at an early stage in their research. The Expectations of First Supervisors sets out the expectations of First Supervisors and includes details of sources of further information to support First Supervisors in their role.13 Faculties are responsible for monitoring the implementation of these expectations.
13 Expectations of First Supervisors, available at:
Some Characteristics of Good Research Supervisions
Effective research supervisions need to be carefully planned and conducted. At the outset, the First Supervisor should agree with the candidate and other supervisor(s), and any advisor, the frequency, nature and venue for research tutorials for a certain period of time. A schedule arranged in advance can always be reviewed if circumstances change. Meetings should be more frequent at the start of the research and in the months before the submission of the thesis.
Ideally research supervisions should take place in a venue free from interruptions. Chance encounters in the library, laboratory or corridor, while they may be useful for brief catching up, are no substitute for a planned meeting in a proper location.
The supervisory team should agree, in consultation with the candidate, how the supervision will be shared between the team and articulate this as clearly as possible. Members of a supervisory team should remain in contact with each other on the progress of the supervision.
Participants should be clear, at the start, what they would like to achieve from the session.
Research supervisions should be two-way discussions. It is important that supervisors encourage research degree candidates to raise questions and contribute to meetings, so they increasingly take control of their research. This approach should be started gradually and carefully, as candidates new to postgraduate work may find supervision formidable.
It is reasonable to expect the candidate to prepare short papers or brief accounts of their recent activities from the outset of the research. Once the research is underway, usually there should be no more than two consecutive tutorials without a submitted paper. Written work submitted by the candidate should be returned in good time by the First Supervisor/supervisory team with appropriate amounts of feedback. It is well known that candidates who start to write early and develop the habit and thereby increase their skill in writing, are more successful in competing their proposals, research and final thesis. E-mail contact can be helpful, particularly when, for example, reviewing drafts of thesis chapters.
Some supervisors may wish to explore the use of webcams or video-conferencing technology to have on-line video tutorials with remote candidates. All our internal supervisors can have access to Skype, please ask IT Services:
Research supervisions should also be used to monitor the candidate’s progress and keep a systematic and regular record of supervision. At the end of each supervision, the supervisor and candidate should complete a record of the supervision meeting. This provides a written record of the tutorial, a brief indication of the points covered and, most importantly, a set of agreed actions. A ‘Notes of a Meeting’ template proforma for this is available on the RDCS website at:
http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/training/Research%20Supervision%20notes.doc or can be added to a student’s progression record on ProgressPlatform at:
A successful supervision meeting would normally comprise the following stages:
a relaxed opening (which may cover issues other than the research work of the research degree candidate)
general agreement of the purpose and scope of the meeting
discussion of current progress, including feedback on written work
identification and examination of any difficulties and outstanding issues; planning of future work, including setting of agreed targets
conclusion of meeting, including summary of progress made so far and date, time and venue for next meeting
recording of the main points of the meeting and actions agreed
Cohort and Group Tutorials
Research supervisions tend to be arranged for individual candidates, but where there is sufficient critical mass, supervisors in some faculties provide regular cohort meetings for their research candidates. Such meetings may be used for group research tutorials where this is appropriate, but more likely for staff-led input on research methods and for candidates to make presentations on interim stages of their work and seek peer review from their cohort. Candidates might also be asked to give presentations and reports based, for example, on research publications they have been reading or conferences they have attended. Such cohort meetings may be organised around departmental research groups or Research Institutes.
Professional doctorates tend to have such cohort meetings formalised as a series of research workshops as part of the inherent structure of the programme.
Advising Research Degree Candidates on Skills Training and Development
Training and development needs should be discussed with research degree candidates at the earliest possible opportunity, considering, for example, whether they need particular help with, for example, understanding research design, qualitative / quantitative analysis, an experimental technique, survey and interview techniques or questionnaire design and computer analysis, develop language skills, acquire statistical techniques or undertake additional guided reading in a new area or discipline. Supervisors are expected to advise on the appropriate time to take up training opportunities within Anglia Ruskin University or the availability of specific external provision.
At the beginning of each year of study, the research degree candidate should start their Research Skills Training Needs Analysis, available at:
http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/training/planning/RDF_Training_Needs_Analysis_(S.D.)_0 7.08.12.doc. This is completed for the annual monitoring review. Following the annual monitoring review the research degree candidate further analyses their research skills training needs and identifies those research skills for development in the following year.
An explanation of the skills within the Researcher Development Framework (RDF) domains and their link to the previously used Research Councils’ Joint Skills Statement is provided at:
A mapping of research student training provided by RDCS against the research skills in the Researcher Development Framework is provided at:
http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/support/RDF%20Mapping%206%20August%202012.doc In total there are 63 research skills in Vitae’s Researcher Development Framework. We suggest that a research degree candidate should focus on around 20 skills each year and ensure that over the period of their study that all research skills are covered. In focussing on a subset of these skills, supervisors may find it helpful to draw their candidate’s attention to the ‘lenses’ developed by Vitae so that there is a theme to the subset of skills that the candidate will focus upon during the year. To-date these themes are leadership, enterprise,
entrepreneurship, teaching, employability, and information literacy. For further information about these lenses please see http://www.vitae.ac.uk/rdflenses.
The research degree candidate’s training needs should be recorded on the appropriate Personal Development Plan (PDP). A template is available at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/support/documents_forms/Personal%20Development%20 Plan%2013%2009%2011%2012.10.11.doc). Sources should be identified for this training and the candidate should then note when each training activity has been completed. At the end of the year the plan should be signed by the First Supervisor. The completed plan is then included within the annual monitoring process. An example of a completed PDP is provided at: http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/support/PDP_Example.pdf
Supervisors need to advise their research degree candidates on the appropriateness of research skills training and development that they wish to attend. Information regarding research student training organised by Research, Development and Commercial Services may be found on the RDCS website at http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchtraining or on http://progressplatform.anglia.ac.uk. For information about faculty-based research training contact your faculty research administrator, see the Contact List at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/rdcs/research/info.phtml
Research students may also take appropriate training run by HR Services, please see http://web.anglia.ac.uk/hr/training/. In addition to research skills training offered internally, there are excellent training opportunities and information at other institutions, for example the British Library, (see http://www.bl.uk and in particular look for the Doctoral Open Days at http://www.bl.uk/whatson/events) and Vitae (see http://www.vitae.ac.uk/researchers).
Supporting Thesis Preparation
Often the planning of the actual thesis and writing of a first draft is the hardest part of a doctorate / research Masters, for both candidate and supervisors. In the arts and, humanities, for example, research degree candidates write as they undertake the research.
In the sciences and engineering, for example, this may not be so much the case, particularly when the research involves experimental/laboratory work. Giving a clear account of a complex project and its results is a difficult task and for most research degree candidates this is the first time they have tried to write anything on such a scale. It always takes longer than students expect. Typically the analysis and writing-up takes about three times as long as the fieldwork. It is easy for the writer to become immersed in the detail, and some doctorate theses suffer because the candidate tries to include everything. On the other hand, it is essential that significant detail is not omitted.
There is often tremendous anxiety about writing. Many candidates feel themselves on trial as soon as they begin and initially spend too much time editing their writing rather than writing further text. Here the supervisor has to take the initiative, and make it clear that a draft chapter/section is welcome in order to give feedback and keep production of the thesis moving forward. It is useful to start the process of writing very early in the candidature, even before data collection, and this is why candidates should be encouraged to write small pieces of work for discussion at supervisory meetings. It is often helpful to show candidates books or other theses which are good examples of scientific writing, clear English prose, vivid accounts of fieldwork, etc, even on topics quite remote from their thesis
For many candidates, the prompts provided by the thesis audit template (available in the Stage 3 Workshop Papers at http://www.anglia.ac.uk/researchtraining) may be helpful. It provides a list of rhetorical questions for the candidate to consider in discussion with their supervisor. This should be started after their proposal is approved, albeit that only the first
few questions can be considered and answered at this stage. As the candidate makes progress, more and more of the template can be completed, and it should be updated at appropriate intervals.
Please note that the thesis template is intended to be used mainly as a teaching tutorial device to help develop an efficient dialogue between supervisor and candidate. The template in the form shown may be more suitable for some theses/research, such as management or the social sciences and may benefit from being adapted to use in other domains.
Finally, candidates will find it helpful if, during supervisions, supervisors can:
acquaint the candidate with the criteria against which they will be assessed, before they commence their writing, so that they are aware of the possible frameworks that external and internal examiners are likely to use in their assessment of their work
help the candidate to refer to the criteria as guidelines when they approach key aspects of their research - such as the research design, handling the literature and discursive chapter(s)
discuss how initial drafts, and particularly the text, of chapters compare with the candidate’s respective sets of criteria - and then jointly agree how to proceed
review the completed thesis with the candidate before it is submitted.
Further details of University requirements and processes underpinning the submission of theses are discussed in the section of this handbook on the thesis. See also the further reading section for information on good supervision practice.
Research for a doctorate can be characterised as a long journey with stepping stones on the way. Feelings of frustration and, sometimes, isolation (due to the individual nature of the research) are commonly experienced by postgraduate researchers at some point of the journey. Regular reviewing of goals and reassurance that genuine achievement has been made will often dispel a great deal of natural anxiety about lack of progress. While postgraduate work is a stimulating and exciting challenge, methodological problems can be encountered with research, as well as personal and family difficulties.
Some of the warning signs that all is not well can include:
frequently not meeting deadlines
not attending research workshops or cohort meetings
excessive delays in writing up (or even starting to write
blaming others, including their supervisors!
high levels of anxiety
inability to accept constructive criticism
Difficulties should be discussed at an early stage, with particular attention given to devising constructive solutions. Where there are serious or persistent problems, the candidate may need to seek specialist help via our Counselling & Wellbeing Service which offers free, confidential advice and support (please see their website at http://web.anglia.ac.uk/anet/student_services/counselling/index.phtml).
RDCS 14 October 2013