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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

8.1.5: Supervision

1. The University requires that all research degree students are supervised by a team made up of at least two supervisors. At least one member of the supervisory team must be an approved supervisor. Members of academic staff of the University will be deemed to be an approved supervisor if they are:

  • post probation;
  • have gained a doctoral degree or have equivalent experience of research;
  • demonstrably research-active;
  • have a good record of successful supervision, including at least one recent successful supervision.

2. Departments will review supervisory teams on an annual basis as part of the annual review of research degree provision.

3. Individual supervisory arrangements should be discussed between the supervisors and students at the start of the research programme and recorded in a form that is reviewed annually. The form should be signed by supervisors and student and filed in the student’s departmental record for reference and available for review within the annual progression review and/or by the Director of Postgraduate Research as necessary. The form should include as a minimum:

  • the division of supervisory weighting between supervisors; the roles of primary and other supervisors;
  • an indication of the frequency and method of supervisory interactions
  • expectations for engaging in departmental research culture, such as membership of a specified research group/cluster;
  • and how research costs, that is, costs of fieldwork and/ conference attendance, needed to support the student’s project will be met.

A model form for departments to use or customize can be found in Appendix a8.11.

4. The University requires that supervision should be undertaken by those staff who have appropriate skills and subject expertise, and at least one member of the supervisory team will be engaged in research in the relevant field of research.

5. Supervisors of Staff Candidates should not normally have responsibility for the line management of their students. Where students become Staff Candidates during or after completing their period of supervised study, departments must ensure that action is taken to avoid any potential conflict of interest (e.g. by appointing a replacement main supervisor or giving clear responsibility for some activities to other members of the supervisory team or Departmental Director of Postgraduate Research).

6. Supervisors for all approved candidates are formally appointed by, and are responsible to, the University as well as to their Board of Studies or Board of School.

7. The University expects staff who have not previously supervised a research student to successful completion to undertake appropriate initial training and development. Experienced supervisors are encouraged to undertake continued professional development.

Management of Supervision

8. The University requires each academic department to have a clear student-facing statement on the departmental approach to the management of supervision. Statements should be made available via research degree student handbooks. All departmental statements require the approval of the Chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee (PG).

9. The University requires that departmental statements on the management of supervision include the following:

  • departmental structure and lines of responsibility for overseeing the management of supervision. This could be undertaken by the Head of Department or by other specifically agreed arrangements such as by a Departmental Postgraduate or Research Committee;
  • the maximum number of research students which a supervisor may supervise at any one time. The case for taking on a student above the maximum number must be made to and approved by the relevant Chair of the Postgraduate Faculty Education Committee;
  • procedures for checking that supervisors and students comply with University requirements;
  • clearly defined process for ensuring that adequate progress is being maintained;
  • a statement on the expected minimum frequency of scheduled meetings;
  • confirmation of the departmental policy which ensures that if a supervisor ceases to be available to a student under supervised study, for a period of more than 3 months e.g. while on extended leave away from Durham or due to retirement or ill-health, that arrangements are made for continued academic supervision to be given.

10. If a student has any worries about his or her supervision which it is not possible to discuss with the supervisor, he or she can approach the Director of Postgraduate Research/Chair of the Departmental Postgraduate or Research Committee, Head of Department, or the Chair of Faculty Education Committee (PG).

11. The University has clearly defined responsibilities for supervisory team and student which are made available to all staff and Postgraduate Research Degree students in Section 8.5 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook.

12. The Academic Office is responsible for ensuring that this policy, the Postgraduate Student Guide, the responsibilities of supervisor and students, and details of training opportunities for staff and students are updated and made available for staff and students on an annual basis.

13. The University requires that all research supervisors and students adhere to these defined responsibilities of supervisor and student.