Agreeing to supervise
In agreeing to supervise a research student, the supervisor must recognise and accept the responsibilities
both to the student and to the relevant department, faculty and division implicit in the supervisory relationship.
Prior to arrival and first meeting
Where possible, the supervisor should assign the student some directed reading before arrival. This might
be of a general background nature so as to put the student in a position to discuss the topic with the
supervisor soon after arrival, or it might form the start of a survey of current literature. The supervisor is
required to meet the student not later than the second week of Full Term.
The initial term
The supervisor should ensure, in co-operation with the student, that the main framework for the student's
work is established as speedily as possible during the first term.
This may include all or some of the following:
- the means by which the research student and supervisor(s) will communicate and how and when they will arrange regular meetings and monitor progress;
- the supervisor should co-ordinate advice and guidance, and ensure that respective responsibilities within the supervisory team are clear both to academic colleagues and to the student;
- where a student undertakes research as part of a team or group, the supervisor should make clear the way in which the student's own contribution fits into the work of the remainder of the group.
- work to establish a clear project proposal with a good prospect of completion within the required time scale, and to identify the initial stages and early objectives of the project, taking account of the sponsor's requirements where appropriate;
- where completion of an initial research training course is required, identification of the structure, timetable and requirements of the course;
- preliminary identification by the student and supervisor(s) of the skills, knowledge and aptitudes (including English for Academic Purposes) which are likely to be required for the successful completion of the research programme, and arrangements for supporting their acquisition or development;
- identifying appropriate resources to support the research project and how these are to be accessed (including consumables, staffing and working facilities);
- where the student's research forms part of a funded research programme, the supervisor should ensure that sufficient financial support will be available for the duration of the student's period of study: if there is any doubt, they should agree with the student an alternative fallback project at an early stage;
- to ensure that appropriate health and safety training is undertaken by the student;
- to advise at an early stage on experimental design and the effective collection and storage of data;
- to draw to the student's attention the need to consider any ethical issues which may arise during their studies and any requirements for ethical approval (for further information see: www.admin.ox.ac.uk/curec/);
- to identify the advisors who will constitute the student's Thesis Committee and normally act in assessment of their transfer and confirmation of status.
The University does not stipulate (beyond the use of the term 'regularly') the number of meetings between research student and supervisor, which may be expected each term, since this will vary widely according to the subject, the individual, and the stage of the research reached. However, each department/faculty has been asked (via divisional codes of practice for supervision) to recommend a minimum frequency of formal supervisory contact for resident students and to state this on departmental websites. While variation from this figure is permissible, the onus will be on the student and supervisor jointly to agree to deviate from the recommendation. Within the NDM, students should meet with their supervisors at least once a fortnight, on average, across a year. The number of meetings held is reported termly to the DGS and it is not acceptable for students to have had no or very few meetings with a supervisor during a term. The University does not set down a common format for recording the outcomes of supervisory meetings, although it endorses the view that both supervisors and students should keep some record.
The University states that supervisors should:
- meet with the student regularly in accordance with divisional and departmental/ faculty guidelines and as agreed with the student;
- request written work as appropriate and in accordance with the plan discussed with the student and return submitted work with constructive criticism within a reasonable time;
- be accessible to the student at appropriate times when advice is needed and respond to requests for advice within a reasonable timescale;
- assist the student to work within a planned framework and timetable, (in particular by conducting regular reviews of the student's progress);
- monitor the student's ability to write a coherent account of their work in good English;
- avoid unnecessary delays in the progress of the research;
- pursue opportunities for the student to discuss their work with others in the wider academic community (including the presentation of research outcomes where relevant) at University, national and international level.
It is the responsibility of the supervisor to provide the student with regular information as to the student's progress (to ensure that the student feels properly directed and able to communicate with the supervisor), and, where problems arise, provide guidance and assistance as to necessary corrective action. The completion of the termly supervision report, to which both student and supervisor now contribute via Graduate Supervision Reporting, is mandatory for supervisors. Departments/faculties are responsible for taking any action required in cases of non-submission by supervisors. The discussion of the contents of the report should be viewed as part of a regular termly review of progress. Each report should also state the nature and extent of recent contact with the student, and, if there has been none, state why this is so (see above). At the end of the first term, the supervisor and student should review, not only academic progress, but also how well the student has adjusted to their new work environment, how well the environment is meeting their needs, and plans to remedy any deficiency. The supervisor should alert the Director of Graduate Studies to any problems experienced in supervising the student.
Cover for absence
The supervisor should avoid absence on leave or on business away from the student's supervisory context without appropriate temporary supervision having been arranged. (Leave will not normally be approved without such arrangements being in place.) Heads of department/faculty are told to take this requirement into account when managing requests for sabbatical leave.
The supervisor is expected to:
- have reasonable familiarity with institutional, national and international expectations relating to research environments, research supervision and research training (see especially the relevant section of the UK Quality Code);
- engage in continuing professional development to equip them to supervise research students, and to meet requirements for continuing professional development;
- assist the student with the preparation, timetable and submission of material relating to applications for transfer of status, for re-admission after completion of a preliminary research training or other course, and for confirmation of status, and to provide appropriate feedback, especially where the student has failed to meet the required standards;
- comment on thesis draft(s). It is unacceptable for supervisors to not comment on a thesis.
- advise the student on the timing of the submission of the thesis and to consult with the student in order to make recommendations for the appointment of examiners;
- encourage the student to obtain knowledge and information about career opportunities and to alert the student, where necessary, to other services provided within the University and elsewhere.
Health and safety
Supervisors of all students should consider carefully the safety implications of their students' research. Those supervising students are responsible for all aspects of safety under their control, and in particular for the safe conduct of all experiments carried out in the course of their students' research. In the event of an accident, inadequate supervision may render the supervisor liable to prosecution. Supervisors should also ensure that their students are aware that in the event of injury to other persons as a result of their negligence, the student could be subject to civil claims for damages. Advice on the legal responsibilities for safety may be obtained from the University Safety Officer. For their part, students must carry out research with proper regard to good health and safety practices. Supervisors and students should be aware of the need for adequate health insurance and health precautions when travelling abroad. In case of doubt, reference should be made to the University Medical Officer.