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Organisation of teaching and learning

Research suggests that one of the strongest predictors of postgraduate completion is having expectations met within the student-supervisor relationship and other key roles.

In NDM we define these expectations and responsibilities for the following roles below:

Guidance on submitting your thesis

Overriding responsibility
The University expects the student to accept their obligation to act as a responsible member of the
University's academic community. The student is also expected to take ultimate responsibility for their
research programme and to develop an appropriate working relationship with their supervisor(s).

The research programme

In relation to the research programme, it is important for the student:

  • to programme and undertake work according to an agreed timetable, and to keep relevant records of all aspects of the work in such a way that they can be accessed and understood by anyone with a legitimate need to see them;
  • to take responsibility for the development of subject-specific research training and personal and professional skills, and to make positive use of the University's teaching and learning facilities, and opportunities for this development;
  • to seek out and follow the regulations applying to the research programme, and to seek clarification, where necessary, and to be familiar with other regulations and policies relating to them, including health and safety, intellectual property, data handling and research integrity;
  • to raise problems or difficulties with the relevant authority so that appropriate guidance may be offered;
  • to carry out research with proper regard to good health and safety practices, and to be aware of the need for adequate health insurance and health precautions when travelling abroad;
  • to understand the demands of a research degree and to devote sufficient time to study to make satisfactory progress and to complete each stage of the degree by the deadlines set out in the Examination Regulations;
  • to work towards a suitable standard of written and spoken English for transfer and confirmation and for the final submission of the thesis.

It is for the student to ensure that competing demands on their time are minimised and to ensure that their supervisor is aware of, and approves, commitments (e.g. paid work, conferences) or time away that might impinge on the student's work.

Working with the supervisor

In order to make the most effective use of supervision, the student should endeavour to develop an appropriate working pattern, including an agreed and professional relationship with the supervisor(s). To facilitate this, the student should discuss with the supervisor the type of guidance and comment which they find most helpful, and agree a schedule of meetings. The student should also be aware of their joint responsibility with the supervisor to ensure that regular and frequent contact is maintained, and to be encouraged to take the initiative to maintain contact when necessary

In working with supervisors or other academic staff, students should also:

  • recognise the demands made on a supervisor's time and the need to prepare adequately for meetings and to observe deadlines;
  • accept the importance of constructive criticism within the supervisory relationship, and seek a full assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of any work;
  • give full weight to any suggested guidance and corrective action proposed by the supervisor in the event of problems;
  • co-operate with the supervisor to produce detailed parallel reports on progress at the end of each term via the Graduate Supervision Reporting System;
  • discuss their skills training needs with the supervisor, both informally during regular supervisory contacts and formally at particular times as detailed in subject handbooks;
  • make appropriate use of any guidance available relating to the student's career after successful completion of a research degree, for example, the Careers Service;
  • inform the supervisor as soon as possible of any circumstance which might lead to interruption of study;
  • where the student feels that there are good grounds for contemplating a change of supervision arrangements, discuss this with the existing supervisor, or, if this presents a difficulty, discuss this with the DGS or other appropriate officer or advisor, or with a college advisor.

Submission and completion

The requirements in relation to submission are set out in full in the Examination Regulations, however in particular it is essential for the student:

  • to ensure that their written English is of the necessary standard for the submission of a thesis;
  • to be prepared to defend the subject of the thesis in fluent English at the viva;
  • to allow sufficient time for writing up and to pay particular attention to final proof reading;
  • to decide when they wish to submit the thesis for examination, having provided the supervisor with sufficient time to comment on the final draft and having taken account of the supervisor's opinion;
  • to be aware of the necessary steps in the examination process and the timescales required.

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 responsibilitieswithin 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:;
  • to identify the advisors who will constitute the student's Thesis Committee and normally act in assessment of their transfer and confirmation of status.

Supervisory meetings

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.

Progress reports

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.

Other responsibilities

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.

  • Primary responsibility is to support of the welfare and progression of graduate students.
  • To act as the first point of contact where differences of opinion arise between supervisor and student.
  • To ensure that students are aware of all University requirements and that relevant administrative matters (transfer & confirmation of status, appointment of examiners etc.) are completed in good time.
  • Provides general advice on the organisation, development and delivery of NDM DPhil and MSc programmes and on the facilities and framework of support for NDM graduate students.
  • Responds, with feedback from student representatives, to communications and consultations from other parts of the University on any aspect of NDM graduate studies.
  • All local Assistant DGSs for NDM Units are members of the Graduate Studies Committee.
  • To provide support to the student independent of the Department.
  • To deal with matters relating to hardship.
  • Provide additional support to the student experiencing any problems or difficulties in the NDM/NDM Unit, and/or with the supervisor or
  • Provided additional support for any matters relating to issues other than work/study.

The word limit for DPhil theses in NDM is 50,000 words (excluding bibliography, appendices, diagrams and tables).

Further information about preparing your thesis can be found: