Doctoral School

Doctoral supervision at Sussex

Much of the information here is quoted directly from the current University publications Handbook for Doctoral Researchers, and Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes.

If your question isn't answered here, you might like to browse our Supervision FAQs.

Responsibilities of research students and their supervisors

All research students should be provided at a minimum with a ‘main’ and ‘additional’ supervisor.  In the case of joint supervision, one of the supervisors will be designated as the ‘main’ supervisor for administrative purposes, and so that you have a clear point of contact in the event of difficulties.

An ‘additional supervisor’ (or the supervisor not designated the ‘main’ in the case of joint supervision) should be able to provide advice and support when the ‘main’ supervisor is not available.  In the event of loss of a supervisor, your department and school are responsible for finding a suitable replacement, and ensuring that arrangements are in place to support you during any interim period.  

Responsibilities of research degree students

The responsibilities that must be observed by research degree students are as follows:

  1. maintaining regular contact with the main supervisor;
  2. discussing with the supervisor/s the type of guidance and comment which will be most helpful, and agreeing upon a schedule of meetings;
  3. taking the initiative in raising problems or difficulties, however elementary they may seem;
  4. for the safety of themselves and others, students working in a potentially hazardous research environment must take the initiative to ensure that they are competent in any relevant research techniques to be used;
  5. preparation of a research outline to be approved during the student’s first year of study;
  6. planning a research project which is achievable within a schedule consistent with the normal expectations of the relevant Research Council, and maintaining progress in line with that schedule;
  7. maintaining the progress of work in accordance with the stages agreed with the main supervisor, including in particular the presentation of written material as required in sufficient time to allow for comments and discussion before proceeding to the next stage;
  8. providing annually a brief formal report to the Director of Doctoral Studies as part of the annual review process;
  9. deciding when he or she wishes to submit the thesis, taking due account of the supervisor/s opinion, which is however advisory only, and of the need to take account of University requirements regarding the length, format and organisation of the thesis;
  10. taking responsibility for their own personal and professional development; 
  11. agreeing their development needs with the main supervisor at the outset of the programme, reviewing these on an annual basis, and attending any relevant development opportunities so identified;
  12. being familiar with institutional regulations and policies that affect them, including the regulations for their qualification;
  13. being aware of the University’s Codes of Practice for Research and Intellectual Property and adhering to the requirements and observing the principles contained therein.

A student who considers that his or her work is not proceeding satisfactorily for reasons outside his or her control should discuss the matter with the supervisor/s and, failing satisfaction, with the Director of Doctoral Studies concerned who will advise on any grievance procedures. In particular, the student should ask to meet the Director of Doctoral Studies if the student feels that he or she is not establishing an effective working relationship with the supervisor/s, bearing in mind that the alleged inadequacy of supervisory or other arrangements during the period of study would not constitute grounds for an appeal against the result of a research degree examination unless there were exceptional reasons for it not having come to light until after the examination, in which case it might be considered.

Responsibilities of research degree supervisors

The main supervisor is directly responsible in their role as supervisor to the Director of Doctoral Studies and, through that officer, to the Head of School and then to Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research).  

The main supervisor is expected to provide the student with advice at every stage in the planning and conduct of research and in the writing of the thesis and to ensure that replacement supervision is available in the event of any significant period of absence. The more specific responsibilities of the main supervisor are as follows:

  1. to complete an annual report on the student’s progress for consideration within the framework of the school and/or department’s annual review procedures, for later submission to the Director of Doctoral Studies;
  2. to provide advice and support to the student on the preparation of a suitable thesis research outline during the first year of their study, in accordance with local school and/or departmental level procedures;
  3. if working in a potentially hazardous research environment, ensuring and monitoring that the student possess adequate technical competence in any relevant research techniques, so that he or she presents no undue risk to themselves, others, and/or University facilities;
  4. giving detailed advice on the necessary completion of successive stages of work so that the whole may be submitted within the scheduled time;
  5. ensuring that the student is made aware of inadequacy of progress or of standards of work below that generally expected;
  6. identifying prospective external examiners.

The more general responsibilities of those involved in the student’s supervision are as follows:

  1. to agree a schedule of regular meetings with the student, in accordance with School policy and in the light of discussion of arrangements with the student;
  2. being accessible to the student at other appropriate times when he or she may need advice;
  3. giving guidance about the nature of research and the standard expected, the planning of the research programme, literature and sources, attendance at taught classes, requisite techniques (including arranging for instruction where necessary), and the problem of plagiarism;
  4. being familiar with the standard expected of research degree examiners, consistent with the guidance laid down by relevant Research Councils;
  5. requesting written work as appropriate, and returning such work with constructive criticism and in reasonable time;
  6. arranging as appropriate for the student to talk about his or her work to faculty or graduate seminars, and to be well briefed about the procedures involved in oral examinations;
  7. providing clarification on the guidance or comment that will be offered on the student’s written submissions;
  8. ensuring that the student is aware of the University’s Codes of Practice for Research and Intellectual Property and that he or she adhere to the requirements and observe the principles contained therein;
  9. providing training in the ethical, legal and other conventions used in the conduct of research, and supporting the student in the consideration of these as appropriate.
  10. initial assessment, and ongoing review, of the student’s training and skills development needs, in accordance with the Vitae Researcher Development Framework, and taking account of the training provision available at Sussex;
  11. ensuring that the student is aware of institutional-level sources of advice, including careers guidance, health and safety legislation and equal opportunities policy;
  12. maintaining and developing the necessary skills and expertise in order to perform all facets of the role effectively (including taking up appropriate continuing professional development opportunities)

Monitoring of progress

The Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes (4.3) advises that ‘At a minimum, there should normally be at least one formal meeting each month (or equivalent) between the supervisor and student’ with the exception of those students away on fieldwork or studying at a distance. This policy should be adjusted suitably for part-time students.

Your School will apply procedures to ensure that your attendance at supervisions is monitored on a termly basis. The Director of Doctoral Studies will oversee this process within your School. In the event that non-attendance continues without adequate explanation or resolution and / or unsatisfactory progress is occurring, your case will be reviewed  by the Director of Doctoral Studies to consider formal action, possibly culminating in withdrawal.  

Supervisory meetings will be formally recorded on your student record, and may be viewed by you through Sussex Direct.In consultation with your supervisor, you should also ensure that a written record is kept recording the outcome of formal meetings between you and your supervisor, and that this is agreed and signed by both you and your supervisor. You should check with your Research and Enterprise Coordinator regarding the specific arrangements that are in place within your school. 

Essential Reading

Much of the information on this page is quoted directly from the current University publications Handbook for Doctoral Researchers, and Code of Practice for Research Degree Programmes

Download the entire contents of this page in your preferred format:

Of, you might want to browse our Supervision FAQs.

Related training

Improving your Professional Relationships - Workshop

How could you improve your relationships and communications with your supervisor and other colleagues? Would you like to be able to communicate more clearly, listen more effectively, and be more confident in building and maintaining your professional and academic relationships?

We mix theory and practice into an intensive three hour session that will help you deal with any current issues and make the most of professional relationships throughout your doctorate and beyond.

  • Learn and practise assertive communication methods
  • Learn how to give and receive feedback
  • Increase your confidence to build and maintain professional relationships

 "Lots of ideas and sincere support"
"The focus on assertiveness was really useful"
~ previous participants

Book a place on this workshop or join the waiting list through our Researcher Development Events page

External resources

Supervision and key relationships - Practical advice on the Vitae website

The relationship between PhD supervisor and student - Advice from Catherine Armstrong

You and your supervisor - Extract from ‘Your PhD Companion’ (Marshall & Green, 2010)

Postgraduate Toolbox - Articles, videos and links on your supervisory relationship

Doctoral School

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