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Research and project supervision (all levels): an introduction  

Supervising projects, dissertations and research at UCL from undergraduate to PhD.

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1 August 2019

Many academics say supervision is one of their favourite, most challenging and most fulfilling parts of their job.

Supervision can play a vital role in enabling students to fulfil their potential. Helping a student to become an independent researcher is a significant achievement – and can enhance your own teaching and research.

Supervision is also a critical element in achieving UCL’s strategic aim of integrating research and education. As a research-intensive university, we want all students, not just those working towards a PhD, to engage in research.

Successful research needs good supervision.

This guide provides guidance and recommendations on supervising students in their research. It offers general principles and tips for those new to supervision, at PhD, Master’s or undergraduate level and directs you to further support available at UCL.

What supervision means

Typically, a supervisor acts as a guide, mentor, source of information and facilitator to the student as they progress through a research project.

Every supervision will be unique. It will vary depending on the circumstances of the student, the research they plan to do, and the relationship between you and the student. You will have to deal with a range of situations using a sensitive and informed approach.

As a supervisor at UCL, you’ll help create an intellectually challenging and fulfilling learning experience for your students.

This could include helping students to:

  • formulate their research project and question
  • decide what methods of research to use
  • become familiar with the wider research community in their chosen field
  • evaluate the results of their research
  • ensure their work meets the necessary standards expected by UCL
  • keep to deadlines
  • use feedback to enhance their work
  • overcome any problems they might have
  • present their work to other students, academics or interested parties
  • prepare for the next steps in their career or further study.

At UCL, doctoral students always have at least two supervisors. Some faculties and departments operate a model of thesis committees, which can include people from industry, as well as UCL staff.

Rules and regulations

Phd supervision.

The supervision of doctoral students’ research is governed by regulation. This means that there are some things you must – and must not – do when supervising a PhD.  

  • All the essential information is found in the UCL Code of Practice for Research Degrees .
  • Full regulations in the UCL Academic Manual .  

All staff must complete the online course Introduction to Research Supervision at UCL  before beginning doctoral supervision.

Undergraduate and Masters supervision

There are also regulations around Master’s and undergraduate dissertations and projects. Check with the Programme Lead, your Department Graduate Tutor or Departmental Administrator for the latest regulations related to student supervision.

You should attend other training around research supervision. 

  • Supervision training available through UCL Arena .

Doctoral (PhD) supervision: introducing your student to the university

For most doctoral students, you will often be their main point of contact at UCL and as such you are responsible for inducting them into the department and wider community.

Check that your student:

  • knows their way around the department and about the facilities available to them locally (desk space, common room, support staff)
  • has attended the Doctoral School induction and has received all relevant documents (including the Handbook and code of practice for graduate research degrees )
  • has attended any departmental or faculty inductions and has a copy of the departmental handbook.

Make sure your student is aware of:

  • key central services such as: Student Support and Wellbeing , UCL Students' Union (UCLU) and Careers
  • opportunities to broaden their skills through UCL’s Doctoral Skills Development Programme
  • the wider disciplinary culture, including relevant networks, websites and mailing lists.

The UCL Good Supervision Guide  (for PhD supervisors)

Establishing an effective relationship

The first few meetings you have with your student are critical and can help to set the tone for the whole supervisory experience for you and your student.

An early discussion about both of your expectations is essential:

  • Find out your student’s motivations for undertaking the project, their aspirations, academic background and any personal matters they feel might be relevant.
  • Discuss any gaps in their preparation and consider their individual training needs.
  • Be clear about who will arrange meetings, how often you’ll meet, how quickly you’ll respond when the student contacts you, what kind of feedback they’ll get, and the norms and standards expected for academic writing.
  • Set agendas and coordinate any follow-up actions. Minute meetings, perhaps taking it in turns with your student.
  • For PhD students, hold a meeting with your student’s other supervisor(s) to clarify your expectations, roles, frequency of meetings and approaches.

Styles of supervision

Supervisory styles are often conceptualized on a spectrum from laissez-faire to more contractual or from managerial to supportive. Every supervisor will adopt different approaches to supervision depending on their own preferences, the individual relationship and the stage the student is at in the project.

Be aware of the positive and negative aspects of different approaches and styles.

Reflect on your personal style and what has prompted this – it may be that you are adopting the style of your own supervisor, or wanting to take a certain approach because it is the way that it would work for you.

No one style fits every situation: approaches change and adapt to accommodate the student and the stage of the project.

However, to ensure a smooth and effective supervision process, it is important to align your expectations from the very beginning. Discuss expectations in an early meeting and re-visit them periodically.

Checking the student’s progress

Make sure you help your student break down the work into manageable chunks, agreeing deadlines and asking them to show you work regularly.

Give your student helpful and constructive feedback on the work they submit (see the various assessment and feedback toolkits on the Teaching & Learning Portal ).

Check they are getting the relevant ethical clearance for research and/or risk assessments.

Ask your student for evidence that they are building a wider awareness of the research field.

Encourage your student to meet other research students and read each other’s work or present to each other.

Encourage your student to write early and often.

Checking your own performance

Regularly review progress with your student and any co-supervisors. Discuss any problems you might be having, and whether you need to revise the roles and expectations you agreed at the start.  

Make sure you know what students in your department are feeding back to the Student Consultative Committee or in surveys, such as the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) . 

Responsibility for the student’s research project does not rest solely on you. If you need help, talk to someone more experienced in your department. Whatever the problem is you’re having, the chances are that someone will have experienced it before and will be able to advise you.

Continuing students can often provide the most effective form of support to new students. Supervisors and departments can foster this, for example through organising mentoring, coffee mornings or writing groups.

Be aware that supervision is about helping students carry out independent research – not necessarily about preparing them for a career in academia. In fact, very few PhD students go on to be academics.

Make sure you support your student’s personal and professional development, whatever direction this might take.

Every research supervision can be different – and equally rewarding.

Where to find help and support

Research supervision web pages from the UCL Arena Centre, including details of the compulsory Research Supervision online course. 

Appropriate Forms of Supervision Guide from the UCL Academic Manual

the PhD diaries

Good Supervision videos  (Requires UCL login)

The UCL Doctoral School

Handbook and code of practice for graduate research degrees

Doctoral Skills Development programme

Student skills support (including academic writing)

Student Support and Wellbeing

UCL Students' Union (UCLU)  

UCL Careers

External resources

Vitae: supervising a docorate

UK Council for Graduate Education

Higher Education Academy – supervising international students (pdf)

Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher , Adrian Eley, Jerry Wellington, Stephanie Pitts and Catherine Biggs (Routledge, 2012) - book available on Amazon

This guide has been produced by the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education . You are welcome to use this guide if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the UCL Arena Centre. 

Further information

More teaching toolkits  - back to the toolkits menu

Research supervision at UCL

UCL Education Strategy 2016–21  

Connected Curriculum: a framework for research-based education

The Laidlaw research and leadership programme (for undergraduates)

[email protected] : contact the UCL Arena Centre 

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Case studies : browse related stories from UCL staff and students.

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The University of Edinburgh

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phd supervision models

Fundamentals of PhD Supervision

Fundamentals of PhD Supervision is an online course that has been developed by the Institute for Academic Development in consultation with the Doctoral College and relevant staff in Colleges and Support Services.

Fundamentals of PhD supervision logo

This course aims to help new supervisors develop their understanding of the role and responsibilities of PhD supervisors at the University of Edinburgh, and to encourage experienced supervisors to reflect on and develop their practice with an increasingly diverse PhD student population.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this course for .

This course is for anyone who is currently supervising University of Edinburgh PhD students, or who will be supervising University of Edinburgh PhD students in the near future.  This applies whether you are a Principal, Co- or Assistant Supervisor.  It is suitable both for University of Edinburgh staff and supervisors who are external to the University. 

When should I do this course? 

It is a University expectation that all new PhD supervisors complete this course and that it is repeated every 5 years.  If you are new to PhD supervision, or new to PhD supervision at the University of Edinburgh, you will ideally complete this course before you begin supervising a PhD student.  

If you are an experienced supervisor you are required to complete the training every 5 years. The course is always available so you can dip back into it at any time to refresh your knowledge of specific areas.  

How do I access the course? 

University of Edinburgh staff should enrol on the course through People and Money Learning.  Enrol here:    Booking Link

External supervisors should contact [email protected] to gain access.  

How long will it take to complete?   

We estimate that it would take 3-4 hours to complete the course without watching the additional videos. The course is self-paced, you can leave and return to where you left off at any time. 

To complete the course, and in order for your completion to be recorded, you must work through all modules and complete the required activities.  

Does this course fulfil the compulsory training requirements for PhD Supervisors? 

Yes, but your College or School may also run a supervisor briefing to complement this course.  

What does the course cover? 

Fundamentals of PhD Supervision is made up of 7 modules. These are aligned to the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) Good Supervisory Practice Framework.  

Introduction to PhD supervision at Edinburgh  

Recruitment and selection  

Supervisory roles, responsibilities and approaches 

Setting expectations and monitoring progress 

Completion and final examination 

Supporting wellbeing 

Supporting professional and career development 

Each of these modules summarises key information for supervisors. This includes signposting relevant policies, codes and regulations, and support and training available for you and your student. In each, there is a strong emphasis on encouraging self-reflection and further reading. The next steps section offers some pointers to further professional development.  

The video content for each module is an additional part to the course. The videos are to provide further advice and information from the perspective of lived experience as a PhD supervisor.  

Does doing this course cover compulsory training requirements set by other research student funders (e.g. Research Councils)?   

This course may help supervisors to meet funder requirements as there is usually an expectation that you will meet your institutional training requirements for PhD supervisors. 

However, your student's funder may require additional training beyond what is expected by the University of Edinburgh. You should check with the funder directly to ensure you are complying with any specific requirements for supervisors.  

Will my attendance be recorded? 

To complete the course successfully, and in order for your completion to be recorded, you must work through all sections. People and Money will automatically track completion of the training modules.  

IAD will keep a record of attendance and completion of this course. Attendance updates will be provided to your school/deanery.  

You will not be issued a certificate of attendance on completion but please email [email protected] if you require one.

Who do I contact if I have comments or problems accessing the course? 

If you have problems accessing the course please email  [email protected]   

We welcome comments on the course so please contact us if you have any feedback.  There is also a feedback form in the final module of the course.  

Who do I contact if I have other questions about my role as a PhD supervisor? 

Your first point of contact should be the relevant postgraduate staff in your School or Centre.  This may be the PG administrative staff or the PG(R) Director or Head of the Graduate School. You can find contacts on the relevant School website:   


If you have problems identifying the relevant contact please email us, letting us know which School or Centre your PhD student is part of, and we will put you in touch with the relevant staff. Please email  [email protected]  

This article was published on 2024-02-26

Doctoral Supervision as Pedagogy

  • First Online: 11 December 2021

Cite this chapter

phd supervision models

  • Debra Jackson 4 ,
  • Patricia M. Davidson 5 &
  • Kim Usher 6  

Pedagogies of supervision have traditionally had little attention in nursing and health sciences. Supervision is a pedagogical practice, and to be optimally effective to facilitate student learning, it is important that supervisors consider doctoral supervision as pedagogy. In this chapter, we will articulate supervision as pedagogy, consider the role of pedagogy in creating enabling generative environments for students as well as for supervisors with a range of different experience levels, and identify elements of pedagogy that can adequately support students. We will also provide some examples of pedagogy in action from our own supervisory practice.

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Further Reading

Jackson D. Building research by community. J Adv Nurs. 2005b;50:229–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2005.03385.x

Jackson D. Servant leadership in nursing: a framework for developing sustainable research capacity in nursing. Collegian. 2008b;15(1):27–33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.colegn.2007.10.001 . PMID: 18341074.

Jackson D, Power T, Usher K. Understanding doctoral supervision in nursing: ‘it’s a complex fusion of skills. Nurse Educ Today. 2021b; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0260691721000678

Zeegers M, Barron D. Pedagogical concerns in doctoral supervision: a challenge for pedagogy. Qual Assur Educ. 2012b;20(1):20–30.

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University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Debra Jackson

School of Nursing, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA

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Jackson, D., Davidson, P.M., Usher, K. (2022). Doctoral Supervision as Pedagogy. In: Successful Doctoral Training in Nursing and Health Sciences. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-87946-4_2

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Please note you do not have access to teaching notes, a cross-national analysis of phd models.

International Journal of Comparative Education and Development

ISSN : 2396-7404

Article publication date: 10 July 2020

Issue publication date: 16 July 2020

This paper provides a cross-national analysis of PhD supervision models, milestones and examination procedures in order to compare PhD programs and their practices.


A comparative approach is employed, which systematically interrogates PhD supervision models, milestones and examination procedures in the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States via a comprehensive review of the practices and literature.

The findings indicate the ramifications of the different approaches and highlight the benefits and drawbacks associated with the different models.


By making explicit the dominant supervision models, milestones and examination procedures that exist in the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States, the authors shed light on the somewhat obscure path to earning a PhD degree.

  • Internationalization
  • Cross-national analysis

Dominguez-Whitehead, Y. and Maringe, F. (2020), "A cross-national analysis of PhD models", International Journal of Comparative Education and Development , Vol. 22 No. 3, pp. 233-245. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJCED-01-2020-0003

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Opportunities for ‘associate’ supervision, supervision as practice, a model for supervisory leadership, communicating your supervision principles, final thoughts, further reading, author information, a beginner’s guide to supervising a phd researcher.

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Kay Guccione , Rhoda Stefanatos; A beginner’s guide to supervising a PhD researcher. Biochem (Lond) 31 October 2023; 45 (5): 11–15. doi: https://doi.org/10.1042/bio_2023_140

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This beginner’s guide to supervision has been created for anyone who supports postgraduate researchers (PGRs) with any aspect of their research or the completion of their degree. The supervision of PGRs is a complex and time-consuming job, with a high degree of responsibility. Good supervision is a key component of PGR success and is vital to the health of our research as a nation as well as the health of our individual researchers. In the recent research literature, supervision has been shown to impact on PhD completion time, retention of students, their success, their perceptions of the value of the PhD, their mental health and well-being and their career choice. In acknowledgement, the UKRI statement of Expectations for Postgraduate Training states that “Research Organisations are expected to provide excellent standards of supervision, management and mentoring … ” and the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency states that therefore “Supervisors should be provided with sufficient time, support and opportunities to develop and maintain their supervisory practice”. Noting that “supervisors represent the most important external influence in the learning and development that occurs in students’ training” the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Committee on Education details interpersonal responsibilities of the supervisor that cover the need to work as partners, see the student as a whole person, be aware of power imbalance and develop strategies for the resolution of relationship difficulties, as well as giving academic and career support.

Despite the life-shaping level of impact a supervisor has, learning to supervise well is not always a top priority for researchers in the often-intense early stages of building their career, and a great many supervisors find themselves having to learn to supervise in a hurry, as they take on their first formal responsibilities. With this in mind, please resist the temptation to save this article for ‘when problems arise’ – a proactive approach will help to avoid issues down the line. Those of you who are moving towards a future supervisor role may be tempted to bookmark this article for ‘when you are officially supervising’ – and so the point we would like to start by making is that if you are interacting with PGRs in the course of your work, you are already engaging with elements of supervisory practice. Supervision is not something you will switch on once you take a formal supervisor role, but a part of your practice that can and will develop. There is a great deal you can be learning, and indeed contributing to the PGR experience, long before your first ‘official’ (or first ‘challenging’) PhD student comes along. While we draw your attention here to several important areas of practice, this is not a guide that aims to simply hand you all the information you need to get started. Rather, it is intended to offer you some ideas to ignite your thinking about yourself and the experiences that have shaped you, about how you understand the role you play in ensuring successful doctoral completion and about your power and position, all of which influence how you react to and respond to others. An ill-considered approach may, after all, have lasting negative impact on your student.

The interpersonal nature of the job means that there is no single right way to supervise, and so creating your own personal blend of approaches is going to be important. What you choose to include in that blend will depend greatly on your own context, and your prior educational and workplace experiences. Consider your own educational journey to date, your family background and social context, your status and position, your personal values, what has challenged you, who has supported you and the privileges and power that you hold ( see here for a handy graphic to help you analyse these ). The cumulative effects of these factors and experiences have given you a filter through which you interpret your role and your purpose, as a supervisor.

Indulge us in a quick experiment. From your current perspective, how would you finish this sentence: The most important thing a supervisor can do is…. Now consider how you might have finished that sentence at the start of your PhD and the many thousands of ways it could have changed through the journey. Every PGR you encounter could finish this sentence differently, and it is good to be aware of that. Your own experience of being supervised will also tint and tone your supervision filter. There is a strong instinct to emulate what we have experienced as being ‘good supervision’, and to strongly reject what we perceive to be ‘bad supervision’. It’s easy to see how this approach can have limited effectiveness, for example if you and your supervisee’s perceptions of what constitutes ‘good supervision’ are very different. A clash in expectations can cause issues that persist through the PhD and influence your entire relationship

Thinking critically and systematically about how your personal experience influences your approach is important. Supplementing that, by engaging with a wide range of opportunities, resources and conversations is important in giving you the flexibility to be able to supervise across a wide range of people, situations and expectations.

So where to begin? As an ‘unofficial’ or, as we prefer to refer to it, an ‘associate’ supervisor, building up your experience and skills can be challenging. What activities to engage with, and what opportunities to support PGRs might be available to you? The answer will of course depend on your university, your department and the support and opportunities you have from specialist supervisor developers. We know not all universities (yet) offer the opportunity for research staff to be formally added to supervisory teams and so here we make suggestions that you can seek out or even create in your workplace, without formal supervisor status.

Day-to-day PGR support . The simplest form of associate supervision is found in the support, guidance, advice and training you offer to the PGRs that you share a workspace with. Welcoming new students, helping them adjust to the environment, rhythms and demands of the PhD and supporting them with research problem solving are all hugely valuable supervision work.

Creating collaborative spaces . Leading journal clubs, practice presentation sessions or writing groups, retreats or other peer-led support groups will give you opportunities to build specific knowledge of how PGRs learn to read critically, synthesize their reading and discuss their findings in line with the academic style and conventions of your discipline. As this is often a steep learning curve in the PhD, knowing how to support students in this will stand you in great stead.

Mentoring . Engaging with formal or informal opportunities to be a mentor will help you to sharpen your skills in how to deliver a powerful and meaningful conversation. Good-quality mentoring discussions can give PGRs an opportunity to make sense of their experiences, reset their expectations and remotivate themselves to get to the PhD finish-line. All incredibly useful elements of supervision.

Leading workshops . There may be opportunities to lead workshops as part of PGR induction week, research methods courses, research ethics or integrity workshops, skills development programmes or careers sessions. All will allow you to consider what PGRs need to know to succeed, and how you can best help them to do that learning.

Consider which of the aforementioned opportunities you are already doing, those that are available to you and those that are right for you – it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ approach so consider what is timely and sustainable for you. Decide what you might need to know, read, discuss or understand in order to perform those roles to the best of your ability. Below, we make some starter suggestions for ways to complement the experiential learning listed earlier, through engaging with a range of supervisor development activities and materials. Don’t forget that the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers states that you are entitled to 10 days every year, to engage with professional learning and development, and this could be a perfect way to spend some of that time:

Read your institutional ‘PGR Code of Practice’, which sets out what PGRs can expect, what support they will receive and what they must agree to contribute and abide by. Perhaps your university also has a ‘statement of expectations for supervision’ type document too?

Understand the breadth of learning that supervisors should ensure takes place within a PhD by glancing at the UK’s national framework for PhD skills development, the Researcher Development Framework .

Read about the 10 areas of practice described by the UK Council for Graduate Education’s Good Supervisory Practice Framework and the accompanying Research Supervisor’s Bibliography.

Attend workshops and courses on supervision and join supervisor communities and conversations at your institution.

Read and subscribe to the Supervising PhDs Blog which publishes short, evidence-based articles, as quick 5-minute reads.

Observe experienced supervisors in practice. This can be done formally (by agreement, as a guest sitting in on a supervision meeting) or informally by observing interactions in your group, at conferences and in other shared spaces. Listen closely to what impact supervisors have on their PGRs and consider both supervisor and PGR perspectives.

Shadow formal processes. Associate supervisors can most commonly struggle with the opportunities to see the procedural checkpoints associated with PhD supervision. Arranging to support, deputize or shadow the supervisory team at PGR interviews, annual progress reviews and viva proceedings (where possible) can give you real insight into how to manage these tricky processes.

But before getting too immersed or overwhelmed in what is a vast wealth of supportive and enlightening material on PGR supervision, we would like to invite you to reflect on what opportunities to develop as a supervisor you are already engaged in and to offer you a framework for developing your supervisory practice.

Supervision is a practice . It is something you do, not merely something you are, and it is something you can learn and develop over time, not something that is innate. It’s helpful to recognize that you are continually learning from the experiences you have attained, and the further experiences, documents, advisory articles and training courses you will encounter. Supervision is commonly thought of as a research practice, in which we as the more experienced researcher advise the PGR, sharing the benefits of our knowledge of the subject area, of the research process and of the conventions and norms of our discipline. This process of socialization into the local and global research communities is important in creating a strong scientific identity.

Supervision should also be thought of as an educational practice because the PGR is learning from us, and in order to support them to gain their doctoral qualification, we deploy different ways of helping them learn. The learning in a PhD extends beyond the project or subject scope and includes knowledge of how to accrue skills and experiences that prepare them for a range of different future career options. A supervisor doesn’t have to be a careers advisor, but their support and open-mindedness to career exploration are greatly valued by those they supervise – especially since the vast majority of PhD graduates will find their long-term career success in roles beyond academic research and teaching.

Further, we would like to focus on the idea that good supervision must also be thought of as a leadership practice, as it is one through which we leverage our status and knowledge of the culture in which we work to show our PGRs how to operate successfully within the research environment and how to secure resources and opportunities. A good leader also holds the ability to relate to those they lead and to motivate and sustain them as they take on new responsibilities and challenges – highly relevant within a research degree context.

As you might already be imagining, these different ways of thinking about supervision and the different tasks they involve can overlap and intersect with each other.

Now you have had a chance to think about who you are and what you value as a supervisor, we present a leadership framework for thinking about what you do in practice as a supervisor. It is outdated to think of supervision as purely an academic pursuit, focused entirely on the task – the research project – yet many of the policy documents we encounter will naturally focus their attention on the formal processes and checkpoints of the doctorate. Emerging in the last decade, we have seen a welcome escalation of research literature and guidance related to the holistic and interpersonal aspects of supervision, working with the preferences, contexts, motivators, career aspirations and support needs of the individual supervisee.

What we want to emphasize ( Figure 1 ), with the aid of John Adair’s model of Action Centred Leadership (1973) is the often-neglected team aspect of supervision. We have selected Adair’s model to help to illustrate supervision in practice as, first, it highlights actions that we can take to lead effectively, rather than taking a more theoretical ‘leadership-style’ approach. Second, this model asks us to reflect on the balance we create between the different areas of practice, the task, the individual and the team, which can be a helpful framework for how to partition your time as a developing supervisor. It can also be a clue as to where you might seek training and development, for instance, if you spot areas on the model that you feel less confident with or less inclined towards.

Action Centred Supervisory Leadership.

Action Centred Supervisory Leadership.

Here are some ways in which you might consider your role in cultivating the team aspect of supervision, as a way of reducing uncertainty and stress for everyone involved and creating a cohesive and supportive culture for PGRs, and for yourself. Think about your ‘team’ in the broadest sense, not just those you supervise or manage, but across the entire research ecosystem around you:

The supervisory team . Most doctorates are now supervised by more than one supervisor. How can your team work together as a cohesive support crew for PGRs, rather than operating as a group of people with competing priorities and interests? How do you work in tandem with those with oversight of PGR matters, such as PGR Convenors and Deans.

Role clarity . This applies to defining the supervisory team roles, to student–supervisor roles and to student–student roles, where there are shared activities. Who takes responsibility for making progress in the PhD? Who takes action? Who makes decisions? What responsibilities are shared?

Values and behaviour . Does your team know what you value, and what you won’t stand for? What are the team rules on sustainable working hours, taking holidays and self-care. How do you expect your team to solve problems, admit mistakes and recognize their blind spots and learning needs? What kinds of interpersonal behaviour are and are not acceptable? What strategies do you have for resolving disagreements?

Cultivate collaboration . Expect people to work together and actively reduce comparison and competitiveness. Think beyond a ‘research collaboration’ and find regular spaces for peer-learning, team-working and group discussion. Think lab meetings, journal clubs, practice presentations and writing groups. Add online chat channels for rapid response peer support. How can these physical and online spaces take on a confidence-building supportive tone, rather than spotlighting one person?

Fairness, openness and equity between PGRs . Within your team how are you ensuring that opportunities come to everyone equally? What does an inclusive working practice look like to you? When decisions must be made, how are you communicating them?

Make introductions . Commonly, supervisors are the broker between PGRs and key people in your discipline and global research community. But think local too. Introduce your PGRs to the full support network including administrators, developers, funding specialists, librarians and finance teams. Help PGRs to navigate the organization and proactively find support.

Like your wider practice, how you bring these ideas together will be developed and informed by your own experience so far. The key success factor in all of the earlier points is that you are able to role model good practices yourself, not just require them of others. Your PGRs will be strongly influenced, not by what you say, but by what they see you do in reality.

Having now thought about your own supervision filter and how this interacts with your approach to the Action Centred Leadership model, you may be beginning to crystallize certain expectations, of yourself as a supervisor (now and in the future) and of the PGRs you will supervise. The idea of actively and explicitly ‘setting expectations’ with PGRs has in recent years become a mainstay of many supervisor development programmes and advice books. There are several common expectation-setting activity worksheets such as the one created by Anne Lee and the one created by Hugh Cairns (it would be interesting here to note whether you perceive that these linked resources are based more on the task, individual or team). These tools are designed to be used in the first weeks of the PhD to get off to a good start. However, we suggest that expectation setting can usefully begin before the PGR arrives, indeed before they are accepted on to the PhD programme. It is common for academics to list topics or projects they will supervise on their institutional web pages, so why not add how you will supervise and communicate the principles that govern your approach. When you interview potential PhD candidates, why not look beyond their academic achievements, and talk to them about what they are looking for in a supervisor?

We would like to thank you for reading this post and for committing your valuable time and energy to considering our points and to taking an intentional approach to supervision, an important academic responsibility and a vital underpinning of a good research culture. Don’t forget that while the PGRs you support as a supervisor at any stage will be very appreciative, not everyone will be aware of the level of effort and expertise you are contributing to your groups and departments. Documenting your contribution and your commitment to upholding good supervisory practice can be done on your CV, in job and promotion applications, in your annual performance and development reviews and even through formal professional recognition channels like the UKCGE Recognised (Associate) Supervisor Award. Having knowledge and awareness of the contribution you are making to upholding the standards set out by research funders and regulatory bodies will benefit you in funding applications and can also help you feed in to university conversations about the development opportunities staff need and the formal recognition and opportunities for supervision that we would like to see afforded to all levels of supervisors, who, after all, make a life-changing contribution to the career success and well-being of those they supervise.■

Adair, J. (1973) Action-centred leadership . McGraw-Hill, London.

Denicolo, P., Duke, D., and Reeves, J. (2019) Supervising to inspire doctoral researchers . Sage, London

Guerin, C. and Green, I. (2013). ‘“They’re the bosses”: feedback in team supervision’. J. Furt. High. Educ . 39 , 320–335. doi: 10.1080/0309877x.2013.831039

Robertson, M.J. (2017). Trust: The power that binds in team supervision of doctoral students. High. Educ. Res. Devel . 36 , 1463–1475. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2017.1325853

Wisker, G. (2012) The good supervisor: supervising postgraduate and undergraduate research for doctoral theses and dissertations . 2nd ed. Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.

Web Resources

Supervising PhDs

UKCGE Good Supervisory Practice Framework .


Kay Guccione is Head of Research Culture & Researcher Development at the University of Glasgow, UK. She is a National Teaching Fellow, with research and practice specialisms in doctoral supervision, mentoring and community building for researchers. She is editor of the Supervising PhDs blog https://supervisingphds.wordpress.com/ . Email: [email protected] .


Rhoda Stefanatos is a Researcher Development Specialist at the University of Glasgow, UK. She leads the development of a wide range of opportunities, experiences and resources for research staff. She uses her rich experience as a researcher to inform her approach to empowering researchers to communicate, create and collaborate.

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