Supervisors and their role
UniSA recognises that if good outcomes are to result, all individuals and bodies involved, from HDR students, supervisors, research degree coordinators through to divisional committees and the University's Research Degrees Committee, need to be aware of their responsibilities and adhere to them.
How the first Research Degree Graduate Quality:
has an understanding of current research based knowledge in the field, its methodologies for creating new knowledge, and can create, critique, and appraise new and significant knowledge
will be achieved is foreshadowed in the student's research proposal. The supervisor's input is crucial and progress in achieving this quality is documented in successive reviews of progress. An effective relationship between students and their supervisor/s is integral to the quality of the student's experience.
Supervisors are the most significant resource the University provides to support HDR students in their research. HDR students will be appointed a principal and at least one associate supervisor.
- Principal supervisor: has prime responsibility for overseeing a student's progress and should have the expertise, time and resources to provide ongoing support. The principal supervisor must be a member of the Register of Current Higher Degree by Research Supervisors
- Associate supervisor: supports the principal supervisor and ensures the student has continuity of supervision if the principal supervisor is away. The associate supervisor can be a person external to the University who has specialist knowledge in a particular aspect of the student's research. See the Code of Good Practice: Research Degrees Management and Supervision for more details
- Co-supervision: may be established for a student in lieu of a principal and associate supervisor. Co-supervision occurs where two academic staff members share responsibility for the principal supervision of a student. See the Academic regulations for higher degrees by research for more details.
Contact with supervisors may involve face-to-face meetings, mail, telephone, email, or a combination of these depending on the HDR student's mode of enrolment. If studying externally, you may rely on email, but some supervision should take place in person. An effective relationship between higher degree by research students and supervisors is integral to the quality of the HDR student's experience. The Statement of Agreement establishes the ground rules for this relationship.
While recognising that each HDR student and supervisor is an individual, and that research practices in different fields of study may require a variety of supervisory arrangements, there are a number of issues identified in the Code that should lead to good outcomes where:
- there are clear expectations on both sides on such matters as regularity and structure of meetings, and the standard of work required to achieve the degree
- students are provided with information about important procedures, regulations, services and support, including authorship, intellectual property, copyright requirements and information on plagiarism
- the supervisor is supportive of the student, and encourages open and constructive communication
- the student's development as an independent researcher is facilitated so that students can have control over their own research programs
- students are involved in a collaborative and scholarly research culture both within UniSA and in their respective disciplines.
The research degrees coordinator in a school, research institute, centre or group is responsible for overseeing the student-supervisor relationship and is a point of first contact should there be any misunderstandings between HDR students and supervisors that may affect the progress of the research degree.
Statement of Agreement
The Statement of Agreement determines when and how HDR students and supervisors will meet, the role supervisors will play and how students will receive feedback. See the resource Negotiating candidate and supervisor expectations (Learning and Teaching Unit) for help with this process.
PORTIA (Postgraduate Research Training Information Assistant) is a one stop point of call (portal) designed to facilitate communication about the progress of the research degree. Supervisors and HDR students can view candidacy details, milestones, see details of the Statement of Agreement, monitor deadlines, keep details of planning and review meetings, record confidential concerns, see details of upcoming workshops and link to relevant information. PORTIA will record the date of the Statement of Agreement.
Reviews of progress
As the candidature progresses, the student-supervisor relationship will change. Although substantive responsibilities will not change the student should become more independent of the supervisor. In fact this is essential if the student is to graduate as an independent researcher.
As the student becomes more involved in their research, their expertise could, and probably should, surpass that of their supervisor's, at least in the area of the immediate topic. Differences in opinion should be discussed openly and frankly, and tensions dealt with as soon as possible. Use regular meetings and the reviews of progress to discuss changes in research direction.
It is possible that this increased independence or desire to change focus or direction, or some other matter, especially if not discussed openly, could lead to conflict between the student and supervisor. This could be the case if the project is funded by an outside body to whom the research student and supervisor are responsible for providing a final report. To reach a mutual agreement, the research degrees coordinator may need to sort out any misunderstandings that can't be resolved through the reviews of progress.
Supervisors will provide internal feedback to research students through the following processes:
- reviews of progress
- regular meetings
- oral presentations within the school, research institute, centre or group.
This feedback will enable research students to make appropriate modifications to their research proposal which will form the framework for the thesis. HDR students need to allow time for the supervisor(s) to critically read their work when seeking feedback on drafts of the thesis.
If the student obtains feedback from external sources in the academic community, then the thesis is likely to be approved, because the examiners will be chosen from among these external peers. See Thesis examination for more details.
All grievances and complaints by HDR students not related to satisfactory progress (reviews of progress) and/or academic misconduct should be dealt with under Policy and procedures for the resolution of student grievances. The Chair, Divisional Research Management Committee, shall report any grievance or complaint made by a research student on the Planning, Review and Reporting of Progress form. The Student Ombud is also an available resource for research students. See also Resolving progress issues in higher degrees by research
The introductory workshop Supervising@UniSA is for supervisors new to supervision and new to the University. A continuing professional development program is offered so that supervisors can network with other supervisors and share good practice.
Divisions and institutes also offer seminars and forums for research degree candidates, supervisors and researchers.
Online workshops, courses and resources index - comprehensive list of the resources offered at UniSA or through UniSA's affiliation with other universities.
External to UniSA
Seeking, receiving and handling feedback (PhD Stages - University of Queensland) looks at 'Strategies for getting the best feedback possible', 'Overcoming reluctance to seek feedback' and other tips for the student-supervisor relationship.
How to Succeed in Postgraduate Study (Marie desJardins) 'attempts to raise some issues that are important for postgraduate students to be successful and to get as much out of the process as possible, and for supervisors who wish to help their students be successful.'
University of Technology Sydney Graduate School (STAR) has web links and information on: Managing your candidature; Learning the ropes; Good work practice; Responsible research; Improving knowledge and skill; Consultative processes.
STEPS (Skills Training Essentials for PGR Students) features training initiatives from the University of Manchester
NewRoutePhD™ (UK) is 'a national initiative to equip PhD students with the skills they need to pursue successful careers as leaders in universities, companies, government or the public services. It provides doctoral students with the highest quality of taught materials and practical experience alongside advanced research.'
Educational resources for postgraduate research/a> (Professor Pat Cryer) offers general advice:
- the resources for supervisors section aims 'to help supervisors - particularly at the doctoral PhD and DPhil level - prepare themselves for acting promptly when faced with...dilemmas'
- the resources for research students section has a number of headings, including How to: Work with research supervisors
Characteristics associated with research degree student satisfaction, completion & attrition at the University of South Australia (2003) (PDF file, 893kb), a study undertaken by A/Prof Dianne Bills
Postgraduate students and generic capabilities: online directions (2003), a report by Jill Borthwick and Rod Wissler
Factors associated with completion of higher degrees (Higher Education Series, Report no 37, DEST 2001) (PDF file, 148kb)
11 practices of effective postgraduate supervisors (Richard James and Gabrielle Baldwin, University of Melbourne) (PDF file), is a 'ready reference to effective practice' focusing on the role of the supervisor and quality supervision
The doctoral education experience: diversity and complexity (2003), by Ruth Neumann (Macquarie University)
Research training in doctoral programs: what can be learned from professional doctorates? (2002), by Erica McWilliam, Peter G. Taylor, Pat Thomson, Bill Green, Tom Maxwell, Helen Wildy and Don Simons
Acknowledging excellence and looking towards the future (PDF file, 23kb) - report by Dr Judy Ford on the Thomson Scientific Australia Research Day held 2 April 2008 at the National Press Club in Canberra
QPR (Quality in Postgraduate Research) conference website includes papers from past conferences
Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies (DDOGS) website has information about meetings and papers such as the Editing of Research Theses by Professional Editors (Deans and Directors of Graduate Studies website) as well as a list of member organisations and latest news