Graduate School Handbook Part 8 - Supervisory teams and the supervision process

Information about postgraduate research degree supervision.

This part of the handbook includes regulations, information and guidance about all aspects of the supervisory team and the supervision process including: the initial appointment, roles and responsibilities, and any proposed changes to supervision arrangements.

UWE Bristol requirements for the appointment of supervisors and their responsibilities align to principle 3 of the UK Quality Code for Higher Education (Research Degrees).

Regulations about the supervisory team and the supervision process

PGR8.1 The supervisory team

PGR8.1.1R Faculty Research Degree Committees (FRDCs) will appoint at least two supervisors, including one Director of Studies (DoS), based upon their collective experience and knowledge of the research area.

PGR8.1.2R

  • The Director of Studies will be a permanent member of UWE Bristol staff and is responsible for the conduct and governance of the project (see also Part 10 of these regulations Research Governance);
  • At least one member of UWE Bristol academic staff on the supervisory team will have previous experience of successful supervision at all stages through to completion at the appropriate level, either at UWE Bristol or at another UK University;
  • Where this completion is with another UK University they will also have completed the UWE Bristol supervisor training prior to the formal appointment of the supervisory team (RD1 approval).  This individual will advise the Director of Studies should they not have this experience.

PGR8.1.3R All Directors of Studies, including those who have experience as at PGR8.1.2R (3) but are new to UWE Bristol, must undertake in full the supervisory training specified by the Graduate School within 12 months of their appointment as a UWE Bristol DoS. Failure to comply with this requirement without good reason will prevent the member of staff being allocated any further Director of Studies appointments until the training is completed.

PGR8.1.4R Any changes to the supervisory team are subject to the consideration and approval of the FRDC.

PGR8.2 The supervision process

PGR8.2.1R The supervisory team is responsible for meeting with the postgraduate researcher (PGR) regularly, discussing progress made and agreeing any actions and objectives.

PGR8.2.2R The supervisory team may raise concerns at any time with the Faculty Research Degrees Committee about progress being made by the PGR, which may result in further action being taken.

PGR8.2.3R The FRDC will monitor supervisory arrangements through data about progress and completion rates, progression and review reports, and feedback from PGRs.

Procedures for the supervision of postgraduate research

These procedures set out the responsibilities of the supervisory team and the supervision process as a whole. Additional information about supervisory teams can also be found in the Postgraduate Research Degree Programmes Code of Practice and on the Graduate School’s supervisor information.

PGR8.3 Responsibilities of the Director of Studies

The Director of Studies:

  • Is the designated UWE Bristol project manager for the PGR’s research project (see also part 10 of the handbook Research Governance);
  • Maintains their knowledge of the University’s current academic regulations, procedures and policies for PGRs, participating in DoS training and updating sessions as appropriate.

It is the responsibility of the Director of Studies:

  • To undertake appropriate supervisory training where required to do so by the FRDC;
  • To ensure the supervisory team is fully aware of their roles and responsibilities, including their individual obligations to the PGR, at each progression milestone;
  • To meet with the PGR on a regular basis and to note and maintain a record of these meetings*. The minimum expectation is ten supervision meetings during the academic year for full-time PGRs and pro-rata for part-time PGRs;
  • To provide guidance on the design and possible methodological frameworks for the project, on the development of a realistic plan of work that is regularly reviewed, and to support the PGR's understanding of their responsibility for their own individual contribution to research;
  • To ensure that the PGR is aware of their progression milestones, including the initial RD1 project confirmation, what is expected of them at each milestone and when they will take place;
  • With the independent reviewer, to undertake progress review meetings with the PGR at the end of stages 2 and 3;
  • To ensure the PGR is aware of the requirement to re-register for their research degree each year, and understands that they may be withdrawn from their research degree if they fail to do so;
  • To ensure the PGR is familiar with research ethics requirements for their project and completes any necessary application for ethical approval before research begins;
  • To ensure that the project complies with the current research governance and data management requirements of the University;
  • To ensure the PGR is familiar with the requirements concerning Intellectual Property (IP) and third party copyright;
  • To undertake appropriate health and safety policy training with the PGR in their first two weeks;
  • To encourage the PGR to network, attend seminars and conferences within UWE Bristol and externally, and to present their work to others;
  • To encourage the PGR in early and continued writing, provide guidance  and feedback on the development of an academic writing style and the use of appropriate referencing systems expected for the discipline;
  • To provide guidance on the structure of the thesis and to read and provide timely feedback at agreed points during its preparation (eg on individual chapters), as well as comments on the draft thesis prior to submission;
  • To carry out the correct and timely administrative procedures for changes in registration, for the appointment of examiners and for all procedures relating to the viva;
  • To ensure that the PGR is aware of other sources of help and support within UWE Bristol eg Health and Wellbeing service. To raise any issues of concern about the PGR's progress, performance, health and wellbeing with the Graduate School, the FRDC or other UWE Bristol specialist services eg Health and Wellbeing Service;
  • To inform the PGR when supervisors will be away for a period of time eg. on annual leave, when they will be back, and who to consult for advice while they are away, or make more formal alternative supervision and support arrangements where any period of absence is likely to be protracted and be responsible for keeping the FRDC informed of these (see PGR 8.7.1 below);
  • To ensure that the composition of the supervisory team remains adequate and relevant both in terms of subject expertise and capacity to supervise the project and, in discussion with the PGR, to take steps to propose changes to the team should the nature, scope or direction of the project change significantly or require different input;
  • To ensure that any proposals to change either the supervisory team (RD5) or significantly change the project itself (RD7) are appropriately submitted by the PGR to the FRDC for consideration (PGR8.7.1).

*specific requirements for international PGRs who are subject to Tier 4 visa requirements can be found in the PR-A and RD2A forms.

Additional information and guidance about research governance, ethics and good research conduct may be found on the University’s Research Governance webpages.

PGR8.4 Responsibilities of the supervisory team as a whole

  • To have an appropriate knowledge of the PGR’s research area within their collective expertise;
  • To meet with the PGR on a regular basis, and on a minimum of three occasions as a full team during the course of the academic year;
  • To provide reports and submit feedback on the PGR’s academic performance at progression milestones, and by the deadlines indicated by the Graduate School;
  • To raise any issues around the PGR's progress or performance or the ongoing viability of the project itself and escalate these to the FRDC where there are serious concerns;
  • To undertake appropriate supervisory training as required by the FRDC.

PGR8.5 Responsibilities of the Postgraduate Researcher (PGR)

  • To attend meetings with the Director of Studies and supervisory team;
  • To note and maintain their own record of supervisory meetings, including any actions for completion before the next meeting;
  • To have reasonable and realistic expectations about the supervisory team's capacity to provide feedback on work submitted for comment;
  • To raise any concerns regarding the supervisory process with the Director of Studies in the first instance if this is appropriate, and otherwise with the Associate Head of Department (Research) or equivalent, the Faculty PGR Director, or with the Graduate School.

PGR8.6 Responsibilities of the FRDC

  • To consider, approve, monitor and review the supervisory team arrangements.
    NB. The FRDC will not normally appoint a supervisor who is undertaking a research degree at UWE Bristol themselves. However, this is permitted exceptionally at the discretion of the Committee;
  • To provide advice to the supervisory team where concerns have been raised about the PGR’s suitability or performance within their research degree;
  • To consider and approve any proposed change to a member(s) of the supervisory team;
  • To consider any significant changes proposed to the nature, scope or direction of the project and whether the supervisory arrangements remain appropriate;
  • To recommend alternative supervisory arrangements where a PGR’s or supervisor’s performance is unsatisfactory, or in other circumstances listed at PGR8.7.1 below;
  • To ensure that members of the supervisory team are not overloaded.

PGR8.7 Changes to the supervisory team

PGR8.7.1 Any proposed changes to the supervisory team (RD5) must be approved by the FRDC. It is appropriate to make a change to the supervisory team in the following circumstances:

  • The Director of Studies or supervisor leaves the University;
  • The research project changes to the extent that the existing supervisory team no longer has the expertise to support the PGR effectively;
  • The Director of Studies is absent from the University for a period of more than 6 weeks outside normal holiday expectations;
  • The supervisory team consistently fails to provide appropriate and timely advice and feedback to the PGR;
  • A member of the supervisory team frequently misses meetings with the PGR and fails to improve their attendance;
  • The relationship between the supervisor(s) and PGR is not working, and informal steps to improve the relationship have not been successful, ie the PGR/supervisory relationship has irrevocably broken down.

PGR8.7.2 Any other factors requiring a change to the supervisory team may be considered at the discretion of FRDC and the Associate Dean (Research) of the Faculty.

PGR8.8 The supervision process

PGR8.8.1 Meetings should be arranged by the Director of Studies, supervisors and the PGR at a convenient time for everyone. This can include meetings by video-conference, Skype, Facetime or other mutually agreed electronic means. It can also include discussion via email or telephone where no other form of contact is possible, but should not be exclusively via these means.

Minimum expectation: ten supervisions meetings per academic year for full-time PGRs, pro rata for part-time PGRs; of which three (and pro rata) should be full team supervision meetings.

PGR8.8.2 During supervisory meetings, discussion should normally include:

  • Progress the PGR has made since the last meeting;
  • Review of the project plan, recording completed tasks and agreeing new actions;
  • A review of any publications or plans to publish;
  • Any changes to ethics or governance requirements;
  • A review of the PGR’s professional development needs and training opportunities;
  • Any health, wellbeing or other issues that the PGR wishes to raise.

PGR8.8.3 PGRs and supervisors can seek independent advice at any point during the PGR’s research degree registration from the Associate Head of Department (Research) where appropriate, the FRDC Chair, the Graduate School or other University specialist services such as the Wellbeing Service or the Disability Service.

Further information and guidance for PGRs

Can I change my supervisor(s)?

  • Possibly. If you feel that you are not getting the appropriate support from your supervisor(s) you can request a change to your supervisory team. You should discuss this with your Director of Studies (DoS) in the first instance. Any proposed new supervisor must have relevant supervisory experience and/or subject knowledge of in your research area to ensure that the team continues to meet the criteria specified at PGR8.1;
  • If you feel unable to consult your DoS you can also seek independent, confidential advice from the Graduate School, the Associate Head of Department (Research) if appropriate, or from the Chair of the FRDC;
  • Changes to the supervisory team must be submitted for consideration and approval by the FRDC.

I’ve not seen one of my supervisors for a long time. What should I do?

You should raise this with your DoS in the first instance. In the event that the supervisor in question fails to improve their attendance at meetings, the DoS can take steps to withdraw them from the supervisory team, as outlined earlier in this chapter. If it is not appropriate to raise this with your DoS you can seek independent, confidential advice from the Graduate School, the Associate Head of Department (research) if appropriate, the Faculty PGR Director and/or from the Chair of the FRDC.

Can I choose a new/additional supervisor myself?

  • If you are aware of suitable expertise within the University and this individual provides expertise not already within your current supervisory team you should discuss the possibility of adding them to the supervisory team with your DoS in the first instance;
  • The normal maximum number of supervisors on a team is three including the DoS;
  • Appointment of additional supervisors is subject to the approval of the FRDC.

Can I have an external supervisor?

Yes. In some cases it may be appropriate to have an additional or 3rd supervisor who is not a member of UWE Bristol staff. This may include someone with relevant industrial, clinical or other professional or academic expertise. You should discuss this with your DoS initially. Alternatively, external experts can be added to the team in an advisory capacity.

Two (or more) of my supervisors are giving me different advice. What should I do?

  • Where members of the team give conflicting advice to the PGR steps should be taken by the Director of Studies to address the issue and come to a mutual agreement;
  • The PGR may also choose to seek independent advice from the Graduate School;
  • Where matters have not been resolved through initial discussions the FRDC can provide guidance to the supervisory team and the PGR on how to proceed.

Further information and guidance for supervisors

I am concerned that the PGR is struggling. What should I do?

  • In the first instance you should always make your PGR aware of your concerns and discuss how these might be addressed. This discussion should aim to be supportive, with a view to agreeing objectives or an action plan that will get the PGR’s work back on track. It should be held confidentially, not in an open office. 
  • You should also discuss your concerns with the other members of the supervisory team, to share and discuss options to help improve the PGR's performance. Any DoS or supervisor who has concerns that the PGR they supervise is not making satisfactory progress in the research, or may be at risk of missing or failing a progression milestone, can also contact the Graduate School for confidential advice.
  • Supervisors should consider that the PGR might be going through personal difficulties or significantly disruptive matters outside of their control, which have affected their ability to make progress with their research. It may be appropriate in such cases for the PGR to request an extension for their next progress milestone deadline, or suspend their studies if their circumstances mean that they are unable to work at all. Part 7 of the Graduate School Handbook ‘PGR wellbeing and sources of support’ provides more guidance and information about what to do in these circumstances.
  • If, having considered the above, the situation does not improve, please raise your concerns with the Associate Head of Department (Research) or the FRDC Chair.

The PGR is consistently failing to turn up to supervision meetings

  • We recommend speaking to the PGR about why this is happening, as there may be other factors involved. The Graduate School can also assist by meeting with the PGR to talk through any issues or concerns.
  • Supervisors can seek independent advice from the Associate Head of Department (Research) where appropriate, or the FRDC Chair.
  • Further guidance on personal circumstances and wellbeing matters can be found in Part 7 ‘Wellbeing’ of the Graduate School Handbook and via UWE Bristol Disability Services and Wellbeing Support webpages.

I am no longer able to supervise the PGR. What should I do?

  • See PGR8.7.1 and PGR8.7.2 above, which provide advice on what to do in these circumstances.
  • If you are leaving the University it is your responsibility to investigate alternative supervisory arrangements for your PGR at the earliest opportunity to minimise disruption to their studies and ensure continuity of support. Do not assume your Department will do this for you.
  • If the nature of the PGR’s project has changed significantly in terms of scope, direction or topic such that the supervisory arrangements or the project itself may no longer be viable you should discuss this with the PGR, the team and the Associate Head of Department (Research) or equivalent as soon as possible.  It is not appropriate to leave the PGR without adequate supervision for any length of time.

I have a question about the workload bundle allocation for a PGR that I supervise

  • Each PGR has an annual WLB allocation attached. Currently, this is 30 WLB for full-time and 20 for part-time PGRs. It is up to the supervisory team to agree how these bundles will be allocated, but this should follow Faculty practice, and normally the DoS will receive the majority, with the remainder being divided between the remaining supervisors, according the level of their involvement (eg 20:10 for a DoS and one supervisor, or 20:5:5 where there are three on the team). 
  • Contact the relevant Faculty-Facing Graduate School Officer in the first instance, and note that the practice differs across faculties. We may also need to liaise with Planning Partners if the allocation needs changing.

Further information for supervisors can be found on the Graduate School’s supervisor webpages.

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