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The University of Southampton
Doctoral CollegePGR Handbook

Research Supervision


You will be allocated to a supervisory team by the Faculty Graduate School directorate on the recommendation of the Faculty Director of the Graduate School. Your supervisory team will consist of at least two supervisors from the University of Southampton.  The main supervisor has responsibility for the supervision of the design and progress of your research project and for providing academic advice. The main supervisor should be available to provide guidance and direction on a regular basis.  A member of your supervisory team is also responsible for ensuring that the administrative processes are completed in a timely manner throughout your candidature. This role is normally performed by the main supervisor but in certain cases it is the responsibility of a separate co-ordinating supervisor.

Your supervisory team will be chosen to provide suitable academic expertise. Where your project requires further expertise, an additional supervisor (who may be external to the University) can be appointed to provide the required specialist advice. As well as providing academic support and advice, the supervisory team reports to the Faculty on your work and progress according to the milestones in the School-specific section of this handbook.  

The Code of Practice for Research Degree Candidature and Supervision gives more details on how the Regulations are implemented and details the expected duties and responsibilities of students and staff.


As well as providing academic support during your studies, your supervisory team is also responsible for providing pastoral support and/or advice. This may involve referring you to other sources of support, checking with you about the effectiveness of any support you are receiving from the University services, and responding to any on-going or acute difficulties.

Your supervisor may also refer you to the Faculty Senior Tutor.

The Supervisory Relationship

It is essential that a good working relationship is established between you and your supervisory team, and that responsibilities on both sides are clearly defined and understood. Clear and regular communication between you and your supervisors is a key ingredient to the completion of a successful and productive PhD.

Responsibilities of the Research Student

The following information is taken from the Code of Practice for Research Degree Candidature and Supervision.

The ultimate responsibility for the thesis lies with the research student and it is therefore essential that they participate fully in planning the research project, considering advice and discussing the work with the main supervisor or supervisory team. Particular responsibilities of the research student will include:

  • Showing commitment to the research project and programme of studies and agreeing with one or more members of the supervisory team the amount of time to be devoted to the research and the timing and duration of any holiday periods (also see paragraph 59 of this Code: (Holidays). Full-time research students are expected to spend, on average, a minimum of 37 hours per week on their studies throughout their candidature. Expectations for part-time research students are on a pro-rata basis. See paragraph 62 of this Code for information on holiday entitlements.
  • Discussing with one or more members of the supervisory team the type of guidance and commitment found to be most helpful, and agreeing a schedule of meetings, and the importance of adhering to the schedule and preparing for these meetings.
  • Analysing, with assistance from one or more members of the supervisory team, any initial or on-going training needs with respect to research and generic/transferable skills as part of the Academic Needs Analysis, and participating in training activities as advised by one or more members of the supervisory team in order to meet these needs.
  • Maintaining the progress of the work in accordance with the research plan as agreed with the supervisory team. This includes the provision of information and the submission of written material in sufficient time to allow for comment and discussion before proceeding to the next stage, complying with the deadlines associated with progression monitoring and reviews (see paragraphs 61 to 77 of this Code (Progression Monitoring and Reviews)).
  • Providing regular updates on progress (through Activity Reports on PGR Tracker, or equivalent systems), at least every three months.
  • Depositing data from the research project as required in the University repository.
  • Taking the initiative in raising problems or difficulties however trivial they may seem (this is a recognised aspect of the relationship between a research student and the supervisory team). Where difficulties are perceived (by the research student) to stem from inadequate supervision, this should be raised with the relevant Faculty through appropriate means.
  • Where applicable, discussing with one or more members of the supervisory team any changes in learning support needs which may arise during the period of study.
  • Attending conferences and participating in staff and research student seminars, presenting work where appropriate and as guided by the supervisory team.
  • Being aware of the diverse cultural, social and educational backgrounds of fellow research students, recognising the actual and potential benefits this brings to the learning experience.
  • Preparing papers for publication or presentation at conferences, as guided by the supervisory team.
  • Abiding by the institutional health and safety policy, observing safe working practices at all times, and following procedures prescribed by the supervisory team.
  • Deciding when the thesis is to be submitted after taking due account of advice from one or more members of the supervisory team.
  • Submitting the thesis in print and electronically as set out in the Research Degree Candidature: Submission and Completion section of the Quality Handbook. Theses may be subject to restriction only in exceptional circumstances – see paragraph 105 of this Code (Access to the Thesis)). 

In addition, it is the responsibility of the research student to conform to both the University's Intellectual Property Regulations, and the University’s Ethics Policy (see paragraph 30 of this Code (Ethical Considerations)), consulting if necessary with a relevant member of the supervisory team.

Research students who fail to engage with these responsibilities may be subject to the Procedures for Circumstances that may lead to Withdrawal or Termination.

Responsibilities of the Supervisor

The following information is taken from the Code of Practice for Research Degree Candidature and Supervision.

The Faculty is responsible for ensuring the appointment of an appropriate supervisory team and for ensuring that individual members of the supervisory team are fully aware of their role and responsibilities, the scope of which includes the following:

Responsibilities at the outset of supervision:

  • to meet the research student to identify the initial objectives of the research;
  • to confirm any requirements of the research student’s funder, if applicable;
  • to assist the research student in an Academic Needs Analysis with respect to research skills (discipline-specific and generic) and transferable skills, identifying sources of training provision at discipline/Faculty/University level or externally, and a timescale for undertaking training;
  • to ensure that the research student has access to information about events organised for, or open to, research students in the discipline/Faculty/University and externally (including workshops, seminars and conferences);
  • for research students whose first language is not English, to advise on additional English language support if appropriate (for example, some research students may experience difficulties with technical language);
  • if the research student has disclosed a disability, to identify ways in which they may be supported in their studies with help and advice as required by Enabling Services. Enabling Services encompasses a wide variety of support for research students who have disabilities, mental health issues or specific learning differences. Research students should also be asked about the impact, if any, of research activity on their disability;
  • to explain the roles of the members of the supervisory team and to discuss and agree the pattern and frequency of contact between members of the supervisory team; (for example, international research students may benefit from a higher frequency of meetings during the first year, or, for research students with a disability, account may need to be taken of the effects of medication);
  • to clarify arrangements for Progression Reviews ensuring that the research student is fully conversant with the Faculty and University procedures from the outset (see paragraphs 61 to 77 of this Code (Progression Monitoring and Reviews));
  • to ensure that the research student is cognisant of Intellectual Property (IP) issues that may be/become associated with the project and is aware of their responsibilities in relation to research ethics (see Ethics Policy and paragraph 30 of this Code (Ethical Considerations)), governance, and the University’s Intellectual Property Regulations);
  • to ensure that the research student is aware of the obligations under the University’s Research Data Management Policy and any other related requirements for data storage required by sponsors;
  • to make clear to the research student their responsibilities as detailed in paragraph 46 of this Code (Responsibilities of the Research Student).

Ongoing responsibilities

  • to maintain regular contact with the research student in accordance with arrangements established at the outset and in-line with Faculty policy. The frequency of meetings will depend upon the stage and nature of the research and the particular needs of the research student, but it is expected good practice that, for full-time research students, these meetings should take place at least once a month, and more frequently at the start of the candidature (for part-time research student, these timings should be adjusted accordingly). This could include both face-to-face meetings and other means of communication (see also paragraphs 61 - 77 of this Code (Progression Monitoring and Reviews)). It is good practice that notes of these meetings are recorded and for research students with Tier 4 visa sponsorship, this is a requirement;
  • to be aware of and to comply with internal and external reporting requirements pertaining to the research student;
  • to be accessible at other reasonable times when advice is needed, keeping in mind the needs of the individual research student;
  • to provide advice and guidance as necessary on the planning and development of the research programme and standard of work expected, recognising that some research students may require additional support. Such advice and guidance will include reference to literature and sources, research methods and techniques, academic integrity including avoidance of plagiarism, research ethics and governance, issues of copyright, intellectual property and health and safety;
  • to ensure that the University's Equal Opportunities Policy is taken into account in all aspects of the research student's experience, and to be sensitive to the differing needs of research students arising from diversity;
  • to ensure that the research student conforms to the University's research ethics, research governance, and Intellectual Property Regulations and policies which can be accessed via the University’s governance website (Research and Enterprise Policies);
  • to ensure that the research student conforms to the University’s Research Data Management Policy and any other related requirements for data storage required by sponsors;
  • to monitor the research student's progress (requiring activity reports and written work as appropriate), providing reports to the Faculty as required, and giving constructive and timely feedback which is accessible and useful to the research student;
  • to be aware of Progression Review deadlines, and ensure that the research student is aware of these and the requirements for each review;
  • where progress is unsatisfactory, or the standard of work unacceptable, to ensure that the research student is made aware of this and that steps are taken in a timely fashion to develop a constructive plan for improvement;
  • to set target dates for successive stages of the work in order to encourage timely submission of the thesis (taking into account any additional disability-related needs or language support arrangements required by the research student);
  • to ensure that the research student is aware of other sources of advice at Faculty, Doctoral College and University level including:
  • to provide pastoral support and/or refer the research student to other sources of support, independent mentors and other student support services;
  • to check with the research student with regard to the effectiveness of any support they are receiving from the University services, and responding to any on-going or acute difficulties;
  • to liaise with external bodies and make arrangements with any external supervisors;
  • to keep the research student informed of events organised for, or open to, research students by the discipline/Faculty/University or externally, encouraging them to participate;
  • to arrange for the research student to present work to staff or peers at seminars or conferences; to arrange mentoring for publishing and grant writing; to encourage publication of work; and to act as a link between the research student and the wider academic community;
  • to participate in staff development activities to ensure competence in, and bring enhancement to, all aspects of the supervisory role.

Responsibilities in the later stage of supervision

  • to ensure that, where a research student is unable to submit a thesis within the required time (or funding period), a timely and reasoned application for extension of candidature is made in line with the Regulations Governing Special Considerations and Suspension of Candidature for Postgraduate Research Students;
  • to ensure arrangements are made for examination of the research student including the nomination of examiners in accordance with Faculty and University policy;
  • to ensure any additional examination arrangements are made for research students with a disability (see paragraph 101 of this Code (The Viva Voce));
  • to ensure that the research student is adequately prepared for the viva voce, arranging a practice examination if required.

Your First Supervisory Session

Your first supervision session is an essential part of establishing yourself as a PGR student and ensuring you are fully equipped to carry out your research.

With the help of your supervisor(s), the first session should be spent:

  • Clarifying the remit of the research and initial research questions
  • Assessing skills needs
  • Setting a timetable of supervision meetings, including meetings with individual supervisory team members and joint sessions
  • Carrying out a Risk Assessment of your work and completing the relevant forms

Once the first session has taken place, you should reflect on what’s been discussed and complete the Academic Needs Analysis forms and One Month Plan.

Supervisory Sessions

You are responsible for contacting your supervisors for appointments. If you are encountering particular, immediate difficulties then it is likely that you will contact your supervisor(s) as soon as these arise, acknowledging that they are not “on call” 24 hours per day nor every day of the week. However, your main interaction with your supervisor(s) will be through scheduled supervisory sessions; these sessions may vary in time, but you should make sure they are regular. Do not worry if the session overruns, but also be aware that your supervisor has a range of commitments and will be happy to arrange for a follow-on or a follow-up meeting if you or they feel that a particular issue has not been resolved in the time immediately available.

When part-time research students study at a distance from the University, Schools must ensure that satisfactory arrangements for regular and effective supervisory contact are in place, at least equivalent to the level of contact available to locally-based students. These must include a specified minimum number of face-to-face meetings, which may be supplemented by email, Skype, video-conferencing and other distance means. The minimum amount of contact you can expect each calendar year is 12 one-hour meetings if you are a full-time student and 6 one-hour meetings if you are studying part-time. These arrangements must be approved by the School or Department, monitored and reported on as part of the annual quality assurance process.

Changes to Supervisory Team

A change to supervision can be initiated either by you or by a member of the supervisory team and consultation between all parties should occur at an early stage. Changes to the main supervisor and/or the supervisory team must be approved by the Director of the Faculty Graduate School. Suitable handover arrangements should be implemented and the new supervisory relationship monitored by your Graduate School. The regulations around a change in supervision can be found in the Code of Practice.

Occasionally, the issue of conflict with a supervisor may arise. If that is the case, please liaise with a Faculty Senior Tutor or Faculty Graduate School Office in the first instance. Students can also receive free, independent and confidential advice from the SUSU Advice Centre

Important Note: If a supervisor is on study leave, they must continue supervisory meetings in whatever format is appropriate and ensure that administration tasks are carried out as necessary.

If a supervisor is on sick/maternity leave or retiring, they should contact your Faculty Graduate School Office and Doctoral Programme Director as soon as possible in order that the process for appointing a replacement supervisor can commence. 

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