PhD supervision, Biology department, University of York

Research Degree Supervision Eligibility
The following rules and guidelines apply to the supervision of all postgraduate research (PGR) students in Biology (MSc by Research, MPhil, PhD).

The overriding aim is to provide the best possible supervision to our PGR students. Our policy is to ensure appropriate and continuous supervision by research-active academic staff with relevant expertise and the correct level of supervisory experience. The guidance also covers student mentorship through Thesis Advisory Panels (TAPs).
Our expectation is that supervisors and TAP members will be permanent members of academic staff (at least 0.5 FTE), normally on a minimum of grade 7 (lecturer equivalent), with an independent research programme; this will be reflected by their publications (as senior author) and their efforts to attract external funding to support their research programme (research grant applications, some of which are successful).

Academic judgement is important for determining whether a student progresses or is awarded a PhD, thus is inherent to their roles as an internal examiner and/or a TAP member. In support of this, it is expected that academic staff undertake training in supervision as part of The Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP, or equivalent approved training from a previous position), which is a 60 credit Masters-level programme designed to both support and enhance the engagement of University of York staff with their academic responsibilities.

We usually expect PhD students to have at least two supervisors fitting the above description. Joint supervision is integral to the doctoral training grants held in Biology and is a requirement of an increasing number of funders, thus there is a move to see joint supervision for all PhD studentships in this department. Students benefit from exposure to and participation in interdisciplinary research from an early stage in their scientific career and develop more wide-ranging skills. In addition, with two supervisors, there is a built-in support system for when one supervisor is on research leave or absent for other reasons. This will be particularly critical for Tier 4 students who should always have two supervisors. There may be certain occasions when joint supervision is not appropriate, but this will be the exception rather than the rule and approval must be sought from the Chair of BGSB. MSc by Research students may have one or two supervisors.

The eligibility of associated staff for PGR student supervision is clarified below.

Probationary Lecturers
Probationary Lecturers can act as a main or co-supervisor of research students subject to them completing appropriate training (PGCAP), and to the second supervisor being experienced with a record of supervising PhD students to completion.

Probationary Lecturers can act as TAP members with a second experienced TAP member.

Independent Research Fellows
Independent Research Fellows can act as a main or co-supervisor of research students subject to them completing appropriate training (PGCAP), if their current funded position extends beyond the duration of the student’s research programme and with a second experienced supervisor. If their current funded position does not extend beyond the duration of the student’s research programme, they may act as co-supervisor.

Independent Research Fellows can act as TAP members with a second experienced TAP member.

Visiting and Honorary Staff
Visiting and Honorary staff can act as a co-supervisor of research students as long as they are available for the duration of the student’s research programme and that the students will have appropriate access and supervisory support. A second main supervisor from the permanent staff is required.

They can act as TAP members if they are available for the duration of the student’s research programme, the students will have appropriate access for advice and support and they confirm they will be available for all scheduled TAP meetings and formal reviews of progress. A second TAP member from the permanent staff is required.

Retired Staff
Retired Staff would normally be expected to cease work-related activities. However, there may be circumstances where retired members of academic staff, with HoD approval, may wish to continue to work in some capacity. In these cases, retired staff can act as a main or co-supervisor for existing research students with a second supervisor, if they remain research-active and the student will have appropriate access and supervisory support. Retired staff would not be expected to supervise new PGR students.

Similarly, retired staff can continue to act as TAP members for existing research students but not take on new TAP memberships.

Postdoctoral Research Associates
Postdoctoral Research Associates can be part of a student’s “supervisory team” (see below) but not act as a main or co-supervisor. It is acknowledged that PDRAs can be heavily involved in a student’s research project and benefit from gaining experience in supervision; however a full supervisory role is not appropriate at this early career stage.
Similarly, it is inappropriate for PDRAs to be TAP members.

Cross-Departmental and Cross-Institutional Supervisors
Persons (meeting the eligibility criteria described above) from other departments or institutions can act as co-supervisors for PGR students registered in Biology. Eligible University of York staff from other departments may also sit on TAPs with a second TAP member from Biology.

Technology Facility Staff
TF staff may act as co-supervisors, with an experienced main supervisor, if they can demonstrate that they fit the eligibility criteria described above; that they are research-active with an independent research programme, reflected by publications and external grant applications.

Additional Information
The Department may consider a particular funding opportunity for a PhD studentship to be in the long term strategic interest of the department; for example building a relationship with an industrial partner to promote further research projects and support external grant proposals. In those cases where member of staff does not fit these eligibility criteria, an exception may be made and they may be allowed to jointly supervise the student. The PhD project and supervisory team will require approval from the Director of Graduate studies and will be considered on a case by case basis.

Supervisory Teams
In addition to a postgraduate student’s two supervisors, there can be external partners, Technology Facility staff, PDRAs or teaching fellows involved in a PhD project who can, on occasions, form part of a supervisory team as “Assistant Supervisors”. Assistant Supervisors can advise at lab meetings and other project meetings to discuss progress as well as providing general mentorship. Assistant Supervisors will not have a role in determining the academic progression of a PhD student; however with the student’s agreement they are welcome to attend TAP meetings to advise on training and research.