Accessibility statement

5. Supervision


Supervisors play a fundamental role in supporting PGRs throughout their studies. The University recognises, however, that the exact nature of the supervisory process will vary depending on the academic discipline and associated research environment.

Appointment of supervisors


Each PGR will have one or more supervisors. Supervisors are appointed by the Head of Department (or their delegate), in consultation with the Graduate Chair. 


Where more than one supervisor is appointed, one supervisor will be clearly identified as the main supervisor and first point of contact for the PGR.


The main supervisor must be a member of the University’s Academic, Research or Teaching staff on a permanent contract or a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the expected completion date of their PGR’s programme and they should not be planning to leave the University’s employment before the PGR’s expected completion date. The main supervisor will normally be on a minimum of grade 7 (lecturer equivalent). Where a main supervisor’s contract does not specify research supervision and/or the member of staff is at grade 6 (associate lecturer equivalent), it is the responsibility of the Head of Department to ensure that the appointment is appropriate. The main supervisor must have an appropriate level of current expertise in the PGR’s field of research and the supervisor’s ability to meet their responsibilities should not be put at risk as a result of an excessive volume or range of other responsibilities.


A subsidiary supervisor (departments are free to use the term second or co-supervisor if they prefer) should normally be appointed when research is being conducted across departments, across institutions, or based in industry or professional practice; in the case of research being conducted across institutions, or based in industry or professional practice, the appointment may be external to the University. A subsidiary supervisor might be appointed when a research project is highly interdisciplinary. Emeritus, honorary and probationary academic staff are eligible to serve as subsidiary supervisors.


A subsidiary supervisor must be appointed if the main supervisor has not yet seen (either as the main supervisor or as an active subsidiary supervisor) a PGR through to successful completion of the PGR programme in question (or a PGR programme at a higher level*). The Graduate Chair shall have the authority to determine whether a main supervisor’s previous experience is sufficient for them to be appointed as a sole supervisor (where applicable). In this case, the role of the subsidiary supervisor is to serve as an advisor/mentor to the main supervisor, in addition to providing additional supervisory support for the PGR. The individual appointed as a subsidiary supervisor should, therefore, be a member of University’s ART staff with experience of successful PGR supervision. (*i.e. if a supervisor has overseen the successful completion of a PhD PGR, they may then serve as the sole supervisor for PhD, MPhil and MA/MSc (by research) PGRs but a supervisor who has only overseen the successful completion of a MA/MSc (by research) PGR may only serve as the sole supervisor for MA/MSc (by research) PGRs.)


Where a subsidiary supervisor is appointed, there should be clear agreement, preferably in writing, between the PGR and the supervisors with regard to how the relationship will be managed, for example the respective responsibilities of the supervisors, how the formal supervisory meetings will be arranged, and how information will be shared between the parties. Where a subsidiary supervisor is appointed from another department/centre within the University, it is recommended that the fees are split as follows: 20% to the lead department/centre, and the remainder of the fees split between the supervising departments/centres in line with the supervisory load.

Training and monitoring of supervisors


New supervisors (including those based outside the University of York) are expected to undertake the Becoming an Effective Supervisor (BEST) online tutorial. It is also recommended to existing supervisors in need of a refresher course. 


The University believes that effective supervision is a skill that is best learnt experientially, with the support of more experienced colleagues (the apprenticeship model). Departments should, therefore, encourage staff who are new to supervision to gain experience of the supervisory process through serving as subsidiary supervisors and on Thesis Advisory Panels. A main supervisor who has not seen a PGR through to successful completion of the PGR programme in question (or a PGR programme at a higher level) should be paired with an experienced subsidiary supervisor (see above for details).


Departments should encourage those new to supervision, or in need of updating their skills and knowledge, to take a training course in supervision. RETT provides training opportunities for new and existing supervisors and an introductory session on supervision is an optional component of the University’s Postgraduate Certificate of Academic Practice for new academic staff.


PGRs are asked about the supervision that they receive at every Thesis Advisory Panel meeting. Departments should ensure that any problems highlighted through this mechanism are dealt with appropriately by the Head of Department (or their delegate).

Supervisory meetings


The purpose and likely frequency of supervisory meetings, both formal and informal, at different stages of the PGR programme, should be made clear to the PGR by the supervisor, at the departmental induction at the outset of the programme, and in the department’s handbook for PGRs. PGRs and supervisors are jointly responsible for ensuring that regular and frequent contact is maintained and both parties should feel able to take the initiative when necessary. A meeting with the supervisor, if requested by the PGR, should normally take place within one week.


Formal supervisory meetings, at which substantial discussion of, and feedback on, research progress and plans and a conversation about development and training needs take place, are vital for ensuring that a PGR’s research project remains on target. Formal supervision meetings must be held at least every 6-7 weeks throughout the calendar year for both full-time and part-time PGRs (including visiting PGRs) during the normal enrolment period and more frequently if a Graduate School Board prescribes. This equates to a minimum of eight formal Supervision meetings per calendar year. This requirement may only be temporarily waived by the Graduate School Board of the department concerned where the PGR is absent on academic grounds and unable (e.g. due to the fieldwork location) to participate in a supervisory meeting by alternative means, normally video-conferencing.


A record of each formal supervisory meeting should be drawn up by the PGR, approved by the supervisor, and saved on SkillsForge, in order to be accessible to both. The record should include the date of the meeting, a summary of the content of the meeting and future actions to be performed, including agreed training.

Absence and replacement of a supervisor


PGRs should be informed of who would be their first point of contact if their main supervisor were to be temporarily unavailable. This would normally be the subsidiary supervisor, if one has been appointed, or, if not, another member of their Thesis Advisory Panel. 


In the event of a main supervisor becoming unable to continue supervising a PGR, a replacement supervisor should be appointed, after consultation with the PGR, within one month of the main supervisor becoming unavailable. In the meantime, the designated person (see above) should assume the role of the main supervisor. Heads of Departments should liaise with Graduate Chairs regarding forthcoming resignations from the University of members of staff with supervisory responsibility for PGRs. Chairs should as soon as practicable inform PGRs formally in writing if their supervisor resigns, giving information on the arrangements for continued supervision.


During the normal period of enrolment, if a PGR’s research project is dependent on the supervision of a single, specialist member of academic staff and that member of staff leaves the University, or is otherwise unable to continue supervising the PGR, then the department must seek to make alternative, comparable arrangements to supervise the PGR to complete their research degree. This may involve supporting the PGR’s transfer to another institution (see section 7), or it may involve seeking comparable specialist supervision from outside the University so that the PGR can complete their PGR programme at York. 


If a PGR is unhappy with their supervision they should attempt to resolve the matter informally in the first instance. If they feel unable to discuss this directly with their supervisor, or the problem remains unresolved having done this, then they should feel free to talk confidentially about the problem with another member of their Thesis Advisory Panel, the Graduate Chair, the Head of Department or other relevant departmental officer. If the problem remains unresolved, or if the PGR feels unable to approach the aforementioned members of their department, the PGR should arrange to speak in confidence to the Dean of YGRS, who will advise the PGR on the options available to them, which might include mediation with the department (see also section 14 on complaints). The GSA can also provide independent advice.


If a supervisor is unhappy with their supervisory relationship with their PGR they should attempt to resolve the matter informally in the first instance. If they feel unable to discuss this directly with their PGR, or the problem remains unresolved having done this, then they should raise the matter with the Graduate Chair or their Head of Department.


By mutual agreement between the PGR and the department, and where permitted by the terms of the research council (or other sponsor/funding body), supervisory responsibilities can be changed, at the request of either the PGR or a supervisor.


The academic judgement as to whether an alternative supervisory arrangement is adequate for the PGR’s research project ultimately rests with the Graduate School Board.