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.
Each PGR will have a main supervisor who is their first point of contact.
Departments are encouraged, where practicable, to appoint a supervisory team, ie to appoint one or more co-supervisors in addition to the main supervisor. A co-supervisor:
a. must be appointed when the main supervisor is inexperienced (see below);
b. should normally be appointed, from a different disciplinary perspective, when research is highly interdisciplinary;
c. should normally be appointed, from the partner department, when research is being conducted across departments;
d. will often be appointed, from an external partner, when research is being conducted across institutions, or is based in industry (or other non-academic partner) or professional practice;
e. may be appointed to bring particular knowledge, skill or experience to a supervisory team and/or to serve a particular role eg to provide pastoral support.
Main and co-supervisors are appointed by the Head of Department (or their delegate), in consultation with the Graduate Chair. The academic judgement as to whether any supervisory arrangement is adequate for the PGR’s research project ultimately rests with the Graduate School Board.
The main supervisor should be a member of the University’s Academic or Research staff (ie on a Teaching and Research, or Research, contract) (including probationary staff) at a minimum of grade 7 (lecturer/research fellow) and on a permanent contract or a fixed-term contract that extends beyond the expected completion date of the PGR’s programme (and who has not committed to leave the University’s employment before the PGR’s expected completion date). Where appropriate, the Head of Department may appoint as a main supervisor a member of Teaching staff (ie on a Teaching and Scholarship contract - note that any papers co-authored between a PGR and a member of Teaching staff may not be REF-able, seek up to date advice from PIP) or a member of Academic, Research or Teaching staff at grade 6 (associate lecturer equivalent).
The main supervisor must have an appropriate level of current expertise in the PGR’s field of research and their ability to meet their responsibilities should not be put at risk as a result of an excessive volume or range of other responsibilities.
The following are eligible to serve as co-supervisors but not as main supervisors: research fellows (who do not meet the requirements to serve as a main supervisor), emeritus and honorary academic staff at the University of York; academic staff based in other academic institutions; researchers based in industry (or other non-academic partners) or professional practice.
Where one or more co-supervisors is appointed, there should be clear agreement, preferably in writing (eg on SkillsForge), between the PGR and their 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. Departments should, if possible, avoid appointing a main and co-supervisor who are in a close personal relationship.
Where a co-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 (ie the one administering the PGR), and the remainder of the fees split between the supervising departments/centres in line with the supervisory load.
Where there is a change of supervisor (see below) or change of supervisory role (eg from main to co-supervisor, see below) all parties need to agree and record in SkillsForge how the change will work in practice (eg clear expectations around participation in supervisory meetings).
The University has a duty of care to its PGRs, to ensure that they are provided with supervision that meets their needs, and to its supervisors, to ensure that they are prepared for this challenging role. The University discharges this duty of care through its expectation for supervisors to undertake professional development, in the form of supported experiential learning and a mandatory online tutorial. Those with less supervisory experience have more extensive professional development requirements and also serve an informal ‘supervisory probation’ period until they have supported - as a main supervisor - a York PhD PGR through to successful completion.
Departments should ensure that staff who are new to an academic career are given opportunities to gain experience of the supervisory process through serving on Thesis Advisory Panels and as co-supervisors. Postdocs are encouraged to train as a PGR mentor on the University PGR Mentoring Scheme.
For the purpose of the professional development section of this policy ONLY (ie separate rules apply to the requirement around the mentoring of inexperienced supervisors), a supervisor may be defined as a ‘new supervisor’ if they have not - as a main supervisor - overseen a PhD PGR through to successful completion at any institution within the UK/Ireland; a ‘supervisor new to York’ if they have not - as a main supervisor - overseen a PhD PGR through to successful completion at the University of York but have done so at another institution within the UK/Ireland; or an ‘experienced supervisor’ if they have - as a main supervisor - overseen at least one PhD PGR through to successful completion at the University of York.
New supervisors (whether serving in a main or co-supervisor role) are required to undertake professional development as follows:
Supervisors new to York (whether serving in a main or co-supervisor role) are required to undertake professional development as follows:
Experienced supervisors (whether serving in a main or co-supervisor role) are required to undertake professional development as follows:
Departments should monitor the completion of mandatory and expected professional development activities by supervisors. If a supervisor does not complete a mandatory professional development activity, the Graduate Chair should intervene and if necessary refer the matter to the Head of Department for action with reference to the Statement of Research Performance Expectations. If a supervisor does not complete an expected professional development activity this should be addressed through the performance review process.
Supervisors external to the University of York based in industry or similar are encouraged to complete the BERST online tutorial, with a refresher every three years. Supervisors external to the University of York based in other academic institutions are encouraged - or, depending on the nature of the arrangement, may be required - to complete the BERST online tutorial, with a refresher every three years. Completion - where required - should be overseen by the York supervisor, with any issues being referred to the Graduate Chair.
If an individual appointed as a main supervisor has not - as a main supervisor (regardless of jurisdiction) - overseen a PGR through to successful completion of the PGR degree in question or a PGR degree at a higher level* they must be supported by a co-supervisor. The co-supervisor should be a member of University staff (who is eligible to be a main supervisor) and have a track record of successful PhD supervision. The role of the co-supervisor is to serve as an advisor/mentor to the main supervisor, in addition to providing additional supervisory support to the PGR. [*Eg supervisor who has - as a main supervisor - only overseen the successful completion of an MA/MSc (by research) PGR would require a co-supervisor to serve as the main supervisor of a PhD PGR but not to serve as the main supervisor for further MA/MSc (by research) PGRs.]
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 PGR handbook. 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 six to seven weeks throughout the enrolment 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 enrolment 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 (eg due to the fieldwork location) to participate in a supervisory meeting by alternative means, normally video-conferencing.
Formal supervisory meetings should normally be held in person (unless a PGR is on an approved distance learning programme, or on an approved collaborative programme that requires residence away from York, or they are undertaking an approved period away from York (for example, for data collection, placement or mobility period).
A record of each formal supervisory meeting should be drawn up by the PGR, approved by the supervisor(s), 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. The department is ultimately responsible for ensuring that formal supervisory meetings happen on time and are correctly recorded.
There is no University requirement for the frequency of informal supervision meetings, although this may be prescribed by a department. In practice, the frequency of informal supervision meetings will depend on a range of factors including disciplinary and departmental norms, the relationship between the PGR and supervisor(s), and the needs of the PGR. Informal supervisory meetings may be held in person or online as long as all parties are in agreement.
Sometimes the relationship between a PGR and a supervisor can become strained or, in rare cases, break down. Where a supervisory relationship is not working as well as it might, the PGR and the supervisor are encouraged, in the first instance, to discuss the issue together and attempt to find a resolution. If the PGR feels unable to discuss the issue directly with the supervisor, or the issue remains unresolved having done this, or a discussion would be inappropriate, there are a number of options: (i) review of supervision route, (ii) request to change supervisor, (iii) complaints route. PGRs are reminded that if they have a supervisory issue but do not raise it, action cannot be taken to resolve it.
Whatever the issue, and whatever option a PGR wishes to pursue, the GSA can provide independent advice and support.
PGRs should feel free to talk confidentially about a supervisory issue with another member of their Thesis Advisory Panel (TAP), the Graduate Chair (or their alternate), or other departmental officer (as set out in the department’s PGR handbook).
Towards the end of each TAP meeting (see section 8), the non-supervisory TAP member(s) should encourage the PGR to complete and submit the Review of Supervision form, thereby offering the PGR an opportunity to discuss their supervisory relationship in a safe environment. The Review of Supervision form can also be completed independently of the TAP process. Review of Supervision forms are triaged by the department's Graduate Administrator and, where appropriate, sent to the Graduate Chair (or their alternate where the Graduate Chair is the PGR’s supervisor) for action.
If a PGR feels unable to flag their concerns within their department (directly or via the Review of Supervision form) they can arrange to speak in confidence to one of the Faculty PGR leads.
When a supervisory issue is raised with a member of staff (directly or via the Review of Supervision form), they will advise the PGR of possible solutions. Some issues may be easily resolved, others may involve an offer of a facilitated discussion between the PGR and the supervisor and/or their department.
PGRs should be reassured that if they raise a supervisory issue in confidence via the Review of Suprevison route (including via the Review of Supervision form) that it will not be disclosed to the supervisor concerned without the PGR’s explicit written consent, although this may limit the options available for action. Options for action that do not require supervisory disclosure may include interventions that do not target an individual supervisor (eg changing departmental policy or providing training for all departmental supervisors) or direct support to the affected PGR (eg training to help them address the situation and/or signposting tor University or GSA advice and support services).
A PGR can make a request to their department to change supervisor. PGRs may give a reason for their request or make the request on a ‘no blame’ basis. Departments should endeavour to fulfil reasonable requests (note that this extends only to the request to change, not the choice of the replacement supervisor). If a department does not believe there are any ground for a change of supervisor (or that a request is frivolous or vexatious), the case should be referred to the PGR Faculty Lead for arbitration (or the PGR Faculty Lead for another faculty if the PGR is in the Faculty Lead's department).
Occasionally, a PGR may request a change of supervisor but this is not possible due to unresolvable expertise or funder/sponsor issues [note that funder/sponsor issues should almost always be resolvable when the funding is from or paid via the University]. In this case, other options should be explored: for example, a department might appoint a new main supervisor and retain the existing supervisor as a co-supervisor (perhaps where that individual has knowledge vital for oversight of the PGR’s research project) or appoint additional co-supervisors.
A PGR is entitled to instigate the complaints procedure (see section 14) if they believe they have a case, for example in relation to the adequacy of supervision. There is a specific procedure for raising concerns about staff misconduct, which could include harassment or bullying within a supervisory relationship.
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 the issue directly with their PGR, or the issue remains unresolved having done this, then they should raise the matter with the Graduate Chair (or alternate).
PGRs should be informed who would be their first point of contact if their main supervisor were to be temporarily unavailable. This would normally be the co-supervisor, if one has been appointed, or, if not, another member of their Thesis Advisory Panel.
Heads of Departments should liaise with Graduate Chairs regarding forthcoming resignations from the University, or any likelihood of prolonged absence eg for personal reasons, of members of staff with supervisory responsibility for PGRs. Departments should, as soon as practicable, inform PGRs formally in writing if a supervisor resigns or has to step aside, giving information on the arrangements for continued supervision.
In the event of a main supervisor becoming unable to continue supervising a PGR on a permanent or long-term basis, 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 absent supervisor. Appropriate arrangements should also be made where co-supervisors become unable to continue supervising a PGR on a permanent or long-term basis.
During the normal period of enrolment, if a PGR’s research project (as agreed on entry) is dependent on the supervision of a single, specialist member of academic staff and that individual leaves the University, or is otherwise unable to continue supervising the PGR, then the department must seek to make alternative, comparable arrangements to enable 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 appointing a specialist co-supervisor from another institution (paid for by the department if necessary) so that the PGR can complete their PGR programme at the University of York.
If a PGR wishes to change their research project substantially (and where applicable, this change has been approved by funder/sponsor) such that their allocated supervisor(s) is(are) no longer able to supervise this research, the department should endeavour to find an alternate supervisor(s) in the new research area (either from within the department or another department within the University - the latter may be subject to a transfer of resources to the other department). If that is not possible then the University will not be bound to provide alternative external supervision and the PGR will be advised to transfer to another institution.
- Appendix 1: Policy on the recording of second progress review meetings and oral examinations for research degrees
- Appendix 2: Policy on PhD/EngD and MPhil PGR progression
- Appendix 3: PGR Academic Misconduct policy
- Appendix 4: Paid parental leave policy
- Appendix 5: Policy framework for distance learning PGR programmes
- Appendix 6: Policy framework for collaborative off-site and collaborative split-site PGR programmes
- Appendix 7: Policy framework for integrated PhD programmes
- Appendix 8: Policy and process for the appointment of examiners for research degrees
- Appendix 9: Guidance for Examiners on Degree Outcomes