Research Student Handbook

Research Supervision

Research Supervision

You can download a copy of the 2021/2 PGR Supervisor Agreement for discussion with your supervisor/student.

Supervision is a relationship requiring mutual trust and respect.

Students have the right to expect regular, high quality advice, support and direction in their quest for academic excellence.

Supervisors have the right to expect a high level of commitment from their students who should respond positively to advice and guidance and will develop an increasing level of independence in the conduct of their research. 

The University recognises the need for a set of ground rules that outline the nature of this relationship. This general framework can be found in the Code of Good Practice - Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students.  This document provides the background rules, policies and practices to which the College, supervisors, pastoral tutors and students have to adhere, and sets out both the rights and responsibilities of all parties.

Each research student is allocated to a supervisory team, to see them through their studies. This team usually comprises three members of academic staff as follows: 

  • First (Lead) Supervisor: has expertise in your chosen research area and/or methodology;
  • Second Supervisor:    brings a different perspective on the research process;
  • PGR Pastoral Tutor:   helps with any non-academic issues that may arise.

Initial supervisory meeting

Research students are required to meet with their full supervision team within three weeks of their initial registration with the University. At this meeting you and your supervisors are required to complete a 2021/2 PGR Supervisor Agreement and a Training Needs Analysis form, and upload these documents to your MyPGR record, along with a write-up of your supervision meeting. Your supervision agreement and training needs analysis should then be reviewed on an annual basis and an updated version of each document should be uploaded by the student to MyPGR each year.

Frequency of contact

The minimum frequency of formal supervision meetings are as follows:

  • For full-time students: 10 times a year, at regular intervals
  • For part-time students: six times a year, at regular intervals  (or equivalent depending on part time attendance)
  • For continuation students: three times a year, at regular intervals (roughly once a term)

Mode of contact

Normally, supervision meetings should be held face-to-face but where this is not possible contact may be made via email, telephone, or Microsoft Teams, and recorded as a formal supervision meeting. This should be agreed in advance between you and your supervisor(s) and included in the Supervision Agreement Form.

Records of supervision meetings

Students are required to maintain detailed records of each supervision meeting, which should include information regarding matters discussed and any agreed actions. Use of the online MyPGR system (see Section 4 for further details) to record these meetings is compulsory. Once you have uploaded the record of the meeting, your supervisor(s) will review, comment on, and sign off the record.

Reviewing progress and training

Three times a year a formal progress review meeting should take place in which you and both of your supervisors specifically discuss your academic progress and training. Following these meetings, a report on matters discussed should be entered on to MyPGR, by the student. A review of your training needs should be included in the report.

We want you to enjoy your experience as a PGR student in The Universoity of Exeter Business School and for it to help you become a confident, independent and critical researcher. We want you to feel supported by us and challenged by us; to that end, we outline here a clear set of expectations that should help your supervisory experience to be constructive and fulfilling.

We expect you to:

  • Take responsibility and show independence in managing your doctoral study, including:
    • Ensuring you understand the academic conventions of writing a thesis and know where to find support, if needed;
    • Complying with norms relating to academic integrity and the avoidance of plagiarism;
    • discussing the 2021/2 PGR Supervisor Agreement with your supervisory team and signing your acceptance at the start of each academic year; discussing your research training needs annually, using the research training needs analysis form;
    • Carefully considering the feedback from your supervisors: we do not expect you to agree with everything, but in cases of disagreement, please note this in MyPGR;
  • Fulfil your responsibility to maintain your record in MyPGR, including;
    • Maintaining records in MyPGR, summarising the key points of the supervisory discussion, and  specifying actions to be taken;
    • Keeping your supervisors informed of conference attendance, publications planned, and any periods of absence.
  • Take part in the Annual Monitoring Review process;
  • Understand that your supervisors may not be available outside of arranged appointment times;

You can expect your supervisor to:

  • Understand the expectations of supervision and examining as set out in the TQA Manual;
  • Establish clearly, through the 2021/2 PGR Supervisor Agreement,  the role of first and second supervisors and patterns of contact throughout the year;
  • Hold a supervisory meeting at least ten times through the year (six for part-time): this may be face-to-face, through Skype or equivalent; or via email;
  • Provide timely, critical and constructive written feedback;
  • Review your progress through the Annual Monitoring Review process;
  • Instigate the Unsatisfactory Academic Progress procedure if  you are not progressing at a rate likely to lead to submission of your thesis within the appropriate time limit;
  • Instigate the Health Wellbeing and Support for Study procedure if ill health impedes your progress;
  • Engage in PGR supervisory developmental activity. 

You can expect the University to:

  • Provide research supervision;
  • Provide a personal tutor who will contact you once a term, and advise you where to find support, if needed;
  • Provide shared or communal study space;
  • Provide opportunities to participate in an active research community;
  • Provide additional support for your studies through, for example, the Researcher Development Programme; AccessAbility; INTO Exeter; and the Guild of Students/FXU.

Why is Feedback Important?

An essential part of the supervisor’s role is to provide feedback to research students on research plans and possible methodologies, on the work that they produce, and on their progress towards delivering work at the appropiate standard. As you progress through your research project, the nature of this feedback will change as you become the expert in the specific field that you are investigating. However, what is constant throughout the process is the expectation that feedback should not simply be a one-way process of ‘expert advice’ from the supervisor to be passively accepted by the research student, but a two-way process of discussion and combined analysis of the research in question. Feedback should have an active dimension, and may consist mostly of questions by the supervisor rather than statements, and effective feedback is often elicited by the research student asking for advice on specific issues. The feedback process should be an active learning process, not the passive acceptance of advice, or simply a process of ‘error correction’.

You should agree with your supervisors the timing, format and expectations regarding feedback and confirm in your 2021/2 PGR Supervisor Agreement

What Should you Expect?

Timely feedback: If you present your supervisor(s) with written work to consider, you will need to give them time to read it and produce comments. Thus you should submit such work well ahead of any scheduled meeting. (Check with your supervisor how much time is appropriate.) It is important to agree on such timescales to allow supervisors to balance this work with other work they are engaged in, and also to ensure that the feedback you receive is not unduly delayed.

Critical and constructive feedback: Although giving positive feedback is relatively easy (and gratefully received) it is often necessary to provide more critical feedback. A principal aim of feedback is to help you improve your work, so much time will be spent discussing what is not working. For students who have doubts about their work or who feel insecure, this can be difficult. However, the aim should always be constructive criticality, and entering into discussion about the value of your work is not only important as a learning process, but is also good preparation for the viva examination when you will have to defend your thesis. All feedback, including more critical and negative feedback, is useful, so take notes when discussing such feedback so you can think things through later, and check with your supervisor that you’ve understood the feedback given.

Detailed or global feedback? The feedback you receive may be very detailed, looking at specific wording or analyses of data, or it may be more global, looking at the argument as a whole, or how a particular piece of work you have done fits into the thesis as a whole (or the wider academic literature). Be prepared to hear feedback at all ‘levels’.

Preparation for Feedback

It is worth considering asking for feedback on specific areas of your work prior to a supervisory meeting. You may want to consider submitting questions along with any written work relating to issues you have found problematic. For example, you could ask for feedback on areas such as structure, quality of evidence, flow of ideas, style, or visual arrangement of data. As mentioned above, a more active approach to feedback helps the learning process.

Feedback on Draft Written Work

Supervisors should provide guidance on the writing and preparation of the thesis, including commenting on at least one draft.

Much of the feedback you receive will be ‘referential’, dealing with editorial issues and comments on organisation and content. Sometimes the feedback will be more ‘directional’, and make explicit suggestions for changing the work. At other times the feedback will be more ‘expressive’, providing praise, criticism or opinion.

Regarding editing advice and comments on language use, there is great variety amongst supervisors, with some being prepared to guide on spelling and grammar, whereas other see their role principally in terms of offering guidance on the development of  ideas and the structuring of thoughts.

Supervisors are not expected, however, to undertake substantial editing or revision of a draft thesis. Ultimately, you are responsible for your work and the supervisor's’ responsibility is to give you guidance.

It is worth discussing this with your supervisor(s) and if you are aware that your English language skills need support, do take advantage of the free INTO Insessional English Language Courses, and/or the fee-based copy-editing service. Supervisors in general prefer not to spend their time correcting poor English, so do ensure that work that you present to them is always appropriately checked and proof-read.

Sometimes feedback will concern the style of writing, rather than issues of English language grammar usage. This is normal, and relates to academic conventions and disciplinary expectations, and is a common area of discussion.

Agreed Actions after Supervisory Meetings

Much of your feedback will come from supervisory meetings. Remember that you must write up these meetings and any action points arising in MyPGR. This succinct review of what you have discussed is an excellent way of focusing on the essential elements of the feedback you have been given.

Supervisor leaving the University

If your supervisor resigns or retires from the University they should inform the discipline DPGR as soon as possible so that a new supervisor can be appointed, and so you can be informed. 

If it is in your best interests that the services of your original supervisor be retained, the discipline DPGR will need to make a case to the College DPGR, seeking to retain the academic as an external supervisor. An external supervisor can only act as second supervisor so a member of University staff must be appointed as first supervisor, responsible for your progress and for ensuring that all relevant regulations and Codes of Practice are followed.

Student requests for change of supervisor

When a student wishes to request that their supervisor be changed they should discuss the matter with their PGR pastoral tutor or the discipline DPGR in the first instance. If their supervisor is the discipline DPGR, then the student should discuss this with their head of discipline. Requests to change supervisor should be made with the change of supervisor form, which must be completed by yourself, your current supervisor and your new supervisor before the request can be considered.

Continuity of supervision

In all cases of a change of supervisor, it is the responsibility of the initial supervisor to fully brief their successor.

Authorisation of change to supervisory arrangements

Any change to supervisory arrangements requires the approval of the College DPGR, and requests should be made on the appropriate form, available from the PGR Support Team.

The University’s Code of Good Practice on the Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students applies when a change of supervisor is necessary.

Well before study leave is taken a supervisor should consider whether or not he/she intends to continue supervision. The University's Code of Good Practice on the Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students states that supervisors and co-supervisors normally continue their supervisory responsibilities while on study leave. An important consideration in deciding whether the supervisor should continue or be replaced is the best interests of the student. Relevant to this are how far the student has progressed with their research, the location of the supervisor whilst on leave, the availability of a replacement supervisor, and the acceptability to the student of proposed contact and supervision arrangements. The final decision lies with the discipline Director of Postgraduate Research, and the student should be informed of the outcome as soon as possible. If the supervisor is to be replaced, all relevant provisions in the above section should be followed.

The ‘PGR Pastoral Tutor’ is a designated member of academic staff with a responsibility to provide pastoral support to specified PGR students at their request. The PGR Pastoral Tutor should be a member of academic staff at the University of Exeter who is eligible supervise research students. The PGR Pastoral Tutor must not be the Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent) at either the College or Discipline level.

UEBS PGR pastoral tutors follow the guidelines laid out in the Postgraduate Research Handbook: Supervision of postgraduate research students: code of good practice

Please refer to the PGR Pastoral Tutor Policy for futher details. 

Role of PGR Pastoral Tutor

A PGR Pastoral Tutor is a designated member of academic staff with a responsibility to provide pastoral support for you at your request, which may include providing advice for you in cases when difficulties arise between you and your supervisor(s), but may also involve non-academic matters, such as health & wellbeing matters, family and personal circumstances where you need support or to discuss financial concerns etc. Every student has a PGR Pastoral Tutor appointed alongside their supervisors. As PGR Pastoral Tutors are not necessarily subject specialists, they may be replaced when on study leave.

In the Business School, students can expect the following from their Pastoral Tutors:

  • To act as a friendly mentor / coach who is independent of the supervision team and provide students with support that relates to their holistic experience of doing the PhD (i.e., not only their progress, but also their work-life balance, engagement in departmental activities and training and career thoughts / intentions).
  • Your pastoral tutor is not an expert on all of these matters; nor are they a counsellor. However, they are a supportive sounding board in the case of any issues and can help direct you to the relevant staff or support services who can assist with your concerns.
  • Your pastoral tutor will discuss with you concerns you have about your academic progress but they will NOT provide supervisory input or feedback on your research.  
  • Your pastoral tutor may offer advice and support in cases where difficulties arise between you and your supervisors, but responsibility for any intervention resides with the relevant discipline DPGR or the College DPGR.
  • Your pastoral tutor will treat any concerns that you raise to them as confidential, and will not contact anybody regarding your situation without your permission. The only exception to this is where they believe you are in imminent danger of harming yourself or another where specialist University support services will be contacted.  
  • At the start of each academic year, you will be able to indicate your preference for a pastoral tutor within or outside of your deptment. Your pastoral tutor may change during your degree due to staff availability and reallocations. You will find your pastoral tutor on your MyPGR page.
  • Your pastoral tutor is responsible for contacting you by email to arrange biannual one-to-one meetings. 
  • You can reach out to your pastoral tutor whenever you feel you need assistance and they will respond to your requests in a timely fashion.
  • Your pastoral tutor is not your only point of contact for any concerns that you have: they are there to provide additional, personal support. Remember you can also contact directly for assistance: your discipline DPGR and the College DPGR, the UEBS PGR Support Team, , Wellbeing, and the PGR Welfare officer (ESAW PGR), Cathryn Baker. 

Initial meeting with PGR Pastoral Tutor

Research students are expected to meet their PGR Pastoral Tutor as soon as possible after registration.  These meetings may differ between disciplines.  

Frequency and mode of contact with PGR Pastoral Tutor

Your PGR Pastoral Tutor will contact you at least once per term (by email, telephone, video conferencing, or in person) to offer you the opportunity, if it is needed, for advice and support on pastoral matters which are adversely affecting your ability to study, and to ensure that a record of this contact be recorded in MyPGR.

Records of meetings

Your PGR Pastoral Tutor should make a written record of any significant matters in your MyPGR record. It is worth noting that these records are considered confidential and therefore are not available to supervisors on MyPGR.

Student Gifts

Students are asked not to offer gifts to academic staff. Students from cultures in which the giving of small gifts is regarded as a normal courtesy are requested to co-operate with this in order to avoid embarrassment to staff.

Personal Relationships between Student and Supervisor

If a personal relationship develops between a supervisor and a student, the supervisor must declare it to the Associate Dean for Research in accordance with the University’s Code of Professional Conduct: Relations Between Staff and Students and Between Staff.  The most appropriate course will almost invariably be that a replacement supervisor is appointed. If you feel that your supervisor is making unwanted advances, you should look at the section on Harrassment and look at the University’s policy on Harassment and Bullying. You can also contact one of the University’s dignity and respect advisors.