Swansea University

Guide to Research Supervision

Guide to Research Supervision

1.1 Your thesis must be your own work, for which you have taken responsibility.

You should, however, expect to have effective supervision arrangements which provide you with regular, high quality, support, advice and guidance while you are enrolled as a research student. All students will be allocated a supervisory team. At a minimum, you will be assigned two supervisors throughout the duration of your programme of study. This is from the time of your initial enrolment until completion of the examination process (including resubmission if applicable).

1.2 Your Primary/First Supervisor will normally be your main contact throughout your research student journey and will have overall responsibility for your academic supervision. The academic input of the Secondary Supervisor will vary from case to case. The principal role of the Secondary Supervisor is often as a first port of call should your Primary/First Supervisor become unavailable. The University recognises that supervision practice may vary between disciplines and Colleges/Schools. For example, some Colleges/Schools actively encourage or require students to work as part of a group or team which may include one or more additional supervisors to complement the work of the Primary/First and Secondary Supervisors. Typically, this may be a supervisor from industry or a specific area of professional practice (e.g. medicine) to support the research. External supervisors may also be drawn from other Universities. Such arrangements would be put in place by your College/School. The College/School and/or the Academic Regulations and Cases Board ensure that all external supervisors have the necessary qualifications and experience to support your research.

1.3 One of your supervisors, normally your Primary/First Supervisor, will act as Director of Studies, with primary responsibility for supporting you on a pastoral level and for the administrative oversight of your candidature. He/She will be responsible for guiding you in administrative matters and for ensuring that your progress is reported to the Progression and Awards Board.

1.4 You should ensure that you have received information on the specific arrangements in place regarding the role of your supervisors.

2. What You Can Expect From Your Primary/First Supervisor

Your Primary/First Supervisor has a variety of roles. In broad terms he/she is your academic advisor, tutor and champion. You can normally expect your Primary/First Supervisor to:

  • Provide regular supervision. The frequency of supervision will vary during the duration of the research. You can expect more intensive supervision in the first year and final year when your supervisor will be reading and commenting on drafts of the thesis. At a minimum, there must be at least three formal supervisions via face-to-face meetings each year and the discussion and action points arising should be summarised in a formal written record.  It is the responsibility of the supervisor to keep records of the supervisory sessions, to ensure the student is sent an electronic copy of the record of the meeting, and for electronic copies of the record to be kept within the College centrally.  Your College/School should advise you of the amount of supervision which you could expect;
  • Be accessible, within reason (e.g. by e-mail contact) outside planned supervision meetings when advice may be required;
  • Provide guidance on the nature and requirements of the research degree being pursued and standards expected. This should include providing you with a clear understanding on the main aspects of undertaking postgraduate research, the nature of a research degree awarded at Swansea University and the form and structure of a thesis;
  • Provide guidance and advice to you to ensure the research can be completed, including the preparation of the thesis, normally by the end of your minimum candidature period;
  • Assist you in producing a detailed work-plan and timetable for your research and monitor your progress in relation to this plan;
  • Give advice and guidance on the research undertaken. This would include advice and guidance on:
    • Choice of topic; also, ensuring the correct procedure is followed in the event any subsequent changes are made to your research topic.  For more information, please read the ATAS and Change of Research Topic Policy and Procedure.
    • Selection of research questions or hypotheses;
    • Literature in your field and how to access it;
    • Selection of research methods;
    • Where applicable, ethical considerations of your research;
    • Fieldwork/laboratory work to be undertaken;
    • How to write for an academic audience;
    • Thesis structure, content and presentation.
  • Complete Progression Reports as required in a timely fashion.
  • Ensure you are given sufficient warning at the earliest stage where your progress is inadequate or of an unsatisfactory standard;
  • Request written work as appropriate and in accordance with the agreed work-plan and return such work with constructive feedback within an agreed period of time;
  • Provide guidance and advice on the writing up of the thesis, including reading and giving commentary upon the whole of the thesis during the period of composition. However, the thesis is your own work and you have the final responsibility for ensuring the thesis is submitted by the maximum candidature end date;
  • Prepare you for the viva voce examination and explain its role in the overall examination process;
  • Provide supervision in the event of any re-submission;
  • Maintain the necessary supervisory expertise, including accessing relevant professional development opportunities in order to effectively perform in the role of supervisor;
  • Provide advice on how to network within your specialist field and opportunities to achieve this. This may include advice on which learned societies to join and which conferences to attend;
  • Provide advice on how and where to present your work, e.g. in seminars within the College/School and University and/or at external meetings/conferences;
  • Give advice on how and where to publish, if appropriate.

3. What You Can Expect From Your Secondary Supervisor

Your Secondary Supervisor’s primary role is normally a supporting and complementary one. In some cases, your Secondary Supervisor will be actively involved in your supervision, e.g. to assist with particular academic aspects of your work, in a similar manner to your Primary/First Supervisor. Your Secondary Supervisor may also have a pastoral role. In other cases, there may not be the same degree of day-to-day involvement. Secondary Supervisors need not necessarily be experts on your particular topic of research to the same degree as required of the Primary/First Supervisor. The Secondary Supervisor’s unique role, however, is to:

  • act as a as a first port of call should your Primary/First Supervisor become unavailable, e.g. due to illness, research leave (sabbatical), maternity leave, change of employment;
  • act as a as a first port of in case of disagreement between you and your Primary/First Supervisor. In cases of disagreement, you may also contact your Department’s Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent), your Head of Department or your College’s/School's Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent). Where issues cannot be resolved in this way, you will be referred to the College/School and University complaints processes.

4. What You Can Expect From Your Director of Studies

The supervisor who acts as your Director of Studies both has a pastoral role and has the responsibility for providing advice and assistance with the necessary administrative processes as and where necessary, e.g. as regards progression, transfer of mode/programme of study, or in the event of seeking a suspension, or an extension of the maximum candidature. His/her role is to:

  • Provide pastoral support as and where necessary and/or refer you to other sources of support, e.g. Academic Services, Student Support Services, the Careers Centre;
  • Assist you in assessing your training needs at commencement and during your programme of research, and help you plan a programme of research and transferable skills development (including language training) as necessary in order to complete your thesis. You should be made aware of training opportunities provided by the College/School, Academic Services, APECS Training and Development Services, and sources relevant to your discipline or funding body (e.g. students in receipt of Research Council Awards). Training needs should be re-assessed throughout the duration of your candidature. Skills development should be seen as an integral part of your research programme;
  • Ensure that Progression Reports are completed as required in a timely fashion;
  • Take note of any feedback from you, the College/School or Academic Services;
  • Ensure you are aware of Swansea University regulations for your research degree including, but not limited to, plagiarism, intellectual property, health and safety, and any ethical issues which may arise during the course of your research;
  • Provide advice and assist in the necessary administrative processes as and where necessary, e.g. in the event of seeking a suspension, transfer of mode/programme of study, extension of maximum candidature;
  • Give detailed advice on the expected milestones and dates for successive stages of your research. This should include but not be limited to giving you information on what criteria must be met in order to progress satisfactorily, upgrade to a higher level research degree, and the dates which these must be achieved by.

5. Research Supervisor Eligibility Criteria

5.1 The Supervisory Team

Each student will have a Supervisory Team consisting of a minimum of two eligible supervisors who are members of staff at Swansea University. These main supervisors will assume responsibility for both the academic guidance of the student and the administrative and pastoral activities associated with the student, according to the following designations:

5.2 Academic: The Primary/First Supervisor will normally take primary academic responsibility, the other supervisor(s) will take secondary academic responsibility; in some cases, the Primary/First and Secondary Supervisor will both assume equal academic responsibility.

5.3 Administrative/Pastoral: One supervisor, the Director of Studies, will take primary administrative/pastoral responsibility and the other(s) will assume secondary administrative/pastoral responsibility.

With regard to administrative responsibility and pastoral guidance, the normal arrangement will be for the Primary/First Supervisor also to act as Director of Studies and take primary administrative and pastoral responsibility, and the Secondary Supervisor also to take secondary administrative and pastoral responsibility (see Eligibility Criteria below).

Additional supervisors (third, fourth, etc.), who may be researchers external to the University, may be part of the supervisory team to provide appropriate academic and, as applicable, administrative/pastoral guidance.

Where the Primary/First Supervisor or the Director of Studies becomes unavailable (e.g. due to illness, research leave (sabbatical), maternity leave, change of employment), the other/another main supervisor will temporarily assume those role(s) and/or will, in consultation with the College/School, ensure that an appropriate alternative supervisory team is constituted.

5.4 Eligibility to act as Primary/First Supervisor

A Primary/First Supervisor:

5.4.1 must hold a contract of employment as a member of staff of Swansea University which should outlive the normal maximum candidature period for the student to be supervised;

5.4.2 should have supervised to successful completion, at Swansea University or another higher education institution, as Primary/First or Secondary Supervisor, at least one student at the same level of degree as (or higher than) the one he/she is to supervise. If the Primary/First Supervisor designate does not fulfill this criterion, (i) he/she cannot act as Director of Studies and (ii) the Head of College/School or, as delegated, the College’s/School's Director of Research (or equivalent), must sanction the appointment of the Primary/First Supervisor);

5.4.3 must have undertaken relevant training regarding supervision, progression monitoring procedures and systems, and institution-specific policies;

5.4.4 should be on an Academic Career Pathway with Research as an Enhanced criterion. A member of staff not fulfilling this criterion may be considered eligible if a case is made by their Head of College/School (or designate) to the Academic Regulations and Cases Board. This case should set out, with evidence, how the individual demonstrates clear research competence and has relevant and recent research expertise in the proposed field of research. Examples of evidence include peer-reviewed publications, regular conference attendance, or research grant income;

5.4.5 must hold an academic award at the same level (or higher) as he or she is to supervise, or be able to demonstrate equivalent professional experience;

5.4.6 should not be a candidate for a research degree at Swansea University nor other higher education institution;

5.4.7 should have a good supervisory record, as verified by the Head of College/School or, as delegated, the College’s/School's Director of Research (or equivalent).

5.5 Eligibility to act as Secondary Supervisor

A Secondary Supervisor should meet the same criteria as the Primary/First Supervisor. With regard to point 2 above, the requirement ‘to have supervised a student to completion at the same level before’, it should be noted that if neither the Primary/First nor the Secondary Supervisor meet this criterion, a third main supervisor who must meet this and all the other criteria in full must be appointed as Director of Studies.

5.6 Eligibility to act as Director of Studies

The Director of Studies is a member of the supervisory team who meets all the criteria above without exception.

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