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Research Supervision

Project Feasibility | In Practice | Resources

Acknowledgement: Information in this section of the Toolkit has been adapted with permission from the Certificate in Learning and Teaching (CiLT).

Image of teacher supervising student researchResearch projects introduce students to the rewards and problems of undertaking research, help them to develop critical thinking skills and lay the groundwork for further study. Due to the particular nature of instruction and guidance, research supervision can be considered a unique form of teaching ─ one that requires personalising your teaching approach to the individual student.

Whether supervising research at the undergraduate or postgraduate level, you are supporting students on their path to independent study. No matter the level, research supervision requires a commitment of time and energy. In your capacity as supervisor, you are aiming to:

  • provide support and guidance to ensure the project is manageable with appropriate research question and methods;
  • help students with time management and ensure realistic timescales;
  • make students aware of intermediate and final deadlines;
  • ensure that students get the most out of their project and have all the resources that they need.

Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience
SURE (Sheffield Undergraduate Research Experience) offers funded research scholarships to our undergraduate students to work in partnership with an academic on a dedicated piece of research.

Hints and tips

  • Students should be stretched and challenged by their research, but it is important that you guide them towards an achievable project. Ensure that your expectations are in line (both student and supervisor);
  • Establish a mutually agreeable meeting schedule and communication strategy. Identify expectations of these meetings. Keep accurate records;
  • You (and your student) need to be clear about the time available and be realistic about how much can be fitted in.
  • Ensure that there are appropriate boundaries;
  • You have a responsibility to ensure that all the projects you supervise meet ethical standards. You must inform your students of these and guide them in submitting their projects for ethical clearance from the appropriate body. Anticipate problems, and suggest how to address them.

Project Feasibility

The majority of projects that students undertake will contribute to the assessment process either wholly or in part. It is crucial that you guide your students towards feasible projects.

Factors to take into account:

Capability: To be successful, all projects will need to meet a specified standard. However, individual students will vary in terms of what they are capable of taking on. As you get to know your students, you need to make judgements about what you can expect of them and guide them accordingly.

Research project resources: All projects will rely on a range of resources. They may include access to literature, equipment, participants, data, expertise, funding and so on. You need to bear in mind the availability and accessibility of the resources for any given project.

Skills: Projects often require students to demonstrate skills they have achieved in other contexts. But some projects, especially if they form part of a research degree, may require new skills. You need to identify these as early as possible and make an informed judgement about whether the necessary training can be provided within the available time and funding.


Example: School-wide Dissertation Coordination Team

Dr Jenny Freeman and Andy Tattersall, School of Applied Health and Related Research

In an effort to standardise support to students preparing dissertations, the School of Health and Related Research developed new processes for the management of dissertations across the School. Both academic staff and those not involved with teaching were consulted widely before allocating students to supervisors. Resources were developed for supervisors and disseminated via ‘Bitesize’ sessions, e.g. FAQs: Working with your supervisee.


Bullet Black and white and read all over: Undergraduate research, risk and ethical review (Click on Session 3 to download). Recording available here.

Presentation by Dr Sarah Hale (The Institute for Lifelong Learning) and Willy Kitchen (Senate Award Fellow, The Institute for Lifelong Learning) at the Learning and Teaching Conference, 2013

Bullet Diversity in Doctoral student voice: A Q methodological exploration (Click on Session 6a to download presentation and supporting handout).

Presentation by Dr Martin Hughes (The School of Education) and Dr Simon Watts (Psychology, Nottingham Trent University) at the Learning and Teaching Conference, 2013.

Bullet In addition to departmental information, the following provides guidance on what is expected of postgraduate supervisors: Information for supervisors of research students

Bullet Video - First supervision meeting focus
Duration: (6:06)

Bullet Some ideas to help international students, Oxford Learning Institute, University of Oxford

The Oxford Learning Institute offers suggestions on support needed by international doctoral students, including academic and social support.

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