Supervision

Essential practice

All postgraduate research students should be allocated a supervisory team comprised of at least two members of staff, one or more of whom will be a member of academic staff of the University, who will support them through their academic and development programme.  The primary supervisor is normally an academic from the department in which the student is registered.

In addition to the two named supervisors, all postgraduate research students will have access to an academic member of staff, based in their department, who is unconnected to the research project and who is available to provide advice and support on pastoral issues when required. Departments will inform their students about the role and responsibilities of such support, including its boundaries and limitations. Departments vary in the terminology used to describe this person (e.g. Personal Tutor, Advisor, etc.), but whatever title is used they should form part of a wider 'supervisory team', which may also include the departmental PGR Lead (where this is not also the personal tutor), Head of Department, relevant PGR support staff, etc. These individuals are not expected to take part in the day-to-day supervision of the students, but should be available to provide advice and support in certain circumstances, or to deal with issues that have been referred to them. 

It is acceptable for more than one 'model' of supervision to be used within the same department, and specific arrangements for supervision should be agreed according to students' needs, provided they fall within the minimum expectations outlined above.

For MD candidates based away from the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, an additional supervisor should also be appointed.

Members of academic staff new to the University will have had their research supervisory calibre assessed as part of the recruitment and selection process. New members of academic staff without previous supervisory experience are appointed a mentor to act as part of their supervisory team as a source of advice and guidance.

The Head of Department is responsible for assigning academic staff workload, including deciding the maximum number of research students that any one member of academic staff can supervise. It is acceptable for some supervisors to exceptionally take on more than 6 FTE students, providing this is taken into account in the individual's overall workload and is agreed by the Head of Department (bearing in mind duty of care to staff).  There should be a reasonable expectation that, all things being equal, the appointed supervisors will be in post for the duration of the student’s degree, i.e. not on short-term contracts.

Where students are undertaking a collaborative or interdisciplinary degree involving supervision by more than one department (or university), the primary supervisor will normally be an academic from the department in which the student is registered.

All supervisors are selected for their expertise and involvement in the appropriate field of study. This does not mean that supervisors already know all there is to know about the subjects they supervise, and the best supervisor-student relationships are those in which there is a two-way interaction of research and learning, and in which the student explores and gains insights into aspects of the subject which are stimulating to the supervisor as well. The relationship between student and supervisor is not static and most students find that as they become more familiar with their field of research they become less directly dependent on their supervisor.  It is important that students have the opportunity to speak to someone in their academic department, in confidence, if they have any concerns about the supervision they are receiving. This could be another member of the supervisory team, a personal or pastoral tutor, the departmental PGR Lead or Head of Department. Departments should ensure that students are aware of the opportunity for providing confidential feedback on supervision and the mechanism for doing so.

Supervisory meetings: frequency and record keeping

Essential practice

Formal meetings between the research student and supervisor(s) to review progress should normally take place at least every four to six weeks for full-time students (pro-rata for part-time students). It is essential for written records of formal student-supervisor meetings to be made, either by the student or the supervisor, and for both to maintain a copy. Notes of supervisory meetings need not be lengthy or detailed documents, but should record the progress made on the project, key points discussed and any agreed actions or objectives to be achieved before the next meeting. This could take the form of a series of bullet points. This is essential for both pedagogic reasons (i.e. to ensure the student's understanding of points made by the supervisor) and to provide an accurate record of the supervisory sessions. Students often take the lead in producing these records and an online form is available.

Online record of supervision form

Supervisory meetings should be conducted in English and the written records of such meetings should also be in English, even if the student and supervisor share a different native language.  This is to assist the student in developing the necessary written and oral English language skills that are required for conducting successful doctoral research in the UK.

Students who are spending time away from the University, e.g. on fieldwork, should make arrangements in advance with their supervisory team for maintaining an appropriate level and means of contact whilst they are away from Sheffield. 

It is expected that supervision will continue throughout the different stages of the degree, including when the student is writing up their thesis and undertaking any post-viva corrections, although the nature and frequency of supervision is likely to vary during the different stages.

Alternative supervisory arrangements (when a supervisor is absent)

If a supervisor is going to be absent from the University for more than the length of time between two supervisory meetings, then the department must ensure that there are appropriate supervisory arrangements in place for the student(s) affected. This may involve another member of the supervisory team taking a lead role during the period of absence, or the appointment of a new supervisor, on either a temporary or permanent basis, depending on the specific circumstances and the length of the absence. These issues should be managed on a case by case basis.