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Researcher Development

Researcher Development

Managing your relationship with your supervisors

You might also be interested in this epsiode of the podcast R, D, and the In-Betweens, where Kelly Preece talks to a supervisor – Dr. Tom Hinton – and supervisee – Edward Mills – about their supervisory relationship.

When we first begin our research degrees it can feel like all of the expectations are on us rather than coming from us. However, it is important to remember that you do have expectations of your supervisor even if they are not consciously formed.

The university has put in place the ‘Supervision Agreement’ which is something created by both you and your supervisor. This is a really good way to make sure that your expectations of each other and of the project as a whole match up. This agreement is in writing but it is not set in stone so there will be room for flexibility and changes as new ideas crop up through your research.


If you are unsure of where even to begin with expectations you can take a look at the UKgrad programme’s Expectations in Supervision sheet. Some PGRs work through this with their supervisors and others use it as a prompt to make sure they are considering all the angles when filling in their supervision agreement.

There are aspects not covered on this grid though. Some important points to consider are:

  • Working hours or other regular commitments- do you or your supervisor have other commitments which mean responses or work may be delayed?
  • Any health issues which may affect your working, you do not have to go into detail, but you should make your supervisor aware that there may be times you will be working at a different level of productivity
  • What is really important to you in this relationship, do you want timely feedback? If so discuss with your supervisors when is best to send work over and how soon after you should schedule a meeting for feedback.

Most of our expectations in relationships are based on our own personal views on common courtesy. It is important that we create open and honest communication to ensure that there are not hidden issues. For example, part time work means that you are working on your research and emailing your supervisor at the weekend. You do not expect a response outside of their working hours, but they may not understand this and feel obliged to reply. This is easily fixed or avoided with a single line at the top of the email or by discussing it early on.

An important part of your induction is to complete the Supervisor Agreement, which will facilitate some of these conversations.


My PhD Supervisor takes the approach of a Manager. They check my progress regularly, the monitor what work I am doing, and they give very systematic feedback on my work. They are quite prescriptive about what they want me to do, but don’t give me support on how to do it.

I would prefer my supervisor to be a Freedom-Giver. To authorise me to make my own decisions about my research, and support me to carry them out by giving me feedback.

Also, what can I do to make the most of my supervisor?


Supervision style can become a problem when you are not getting the kind of support you are expecting or support which you find most helpful. Perhaps your supervisor is more of a manager than a freedom giver? Do you want your supervisor to let you take more of a lead with decisions regarding your research? Similarly, you may have a supervisor who is more of a freedom giver than a manger and you may feel you want more support at certain points in your project. Even with great communication this is a tricky conversation! No supervisor will have a problem with you asking for advice. Be honest, explain what you are having difficulty with and be prepared to direct your supervisor on how they can help you. Being specific is key to getting the kind of supervisory relationship you need.

Vitae is a national organisation which focuses on researcher development and they have some top tips for getting the most out of your supervision.

You can find this advice and more on the Vitae website.

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