Supervision is a relationship requiring trust and respect. Students have the right to expect regular, high quality advice, support and direction in their quest for academic excellence. In return supervisors have the right to expect a high level of commitment from their students who should respond positively to advice and guidance and develop an increasing level of independence in the conduct of their research.At the University of Exeter the supervisory team consists of a minimum of three people; two or more supervisors and a PGR Pastoral Tutor, as detailed below.

Lead supervisor

This individual has primary responsibility for guiding you in your research and training, and giving you feedback on written work. They will have primary responsibility for enabling and recording student progress, appointing examiners for the viva at the end of the PhD, and be a specialist in your research field. They must be a permanent staff member of the Education and Research family at the University of Exeter, and will normally be research active with their own PhD successes. In the case where a lead supervisor moves institution, and the student will remain at the University of Exeter, an alternative lead supervisor will be sought although the first lead supervisor can still retain a majority role in the supervisory team


All students will have a co-supervisor, also known as second supervisors.. This role can vary a great deal, from someone intimately involved in the project and sharing much of the supervision with the first supervisor (in which case the supervisory split may be up to 50-50), to someone who has a minor role (for example a split of 80-20). The second supervisor is there as an additional person to talk to, and can be very useful for planning future research directions, or if the first supervisor is away for a moderate period. A co-supervisor does not need to hold a permanent contract with the University of Exeter, or necessarily be active in the research field, but should have the ability to successfully take a role in your own research degree. If the lead supervisor moves institution and the student remains in Exeter, typically the second supervisor would take over and become the lead supervisor in Exeter should they satisfy the requirements.

Further supervisors

Some students may have further supervisors: typically this happens if their project or funding is linked to an industrial, commercial or government organisation, and the supervisor will be an employee of that body. Again their role can vary considerably depending on the nature of the project and collaboration.

PGR Pastoral Tutor

All PhD students at the University of Exeter have a PGR Pastoral Tutor, who is a designated member of academic staff with a responsibility to provide pastoral support to specified PGR students at their request. Your PGR Pastoral Tutor will make contact with you at least once every term to contact to offer the opportunity, if it is needed, for advice and support on pastoral matters which are adversely affecting the ability of students to study (e.g. issues concerning accommodation, finance, health and well-being). They will also be able to identify and promote professional services and other sources that offer advice and support for students on pastoral matters, a well as identify and promote resources, events and activities, such as relevant training within the Researcher Development Programme, that specifically offer pastoral advice and support. The PGR Pastoral Tutor will be available to support their students when required, and so it is equally important that the student makes contact too whenever non-academic support is required.

Further information of the roles of the supervisory team and the student can be found in the Code of Good Practice – Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students.

Ethical issues manifest in a wide variety of research activities and arise especially when the conduct of research involves the interests and rights of others.

The adoption of an ethical position in respect of such research requires that the researcher observes and protects the rights of would-be participants and systematically acts to permit the participants to exercise those rights in full accordance with UK law.

Ethical practice in such cases requires that participants and/or legal guardians, at a minimum, be fully informed, free to volunteer, free to opt out at any time without redress, and be fully protected in regard to safety according to the limits of best practice.

If research (at any level) involves one of the following, it will normally require ethical approval:

  • Research involving human participants or the use of material derived from human participants (this includes questionnaires and interviews).
  • Research involving the use of any personal data.
  • Research involving animals (this applies to all animals, including invertebrates, fish and other non-protected species, and includes behavioural and observation studies).
  • Research that has the potential to raise social issues or have any environmental impact.

Each College has its own ethical review process; please refer to your College intranet or contact your project supervisor, College Ethics Officer or Gail Seymour, the Secretary to University Ethics Committee.

The Research ethics framework provides a clear and consistent standard of governance for ethical review procedures across the University of Exeter.

It represents the benchmark for considering existing, or implementing revised, review procedures

Additional information on ethics and good practice can be found at Research Toolkit.