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Research supervision

Supervisory Team 

The University recognises the need for guidance which outlines the nature of the student/supervisor relationship. This general framework can be found in the Code of Good Practice - Supervision of Postgraduate Research Students. This document provides the background, policies and practices to which the Faculty, supervisors, pastoral tutors and students must adhere, and sets out both the rights and responsibilities of all parties.

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.

One crucial aspect of the supervisory relationship is its changing nature as the research project progresses.  You can expect your supervisors to guide you in your research.  However, as time goes by and your research progresses, the relationship changes as you become the expert in your specific area. As a large part of the role of the supervisors is to guide you to understand the standards and norms expected of work at doctoral level and to provide you with constructive and critical feedback, it is not always necessary for your supervisors (and in particular your co-supervisors) to have specific subject expertise.

At the University of Exeter, Postgraduate Research students should be appointed at least two supervisors of which at least one member of the supervisory team, normally the lead supervisor, should possess subject expertise in the student's field of research. Further details about the appointment and eligibility of supervisors are available in the Code of Good Practice Chapter 2 - Arrangements for the supervision of research degree students.

Lead supervisor 

The lead supervisor is usually a subject expert who provides supervision in the student’s specialist field and designated as a student’s primary point of contact, with primary responsibility for the student’s progress and records of progress.


All students will have at least one co-supervisor. These roles can vary a great deal, from someone intimately involved in the project and sharing much of the supervision with the lead supervisor (in which case the supervisory split may be up to 50-50), to someone who has a relatively minor role (for example a split of 80-20). The co-supervisors are there as an additional person to talk to and can be very useful for planning future research directions, or if the lead supervisor is away for a period.

Some students may have external 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. They may have different views and academic interpretations from the lead supervisor and this range of input should be welcomed to strengthen your research.

As set out in the Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students: code of good practice, the ‘pastoral tutor’ is a designated member of staff with a pastoral responsibility for the student (including advising the student in cases when difficulties arise between student and supervisor(s)).  The pastoral tutor will be a member of the University’s academic staff and they do not require direct input or knowledge of the student’s research topic. 

The purpose of the pastoral tutor is to provide an additional layer of support and the role of the pastoral tutor is set out here.

First supervision meeting:  

You should aim to meet with your full supervisory team as soon as feasible upon your enrolment. To help give this meeting some focus to get you started, you are required to discuss and complete both the Training Needs Analysis form and the Supervisory Agreement. 

Training Needs Analysis 

It is important that you undertake appropriate research training to help you complete your thesis successfully and in good time. The Doctoral College is fully committed to research training that is relevant, useful and which contributes to positive outcomes for its students, not least in enhancing their post-thesis employability. 

Training and professional development should be tailored to the individual student and be appropriate for the path of the individual research project. We don’t consider the development of skills to be a separate process from your research practice – it should support and enhance it. 

Each new student should discuss and agree their training needs at the first supervisory team meeting. It is important to identify with your supervisor any specific research training modules which you should follow, and whether any language training is necessary for your research at an early stage. If there are any training needs that cannot be met through the Researcher Development provision or within your department, you must notify your PGR Support team as soon as possible. 

Training for PGR students is provided both within your Faculty and through the University’s Researcher Development Programme. The Researcher Development team have listed recommended training for each year of study; this is only indicative and should be used as a guide for discussion. 

All students are required to complete the Training Needs Analysis Form following their discussion with their supervisory team and upload it to MyPGR within the first 6 weeks of study and then annually thereafter. Your responses will be emailed to you after you have completed this form, which you can upload to MyPGR. 

Training Needs Analysis Forms are located online and can be found here. 

Supervisory Agreement 

All research students work closely with their academic supervisors. This requires regular meetings between you and your supervisors to plan and discuss your research, and the writing of your thesis. You need to produce written work at regular intervals, and it is in your interest to start writing as early as possible, even the roughest of drafts. Producing a successful thesis is a methodical task, not something that can be done to a high standard in a hurry.  

The relationship between students and supervisors is of crucial importance for the successful completion of a research degree. There needs to be good communication, co-operation and agreement, and a relationship of trust.  It is recommended that research students  meet with their full supervision team within three weeks of their initial registration with the University. At this meeting you and your supervisors are required to complete a Supervisory Agreement, reflecting on your relationship, frequency of contact, submission of written work, authorship of papers and so on. 

The form should be discussed, completed and signed off at the first meeting of the full supervisory team and then reviewed annually and if circumstances change (e.g. change of supervisory team, change of mode of attendance,  interruptions). 

Students may wish to record arrangements with their Pastoral Tutor in their supervisory agreement once they have met with the Pastoral Tutor. Pastoral Tutors are not expected to attend supervisory meetings as they support the student independently. 

It is the responsibility of the student to ensure their Supervisory Agreement form is completed and uploaded to MyPGR within the first 6 weeks of study and then annually thereafter. 

We want you to enjoy your experience as a postgraduate research student and for it to help you become a confident, independent and critical researcher. We want you to feel supported by us and challenged by us; to that end, we outline here a clear set of expectations that should help your supervisory experience to be constructive and fulfilling. 

We expect you to: 

  • Take responsibility and show independence in managing your postgraduate research study, including: 
    • Ensuring you understand the academic conventions of writing a thesis and know where to find support, if needed. 
    • Complying with norms relating to academic integrity and the avoidance of plagiarism
    • Discussing the Supervisory Agreement with your supervisory team annually; discussing your research training needs annually, using the research training needs analysis form; 
    • Carefully considering the feedback from your supervisors: we do not expect you to agree with everything, but in cases of disagreement, please note this in MyPGR; 
  • Fulfil your responsibility to maintain your record in MyPGR, including; 
    • Maintaining records in MyPGR, summarising the key points of the supervisory discussion, and specifying actions to be taken; 
    • Keeping your supervisors informed of conference attendance, publications planned, and any periods of absence. 
    • Monitor their student email address as this is the primary method of communication 
      • Take part in the Annual Monitoring Review process; 
      • Understand that your supervisors may not be available outside of arranged appointment times; 

You can expect your supervisor to: 

  • Understand the expectations of supervision and examining as set out in the TQA Manual; 
  • Establish clearly, through the Supervisory Agreement, the role of lead and co-supervisors and patterns of contact throughout the year; 
  • Hold a supervisory meeting at least ten times spread out through the year (six for part-time): this may be face-to-face or through Zoom/Teams or equivalent; 
  • Provide timely, critical and constructive written feedback; 
  • Review your progress through the Annual Monitoring Review process; 
  • Instigate the Unsatisfactory Student Progress and Engagement procedure if you are not progressing at a rate likely to lead to submission of your thesis within the appropriate time; 
  • Instigate the Health Wellbeing and Support for Study procedure if ill health, a disability or chronic health condition impedes your progress or affects how you engage with study; 
  • Engage in PGR supervisory developmental activity.  

You can expect your pastoral tutor to: 

  • To contact the PGR students to introduce themselves and explain the responsibilities of their role and at least once every term 
  • When requested, to offer advice and support to students who apply for interruptions and extensions, or who are at any stage of any student procedure (e.g. the Health, Wellbeing and Support for Study, etc.) 
  • To refer students to relevant academic and/or professional services staff if they raise concerns about their academic programmes.  
  • PGR Pastoral Tutors may offer advice and support in cases where difficulties arise between students and their supervisors, but responsibility for any intervention resides with the relevant Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent). 
  • To respond to all student requests in a timely fashion (e.g. normally within three working days) or to refer students to another appropriate source of advice when unavailable. 

You can expect the University to: 

  • Provide research supervision; 
  • Provide a pastoral tutor who will contact you once a term, and advise you where to find support, if needed; 
  • Provide opportunities to participate in an active research community; 
  • Provide additional support for your studies through, for example, the Researcher Development Programme; AccessAbility; INTO Exeter; and the Guild of Students/FXU. 


MyPGR is an online facility for the tracking of PGR student registration and progress. The system delivers a consistent approach to the management of PGR students, enabling improved reporting and ensuring an enhanced experience for students.  

PGR students on all programmes are given access to the system upon registering for the current academic year, and can be accessed via the SRS login.

The interface allows for the upload of documents, and provides useful information about the student, drawn from the Student Records system. 

Key registration processes are managed in the system, for example, interruptions, upgrades, changes of programme and change to continuation status requests.  

Your supervisor will also use the system for the nomination of your Board of Examiners when the time comes. 

To get a better understanding of how the system works, you might like to take a look at the MyPGR training pages, which include screenshots of the system. 

For any issues with your MyPGR record, please contact your relevant PGR Support team

Contact events 

MyPGR provides an online tool which records meetings between students and supervisors / pastoral tutors: students take responsibility for arranging meetings and writing them up, and meetings can be set-up and signed off by more than one supervisor. 

MyPGR specifies a minimum number of meetings (contact events) across the year with the deadline for completion of each event the end of the month in which the event falls. 

Progress Review Meetings 

The ‘progress review’ should take place three times a year, one each term. The progress review is similar to a standard supervision meeting in that it is held with your supervisor/s (it may be helpful for this one to be held with the full supervision team, ie your lead and all of your co-supervisors ) and is just a more formal review of your progress; it is also helpful to use the ‘progress review’ meeting to plan towards upcoming programme milestones such as upgrade, submission of the ethical approval application, or commencing fieldwork; to agree internal targets such as submission of draft chapters; and if appropriate to review the supervision agreement and training needs forms.  The progress review meeting ensures that you are making good progress (appropriate to your stage of study) and that you have a manageable time-frame for your project; it is also a helpful mechanism for identifying any problems or issues you may be experiencing and putting in place plans to mitigate for these. 

If a more formal agenda is required: 

The progress review meeting should help PGRs to 

  • Clarify the background of the project  
  • Clarify aims and objectives (research questions) 
  • Ensure the methods to be used are clearly developed 
  • Ensure that any relevant or required training is accessed 
  • Ensure that good progress (appropriate to the stage of study) is being made, measured against agreed objectives and targets 
  • Discuss their writing progress with their supervisors and discuss any barriers to writing that they may face 
  • Start thinking about applying to transfer to continuation status 

You will be encouraged to reflect on your academic progress and broader personal development in a variety of ways during your time at Exeter. However, a particularly important feature of the ‘structure and support’ we provide for PDP is through the opportunities you have to talk about your progress with your supervisors throughout your programme of study.

Your supervisory meetings should provide a supportive environment in which to discuss your development, so you should feel free to be completely frank about your progress and achievements. Where appropriate, your supervisor may refer you to other sources of help and guidance.

Students can create PDP records using the electronic tool accessed via the Student Record pages on your iExeter portal pages, known as ePDP. This resource provides a structure for you to (i) conduct a self-appraisal, and (ii) produce an action plan, and you can share your ePDP records online with your supervisor.

You will need to record all training events that you attend on the ePDP facility accessible from iExeter. Simply ‘Add an Academic Experience’ on ePDP to record details of all training – including any conferences or seminars that you have attended or presented at.

Students are able to request a change of supervisor in instances where they feel unable to continue the supervisor relationship*. Before formally requesting the change, students are expected to have attempted to resolve the issue informally via discussions with their supervisor and Director of Postgraduate Research (or equivalent) at Department level (as above). Requesting a change of supervisor should be considered a last resort. 

In some research areas, changes to supervisors may be challenging due to the research specialism and expertise required, sharing of intellectual property, and/or the nature of the project’s funding. Student wellbeing is the primary consideration, however, there are alternative actions short of a formal change of supervisor that are sometimes appropriate, e.g. provision of an academic mediator to facilitate communications between student and supervisor. There is no obligation on the part of the Department to make changes to supervisory arrangements where the Department Director of Postgraduate Research does not consider that a change is justified or indeed possible due to a lack of suitable alternatives with the required expertise. 

For more information on making changes to the Supervisory Team, please see the ‘Code of Good Practice: Arrangements for the supervision of research degree students'. 

*Breakdown of the student/supervisor relationship should be considered as an inability for the student/supervisor to communicate and work effectively on an ongoing basis, despite reasonable attempts to seek support to mediate and address any fundamental concerns from either side. Please note that in instances where there are alleged bullying or harassment, these should be raised with the relevant Dignity and Respect Advisors in addition to following the change of supervisor process. 

Before a supervisor takes study leave they should consider whether or not they intend to continue supervision. The University's Code of Good Practice on the Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students states that supervisors and co-supervisors normally continue their supervisory responsibilities while on study leave. An important consideration in deciding whether the supervisor should continue or be replaced is the best interests of the student. Relevant to this are how far the student has progressed with their research, the location of the supervisor whilst on leave, the availability of a replacement supervisor, and the acceptability to the student of proposed contact and supervision arrangements. The final decision lies with the Department Director of Postgraduate Research, and the student should be informed of the outcome as soon as possible. If the supervisor is to be replaced, all relevant provisions in the above section should be followed. 


Students are asked not to offer gifts to academic or professional services staff. Students from cultures in which the giving of small gifts is regarded as a normal courtesy are requested to co-operate with this in order to avoid embarrassment to staff.

Personal Relationships between Student and Supervisor 

If a personal relationship develops between a supervisor and a student, the supervisor must declare it to the Department Director of PGR in accordance with the University’s Code of Professional Conduct: Relations between Staff and Students and between Staff.  The most appropriate course will almost invariably be that a replacement supervisor is appointed. If you feel that your supervisor is making unwanted advances, you should look at the section on Harassment and look at the University’s policy on Harassment and Bullying. You can also contact one of the University’s Dignity and Respect Advisors.