You & your supervisor

One of the most important aspects of a successful HDR candidature is a productive supervision relationship. Establishing open and productive communication early in the candidature and regularly reviewing mutual expectations can help avoid a breakdown of the supervisory relationship.

Research suggests that a productive relationship arises from a process of implicit and explicit negotiation based on agreed goals and values such as:

  • Mutual respect of each other's expertise and time;
  • Open communication;
  • Setting and reviewing clear expectations of both the supervisor and the candidate;
  • Shared commitment to the goal of the completion of a successful research candidature.

The formal expectations of supervisors and students are outlined in the Supervision and Candidature Policies and Procedures. However, every supervisory relationship is different, and it is important that you and your supervisor negotiate the balance of responsibility for different aspects of your research project.

Setting expectations

There are a number of different ways you can set clear expectations of each other in the supervision relationship. Here are just a few tools and ideas:

  • You could use this questionnaire on different elements of a candidature to frame a discussion around supervision expectations and understand where your supervisor is coming from. The idea is that you and your supervisor fill the questionnaire out separately, then discuss any differences in your responses;
  • You may like to draft a memorandum of understanding with your supervisor, which should be updated as your supervision needs change;
  • You can have an informal discussion around your responsibilities and expectations of each other, then send a follow email to your supervisor as a record to which you can refer if there is any confusion around responsibilities and expectations in the future.

Remember, supervising an HDR candidate is extremely challenging. Try to understand where your supervisor is coming from and all the things they have to learn in order to supervise effectively. Take some time to read through some of these excellent Thesis Whisperer blog posts on supervision and see how others have established productive relationships, or repaired things with their supervisor after a bumpy patch.

What if things go wrong?

If you feel your supervision relationship is becoming unproductive, you should seek guidance and advice as soon as possible. Supervision issues can range from simple miscommunications to persistent bullying, which is not accepted at ANU. If problems do arise and you need confidential, impartial advice, contact the Dean of Students. However, supervision issues can often be resolved at the local level informally. These steps may help you resolve your issue quickly and effectively without having to resort to a formal complaint:

  • Ascertain whether you and your supervisor are both abiding by the ANU Code of Conduct and the ANU Guideline: Candidature and supervision of HDR students;
  • If you feel your supervisor is not abiding by these policies and guidelines, or is not performing their responsibilities, send them a polite email suggesting a meeting or some suggestions as to how the issue may be addressed;
  • If you feel you cannot contact your supervisor directly about the issue, you can contact your HDR Convenor, another member of your supervisory panel, or a trusted staff member for advice;
  • If the issue persists, contact your College Dean or Student Advisor.

If, after you have taken the above steps, you wish to make a formal complaint in relation to supervision, ANU has a clear procedure on student complaint resolution