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 the Expectations in Supervision questionnaire (see reference documents on this page) 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 up 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 can be challenging. Take some time to read through some of the 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:

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

Who can I contact besides my primary supervisor to discuss research related issues? 

In the first instance you should be in contact with your supervisor to discuss all research related issues - they will be able to assist with reviewing your current situation and what changes can be made to mitigate / reduce the impacts on your research. 

If you are not able to contact your primary supervisor you should contact: 

  1. Chair of Panel or other panel members such as Associate Supervisors  
  2. HDR Convener / Head of School / Associate Director (HDR) (School level) 
  3. Director HDR or Associate Dean HDR (College level) 
  4. Dean of Students / Pro Vice-Chancellor (Graduate Research) (University level)

Reference documents

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