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Supervision of a doctoral student

General information

Supervision is the most important pedagogical instrument in doctoral studies. Supervising a doctoral student is not only about passing on knowledge to the doctoral student. It is also about promoting the progress of the doctoral student toward becoming an independent researcher. This includes supporting the development of the ability to analyze, think critically, be innovative, and collaborate with others.

The role of supervision has been emphasized with the increasing demand for more efficient doctoral studies.

This document is inspired by a similar document from IDA (Institutionen för datavetenskap, Department of Computer and Information Science). It is meant as a recommendation or guide.

The goals of supervision

The goals of supervision is to promote the doctoral student's progress toward becoming an independent and critically thinking researcher development of comprehensiveness regarding methodology ability to collaborate in research projects capability to see his or her research as a part of a greater whole, in a wider context.

The position of the supervisor

Every doctoral student is assigned a main supervisor. The main supervisor, who qualifies as senior lecturer, is responsible for the doctoral student's work and research.

In addition to the main supervisor, the doctoral student may have one or more assistant supervisors. An assistant supervisor qualifies as Ph.D.

Expectations for the supervisor

The following list serves as an example of what to expect from a supervisor.

The supervisor will

  • help the student select and define the field of research so that the research can result in a dissertation
  • support the student in choosing courses that are part of the doctoral studies
  • assist the student in finding literature and suggest a model/theory/method for the student's research
  • immediately advise the student against continuing his or her doctoral studies if the student lacks the necessary qualifications
  • give advice regarding suitable scientific methods to help forward the research
  • act as inspirer and catalyst when the dissertation is to be completed
  • make sure the student does not become sidetracked
  • aid the student in establishing contacts and creating a network in the field of research
  • help the student develop the ability to present orally his or her research results at, for example, research-group meetings or conferences
  • help the student develop the ability to present in writing his or her research results in scientific journals or conference papers
  • encourage and stimulate the student, especially in times of adversity
  • give the student responsibility for, for instance, equipment or research projects
  • Expectations for the doctoral student

    The following list serves as an example of what to expect from a doctoral student.

    The doctoral student will

  • listen to and take in the supervisor's suggestions regarding, for instance, choice and definition of field of research or how to plan the research
  • play an active part in selecting a suitable dissertation topic
  • independently search for relevant information
  • process and analyze theories and/or methods suggested by the supervisor
  • be able to orally present his or her research results at, for instance, seminars, research-group meetings, and conferences, and assimilate constructive criticism that is given at such presentations
  • be able to present in writing his or her research results in scientific reports, and assimilate constructive criticism from supervisors or other experts
  • be able to grasp the work of research colleagues and provide constructive criticism
  • be willing to concentrate and focus on the doctoral studies, especially during the final phase of the dissertation work
  • assist in assignments that are not directly concerned with the doctoral studies, for instance, teaching, administration, and research funding, on the assumption that these assignments are according to contract
  • Guidelines for supervision

    After a student has been admitted to doctoral studies, the student and the supervisor should discuss the structure of the supervision. The structure of the supervision should be mutually agreed upon and can, for instance, include the items listed below. Some of these items are also included in the doctoral student's individual curriculum.

  • a schedule for the dissertation work and possibly an outline of the dissertation
  • a statement of how often and when the doctoral student and the supervisor will schedule follow-up meetings and the availability of the supervisor
  • a list of courses that the student will attend
  • a statement of how the student will continuously inform the supervisor on how the research progresses
  • a discussion of the research-project plan. The duration of the project plan should be, for instance, six months, but the plan may naturally be revised.
  • bases of the doctoral studies: important problems, the relevance of the research project, approach, partners, consequences, delimitations, assumptions, choice of model, current research, deadlines, and so forth
  • a discussion of how research results will be reported/presented
  • a statement of how the individual curriculum will be followed up
  • a course of action if problems should arise. Such problems may be, for instance, that expected results do not occur, that the dissertation work is not progressing according to plan, or that there is a student-supervisor conflict.
  • a discussion of the function and role of the mentor
  • Follow-up meetings

    Follow-up meetings should be scheduled on a regular basis and should be scheduled well in advance. It is a good idea to follow a checklist during follow-up meetings. It is also useful to take notes in order to facilitate feedback and follow-up. The supervisor and the doctoral student should compile a checklist for follow-up meetings at an early stage of the doctoral studies.

    The following list serves as an example of what a follow-up meeting might include:

  • Feedback from the previous follow-up meeting: Has work been done according to plan? Analysis of recent results. Has the research led to the expected results? If not, why? What are the consequences?
  • Short-term planning: Does a parameter need to be adjusted? What is the next step? How will already attained results be reported or presented?
  • Discussion: An important function of follow-up meetings is to provide an opportunity for the student and the supervisor to air their ideas.
  • Information exchange: Another important function of follow-up meetings is to exchange information (besides research results), for instance, a newly published article, new results reported at a conference, or information from personal contacts.
  • Long-term planning: Is the schedule realistic? What research projects will be included in the dissertation? Planning of licentiate degree or public defense.
  • Individual curriculum

    For every doctoral student, an individual curriculum will be drawn up by the doctoral student and his or her supervisor. After they have signed the individual curriculum, it is sent to the prefect. The prefect must receive the individual curriculum within one month after the student has started his or her doctoral studies.

    The individual curriculum includes a schedule of the student's doctoral studies, an account of the student's commitments during his or her doctoral studies, and other information that ensures the student to efficiently pursue his or her doctoral studies.

    A standardized individual-curriculum form is available at http://www.lith.liu.se/research/index.html

    At least once a year, the doctoral student, the supervisor, the assistant supervisor or supervisors (if any), and mentor should meet to follow up and revise the individual curriculum. The student's coursework and doctoral-studies schedule is discussed. The reason for any delay is analyzed. If necessary, the schedule is revised.

    The following list serves as a guideline or a checklist for an individual-curriculum follow-up meeting:

  • that the student is following his or her coursework schedule
  • courses/credits that the student has passed the past year
  • pedagogical training
  • that the student is following his or her research-work schedule
  • publications the past year
  • supervision
  • conferences, collaborations, and so forth the past year
  • teaching, administration, or other departmental duties

  • Responsible for this page: Per Olof Holtz
    Last updated: 02/04/11