Institute for Academic Development
Institute for Academic Development

Fundamentals of PhD Supervision

Fundamentals of PhD Supervision is an online course that has been developed by the Institute for Academic Development in consultation with the Doctoral College and relevant staff in Colleges and Support Services.

This course aims to help new supervisors develop their understanding of the role and responsibilities of PhD supervisors at the University of Edinburgh, and to encourage experienced supervisors to reflect on and develop their practice with an increasingly diverse PhD student population.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who is this course for? 

This course is for anyone who is currently supervising PhD students, or who will be supervising PhD students in the near future.  This applies whether you are a Principal, Co- or Assistant Supervisor.  It is suitable both for University of Edinburgh staff and supervisors who are external to the University. 

When should I do this course? 

If you are new to PhD supervision, or new to PhD supervision at the University of Edinburgh, you will ideally complete this course before you begin supervising a PhD student. 

If you are an experienced supervisor you will find it useful to complete the course before you attend a refresher supervisor briefing.  However, the course is always available so you can dip back into it at any time to refresh your knowledge of specific areas. 

How do I access the course? 

This is a course available on the Learn VLE. The course can be found via the Self-Enrol option in Learn:

Note: A full outline of these steps with relevant system screenshots is on the Guide to Guest and Self-Enrol Access webpage, provided by IS

  • Log onto the Learn VLE using your EASE username and password
  • Select ‘Course Catalogue’ in the top right corner
  • The ‘Search catalogue’ options will load. Enter the course name - Fundamentals of PhD Supervision - in the search catalogue section and select ‘Go’.
  • Expand the options menu next to the relevant Course ID (you’ll need to hover over it). Select ‘enrol’.  
  • The self-enrol overlay will load providing further course information. Select ‘Submit’. An enrolment success screen will load. Then select OK to access the course. 
  • Alternatively, once in the Course Catalogue, you can also find it under the Browse Categories heading, and selecting Self Enrol IAD Courses from the drop down menu.
  • We recommend using Google Chrome to access this course

How long will it take to complete?  

It will take approximately 1.5 – 2 hours to work through the materials and complete the required tasks.  This can be done in more than one sitting and you can return to the course at any time.  The video content is additional to this time and can be watched during or after completion of the core course content.  To complete the course successfully, and in order for your completion to be recorded, you must work through all sections and complete the required activities. All required activities are highlighted with ACTION at the start of the title.

If I complete this course do I still have to attend the compulsory supervisor briefings? 

Given the recent Covid-19 situation, the Senate Education committee has agreed that completion of this online course fulfils the training obligation for new supervisors, in lieu of the usual face to face briefings. Your College or School may also run an online briefing to complement this course. The training provision and requirements will be reviewed again in the next academic year. 

What does the course cover? 

The course covers material which will help supervisors to support students during the whole PhD lifecycle from recruitment to completion.  These include:  

  • Recruitment and induction of PhD students 

  • Supervisor responsibilities and building effective relationships 

  • Managing progress 

  • Supporting students through completion and final examination 

  • Supporting wellbeing, and professional and career development

Does doing this course cover compulsory training requirements set by other research student funders (e.g. Research Councils)?   

This course may help supervisors to meet funder requirements as there is usually an expectation that you will meet your institutional training requirements for PhD supervisors. 

However, your student's funder may require additional training beyond what is expected by the University of Edinburgh. You should check with the funder directly to ensure you are complying with any specific requirements for supervisors.  

Will my attendance be recorded? 

To complete the course successfully, and in order for your completion to be recorded, you must work through all sections and complete the required activities. All required activities are highlighted with ACTION at the start of the title. IAD will keep a record of attendance and completion of this course. Attendance updates will be provided to your school/deanery. The course will also issue a certificate of attendance.

Who do I contact if I have comments or problems accessing the course? 

If you have problems accessing the course please email  

We welcome comments on the course so please contact us if you have any feedback.  

Who do I contact if I have other questions about my role as a PhD supervisor? 

Your first point of contact should be the relevant postgraduate staff in your School or Centre.  This may be the PG administrative staff or the PG(R) Director or Head of the Graduate School. You can find contacts on the relevant School website: 

If you have problems identifying the relevant contact please email us, letting us know which School or Centre your PhD student is part of, and we will put you in touch with the relevant staff. Please email