Postgraduate study


Supervision for PhD Students in the School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

Meeting between student and supervisor

The role of the principal supervisor

Each student will work under the guidance of at least two supervisors.   

There are two types of supervisory arrangement:

i) A principal supervisor, plus an assistant supervisor (or supervisors if more than one is deemed necessary)

ii) Two (or in some cases, three) Co-Supervisors, one of whom is designated the Lead Supervisor. The former option is the usual arrangement, but the latter option may be chosen when it is clear that the student’s work involves interdisciplinary research.

The Principal/Lead Supervisor has the primary responsibility for supervision. The role of the Assistant Supervisor entails less responsibility than the Principal supervisor, but in some cases may require closer day-to-day involvement in the student's research. An Assistant Supervisor may be appointed at a later stage than the Principal Supervisor, but should be appointed within two months of the programme start date. In some research programmes other staff members will be involved in an informal advisory capacity, especially if specialised equipment is to be used. It is the duty of the Principal Supervisor to ensure that these informal advisers are prepared to undertake this work and to take responsibility for matters of instruction and safety.

Close contact between supervisors and students is essential. The frequency of meetings will depend on the subject area, and the stage of the student's training. Meetings may occur weekly in the first few months of candidature in order to scope and define the research project. Part time students should be prepared for a programme of frequent meetings at the initial stages particularly in light of scheduling constraints and the student's commitments outside of their research.

Although the work reported in the thesis is the student’s, it is the supervisors' role to provide guidance on the structure and content of the thesis. The Principal Supervisor will:

  • Ensure that School facilities necessary for the project are available;
  • Facilitate contact with informal supervisors and advisers where necessary;
  • Arrange regular meetings with the student at which all matters relating to the student's research can be discussed, including feedback on written work;
  • Identify the student's development needs at the start of the degree and review and update these throughout the student's candidature;
  • Advise the student on drawing up a research plan, thesis structure and a timetable for completion of the work;
  • Help the student prepare for the annual review;
  • Complete and submit on time to the appropriate postgraduate contact according to College guidelines, and complete all relevant reports required by Research Councils and other funding bodies, and ensure their transmission;
  • Provide advice on pastoral support as well as academic matters so that problems can be identified early on and appropriate steps taken to obtain concessions where needed, such as interruptions of study, absences from the University, leaves of absence and extensions;
  • Offer advice on other forms of output from the student's research, such as publication in journals or conference procedings;
  • Encourage students to develop transferable skills and to attend appropriate training courses.

The plan for completion of the research will include specific research goals, their timing, sequence, and interdependencies. The supervisor will monitor the student's progress against this plan, along with any revisions.

Pastoral responsibility includes being alert to problems that might affect the student's ability to work effectively. The supervisor needs to be aware of the facilities that the University offers for the support of students, such as the University Health Service, the Student Disability Service, the Student Counselling Service, the Advice Place, Careers Services, the Chaplaincy and Edinburgh Global.

The role of the assistant supervisor

The role of the assistant supervisor is to:

  • Support the approach to the main thesis topic addressed by the student and agreed with the Principal Supervisor (rather than offer an alternative approach)
  • Provide support and assistance if the Principal Supervisor is absent
  • Meet with the student periodically
  • Follow the student's progress
  • Be fully involved in the annual reviews of the student's progress and comment on and sign the student's annual review form.

The role of the student

Students will:

  • Acquaint themselves with the standards expected of the relevant degree in their subject;
  • Undertake any training as recommended by their Principal Supervisor;
  • Take advantage of the facilities and supervision offered in the University;
  • Fulfill the requirements of their research degree programme;
  • Work diligently and effectively throughout the period of their candidature;
  • Work as a professional, independent researcher accountable for the development of their own research;
  • Acknowledge the work of other scholars and researchers on whom they draw;
  • Produce a thesis that makes a significant contribution to knowledge;
  • Submit the completed thesis on time;
  • Ensure that the thesis is their own work and acknowledges sources correctly;
  • Actively seek advice and help from the sources identified on these webpages.

Supervision support

Occasional disagreements, stresses and strains are part of most healthy supervisions, but it is important for all parties to be able to contain and manage any tension which might develop in the relationship between supervisor and researcher. The assistant supervisor is always there to provide an alternative point of view and different kinds of support. Your fellow students (and other members of the teaching staff) can also provide a great deal of informal support and guidance. However, if you feel you are having a serious problem with your supervisor or supervisors, you should in the first instance approach the PG Subject Area Officer or Postgraduate Director as quickly as possible. You can do this directly or via the Graduate School office.


 A Code of Practice for Supervisors and Research Students