All research students are assigned a primary supervisor right from the start of their studies

MSc students

It is often the case that MSc by Research students will only be supervised by their primary supervisor, although it may be necessary to involve further members of staff.

PhD students

All PhD students are assigned a secondary supervisor, and some are assigned a tertiary supervisor as well. Note, however, that it is not uncommon for the supervisory arrangements for a PhD student to alter over time as their project alters. In particular, it could be that new members of staff are brought on board to supervise a student, and also that the balance of supervision changes amongst supervisors (e.g., a primary and secondary supervisor might switch roles). This is nothing to be alarmed about. The important thing is just that each research student has the right supervisory team for them and their project.

Note as well that it is also common for new PhD students to not be assigned a secondary supervisor straight away, since it can take time to determine who would be best to take on this role. All PhD students should have a secondary supervisor assigned to them by the end of their first year of studies.

How supervision works

There are no fixed rules regarding how supervision is conducted. Some students, for example, might benefit from fortnightly meetings with their supervisors, while others may find it more helpful to have greater freedom to develop their ideas before submitting it for scrutiny from their supervisors. Equally, the level of supervision is likely to fluctuate during the progress of the PhD. For example, it will probably be more intensive towards the end of your doctoral studies. The important thing is to ensure that you have the right kind of supervision for you.

If you have any concerns about the suitability of your supervisory team or about the level of supervision that you are receiving, then you should in the first instance raise your concerns with your primary supervisor.


Dr Elinor Mason (Philosophy Postgraduate Advisor)