All HDR students must have a minimum of two supervisors, and their roles are defined, depending on their responsibilities, as either Research or Auxiliary supervisor. Your Research Supervisor assumes the main supervisory duties, and in the rest of this section when we refer to your ‘supervisor’, we mean your Research Supervisor.
Your supervisor’s role is to offer advice, assistance and direction to support you in completing your project. Your relationship with your supervisor can be complex, intense, and immensely rewarding. However, like any relationship, it is bound to have highs and lows and it is important to be realistic in your expectations of your supervisor.
Talk with other research candidates about their experience of supervision. You will learn that each experience is unique, and what works for another student may not work for you. However, a fundamental principle for a productive supervisory relationship is mutual respect.
For an understanding of what the University considers as a standard supervisory relationship, and to know more about your supervision rights:
This is likely to change during your candidature. What level of direction or guidance do you need? What is your supervisor’s role in your acquisition of skills? Do you expect your supervisor to be a mentor, critic, supporter, director, facilitator, provider or teacher? How does your supervisor see their role? The only certainty is that the supervisory relationship is your relationship, so take charge of it from the outset. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about any aspect of your supervisory relationship, speak with someone you trust. You have a right to change your supervisory arrangements.
Every student’s needs are different, and comparing your relationship with your supervisor to someone else’s may not be useful. While there are guidelines, your supervision needs are contingent on many factors, such as workload, location and the nature of your project. Some students only need to see their supervisor a few times a year and supplement that contact with email, video chat, or phone; other students require more frequent face-to-face consultation. It is your responsibility to know what you need from your supervisor and the direction you want to take with your research. It is your supervisor’s responsibility to respond in accordance with the Supervision Policy and sometimes communicate (and explain the reasons for) a different research direction.
The most important part of your relationship with your supervisor is good communication. Establishing and nurturing good communication from the start is essential to ensuring you receive the support you need, especially at times when things – your research or life generally – are not going so well. Your research may dominate your life, while your supervisor may have many students to supervise in addition to teaching and research responsibilities. As a result, it is important to clarify expectations of both parties about aspects of your candidature early on. Negotiate where you differ, and review the effectiveness of the arrangement periodically, such as at the beginning of each semester, or just before each Progress Review.
At the beginning of your candidature, discuss with your supervisor the process for resolving problems if they arise. It is important that you are given the opportunity to address any of your supervisor’s concerns before a Progress Review.
It is useful to clarify your expectations regarding authorship of publications with your supervisor, and to document this agreement in writing. The University does not assert any claim over intellectual property (IP) created by a student, unless prescribed otherwise by law, or you agree otherwise. Note that the University cannot force a student to assign their IP rights to the University as a condition of enrolment. Some students agree to assign their IP rights in order to be involved in a project, but this must be your choice.
You have the right to feedback that is timely and constructive. Written work up to the equivalent in length of a chapter must be returned with feedback within one month, unless otherwise negotiated. Identify with your supervisor how progress will be monitored (written work, seminars, progress reviews etc). At commencement and within 3 months of your candidature (or 6 months for part time enrolment), you are responsible for having a progress plan in place, in consultation with your supervisor.
Research students are entitled to have adequate facilities and other resources available in your department. Such facilities normally include all-hours access to appropriate work space, lab space and equipment, and appropriate access to technology. Support resources should be discussed with your supervisor at all stages of the candidature, but particularly in the early stages. It is your supervisor’s responsibility to ensure that facilities identified as necessary to your candidature are available to you. Each Faculty and School varies in the level and type of resource support they offer, but if you need something, you have a right to ask your supervisor for assistance. Note that exclusive access to a desk or computer are not available in all cases.
One-on-one consultations for HDR students: each Faculty has one or more Academic Liaison Librarians who can help you to identify the best information resources for your research. Book an appointment here:
Research support: e.g. advice on strategic publishing, how to make your research more discoverable, social media, researcher profiles, etc. The Library also runs a Quick Bites training series that is aimed at HDR students. You can view previous sessions via YouTube:
Access 100s of research databases: log in with your UniKey and password for 24/7 access:
Request items from other libraries: the Library can source articles/books for your research that aren’t held at the University of Sydney.
EndNote training and support:learn how to manage your references.
If you supervisor is away for a month or more, they should make suitable arrangements to ensure that you have ongoing supervision. This may mean increased contact with you while they are away. Where the absence is foreseeable, the supervisor must notify the Head of School, other supervisors and you at least one month before their date of departure. If a supervisor is intending to retire or resign, you should be consulted and actively involved in the planning arrangements regarding supervision. If you require some time away from your research project it is your responsibility to let your supervisor know. Remember, you are entitled to annual leave of up to four (4) weeks per year, so plan to have breaks and give advance notice to your supervisor.
There are many things your supervisor can’t do for you. At commencement of candidature it’s advisable for you to attend Faculty and Department inductions and spend some time familiarising yourself with your Faculty’s structure, culture and ‘personality’. It will save you time and effort later on if you know how to work with the Faculty office; how to access workshops, conferences, seminars and networking information, scholarships, funding and employment information, and support or social opportunities. Your Faculty must comply with University of Sydney policies and procedures, so it is a good idea to understand relevant policies on research supervision, as well as your Faculty’s practices.
Let your supervisor know your career aspirations – it may help them facilitate opportunities for you. If you are hoping for an academic or research career, publishing papers will be a priority. However, if you are considering managerial, business or government roles, it may be more important for you to network with relevant groups. Research students are expected to take advantage of opportunities to meet other academics and researchers in the field, and your supervisors have a role in facilitating and supporting such opportunities.
Your supervisor is expected to provide you with assistance in developing important applications, research plans and reports on progress.
To prevent the escalation of problems, take the initiative to raise any issues – no matter how trivial they seem – early on with your supervisor. Many HDR students will encounter some problems with their supervisor or arrangements at some point during their candidature. Act quickly to sort them out, first by yourself, and if you require assistance, with you Faculty Postgraduate Research Coordinator. The Progress Review aims to uncover difficulties in your candidature, and supervisory problems are often addressed at this time. Some supervisory relationships become abusive or bullying in nature, and this is never acceptable: you deserve to be treated with respect, and have the right to raise a complaint against your supervisor to the Faculty of the University. If you experience problems with your supervisor that cannot be addressed within your Faculty, contact SUPRA for support.
The Head of School or Postgraduate Research Coordinator appoints a team of supervisors to each individual student, with a minimum of two supervisors per student. The model can be Research or Auxiliary supervisors, Co-Supervisors, or a Supervisory Panel. It is your right to ask for a different model if you prefer, and you may approach the Faculty Postgraduate Research Coordinator to discuss this.
You have a right to change your supervision arrangements. Many students think about changing their topic or supervisor. Sometimes changes are justified. It is important to carefully consider such decisions and the consequences. How will a change affect your wellbeing, scholarship, project, publications etc? Can the problem be resolved without changing supervisor?
For some candidates, it becomes obvious that their supervisor cannot give them the guidance that is required or, at times, there are cases of a supervisory relationship that is either not productive, or has broken down. When changing your supervisor is not an option, movement to another Faculty or institution may be possible, but you should be very clear that your intention for leaving is based on circumstances that cannot be resolved through negotiation. Seek advice from SUPRA before making any final decisions.
If you want to have a productive and respectful relationship with your supervisor, you need to take equal responsibility in nurturing that relationship. Changing supervisors can be stressful, awkward, or simply not an option. If your supervisor chooses to end the supervisory relationship, be aware that the Faculty may not be able to appoint a replacement. In such a situation, the expectation will be for you to find a new supervisor. If your research topic or area is narrow, this may be difficult.
The University maintains a website called Research Supervisor Connect, a register of all individuals approved as research and auxiliary supervisors for HDR students: