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PhDs and the Role of the Supervisor

A good PhD supervisor can make the difference between a pass and a resubmission or fail as an outcome of your PhD process. It is, therefore, critical that you engage with your supervisor as early as possible in the PhD process (preferably before you even apply for a place), that you develop a good relationship with him or her and that you understand how to make the most of your supervisor’s expertise. To do this you need to have at least some understanding of the dynamics of the supervisor-student relationship and the respective roles within that relationship.

The supervisor has two primary duties, which are:

1. To provide academic guidance; and

2. To provide practical support.

Through these two responsibilities, the supervisor should be able to help you to successfully navigate the PhD process.

On the practical side, your supervisor will give you deadlines to help you organise your time and help you through the formalities of the PhD upgrade process (PhDs and the upgrade process). Your supervisor will also help you select a suitable external examiner, to advise you regarding the timing of your submission and to help you through the viva process.

On the academic side, your supervisor is there to guide and not to teach. It is entirely your responsibility to access and retrieve materials, to understand and learn how to use the information and to construct the arguments that will form the backbone of your thesis. Your supervisor is there to help you do this and can be invaluable as a sounding board for your thoughts and ideas. He or she will also read your work and provide you with constructive feedback, but the job of a supervisor is not to correct your mistakes or fill in any gaps in your arguments. PhD supervision should be done with a relatively light touch – your supervisor should point you in the right direction but will not lead you by the hand. If you find that you need additional support beyond this light touch approach, then the PhD Consultancy can provide experts to meet those needs.

Keywords: role of PhD supervisor, PhD supervisor’s job, PhD supervisor, PhD advisor, external examiner, viva process, PhD Consultancy

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