3. Supervisory relationships with co-supervisors

  • Full: Required
  • Associate: Required

Historically, the model has been for candidates to have a single supervisor. But over the last three decades or so there has been a move to co- or team supervision to enhance the experience of doctoral candidates by reducing their reliance upon a single individual and giving them access to a broader range of expertise and support.

However, co-supervision can have a downside. The involvement of more supervisors in the process can create a potential for disagreement and divergence within the team and leave the candidate playing piggy in the middle’ to the detriment of their experience.

Typical Examples 

  • Clarifying roles with co-supervisors and candidates at the start of the candidacy.
  • Clarifying expectations of the project with co-supervisors and the candidate.
  • Regularly reviewing relations between supervisors and with candidates during the course of the candidacy.

Usually, supervisory teams include a designated main supervisor and one or more secondary supervisors. As Guerin and Green (2015) have argued, It is important that there is clarity within the team about the respective roles the supervisors will play and that this is understood by the student.

This is particularly important where supervisors come from external organizations and may have a limited understanding of the degree as in the case of many professional doctorates (see for example Neumann 2005, Fillery-Travis et al 2017), practice-led doctorates (see for example Allpress et al 2012, Duxbury 2012) and industrial or commercial doctorates (Malfoy 2011, Cuthbert and Molla 2014)

As well as clarity of roles, as Parker-Jenkins (2018) has pointed out, there is a need for co-supervisors to clarify their expectations of the research project itself, who supervises what (e.g. one the theoretical foundation, the other the empirical), and arrangements for feedback to the candidate.

Co-supervisors sometimes negotiate roles informally, or through formal reviews, for example using Grossman and Crowther’s (2015) comprehensive list as a basis for negotiating who does what, when, where and how.

Again, this is particularly important in the context of collaborative doctoral programmes.

As well as starting off on the right footing, as Taylor et al (2018) have argued, there is a need for regular reviews of the relationships of co-supervisors with each other and with the student. Such reviews, perhaps once or twice per year, might be undertaken with the candidate present and be used to identify problems stemming from co-supervision at a relatively early stage and before they delay, fatally or otherwise, the progress of the research.

  • How often do you consult institutional and/​or research council guidelines relating to primary and secondary supervisory roles, and discuss these with co-supervisors and candidates?
  • Do you conduct informal discussions or formal reviews of your co-supervisory relationships?

Example Application Content

References & Bibliography

Visit the main UK Council for Graduate Education website