Recruitment and Selection

Supervisors can be involved in recruitment activities in a number of ways, including publicising the areas within which they can offer supervision and reaching out to under-represented groups.

Supervisors should be involved in the selection of candidates from supporting intending applicants to develop their applications through to making final decisions and giving feedback.

Typical Examples
  • Publicising the areas of research within which they personally can offer supervision.
  • Participating in campaigns to recruit candidates from groups that are under-represented in doctoral education.
  • Assessing whether applicants are likely to make the transition to independent researchers.
  • Assessing whether applicants’ proposed research projects are realisable and whether they have (or can acquire) the knowledge and skills to complete them.
  • Interviewing applicants.
  • Making a final decision and giving feedback.

Supporting Materials

Literature and Evidence

Many supervisors also have their own web sites to inform prospective applicants about the areas in which they can offer supervision. Such sites need to also inform prospective applicants how to go about constructing an application, how to get in touch, how to apply to the institution, and what would be involved if they were successful and became a candidate. A good example is the web site of Dr Adam Baker of the School of Computer Science, University of St Andrews (see If you have a personal web site, the design of it could provide appropriate evidence.

While there has been considerable progress in opening up undergraduate education to historically under-represented groups, this seems to have been much less marked in doctoral education (see for example McCulloch and Thomas 2012, Wakeling and Kyriacou 2010). Some institutions and professional bodies have special initiatives intended to recruit candidates from these groups. You may then be able to provide examples of outreach activities.

Once applications are in, judgements have to be reached about the candidate and the research proposal. As Bernstein et al (2014) have argued, the crucial decision is whether they are capable of undertaking independent research. You might evidence this by outlining the ways in which you find out about research capability, for example, asking applicants for a research report or dissertation.

For the research proposal, a judgement has to be made about whether it is suitable as a doctoral project, and whether it is doable and viable within the timeframe allowed. An example might be if you with applicants on developing their research proposals prior to making a formal application.

As well as an academic relationship, supervision is, of course, a personal relationship as well, and for that reason as Pells (2018) has suggested, good-practice is to interview applicants, either face to face or if that is not possible through the use of technology. Evidence may then be of your personal policy in interviewing applicants.

Once a decision has been taken in the light of the application, the interview, and usually references as well, this has to be communicated to the applicant. Where the outcome is favourable this is easy. But, where applicants have spent a lot of time and effort in putting together an application, it can come as a crushing blow to be rejected. Your evidence, then, could be of the provision of an example of appropriate feedback to unsuccessful applicants.


Expand the section below to view references the academic literature supporting this criterion:

1. Recruitment and Selection

Bernstein, B., Evans, B, Fyffe, J., Halai, N., Hall, F., Jensen, H.-S., Marsh, H. and Ortega, S., (2014)

The Continuing Evolution of the Research Doctorate.

In M. Nerad and B. Evans (eds.) Globalization and Its Impacts on the Quality of PhD Education. Rotterdam, Sense: 5-30.

McCulloch, A. and Thomas, L, (2012)

Widening participation to doctoral education and research degrees: a research agenda for an emerging policy area.

Higher Education Research and Development, 32(2): 214-227.

Pells, R. (2018)

Millions in public funding award to UK PhD applicants without interview.

Times Higher Education, 3rd May

Wakeling, P. and Kyriacou, C. (2010)

Widening Participation from Undergraduate to Postgraduate Research Degrees: A Research Synthesis.

National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement and Economic and Social Research Council. York, University of York.

Download the Research Supervisors Bibliography PDF 1.15Mb

Example Application Content

Below is an example of how evidence could be provided for this criterion when applying to the Research Supervision Recognition Programme:

1. Recruitment and Selection

When I became a principal supervisor, I decided to establish a personal web site to try and attract good research students to work with me. In constructing the site, I had to decide what information would be relevant both to intending students and to me. I thought the key areas were the availability funding, possible research topics that I could supervise, pre-existing research expertise, and how to make an application. The site ( is taking 100-200 hits per year, and that so far I have recruited three of my research students by this means.

Particularly as a first-generation university student myself, I am conscious of the need to widen recruitment to postgraduate research degrees by increasing the numbers of students from non-traditional academic backgrounds (see, for example, Pasztor and Wakeling 2018). I have given numerous presentations at postgraduate fairs stressing that research studentships at Barchester are open to everyone and encouraging applications particularly from under-represented groups. This has helped both for the university and for my department, which now has a much more diverse research student population.