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Guidelines, tools and courses

Get inspiration and ideas for efficient and effective supervision, update yourself on the obligations of a supervisor at the GSTS and find contact information on people that can support you:

Role and obligations

Meeting the learning outcomes

Supervisors can update themselves on the rules and regulations of the PhD programme set out by the GSTS. The documents give valuable information on admission and financing, organisation of the GSTS, extensions and leave etc. Most importantly they outline the obligations of supervisors, explain the procedure around the half-year evaluations and the requirements for a PhD thesis.

Aligning expectations

Making explicit agreements

Addressing any mismatches in mutual expectations early increases the chances of a good student-supervisor relationship and a successful completion of the PhD (Pyhältö et al. 2015).

The Graduate School recommends simple tools to make the alignment of expectations between student and supervisor efficient and effective. You can let your new student read a description of your expectations in a ‘supervisor letter’ and then invite him/her for a discussion based on it. Or you can ask the student to consider a number of statements about supervision, separately cast your vote on how you agree with the statements – and then sit down and compare.

Needs for supervision may change throughout the PhD education and it can therefore be useful to re-address them at regular intervals. Re-visit the supervisor letter, do the ‘vote and compare’ exercise again - or use a simple graphical tool for this purpose.

Pyhältö et al. (2015). Innov Education Teach Int, 52, 4–16.

Giving and receiving feedback

The most effective techniques 

Feedback is key to progress, and it is one of the top five of factors that improve learning in higher education (Hattie 2009). In general terms, feedback has to be critical, constructive, respectful and specific to be efficient.  The half-yearly evaluations are an important opportunity for the GSTS supervisors to provide feedback to their PhD students on performance and progress. In general, we recommend that students identify their own feedback needs wherever possible, e.g. by including a description when submitting a piece of work to their supervisor. This helps them identify gaps in their knowledge and skills – and it may increase their engagement with the feedback they receive.

Read general recommendations on good feedback practise here.

Hattie J (2009) in LH Meyer et al. (Eds.): Tertiary assessment & higher education student outcomes: policy, practice & research (pp 259 – 275). Wellington, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa.

Crisis and conflicts

How to avoid and where to get help

It is usually beyond the tasks and abilities of a supervisor to support PhD students with severe personal problems or mental health issues. Instead, the GSTS has mechanisms in place to help these students. We encourage supervisors to contact their PhD partner if one of their PhD students experience a personal crisis that can affect academic performance and progress. The PhD partner will identify suitable support from within the national health system, the university’s team of work psychologists or the management team. 

Occasionally, we see relationships between PhD students and supervisors failing. The PhD partner will also in these situations take action to help resolve the conflict or find a way forward for both parties. First and foremost, we work to prevent conflicts by ensuring that the PhD student and their supervisor agree on the purpose and outcomes of the PhD study programme right from the beginning. Early and continuous alignment of expectations is of crucial importance to this. 

Code of conduct

Supervising responsible research

All researchers at Aarhus University must adhere to The Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. The GSTS asks their supervisors to act as strong role models, but also to continuously address the issue of research integrity with their PhD students. The requirements for honesty, transparency and accountability during the whole research process, from planning to publication, must be clear to all. 

If a student breaches the Danish Code of Conduct, the Committee for Responsible Conduct of Research at Aarhus University will always consider the role of the supervisor carefully as part of their investigation. To support supervisors in fulfilling their responsibilities, the GSTS can offer advice on research integrity and on how to act when misconduct is suspected. Contact either the head of PhD School or the Faculty’s adviser on research conduct for confidential advice and guidance.

Supervision in teams

Ensuring clarity and efficiency

Our research environments at the GSNS are highly collaborative, and many PhD students are helped, supported and supervised by multiple researchers during their PhD studies. This is usually of great advantage to the PhD student and highly recommendable. It allows expert supervision on all aspects of a project – and alternative support if the relationship with one supervisor fails. It also allows mutual inspiration on methods and approaches in supervision. The GSNS urges teams of supervisors to discuss expectations for the PhD research project and agree their roles and responsibilities before they start supervising. Find a check-list for this discussion below.

Useful points to discuss in a new supervisory team

Contributions of each supervisor to the research project and the education:

1)    What knowledge, skills and experience do each supervisor have in relation to the research topic for the PhD?

2)    Who will supervise what in the student’s research project?

3)    How to ensure that the student understands what each supervisor will contribute?

4)    Any potential disagreement on the content of the research project?

5)    Who will ensure planning and progress?

6)    Who and how to ensure student well-being?

7)    Who and how to teach research integrity?

About writing and feedback:

8)    Agreements on co-authorships?

9)    How to handle conflicting views on a student paper?

10) Who and how to supervise the writing process?

11) Who and how to provide feedback?

Communication within the supervisory team

12) How to react to concerns about the student?

13) How to keep each other informed about progress?

Meet regularly throughout the PhD education to discuss whether

14) all supervisors are satisfied with student progress

15) all supervisors are satisfied with their own role in the project

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