Problems in PhD supervision

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A well-functioning supervision relationship is important for your doctoral dissertation and graduation. If you feel that your and your supervisor’s wishes or goals differ, or you encounter other issues in your supervision relationship which significantly hinder the dissertation work, you should tackle the issue as soon as possible.

Where to get help?

Every supervision relationship has larger or smaller issues. In the first instance, the parties should make sure that there has not been a misunderstanding. Many problems arising from conflicting expectations can be solved through discussions between the supervisor and the doctoral student. It is important that you discuss your wishes and goals related to supervision clearly with your supervisor, and agree on practical means to achieve them. It is also good to recognise that you and your supervisor may disagree on the goals and practical matters related to supervision.

Sometimes it may happen that there are issues in your supervision relationship which may not be possible to solve merely by talking with the supervisor. In these cases, it is recommended that outside help is sought to solve the issue. In these kinds of situations, you can contact your possible monitoring group and/or the doctoral programme officer. We recommend that you first familiarize yourself with the process description for solving problems in supervision and the rights and responsibilities of each party. Your responsible teacher and the steering committee of your doctoral programme are also partly responsible for supervision arrangements so, if you wish, you may also contact them directly. University employees may also contact their own superiors.

Most importantly – don't be left alone. Even if you are unsure of whether you need help to solve the issue that has arisen, you can always contact the doctoral programme officer to talk about it confidentially. All problematic situations in supervision are taken seriously and every effort is made to find a solution for them that is satisfactory to both parties in order to ensure that they do not cause a delay to the completion of the doctoral dissertation. The steering committee of your doctoral programme will monitor the situation and ensure that the required measures are taken to defuse the problem and that they are effective.

Where to get help from as a supervisor?

Supervisors may also turn to the doctoral programme officer or the steering committee in problematic situations. University employees may also contact their own superiors. We recommend that you first familiarize yourself with the process description for solving problems in supervision and the rights and responsibilities of each party.

Supervision as a professional relationship

Supervision is a hierarchical, professional relationship in which each party respects the privacy of the other. The relationship entails mutual professional conduct and activity. The supervisor is not responsible for the life of the doctoral candidate outside the University.

Equality, inappropriate behaviour, bullying and harassment

All doctoral candidates must be treated equally. Particular attention is paid to the fact that no students are discriminated against based, for example, on their gender, ethnicity or age. The studies are to be arranged in such a way that different backgrounds do not hamper the completion of the degree. The University does not condone any type of inappropriate behaviour, bullying or harassment. The University has published its policies for the prevention of inappropriate behaviour and harassment. You can read more of the University policies in the instructions related inequality and discrimination at the university.

Typical supervision prolems

Typical supervision problems often relate to the following:

  • Delays in studies: If the student has problems attaining the set goals, the situation must be examined. The University of Helsinki also monitors student progress when six years have passed since their right of study has been issued. The monitoring and the concomitant supervision is a tool for the faculties and doctoral programmes to facilitate the students’ progress and the completion of the degree.
  • Expectations: The parties have not discussed their ideas and expectations of supervision, or they hold conflicting expectations.
  • Meetings: Either of the parties is unhappy with the number of meetings or wishes that the other would prepare better for the meetings.
  • Feedback: The student wishes for more thorough feedback, or the supervisor is unhappy with the way the student takes feedback into account.
  • Approaches: The supervisor and the student cannot reach agreement on general approaches or cannot communicate their expectations to the other party. Progress may also be hampered if the student has several supervisors with conflicting approaches.
  • Conflicts in scientific research: Conflicting views on the scientific content, framework or realisation of research.