Supervision practices and supervision plan

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Supervision is an important part of doctoral education and the completion of the doctoral degree. Each doctoral student must have at least one supervisor to assist them with the scientific content of research and to support them in their growth as independent researchers. A strong recommendation – a requirement in many doctoral programmes – is at minimum two supervisors, with at least one of them being employed by the doctoral student’s home faculty. The aim of the two supervisor recommendation is to ensure sufficient supervision in all situations.

At the onset of the studies the new doctoral students construct functional research practices for themselves with the help of the academic community. As a doctoral student you are entitled to high-quality expert supervision. However, both you and your supervisor also have responsibilities related to creating and maintaining a good supervision relationship.

Doctoral candidate's responsibilities in a nutshell

  • Writing a doctoral dissertation is a major project requiring long-term commitment. During your doctoral studies you have the right to receive guidance and supervision, but ultimately you are responsible for completing your degree.
  • Maintaining a good supervision relationship requires that agreed deadlines are kept and the supervisor is kept up to date with the progress of your research. Always discuss any issues with the supervisor that may delay the completion of the doctoral dissertation, whether they be personal or setbacks in the implementation of the study. The supervisors must be able to plan their schedules without having to guess at the reasons behind or duration of the delay.
  • Be active in asking for feedback and advice, and take the comments you receive into account in your research and studies.
  • Adopt responsible conduct of research practices and general ethical rules as well as those specific to your discipline.
  • At the onset of your studies, acquaint yourself with the degree requirements of your doctoral programme and make sure that you will complete your studies within the deadline provided. In most doctoral programmes this means that the studies required for the degree must be completed by the time you submit your dissertation for preliminary examination. You can, for example, record your completed studies in Thessa to keep constantly up to date on what you have done and what remains to be done.
  • The supervisor plays a major role in ensuring that you will become a part of the community within your discipline as well as the more extensive academic community. However, this also requires that you are active in this regard. Participate in conferences, workshops and other events in your discipline. Find out what kinds of courses and events your doctoral programme and school organise and be an active participant in the activities. Being active will help you build important networks for the future as well as receive peer support in your dissertation work.
  • Annual registration is every student's responsibility. If you fail to register during the annual registration period, you will lose your study right.
  • If thesis committees are in use in your doctoral programme, your responsibility is to arrange a thesis committee meeting at least once a year. If you are writing your dissertation as a part of a research group, you are also responsible for ensuring that you do your part in the research group.

Supervisors’ responsibilities in a nutshell

  • Your supervisor is responsible for providing you with sufficient professional guidance for independent work. If necessary, you and your supervisor may think of suitable people for the role of additional supervisors.
  • Your supervisor must provide you with regular feedback on your doctoral dissertation. It is a good idea to agree on the schedule of the meetings and what you and your supervisor commit to do as a part of drawing up the supervision plan (i.e. supervision agreement) at the beginning of the studies.
  • Your supervisor is responsible for informing you in advance of any major changes to the availability of supervision.
  • Your supervisor should encourage you in your research and studies. This includes encouraging you to write scientific articles and present scientific papers.
  • It is also a supervisor’s duty to do their part in ensuring that you are conscious of any ethical or legal issues related to your research.
  • Your supervisor should support your integration into the academic community. They may, for example, tell you about the most important conferences and give you advice on finding cooperation partners.
  • Your supervisor will give you advice on drawing up and updating a study plan. They must also discuss your future plans and career alternatives with you.
  • Your supervisor should support you when it comes to finding funding, for example by helping you find suitable sources of funding and writing references, when needed. If you need a reference, do take care to ask for one in good time before the given deadline.

Supervision plan

It is strongly recommended that all doctoral students complete a supervision plan (often also called supervision agreement) with their supervisors at the onset of their studies. The supervision plan defines the rights and responsibilities of all parties and determines, for example, the division of responsibilities between the supervisors and the number of meetings. It is also recommended that the supervision plan be regularly updated according to changes in the circumstances. The supervision plans are drawn up in the electronic Thessa system used for the planning and monitoring of doctoral studies. Further information on the use of Thessa is available here.

Coordinating academic

In addition to supervisors, each new doctoral student will be assigned a coordinating academic (sometimes also called responsible person, responsible professor or responsible teacher). The responsible person is either a professor at your home faculty or a docent employed by the faculty well-versed in the rules and practices related to doctoral education at the University of Helsinki.

It is the coordinating academic’s role to ensure the continuity of the supervision arrangements and assist you, for example, in finding a new supervisor, should your current supervisor, for one reason or another, have to give up the supervision duties. If necessary, the responsible person will also assist you in acquainting yourself with the rules of doctoral education and the dissertation examination process. In some doctoral programmes, the coordinating academic approves the studies to be included in your degree. When it's time to start the examination process, the coordinating academic makes the faculty a formal proposal on the pre-examiners and opponent to be named.

The coordinating academic’s duties do not include actual supervision responsibilities, but one of your supervisors may be assigned to be your coordinating academic, if they meet the requirements of the coordinator’s position. In this case, the person assigned will act in a double role as both your supervisor and your responsible person.

Division of supervision responsibilities

The doctoral programme, the discipline and the academic community partake comprehensively in the supervision of dissertations. The responsibilities are divided as follows:

  • The doctoral students are expected to be active with regard to supervision.
  • Each doctoral student must have at least one supervisor to assist them with the scientific content of research and to support them in their growth as independent researchers. A strong recommendation – and a requirement in many doctoral programmes – is at least two supervisors, at least one of whom is employed by the doctoral student’s home faculty.
  • Other possible supervisors will be responsible for the supervision of the dissertation, especially from the perspective of the content.
  • The staff and the steering group of the doctoral programme provide support in solving issues related to the supervision relationship when needed.
  • Support services: The staff of doctoral student services will support and advise the students and, if necessary, also supervisors in the practical arrangements of the doctoral studies and the public examination of the dissertation.

For the supervisor, the supervision is usually simply another academic duty. Therefore, students should prepare for the meetings carefully. Any texts should, for instance, be delivered to the supervisor as agreed to give them time to prepare.

The supervisor must bear in mind that the student is usually conducting research for the first time. Therefore an experienced supervisor will ensure that the worst beginner's mistakes made by the doctoral student are pointed out clearly and in time.

The supervision can also be arranged so that some of the supervisors represent various disciplines, faculties or universities, or are from expert organisations outside the University. Outside supervisors should follow the practices of the doctoral programme and reach an agreement about the practical matters pertaining to the supervision relationship before they are assigned as supervisors.

The doctoral dissertation is the core of the doctoral studies, but they also include studies developing the student’s competence and expert skills in their own discipline. When considering doctoral education as a whole, the doctoral school, the doctoral programme, the faculty and the academic community all have a role to play. Doctoral schools and doctoral programmes organise teaching suited to be included in the doctoral degree and communicate on it. When necessary, the advisors at the doctoral programme and the faculty instruct doctoral students in problems with supervision and other issues related to the students’ rights.

Both the supervisors and doctoral students are expected to acquaint themselves with the guidelines on the responsible conduct of research of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity TENK.

Good supervision practices

A good supervision relationship can be established in many ways. However, research and previous practice indicate that good supervision has certain special characteristics:

  • It is important that doctoral students find their place in the scientific community and feel that they are accountable to someone for their work.
  • It is essential that doctoral students learn the nature of postgraduate work early on in their studies.
  • Doctoral students receive regular feedback on their progress.
  • Engaging in research and scientific writing are skills that have to be practised from the outset of the studies. According to research, the idea that a dissertation can simply be thought through and written down is a very dangerous assumption in terms of the completion of the dissertation.

In addition to doing research, doctoral education aims at amassing other often implicit skills for operating in the academic community. Many skills and practices are already self-evident to the supervisor. However, it is difficult for the doctoral student to learn academic community practices from books. The supervisor will ensure that the student will learn the practices related to being a researcher: How to seek funding; how to participate in scientific conferences; what good publication channels are and how to prepare a manuscript for publication; what the networking conventions are in the discipline.

Other ways to find supervision

Often only one-on-one discussions with the supervisors are considered supervision. However, students should seek a wide variety of supervision for their independent study. Supervision and guidance alternatives include:

  • Conferences, congresses, seminars and symposiums: It is a good idea to draw up the presentation in such a way that it is easy to comment on.
  • Peer support from other doctoral students: Study groups, groups dedicated to commenting on each other’s work and other low-threshold forms of peer support are well suited to independent work.
  • Doctoral student’s thesis committee: You will receive feedback from the thesis committee members on the progress of your studies at least once a year.
  • Studies included in the degree: Feedback on the studies also determines the course the dissertation work will take.
  • Students of other fields or friends: It is good to receive feedback on the intelligibility of the text also from individuals who are not versed in the subject of the research.

You should regularly discuss the overall supervision process with the supervisors.

Due to the nature of research activities, it is important to set a timetable for the progress and completion of the doctoral dissertation at the very onset of the studies. It is also vital to monitor the student's adherence to the schedule, especially at the early stages of the work.