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Supervision of the Thesis

Supervision of the Thesis

A student preparing a Master’s thesis shall have one or more supervisors, with the primary supervisor being a member of staff of the University. In approving the topic of a Master’s thesis, Heads of Departments, Deans and Pro-Vice-Chancellors (or their nominees) must be assured that adequate resources to pursue the topic are available to the student, and that an acceptable thesis could be written on the topic by a diligent and competent student in not less than twelve months of full-time study or its equivalent in part-time study.

At the stage where a student is seeking a supervisor or supervisors, a process of mutual assessment should take place, to ensure the supervision will be a good match, both for the topic and the support being sought (by the student), and offered (by the supervisor). Because of the commitment required of both student and supervisor(s), a half-hearted or casual approach is not satisfactory.

A supervisor will be formally appointed before the research work begins. In the case of a student undertaking a two year Master’s degree by papers and thesis, the supervisor will be appointed as early as practicable before the thesis start date.

To help you find a supervisor, or an expert in your area of research, be sure to check the web pages of the relevant department. You can also consult:

If the sole supervisor of a Master’s thesis takes a period of study leave, a second supervisor will be appointed. The appointment of a second supervisor does not preclude the student from maintaining contact with a supervisor who is on leave.

Supervisors and candidates are alerted to the conflict of interest provisions in the Ethical Behaviour Policy (http://www.otago.ac.nz/administration/policies/otago003161.html), which state that any family or personal relationship between a supervisor and a student must be declared to the department as a conflict of interest or a potential conflict of interest. Arrangements to manage or remove the conflict of interest will then be put in place by the department. The conflict of interest provisions also state that “the University strongly discourages, and staff should avoid entering into, an intimate personal relationship with any student of the University, particularly a student for whom they have responsibility.” Failure by a staff member to disclose a conflict of interest may be considered a disciplinary matter by the University. While these provisions apply specifically to staff, candidates are alerted to them because they may suffer disadvantage and distress from any conflict of interest which is not managed in accordance with the policy.

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Establishing the Supervisory Relationship

The University has a template ‘Student-Supervisor Agreement’ (available at http://www.otago.ac.nz/graduate-research/policies/index.html), that candidates are strongly recommended to complete during early discussions with their supervisor(s). Note that some departments have customised these templates. The template covers aspects such as

• Candidate, supervisor and thesis details, including the roles of any co-supervisors
• Supervision expectations – arguably the most important part of the agreement to ensure that there is mutual understanding of the support being sought and the support being given.
• Terms of the supervision agreement including the frequency of meetings, whether any formal progress meetings are required, responsibilities of the student and supervisor(s), workload expectations, funding for the project, compliance matters (e.g., ethics and consultation with Māori), intellectual property, training requirements, authorship for any publications resulting from the research and how to resolve any issues if progress is unsatisfactory or there is a breakdown in the supervisory relationship.

In accepting a student for Master’s study it would normally be expected that the supervisor(s) and the Head of Department/School

• had ensured that the research interests and expertise of the supervisor(s) were well matched to the student’s needs and to those of the research

• had given careful consideration to the need for co-supervision in addition to the principal supervisor, and would endeavour to foster a collegial approach amongst those members of staff charged with assisting with the research

• had determined that the supervisor(s) was not already over-committed and would remain fully conversant with issues and the literature relating to the research

• had ensured that the student's previous level of academic attainment and experience were appropriate for the proposed research

• had ensured that any funding or technical assistance essential for the research was available

• were well informed about any necessary ethical clearance for the research and legal, professional or safety implications

• would be sensitive to cultural, political or gender issues relating to the research topic or the student

• would encourage the student to participate fully in setting the timetable for the research and would regularly review the progress of the research and its timetable

• would hold regular formal supervision meetings – weekly or fortnightly is recommended – and would provide quality, focused and uninterrupted attention to the student and the research at such meetings (supervisors should also provide assistance outside such scheduled meeting times should particular difficulties arise)

• would provide full, prompt and informative feedback to the student on work in progress

• would be a reliable and well-informed source of guidance in all matters of sound research practice and would foster the student’s development of independent approaches to learning. While students are expected to accept advice and guidance, they are not expected to work as ‘technicians’ or ‘secretaries’ for their supervisor(s)

• would assist in integrating the student into the academic and social life of the Department

• would provide a collaborative research environment and would encourage open communication, remaining open to the possibility that, in some aspects of the topic at least, the student’s level of knowledge might eventually exceed that of the supervisor(s)

• would ensure that adequate alternative supervision arrangements were put in place should the supervisor be absent for a period on leave (this might also include continued contact with the supervisor by e-mail)

• would encourage the student to make seminar/conference presentations and to publish material as appropriate

• would ensure that work submitted was that of the student and that the data was plausible.

Students also have a vital role to play in the supervisor-student relationship. Students should be prepared to work towards their own intellectual independence from within a supportive relationship with their supervisor(s).

Some of the main factors which will contribute to a successful research Master’s candidacy are:

• being committed to the research and developing an early appreciation of the depth of study and the time requirement that Master’s research entails

• accepting that the principal responsibility for the research and its progress rests with the student

• helping to maintain frequent and regular contact with supervisors, which is particularly important in the early stages of the candidacy

• seeking and accepting advice from supervisors and Advisory Panels (where appropriate)

• being prepared to acknowledge and discuss any academic or personal difficulties which might arise

• being well organised and capable of setting and meeting deadlines for various phases of the research

• establishing and maintaining a clear vision as to the overall aim of the research and of the intermediate goals

• advising the supervisor immediately should the student become aware of any impediments or delays that may affect research gathering or time-frames.

• starting to write-up early and continuing to write sections of the work throughout the candidacy

• providing supervisors with draft written work at regular intervals

• ensuring that the work of others is appropriately acknowledged and accurately cited and that the bibliography is accurate and complete

• presenting seminars as the occasions arise, and participating in the academic, professional and social life of the Department

• as appropriate, attending and presenting papers at conferences and publishing sections of the work

• taking the initiative in finding out from staff and others about life and career prospects as a Master’s graduate

A sample checklist for students and their supervisor/s is provided at http://www.otago.ac.nz/graduate-research/policies/index.html#Masters. The purpose of the checklist is to remind all concerned about important admission, ongoing and submission requirements.

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