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Category Research
Type Guideline
Approved by Senate
Date Guideline Took Effect 29 May 2019
Last approved revision 
Sponsor Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
Responsible officer Dean, Graduate Research School

Please note that compliance with University Guidelines is expected in normal circumstances, and any deviation from Guidelines – which should only be in exceptional circumstances – needs to be justifiable.


To outline the requirements and expectations of all staff supervising graduate research students at the University of Otago.

Organisational scope

These Guidelines have been developed specifically for supervisors – both internal and external – of doctoral and master's thesis candidates at the University of Otago, but could be applied to supervision of other research students.


Graduate Research Candidate
A student enrolled in independent thesis research that involves a supervisor.
Primary Supervisor
The principal supervisor who provides academic advice and practical support. They are the main point of contact for the candidate and the administration of their postgraduate research.
The co-supervisor provides academic advice and practical support, as well as taking part in review meetings and providing input for progress reports and recommendations.
New supervisor
An academic who has not supervised to completion before (at Otago or elsewhere).
External supervisor
A supervisor who is external to the University. An external supervisor cannot normally be a primary supervisor.
An adviser is someone who may provide specialist help, either regularly or irregularly. Examples of advice offered by advisers include professional expertise on linguistic information, statistical support, methodological support, cultural support, and laboratory techniques.
Departmental Advisory Committee
A committee that oversees the candidate's research project.


1. Supervisor requirements

  1. To supervise a graduate research candidate, an academic should be appropriately qualified. For doctoral candidates, supervisors should normally have a doctorate, and for master's thesis candidates, they should have a master's degree or higher qualification. Where this is not the case, the academic will need to demonstrate to the Graduate Research Committee (for supervision of doctoral candidates) or the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of their division (for supervision of master's research candidates), that they have recent research experience and a publication record of a suitable standard.
  2. New supervisors may be a primary supervisor for doctoral candidates, providing a colleague who has supervised a PhD to completion at Otago takes on 33 per cent of the supervision load. The more experienced colleague must provide mentoring support for the new supervisor.
  3. Regarding supervision of doctoral candidates, a primary supervisor who has supervised to completion before can be a sole supervisor provided they are supported by a Departmental Advisory Committee.

2. Expectations

  1. Supervisor-candidate expectations should be discussed early in candidature and a formalised agreement is recommended (a student-supervisor agreement is mandatory for PhD candidates). Expectations/agreements should be reviewed from time to time to ensure currency and relevance.
  2. Academic, supervisory and other issues that may affect progress should be talked through candidly and constructively by supervisors and candidates; this particularly applies in the early phases of work.
  3. The supervisory relationship should be an open, honest and professional interaction between candidate and supervisors, based on mutual respect, trust and good-will.
  4. The supervisory arrangement should be viewed as an evolving partnership, in which an initial candidate/supervisor relationship develops towards increasing equality as the project reaches its culmination in the production of the thesis.
  5. Supervisors and candidates should adhere to the Ethical Behaviour Policy.
  6. Supervisors and candidates should adhere to the Intellectual Property Rights of Graduate Research Students Policy.
  7. Staff should be aware of the potential for conflict of interest in a supervisory relationship and should familiarise themselves with the relevant sections of the Ethical Behaviour Policy and Conflicts of Interest Policy.
  8. Supervisors and candidates should discuss the use of data and findings from thesis research to clarify who has access, and how data might be shared and stored.
  9. Prior to embarking on publishing of graduate research results, supervisors and candidates should discuss authorship credit and author order. For example, the Vancouver Protocol could be followed.
  10. Supervisors are encouraged to complete checklists regarding admission, candidature, and submission requirements:
    1. Sample checklist for supervisors of doctoral candidates (DOC)
    2. Sample checklist for supervisors of master's thesis candidates (DOCX)

3. Collegiality

  1. The supervisor should:
    1. assist in integrating the candidate into the academic and social life of the department
    2. provide a collaborative research environment and encourage open communication
    3. ensure that meetings with co-supervisors and/or departmental advisory committees operate in a constructive manner, and
    4. be sensitive to cultural, political, gender or religious issues relating to the research topic or the candidate.

4. Academic advice

  1. The supervisor should:
    1. hold regular formal supervision meetings - usually at least fortnightly
    2. be available, within reason, at other times to provide assistance when particular difficulties arise
    3. encourage the candidate to adopt an independent approach to learning
    4. ensure that the candidate is involved in setting the timetable for the research and reviewing progress of the research
    5. provide full, prompt, honest and informative feedback in a timely manner (usually within three weeks) to the candidate on work in progress
    6. remain conversant with the issues and the literature relating to the candidate's research
    7. provide reliable and well-informed guidance in all matters of sound research practice, and
    8. accept that, in some aspects of the topic at least, the candidate's level of knowledge might eventually exceed that of the supervisor.

5. Practical support

  1. The supervisor should:
    1. discuss and ensure the candidate is aware of aspects of their research that require approval, such as:
    2. be prepared to give advice on sources of financial support, or direct the candidate to those who can provide such advice
    3. ensure that the candidate is properly forewarned if the supervisor is to be absent from the University for more than a brief period (for the purposes of research and study leave, for example), and
    4. arrange, through the Head of Department, for adequate alternative supervision during any period of absence, either by assigning another staff member to take over supervision or by setting up other means of communication (by email or Zoom, for example).

6. Support for the candidate's professional development

  1. The supervisor should:
    1. discuss further educational and/or employment pathways with the candidate
    2. discuss professional development needs with the candidate
    3. encourage the candidate to become an active member of the professional community, national and international
    4. for doctoral candidates, ensure that the candidate has opportunities to contribute to research seminars within the department
    5. for doctoral candidates, encourage the candidate to attend relevant conferences within New Zealand and overseas and offer guidance in the preparation of conference presentations
    6. identify work by the candidate suitable for publication in refereed journals or other academic publications and assist in the preparation of articles for submission
    7. make clear from the outset how issues relating to joint publication of work arising from the candidate's thesis are to be handled, and
    8. not expect the candidate to work in the capacity of “technician” or “secretary” to the supervisor.

7. Supervisor professional development

  1. New supervisors are required to attend professional development workshops on supervision during their confirmation period, and preferably prior to taking on any supervision.
  2. All supervisors are encouraged to participate in the professional development programme for supervisors.
  3. Experienced supervisors are expected to take an active mentoring role when co-supervising with inexperienced supervisors – particularly those who have not supervised a candidate to completion.

Related policies, procedures and forms

Contact for further information

If you have any queries regarding the content of this policy, procedure or guidelines, or need further clarification, contact:

The Dean, Graduate Research School

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