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The Candidate

PhD candidates have a number of responsibilities. Candidates should accept that the degree requires them to work towards intellectual independence within a supportive supervisory environment.

As the University's most senior students, candidates must demonstrate a high level of commitment and personal initiative. They should expect to take the lead in most matters pertaining to the project, adhering to the principle that theirs is the main responsibility for the conduct and progress of the research. Candidates should also ensure that they have acquainted themselves with the regulations and procedures governing the PhD programme, to which end they are strongly encouraged to attend the orientation sessions run by the University. They must be prepared to "drive" the project and to raise matters of concern promptly, without waiting for others to do so for them.

The specific responsibilities of PhD candidates are as follows:

  • to commit adequate time and effort to the project (workload and holiday expectations should be discussed with supervisors)
  • to display initiative in identifying and resolving problems relating to the research
  • to manage their work efficiently so as not to place unreasonable demands on supervisors
  • to be well organised and capable of setting and meeting deadlines for various phases of the research
  • to acquire any new skills required as part of the project
  • to maintain frequent and regular contact with the supervisors
  • to seek and accept in good faith advice from supervisors and advisory panels
  • to fulfil tasks required by the supervisors as part of the project
  • to produce self-review documents as part of the reporting process
  • to meet the normal scholarly and professional standards required by their discipline
  • to start writing their thesis as early as is practicable
  • to ensure that all written work is of a high standard of expression and organization
  • to present seminars where appropriate and participate in the academic, professional and social life of the department
  • to attend and present papers at conferences and publish sections of the work where appropriate under the guidance of their supervisors

It is essential that candidates accept that, just as it is a requirement of supervisors to provide advice and criticism, it is necessary for them to listen when such advice and criticism are offered. Ideally, this should take the form of a constructive dialogue, but there will, inevitably, be times when this is the source of some tension. In cases where such dialogue is proving difficult or impossible, this must be addressed as soon as possible.

The Supervisor

The supervisor of a PhD candidate is required to provide academic guidance and practical support from the inception of the project to the submission of the thesis.

The supervision of PhD candidates is a specialised and demanding activity. In order to undertake PhD supervision, the staff member should have at least an equivalent qualification. Where this is not the case, the staff member will need to demonstrate to the Graduate Research Committee that they have recent research experience and a publication record of a suitable standard. New supervisors may take on the role of primary supervisor, providing a colleague who has supervised a PhD to completion at Otago takes on 33% of the supervision load. It is expected that the more experienced colleague will provide mentoring support for the new supervisor. New supervisors are required to attend training sessions organised by the Higher Education Development Centre. All supervisors are encouraged to participate in the professional development programme workshops dealing with PhD matters organised by HEDC.

All supervisors are bound by the University's Ethical Behaviour policy as well as by the specific obligations listed below.


The supervisor should:

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

Academic advice

The supervisor should:

  • hold regular formal supervision meetings - usually at least fortnightly - at which the candidate is guaranteed uninterrupted individual attention
  • be available, within reason, at other times to provide assistance when particular difficulties arise
  • encourage the candidate to adopt an independent approach to learning
  • ensure that the candidate is involved in setting the timetable for the research and reviewing progress of the research and its timetable
  • provide full, prompt, honest and informative feedback to the candidate on work in progress
  • remain conversant with the issues and the literature relating to the candidate's research
  • provide reliable and well-informed guidance in all matters of sound research practice
  • accept that, in some aspects of the topic at least, the candidate's level of knowledge might eventually exceed that of the supervisor

Practical support

The supervisor should:

  • 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 academic leave, for example)
  • 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 e-mail, for example)
  • be prepared to give advice on sources of financial support, such as bridging grants, or direct the candidate to those who can provide such advice

Professional support

The supervisor should:

  • encourage the candidate to become an active member of the professional community, national and international
  • ensure that the candidate contributes to research seminars within the department
  • encourage the candidate to attend relevant conferences within New Zealand and overseas and offer guidance in the preparation of conference presentations
  • identify work by the candidate suitable for publication in refereed journals or other academic publications and assist in the preparation of articles for submission
  • make clear from the outset how issues relating to joint publication of work arising from the candidate's thesis are to be handled
  • not expect the candidate to work in the capacity of 'technician' or 'secretary' to the supervisor

Staff may not supervise candidates with whom they have a close family or personal relationship. If a close emotional or other relationship develops, the Head of Department must be informed so that appropriate alternative arrangements can be made to ensure that the professional nature of the supervision continues.

In general terms, it is essential that candidates and supervisors meet frequently, that each understands how the other views the progress of the research, and that there is a mutually co-operative personal and academic partnership based on honesty and trust.

Head of Department

The Head of Department has the following responsibilities concerning the PhD programme:

  • to maintain an environment within the Department which is conducive to a research culture
  • to check that the candidate's previous level of academic attainment and experience are appropriate for admission to the programme
  • to guarantee that adequate funding and technical assistance are available to support the project
  • to ensure that the supervisory arrangements are satisfactory to both student and supervisor(s)
  • to check that the research interests and expertise of the supervisor(s) are suited to the candidate's needs and to the demands of the project
  • to support the primary supervisor by arranging co-supervision and/or an advisory committee
  • to identify cases where it is desirable to change the supervisory arrangements for academic or personal reasons
  • to administer the reporting process and make recommendations as necessary
  • to determine that supervisors are not over-committed, and to check this annually
  • to deal with complaints and problems promptly
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