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Essentials of supervision

This section brings together all the information and advice available to you as a new supervisor (or to serve as a reference and update for the more experienced).

Contents of this section:






key documents

There are some key documents you need to be familiar with, as these outline your responsibilities as a supervisor from the University and divisional perspective, and also from a funder’s perspective if you have students funded by a research council.

The section on supervision in the University’s Policy on Research degrees

The MPLS Division’s Code of Practice on the Supervision of Graduate Research Students

The MPLS Division's Policy on DPhil Working Hours and Holidays

The RCUK Statement of Expectations for PostgraduateTraining

Oxford Learning Institute (oli) and other Resources

There are plenty of resources and courses that are designed to support you in your role as a supervisor (remembering that your Director of Graduate Studies in your department will also be an important resource and support for you).

One of the key places to look is the Oxford Learning Institute’s Research Supervision website which includes a comprehensive range of information, ideas, tools and resources for supervisors.There is a useful introduction to the website for new supervisors here.

Vitae also have a series of resources on Supervising and Managing Researchers. Vitae is a national organisation providing support for realising the potential of researchers and supporting their professional and career development.

Key Stages of supervision

You will be supporting your students in their progress to becoming an independent researcher so their needs will evolve over time.

You will find the MPLS Project Initiation Plan a useful document to support you and your student in defining the scope of the DPhil project. While not a formal requirement, many will find it useful for planning the work ahead, and it can evolve over time as work progresses. 

The OLI resource on the different Stages of the Doctorate sets out the steps and stages clearly:

The Oxford Learning Institute’s webpages also offer comprehensive information and resources about supervisory practice: 


One of the most important times for ensuring students’ expectations of their studies, and of you, are managed, is at induction. Your department will have organised induction activities for all incoming DPhil students at the beginning of the academic year and these will be in line with the University’s Policy in this area.

Make yourself familiar with what the department has on offer and encourage your students to engage with it. Different students will find different resources useful.

You should also arrange a more tailored induction for your student(s) to enable them to quickly become familiar with other detailed aspects of the University, division or department where there may still be ‘gaps’ from the overarching events. The fundamental part of this will be the introduction to your research group - the people, equipment and workspaces they will be engaging with. Ensure they are becoming familiar with the structure of the doctorate and underpinning processes (and know where to go to find out more).

You will find that the MPLS Project Initiation Pack has a number of useful documents to support you and your student in defining the scope of the DPhil project: the MPLS Project Initiation Plan will aid in the planning of the DPhil;  a Training Needs Analysis form to identify the skills your DPhil student needs to complete their studies successfully with advice for supervisors on how to use it; and information on the training courses and other activities to support core skills development. It is not a formal requirement to use this pack, but many will find it very useful in planning the skills development and the work to lead to a successful completion of the DPhil. The pack contents can be used over time as the work moves forward.

For information and ideas for induction, and for establishing routines and good practice for supervision, see the MPLS Division’s Code of Practice on the Supervision of Graduate Research Students and the OLI resources highlighted above.

MPLS divisional Welcome event

The MPLS Division holds an event at the beginning of Michaelmas Term every year to welcome all new DPhil students to the division. The aim of the event is to provide new students with an overview of the division and the range of resources, information, training and support available to them. It is also a really valuable opportunity for them to start meeting and networking with students from other disciplines. You should encourage your new students to attend the event - details will be sent out to all incoming students and their supervisors in the weeks prior to the beginning of term. 

Divisional requirements, expectations, documents and resources

Introduction to Supervision online course

All DPhil supervisors in MPLS departments who are new to DPhil supervision, or new to supervising DPhil students at Oxford, are required to take this online course. It provides both an introduction to the specific roles and responsibilities of supervisors at Oxford, and an outline of more general aspects of DPhil supervision.

The course can be accessed here. (You will need your single sign-on.)

You are strongly encouraged to complete the course over multiple sessions, rather than in one sitting. You will need to complete all sections of the course before you can download a certificate of completion. 

Requirements of the Divisional Code of Practice on Supervision

The MPLS Division’s Code of Practice on the Supervision of Graduate Research Students requires you to

  • Establish a timetable of regular meetings for detailed discussion of your student’s progress (these should take place at least once every two weeks averaged across the year)
  • Agree a research plan and programme of work, establishing clear academic expectations and milestones. There are a range of documents to support this including: the MPLS Project Initiation Plan which has been designed to support you and your student to define the scope of the DPhil project; the Training Needs Analysis (TNA) document which will help you understand  the core skills your DPhil student needs to complete their degree successfully and guidance on its use; a document on training courses and other activities to support core skills development to help you match training provision to your student's needs. It is not a formal requirement to use these but they will be useful in planning the work ahead, and for review as the work progresses.
  • Agree a timetable for submission of any written work; and return the student’s work within a reasonable time.
  • Advise your student of departmental and research group /laboratory health and safety regulations. Supervisors are responsible for all aspects of safety under your control, and particularly for the safe conduct of experiments carried out in the course of your student’s research.
  • Formally assess your student’s subject-specific and career and professional development training needs on a regular basis (as a minimum this should happen at least once each year) and advise on opportunities available to meet these needs. See below for information and resources for assessing training needs, and for finding training provision. 
  • Give your students clear feedback and check that their understanding of this marries with your own. (See the OLI resource on Giving and Receiving feedback). You are required to write a report on your student’s progress at the end of each term on the Graduate Supervision System (GSS). There is more information about GSS here. Ensure your students are clear about any issues or problems you have identified with their work and help them form a clear plan of how they are going to move ahead.
  • Support your student’s reflections on their own progress. They are required to submit a GSS report each term too and if they are able to reflect appropriately on their progress this should help you identify further where they need support. There is a specific form for them to use in the term pre Transfer which will focus their reflections on preparing for this key milestone. A similar form is available for Confirmation of Status.
  • Inform the departmental Director of Graduate Studies through termly reporting mechanisms of any concerns about your student’s progress, attendance or other needs. There is a flag on GSS you can use for this purpose.

assessing training needs and finding training provision

The Training Needs Analysis (TNA) form focuses on the core skills that DPhil students need to complete their degree. We provide guidance on how to use it. Supervisors should expect students to complete the TNA form and then review it with them to determine how accurate their self assessment is. Supervisors may also use different types of formative assessment to evaluate their new student and inform them of which skills need to be developed. 

The Researcher Development Framework (RDF) provides a framework for planning and supporting the broader personal, professional and career development of graduate research students. You and your student can use the RDF to identify and assess the skills, attributes and experience that the student needs to carry out their research, complete their DPhil and develop their career. It will then help you identify the gaps and prioritise training needs. 

The MPLS Graduate Academic programme brings together training offered by MPLS departments and the division, and offers a range of interdisciplinary courses covering academic, research, subject specific and generic skills. DPhil students from any department can sign up for a place on another department's courses.

The MPLS Division offers a range of generic graduate training, together with information and provision for Enterprise  and Public Engagement (through Oxford Sparks).

There are also a number of other training providers in the University who offer courses for research students. 

examples of good practice and supervisory team structures

Examples of MPLS Departmental Good Practice to Support Progression

Examples of Supervisory Team Structures