Teaching & Learning


The Good Supervision Guide for new and experienced research supervisors of PhDs

This guide, written by a PhD candidate, is based on interviews with UCL Faculty Graduate Tutors at UCL.

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1 August 2019

Written by Alexandra Bulat (PhD Candidate, UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies).

Whether you are new to supervision or already have extensive experience, it is always possible to learn from others’ experiences. 

This guide was compiled based on interviews with Faculty Graduate Tutors from across the  disciplines:

  • medical sciences
  • arts and humanities
  • education
  • mathematical and physical sciences
  • life sciences
  • population health sciences
  • built environment
  • engineering
  • laws
  • social and historical sciences. 

We asked them to give examples of what ‘good supervision practice’ means for them and developed a guide based on the themes which emerged from these conversations. 

Some supervision advice applies to some disciplines more than others, whereas other insights transcend disciplinary boundaries.

What good research supervision practice is

Even after years of experience, some naturally struggle to answer the question 'What is good supervision practice?' with precise examples. 

We identified three key principles, which, if applied, will likely improve the relationship between you and your PhD students. 

Each principle is divided into themes which include advice from the Faculty Graduate Tutors we interviewed.

1. Set expectations, but be aware of the changing reality

This section provides advice on: 

  • setting expectations early in the PhD
  • being flexible
  • planning the PhD process
  • managing your time spent on supervision.

2. Communicate well with students, peers and make use of institutional resources

This section provides advice on: 

  • listening to students
  • communicating with fellow supervisors and working well with the institutional structures in which supervision takes place
  • making use of the resources available.

3. Think outside the (thesis) box

This section provides advice on:

  • how to think beyond the thesis as a piece of research 
  • how to consider your students’ career aspirations, which may not always be academic.

Download the full PDF guide to good research supervision


Where to find help and support

Research supervision web pages from the UCL Arena Centre, including details of the compulsory Research Supervision online course. 

Research and project supervision: an introduction (Arena guide)

Appropriate Forms of Supervision Guide from the UCL Academic Manual

the PhD diaries

The UCL Doctoral School

Handbook and code of practice for graduate research degrees

Doctoral Skills Development programme

Student skills support (including academic writing)

Student Support and Wellbeing

UCL Students' Union (UCLU) 

UCL Careers

External resources

Vitae: supervising a docorate

UK Council for Graduate Education

Higher Education Academy – supervising international students (pdf)

Becoming a Successful Early Career Researcher, Adrian Eley, Jerry Wellington, Stephanie Pitts and Catherine Biggs (Routledge, 2012) - book available on Amazon

This guide has been produced by the UCL Arena Centre for Research-based Education. You are welcome to use this guide if you are from another educational facility, but you must credit the UCL Arena Centre.