Establishing contact and rapport from the start

Students should be able to discuss academic issues with you.  To facilitate this, it is vital to establish early contact and begin developing professional rapport from the outset.  Whilst the role of supervisor is primarily academic, the wellbeing of students at Imperial is everyone’s responsibility and can impact academic performance. It is important that you are able to refer your students to relevant support services, in conjunction with your Senior Tutor (PGR), where appropriate.

Setting Expectations

To assist you in setting mutual expectations, the College has developed the Mutual Expectations Document [Pdf] which replaces the College's Research Degree Codes of Practice.

All student-supervisor partnerships are unique and how the partnership is developed and managed will vary.  In most cases, but not all, a breakdown in the partnership occurs because neither party is clear about what is expected of them. 

  • You should discuss mutual expectations at your first supervisory meeting with your student
  • Deparments are asked to ensure that students and supervisors have discussed the document within the first three months of the PhD
  • You and your student will both be asked to indicate that this has happened as part of the ESA
  • You should revisit this document at intervals throughout the project

This discussion should include matters such as: 

  • the frequency of meetings
  • where meetings will take place
  • how quickly students can expect you to provide feedback on their work
  • your expectations of them
  • academic standards, milestones and deadlines
  • preferred methods of communication outside of the lab and in between meetings
  • how others within the lab or research group can help or be of assistance, for example, post docs (Assistant Supervisors).

The College’s Personal Tutors' Guide has some helpful hints and tips on communication and effective conversations.

For supervising Masters projects, the College has produced a similar document called What Masters students and their project supervisors might usefully expect from each other [pdf].

As a supervisor, you should meet regularly with your student(s), through one-to-ones, tutorials and group/lab meetings. 

Supervsiors will be available to students for at least one hour per week (on average) this may take the form of individual meetings (tutorials), group meetings or lab meetings.

Group meetings are an important part of the development of research students, but many students feel worried or anxious about them because they may not have any results to show or they may have hit a brick wall with their research and worry about sharing this more widely. In such cases, a one-to-one with the student concerned may be a better approach.

If you notice that students are regularly failing to attend planned meetings with you, it is important to alert your Senior Tutor (PGR).

When talking through mutual expectations for how the student supervisor partnership will work, you should also establish boundaries.  When can a student see you? When will you not be available? What can you help with? Are students aware that there can be limits to confidentiality?  Your role is to support and develop your student through their research, not to solve all of their problems.  

It is strongly recommended that you do not pass on personal phone numbers to your student(s). 

As detailed in Section 8 of the College Policy on Research Degree Supervision, it is considered inappropriate for romantic or sexual involvements to develop between supervisors and their students. However, if a relationship does develop, the supervisor and student must report this to the Head of Department in accordance with HR procedures: the supervision arrangements must be immediately reviewed.  The Head of Department will treat all such matters in confidence, and any staff member is welcome to seek advice, on an informal basis, from a senior member of Human Resources before discussing their situation with their Head of Department. Staff should be aware that a breach of this policy could lead to disciplinary action.

All members of the College with any staff management responsibilities are expected to ensure that relationships within their team and students remain professional at all times.

The College has a duty of care to its students and staff in which all members of the College share.  This means that concerns about the wellbeing of members of the College need to be considered and dealt with appropriately.  This includes providing support to people who may be vulnerable to radicalisation.

If you develop a concern that your students may be on a path towards radicalisation, you should discuss this with your Senior Tutor (PGR).  The College procedure for raising concerns about radicalisation and more information can be found on the Central Secretariat webpages

Providing students with effective feedback is an important skills for supervisors to develop.  Students welcome regular feedback and support from their supervisors.

The College's Personal Tutors' Guide has some helpful hints and tips on communication and effective conversations.  Additionally, the Graduate School has developed Providing Effective Feedback, a document designed to support you to provide effective feedback to your research degree student(s), and a guide on Receiving feedback on your research progression document that your students may find useful. 

Giving Effective Feedback course is offered by the Educational Development Unit

Useful References:

Hughes, G. (2011). Towards a personal best: a case for introducing ipsative assessment in higher education [pdf], Studies in Higher Education, 36(3), pp. 353-367. 

Nicol, D. (2010). 'From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education,’ Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 35, p. 501-517

Establishing contact and rapport from the start

Making students feel at home

Professor Holger Krapp, from the Department of Bioengineering, has shared his views on setting expectations from the start and building rapport. Professor Krapp is a recipient of a President's Award for Excellence in Research Degree Supervision.  

The importance of setting expectations from the start.

Making students feel at home

Professor Krapp talks about the important of setting expectations with students from the start.

Professor Holger Krapp, from the Department of Bioengineering, has shared his views on setting expectations from the start and building rapport. Professor Krapp is a recipient of a President's Award for Excellence in Research Degree Supervision.  

Advice on how to establish good relationships with students.

Establishing good relationships with students

Dr Malhotra talks about how supervisors can establish good relationships with students.

We asked Dr Namrata Malhotra, Associate Professor from Imperial College Business School, talks about the importance of establishing good relationships with students. 

On student-supervisor effective partnerships.

Establishing effective partnerships: The student perspective

Students' perspective on effective partnerships with their supervisors.

Ahmed Shamso, Zaynab Jawad, and Yu Xia, PhD students at Imperial College, share their views on the importance of establishing effective partnerships with their supervisors.

Professor Lloyd on the management of lab meetings.

Creating a supportive environment within a lab

Professor Lloyd shares her tips for the management of lab meetings.

We asked Professor Clare Lloyd, Vice-Dean (Institutional Affairs), Faculty of Medicine, to share her views on the management of labs and the different roles of staff within labs.  Professor Lloyd is a recipient of a President's Medal for Excellence in Research Degree Supervision.