Your relationship with your supervisor is central to the success of your research degree - it should be characterised by trust, honesty and mutual respect. Your supervisor will be able to guide you on the nature of your research and the standard expected, and more generally should help you to develop your abilities and to achieve the best possible outcomes.

They will also advise you of any further training opportunities in the form of taught courses, and research techniques that may be available. You should have regular meetings or calls with your supervisor - about one hour per week is a good level of contact. This will depend on the nature of your project and what stage you're at - you will probably meet your Supervisor more often at the start of your research degree, for example.

Effective Partnerships

A healthy, effective and honest Student-supervisor Partnership is essential to your development as an independent researcher, and we find many examples of these across the College.

The key to an effective partnership is for students and supervisors to be able to discuss and agree on their mutual expectations, so they are clear at every step of your journey and evolve as you grow as a researcher too.

Imperial’s Mutual Expectations document offers a starter list of aspects that you and your supervisor should discuss from your first meeting and revisit at least annually. This document is meant to be an aid to building a trustful relationship with your supervisor. You will need to confirm at your ESA milestone that you have discussed it with your supervisor.

Mutual expectations

Students can expect supervisors to

  1. Be supportive of you both intellectually and personally;
  2.  Set up a viable project and ensure that you have a clear idea of aims and objectives and an initial work-plan;
  3. Provide an adequate work space for you;
  4. Be available (or provide an identified substitute) to talk about research problems at relatively short notice although, at certain times of the year, you may need to give a few days notice;
  5. Help and guide you extensively in your first year; help you in your second year; and be a sounding board in your third year. The help is tapered as you develop confidence in your own abilities and research skills, to enable you to learn to work more on your own and to make more of your own decisions;
  6. Help develop your skills in technical writing, oral presentations, problem definition, statistical data analysis and critical literature reviews. Alternatively, they will identify someone who will be able to help you improve in these areas (you could start with the courses offered by the Graduate School).
  7. Enable you to attend at least one international conference to present a paper;
  8. Provide adequate resources, funds and/or facilities, for your research project;
  9. Read your thesis thoroughly and make constructive comments on both style and intellectual content. 

Supervisors expect you to

  1. Display Initiative: Ultimately, the person who drives the process and strives to understand the research area is you. We expect you to be curious about your research and to think about how other people's work and ideas have an impact on what you are doing. In light of this, it is a requirement for you to attend all lab meetings and work in progress discussions, in addition to other seminars.
  2. Develop your skills: You should build on your existing skills and learn new ones by attending the professional skills courses and lectures provided by the Graduate School, departments within the college and by any other external providers.
  3. Keep up with your field: There will often be new work published on your topic, and you will need to stay up to date with the literature in your field.4.
  4. Provide regular reports: You should be diligent about keeping a laboratory notebook and regularly entering all your data into electronic forms for back up and archiving. Your supervisor will want to be kept informed on how you're doing.
  5. Be aware of safety at all times: Follow safety procedures, especially if you are working in a laboratory. For a list of mandatory safety courses for all new PhD students, visit our Health and Safety page.
  6. Understand your funding: If you are receiving funding from a private organisation or a funding body, there may be specific requirements you need to fulfil to maintain your funding. Make sure you know if you need to report your progress, carry out a certain level of public engagement or fulfil another requirement.
  7. Be self-critical: Take a detached view of your own work and results and use these skills to be sceptical of results in the wider literature around your subject. For further advice, visit our Self-reflection page.
  8. Collaborate with others: You will be expected to work with colleagues (especially less experienced ones) in the laboratory to learn through discussion and demonstrations.
  9. Share your findings: Take the opportunity to share the findings of your research externally and with the wider College community. 

As your partnership progresses, there could be occasions when challenges occur, and your supervisory partnership becomes difficult. This Graduate School has a page that is designed to explore some of the common challenges you may experience and offer practical suggestions for how you might address these. If you are not able to solve things yourself, and you need more support, this website also signposts you to staff and services that can help.

You can find more information on what to expect and what is expected from you in the following document: Mutual expectations for the Research Degrees student and supervisor partnership