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.  If your student does make you aware of personal wellbeing issues, it is important that you are able to refer them to relevant support services, in conjunction with your Senior Tutor (PGR), where appropriate.


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.  

Setting Expectations

Setting expectations

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.  Therefore, it is suggested that you meet your student(s) early on to discuss 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).

To assist you in setting these expectations, the College has developed a document called Mutual Expectations Document July 2020 [Pdf] which replaces the College's Research Degree Codes of Practice.  Topics set out in Mutual Expecations for the Student Supervisor Partnership should be discussed with your student(s) at the first available opportunity.   For supervising Master's projects, the College has produced a similar document called What master's students and their project supervisors might usefully expect from each other [pdf].

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


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

Setting boundaries

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). 

Personal relationships within College

Where a member of staff has a pre-existing relationship, or develops a relationship with a student during the course of the research programme, such that there is a potential conflict of interest, especially with regard to the student’s assessment (which includes supervision), the member of staff and student must declare this in confidence to the Head of Department. 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.

Duty of Care & Prevent Policy

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

How to provide effective feedback

Providing students with effective feedback is an important skills for supervisors to develop.  Students welcome regular feedback and support from their supervisors.  But how can you deliver feedback in a constructive manner?  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).  The Graduate School has also developed a document for students on Receiving Feedback which you may wish to discuss with your student(s).  

To learn more about giving effective feedback you can attend the course 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