Quality Manual

Appointment of supervisors

This page sets out the University's position on the appointment of supervisors, including role eligibility and requirements. Its content is relevant to staff and students across all of the UK, China and Malaysia campuses.

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1. Policy

Every postgraduate researcher (PGR) registered for a higher degree (PhD, professional doctorate) will be guided during their period of registered study by a team of supervisors with suitable academic qualifications, appropriate expertise in the agreed area of the candidate’s research topic and an acceptable level of supervision experience.

2. Ensuring adequacy of supervision

Includes: responsibility of Head of School; requirements for admission of PGRs

Heads of Schools are responsible for arranging for PGRs in their School to receive appropriate and continuous supervision during their period of registered study.

A PGR should only be admitted if the Head of School is satisfied that:

  • there are members of staff in the School suitably academically qualified for the task and who have the academic expertise and supervisory experience to supervise the PGR;
  • the members of staff are willing to supervise the PGR and that the candidate are willing to accept them as their supervisor;
  • the member of staffs’ other teaching and research commitments permit them to accept the additional supervisory role;
  • the members of staff are aware of the role and responsibilities of supervisors;
  • the members of staff have received appropriate advice/training in supervision skills.

The Head of School should also be satisfied that the above conditions are met for all members of the supervisory team including those from outside the School.


3. Supervisory Team

Includes: allocation; appointing joint or lead supervisors; responsibilities; availability

PGRs will be allocated a supervisory team containing at least two co-supervisors. This should normally occur prior to the PGR commencing their studies, but failing that and in exceptional circumstances supervisors must be allocated within four weeks of the commencement of their studies.

At least one member of the supervisory team will be currently engaged in research in the relevant discipline(s), so as to ensure that the direction and monitoring of the candidate’s progress is informed by up to date subject knowledge and research developments. The other member(s) need not necessarily have relevant discipline expertise, so long as the breadth of experience and knowledge across the supervisory team means that the candidates will always have access to someone with experience of supporting PGRs through to successful completion of their programme.

One of the supervisors in a co-supervisory arrangement must be designated as the lead supervisor and act as the main point of contact between the University and the PGR. The respective roles and responsibilities of the lead and other members of the supervisory team should be agreed and the candidate advised. 

More information on the role of the supervisor can be found here:

Responsibilities of the supervisor

If one of the co-supervisors is absent from the University at any point during the period of registration, and this period of absence exceeds six months, an alternative supervisor should be appointed at the earliest opportunity. If it is the lead supervisor who is absent, it should be agreed which member of the supervisory team will cover their responsibilities during the absence and the candidate should be advised. In the event of short periods of supervisor absence, supervisions should continue as required with the remaining member(s) of the supervisory team.


4. Subject expertise

Supervisors must have an appropriate level of joint expertise between them in the academic area of the candidate’s research.

5. PGR agreement to supervision arrangements

Includes: research opportunities; responsibilities of the Head of School

Research opportunities may be identified separately by supervisors, a candidate or a sponsor, or following discussions between a sponsor and the supervisors or a sponsor and the candidate. The key element linking the PGR and supervisors must be interest in and appropriate knowledge of the proposed area of research. There should be mutual agreement on the specific research topic, following discussions between the parties.

The Head of School should involve both the PGR and the members of staff in the preliminary discussions about supervision and should seek their agreement to initial supervision arrangements. A form is available for use by Schools to notify changes to the supervision arrangements for a PGR (see below), to be signed by the candidate, supervisors and the Head of School. Student Services Development (or equivalent) should always be notified in writing of changes to supervision arrangements and this will act as confirmation that the PGR has agreed to the change in supervisory arrangements.

For UKRI funded PGRs, this information should also be shared with the Graduate School in order that they can notify relevant Research Councils and funders.  There may also be a requirement to inform a candidate’s sponsor, in the case of PGRs supported by other routes.


6. Eligibility to act as supervisor

Subject to the following sections, any member of staff currently undertaking research in the relevant discipline may be nominated to supervise a PGR, provided that they intend to remain in post for the normal duration of the candidate’s registered period of study and irrespective of whether they are on an open or fixed-term contract. 

Senior Research Fellows (Level 5) who have experience of successful supervision may act as the lead supervisor.

Postdoctoral research staff may act as the second supervisors in a co-supervision arrangement.

Honorary Professors, Honorary Lecturers, recently retired staff and Emeritus Professors may act as second supervisors in a co-supervision arrangement. 

Postdoctoral staff and Level 4 Research Officers (or equivalent) who do not meet these criteria may act as an assistant supervisor within a supervisory team working with a lead and second supervisor.

At UNM all supervisors of postgraduate research degree programmes are required to undergo structured supervisor training Flag of Malaysia



7. Academic staff supervising for the first time

Includes: lead supervisor; attending the course for postgraduate certificate in higher education; assigning a mentor; role of Head of School

Staff who are appointed as supervisors for the first time are not normally permitted initially to act as the lead supervisor, but should first be required to gain supervisory experience by acting in a co-supervision arrangement with an experienced member of staff. Exceptionally, Heads of Schools may apply to the University for permission to allow a new member of academic staff to act as the main supervisor, if a good case can be made that the member of staff's experience makes it appropriate for them to act in this capacity.

Staff appointed as supervisors or assistant supervisors for the first time, must undertake relevant training and development in supervisory practice (such as that offered by the Researcher Academy, Doctoral Training Centres and Partnerships). They must be in a co-supervison arrangement with a member of staff who has relevant supervisory experience and can and is willing to act as a mentor with respect to doctoral supervision.

For more information on supervisory training and development opportunities, please consult the following:

Researcher Academy Supervisory Sharepoint



8. Non-University staff

Includes: responsibility of Head of School

Staff of outside institutions who are not members of the academic or research staff of the University of Nottingham may, in appropriate circumstances, be appointed to act as co-supervisors as part of a supervisory team e.g. industrial supervisors on an Industrial Cooperative Awards in Science & Technology (CASE) award, supervisors for PGRs registered under the regulations governing students registered in outside organisations (see below). In such cases the candidate must still have two University of Nottingham supervisors. This rule can be waived in cases where the PGR is a member of a Doctoral Training Programme (DTP) or Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) and the other supervisor is appointed through that DTP/DTC.

Heads of Schools should consider the proposed external supervisor's expertise in the candidate’s research topic and their research-standing and ensure that they are made aware of and enabled to fulfil the University's expectations of supervisors and are offered opportunities to engage in developmental activities.  


9. Staff without Doctorates

Includes: academic staff at lecturer grade; permission

Academic staff at Lecturer grade who do not hold a doctorate themselves should not normally be permitted to act as the lead supervisor of a PGR.

However, a Head of School may apply to the University for permission to allow such a member of academic staff to act as the lead supervisor if a good case can be made that the individual's research and professional background makes it appropriate for them to act in this capacity.


10. Maximum number of PGRs

Includes: responsibilities

The Head of School has responsibility for determining the number of PGRs an individual member of staff may supervise.

No maximum number is recommended but this should depend on the ability of the individual supervisor to deliver quality supervision as detailed in this Quality Manual under The Roles and Responsibilities of a Supervisor.

For more information, please consult the following:

Responsibilities of the supervisor


Additional information

Includes: MPhil/Doctoral supervision arrangements form document; research supervisors - sharepoint

If you have any problems or queries relating to this page, please contact:

UNUK students Flag of United Kingdom 

Student Services

UNNC students Flag of China

Graduate School - PGR GS-PGR@nottingham.edu.cn Email

This content was last modified on 23 June 2023

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