Supervision

The MRes/PhD Programme Director, currently Professor Martin Pesendorfer, will be the first point of contact for all 1st year MRes students. If you have any questions or concerns about your studies and progress, or you need advice, this is the first person to see.

All 2nd year MRes students are assigned to a member of faculty as supervisor for the 2nd year MRes (EC599) research paper, according to your area of research interest. The main role of your supervisor is to discuss your preparation for your research paper. If you have any questions or concerns about your studies and progress, or you need advice, he/she is the first person to see.

It is our expectation that this person would continue to be involved in your supervision as a PhD student. You can change supervisors if it becomes apparent, for any reason, that another person would be a more suitable research supervisor. Please see the instructions on changing your supervisor below. After upgrade to PhD status, some students will also have a secondary supervisor (or a co-supervisor) in addition to their primary supervisor.

supervision

Choosing your Supervisor

What your Supervisor Does (and Doesn't) Do

Changing your Supervisor 

Choosing your Supervisor

Once you have completed the 1st year of the MRes, you should start to think about the 2nd year.  In particular, you will need a Supervisor for your MRes paper.  In order to get started on your project it makes sense for you to start thinking about finding a Supervisor as soon as you have completed the 1st year.  

You are encouraged to be proactive in this process, by making contact with any Faculty in the Department you think would be suitable as a Supervisor for you. Your Supervisor will be very helpful as you start thinking about an MRes topic, and can help steer you in a useful direction.  You will need to prepare a viable written research proposal to present to potential supervisors, so you should think about working on this over the Summer prior to starting the 2nd year.  You should aim to be assigned with a supervisor by the end of October in the year in which you are writing the MRes paper.

If you don’t have a good sense of the question you will be working on, you will want to talk to other people in your research field.  In particular, more advanced PhD students are an excellent source of information about individual supervisors.

However, you should keep in mind that it is important that you find a supervisor with whom you will have a good working relationship. As we all have different styles and temperaments, a supervisor who works for someone else may not work equally well for you. Hence, you may want to talk to more than one faculty member before making your choice. As you are talking to Faculty members about your interests, they can also point you to other colleagues in the Department who might be a better match, so don't feel shy about approaching faculty with your interests. They will be happy to talk to you.

Economics is a coherent enough subject that your Supervisor doesn’t have to be the world expert on your precise topic.  It is far more important that your Supervisor makes time for you and that you both feel that it will be a productive working relationship. 

In order to identify a suitable supervisor, you should explore the research interests of faculty.

LSE operates “team” supervision for its research degrees.  Every student is entitled to a lead supervisor, who has a knowledge of the student's subject area and theoretical approach, is a permanent member of the academic staff of the LSE, has passed major review (typically after five years in the job), is usually assigned for the duration of the student's programme, and has no more than eight primary supervisees.

In order to provide additional academic input and to provide continuity in the event of the first supervisor ceasing to perform that role, doctoral students will normally have additional supervision that can take the form of:

(a) Co-supervision, i.e. joint supervisors with broadly similar responsibilities (for example where the student is working on an interdisciplinary topic).

(b) A lead supervisor and an adviser. In general, an adviser would:

  • be familiar with the student's progress, but need not be an expert in the student's precise field, or expected to read all the work submitted;
  • provide generic guidance and support rather than detailed academic guidance;
  • where appropriate, be involved in review or upgrade processes;
  • countersign any annual progress report forms;
  • provide a continuing point of reference in the event of the lead supervisor becoming unavailable as a result of retirement, sickness or sabbatical;
  • meet with the student at least once a year.

It would be for the Programme Director to determine the precise role in individual cases. In exceptional cases, and particularly where one of the supervisors is not a full-time member of the academic staff of the School, alternative arrangements may be made by the Doctoral Programme Director.

(c) Team supervision, i.e. a small group of named individuals who are known to the student, familiar with their work, and available to the student for consultation about their research

There may be circumstances in which a junior faculty member would be the most suitable supervisor but is ineligible. In this case the junior faculty member and a more senior member can act as co-supervisors, or the junior member can act as advisor.  In a few cases, one or more members of the supervisory team may be from another Department at the LSE or from outside LSE – though in such cases, the lead supervisor must be a permanent faculty member of the Department. 

When you have reached an agreement with a faculty member about supervision, please inform the MRes/PhD Programme Manager, immediately of your selection.

The Programme Director is available to help if you have questions, or you have difficulties in finding a supervisor yourself.  If necessary, the Programme Director will assist in the allocation of a suitable supervisor. Note, no individual member of faculty is obliged to take on a student, however strongly the student may want it.

What your Supervisor Does (and Doesn't) Do

The supervisor's role is to support students in developing their methodological and analytical skills and to guide them in achieving the tasks necessary to successfully complete a thesis. Supervisors will discuss potential research questions with you, and read and comment on drafts and chapters. The emphasis is on support and guidance. The momentum must come primarily from you. It is important that your PhD topic is one of your own choosing. You should not expect your supervisor to give you a topic or research question, nor is it necessarily a good idea to adopt each and every suggestion they make. You will have to work on your topic for a very long period and it is important that it excites you. This is unlikely to be the case if you simply follow your supervisor's suggestions slavishly. Ideally, of course, your supervisor should be equally excited about your research topic as well.

It is important that the relationship you develop with your supervisor is right for the way that you both work, and for the subject matter of your research. Much will depend on your personality and that of your supervisor. Some supervisors take a more hands on approach, meeting with students very frequently, whilst others primarily provide more substantive guidance at some major junctures as your research progresses. Some supervisors may give a fair amount of consultation via email whilst others rely primarily on face-to-face meetings.

Some important points to note are:

  • You can expect three supervisions per term of approximately one-hour in length in the 2nd MRes year, and two supervisions per term once upgraded to PhD and thereafter.
  • Written work should normally be given a response within one month. If this is not possible, a clear indication of when a response can be expected should be given.
  • The advisor plays a less prominent role in the supervision process and meets the student at least once a year, but ensures continuity of the supervision process should the main supervisor become unavailable (e.g. because of leave).

In the first year or so of research, it is not unusual to have a relatively unfocussed picture, and so there may be a need to have relatively frequent meetings. These meetings may well seem inconclusive and very discursive, precisely because the research area is ill-defined. Much of the feedback from the supervisor may seem negative at this stage. Most research ideas fail (this is true for anyone, not just novice researchers), and your supervisor will want to help avoid you wasting your time on a hopeless project. The value of a discussion with the supervisor may also not always be evident until some time later; the supervisor's role is to help bring the vision and perspective to your research which new PhD students may lack. Whilst this is often a difficult and frustrating period of the PhD experience (although it should also be a very exciting one), it is a necessary one, and it is important to make sure that negative feedback from your supervisor does not affect a constructive relationship.

Later on in the research process, when the ideas have clarified and the focus is sharper, there may be fewer but more structured meetings. In the period of writing up the thesis, the meetings may be more frequent but also more businesslike and less discursive, as befits writing a thesis to a deadline.

There is no single correct type of relationship: whether and how the supervisory relationship works effectively depends very much on the individuals involved. Within this fluidity however, the key moral is that you should learn to manage your supervisor. To do this, there are certain issues that you might usefully bear in mind; all revolve, appropriately enough for research in social science, around the role of communication:

  • Be active in arranging meetings.
  • Frame ideas and issues for discussion so as to ensure that you derive maximum benefit from the meetings.
  • You may wish to have a written record of the discussion at each meeting (e.g. by taking notes and/or having a follow up on major points by email).
  • Always go into a meeting with your supervisor with a clear idea of what you want to gain from the meeting (a formal or informal agenda), and leave it with an equally clear idea of whether you have achieved what you wanted, and that you have understood what your supervisor would like you to do.

Please try to keep appointments, and ensure that if any arrangements have been made for written work to be handed in before the meeting, that you adhere to them. If you must break an appointment, please give your supervisor as much notice as you can; your supervisor should do the same. You and your supervisor should work out which style of working works best for you and what you can expect from each other.

If you have any problems with your supervisor, it is best in the first instance for you to raise the issue yourself with your supervisor. If this is not possible, or you feel that the communication with your supervisor has broken down, the MRes/PhD Programme Director will resolve the matter.

At the end of each academic year, both student and supervisor are required to complete a report on progress and to discuss any issues that arise from it. The form for this report is distributed in the Summer Term and forms the basis of the decision of the MRes/PhD Programme Director and the Graduate Studies Committee, about continued registration on the PhD Programme.

Changing your Supervisor

As your research interests develop there may come a time when you want to change supervisors. It is not unusual to change your supervisor for this or any other reason, so you need not worry about offending your existing supervisor.  However, you should be proactive, possibly with the help of your current supervisor, in arranging a new supervisor for yourself.  The Programme Director is available to assist with this if necessary.

Sometimes your supervisor may not be suitable for overseeing a particular part of your research and you feel you need to approach a faculty member with specialist knowledge in a different area from your supervisor. You should feel quite free to approach any member of the faculty who you think can help you. However, you should recognise that they probably have students of their own to supervise and therefore may not be able to give you as much attention as your regular supervisor would. Keep in mind that a judicious choice of advisor or co-supervisor may often ensure the best supervision if your research cuts across different areas.

The LSE does not allow students to be supervised by faculty who are away from the LSE on leave. When a supervisor is going on leave, an alternative supervisor will be found, typically the current advisor or co-supervisor. Often the original supervisor will still be willing to read and supervise your work; however, it is still necessary that a supervisor based at LSE also be assigned.

In order to keep departmental records up-to-date and to ensure Faculty are credited for supervisory duties, any change of supervisor should be notified immediately to the MRes/PhD Programme Manager.

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