Code of Good Practice for Research Students and their Supervisors

This Code of Practice is approved by the Student Affairs Committee.
Last updated: May 2011

Reference to 'departments' in this document includes institutes and groups



This code of practice is intended as guidance on the relationship between the student, the supervisor and the department. It sets out the minimum required of these three parties. The Code may be supplemented by separate departmental guidelines covering specific departmental practice.


Local regulations will be in place for students registered on MRes/PhD programmes which will include departmental requirements for progression from the MRes programme and upgrade to PhD. Such regulations will stipulate timings of decisions on progress and upgrade and how decisions will be communicated to students.


Registered research students are bound by the School's Regulations for Research Degrees, General Academic Regulations, Conditions of Registration, Research Ethics Policy , Disciplinary Regulations for Students, Regulations on Assessment Offences, Rules Relating to Student Activities, Student Drugs and Alcohol Policy, Harassment Policy and the Code of Practice on Free Speech (all published annually on the School's website). Matters dealt with in these regulations are not normally repeated in this document.

The student-supervisor relationship
Allocation of supervisor(s)


Every student is entitled to a lead supervisor who:     



has knowledge of a student's subject area and theoretical approach;



is a permanent member of the academic staff of the School;



has passed major review.


Lead supervisors are normally assigned to students at the time an offer of admission is made. Members of staff on sabbatical or other leave and retired members of staff may not normally act as the lead supervisor for a research student. A lead supervisor will not normally have more than eight primary supervisees.


In order to provide additional academic input, students will normally have additional supervision that may take the form of:



Co-supervision, i.e. joint supervisors with broadly similar responsibilities (for example where the student is working on an interdisciplinary  topic). This can include co-supervision across departments in the School.  has knowledge of a student's subject area and theoretical approach;



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




be familiar with the student's progress, but not need to 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;




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.



Team supervision, i.e. a small group of named individuals who are known to the student, familiar with his or her work and available to the student for consultation about the research.


Secondary supervision may be allocated either after registration to a programme of study or before depending on departmental procedures. In exceptional circumstances, external (to the School) secondary supervision may be permitted: it would be for the Doctoral Programme Director to determine such arrangements seeking permission from the Research Degrees Subcommittee Chair.

Change of supervisor


Lead supervisors are normally assigned for the duration of a student's programme. However, there may be circumstances in which this is not possible such as unplanned leave or the supervisor taking a post at another university. Where possible another lead supervisor will be assigned; and sometimes the second supervisor will take over as lead supervisor.


If the initial allocation of supervisor turns out to be inappropriate, a change of supervisor may be effected through the Doctoral Programme Director and/or Head of Department on the initiative of the student or supervisor. However, a change of supervisor cannot be guaranteed nor is it possible to guarantee a change to a particular academic.  

Supervision meetings


There should be regular meetings between student and supervisor. Full-time students have the right to see their supervisor at least three times a term in the first year and twice a term thereafter. Part-time students have the right to see their supervisor at least twice a term in the first year and once a term thereafter.


Supervision sessions will naturally vary in length but on average they should last for at least one hour. They should as far as possible be uninterrupted by telephone calls, personal callers or departmental business.


It is important for records to be maintained of the outcomes of supervisory meetings either by the student and/or supervisor. The electronic PhD Log Book can be used for this purpose.


If the student has an urgent problem the supervisor should deal with the matter by telephone or e-mail or arrange a meeting at short notice.

Supervision difficulties


If the student experiences any serious problems with the supervisor(s), including those of access, these should, in the first instance, be taken up by the student with the supervisor. If problems cannot be resolved in this way, the student should approach the department's Doctoral Programme Director or the Head of Department.


If the department is unable to resolve problems with supervision, advice should be sought from the Dean of Graduate Studies and/or the Research Degrees Manager.

Obligations and responsibilities of students


The student should normally live within easy reach of London. If a student intends to be resident outside of the UK for any part of your programme, he or she must ensure permission is sought in advance as required by the Regulations for Research Degrees.


The student should make him/herself familiar with all School and departmental regulations governing the programme of study and meet the requirements within them.


The student should submit written work regularly as requested by and in the format agreed with the supervisor(s).


The student should take careful note of the guidance and feedback from the supervisor(s), but should take responsibility for and ownership of all materials relating to the research, including those presented for review, upgrade and final examination.


It is the student's responsibility to seek out the supervisor(s), not vice versa; at each meeting the student should have his or her own programme of topics for discussion.


The student should, as a matter of courtesy, inform the supervisor(s) of other people with whom the work is being discussed.


If the student wishes to issue questionnaires, interview schedules and/or interview guides he/she should first secure approval from the supervisor(s). If he/she wishes to use the School's address for this purpose, the text of any communication should be approved by the supervisor(s) before it is sent. The student should also ensure the work complies with the School's Ethics Policy.


The student should alert the supervisor(s) to any issues arising that might impact on his or her ability to progress with the research.


The student should submit the final thesis for examination by the end of the programme of study as specified in the Regulations for Research Degrees.

Obligations and responsibilities of supervisors


The supervisor(s) should make themselves familiar with School and departmental regulations and/or seek advice on these when necessary.


The supervisor(s) should be aware of any additional conditions that might relate to a student's funding for the programme of study at the School.


The supervisor(s) should assist new students to identify their research training needs at the outset, plan their time and draw up a framework within which the research is to progress. The supervisor(s) should also advise on any additional courses a student may wish to attend that complement the field of research.


A student should be given feedback on written work, either orally or in writing, within one month of it being given to the supervisor(s). If, unusually, the supervisor(s) is unable to respond to the student's work within a month, the supervisor(s) should indicate this to the student and give a clear indication of when a response will be made.


The supervisor(s) and the department should be responsible for introducing the student to the wider research community within LSE and beyond.


For continuing students the supervisor(s) should advise whether the research can feasibly be completed in the recommended period or whether a more realistic project should be attempted.


The supervisor(s) should alert the Doctoral Programme Director of any difficulties that have been raised by a student where these are likely to impact on the student's ability to progress with the research.


The supervisor(s) is responsible for nominating the external and internal examiner for a student's viva and for arranging a mutually convenient date between the two examiners and the student.


In cases where a thesis might be referred for re-representation in a revised form, the lead supervisor should continue supervision until the thesis is re-presented. Where this is not possible, procedures for effecting a change of supervisor (paragraphs 6-7) should be followed.

Obligations and responsibilities of the Doctoral programme Director


The Doctoral Programme Director has the following specific responsibilities:



ensuring the orientation of new research students into the department;



ensuring the allocation and training of supervisors (in conjunction with the Head of Department);



ensuring that progress monitoring procedures for all research students are properly carried out and appropriate records of decisions are kept;



monitoring submission rates in the department (on the basis of centrally produced data);



oversight of research programme requirements


Doctoral Programme Directors should ensure that normally:



supervisors are allocated to students in line with paragraphs 4-5 above and within departmental procedures;



no supervisor is overloaded with supervisory responsibilities and that lead supervisors do not exceed the School's permitted maximum of eight primary supervisees. This will be in conjunction with the Head of Department;



information relating to research students' registration, status, progression and supervisory allocation is communicated to the Research Degrees Unit in a timely manner.

Obligations and responsibilities of the Head of Department


The Head of Department is responsible for ensuring that a member of staff is appointed as Doctoral Programme Director for the department.


In conjunction with the Doctoral Programme Director, the Head of Department is responsible for ensuring that supervisors are provided the appropriate training.


The Head of Department and Doctoral Programme Director should discuss with the Pro-Director (Teaching and Learning) and Vice-Chair of Appointments Committee cases where an individual academic's lead supervisory load exceeds the School's permitted maximum.

Programme of study


Each department should establish, where appropriate, a research training programme for its students that includes access to appropriate research methods and transferable skills training. Programme requirements will be published annually on the School's website.


Each department should provide research seminars for students which they will normally be expected to participate in on a regular basis. Seminars should allow the opportunity for students to present and discuss their own work.

Progress review


As required by the Regulations for Research Degrees, each department should review the progress of students. There may be specific published departmental practices which vary according to the nature of the subject but each department should normally:



review all students by the end of the first year (twenty-four months for part-time students);



review all students in the third year (seventh for part-time students) and agree a timetable for completion by the fourth (or eighth) year of study;



undertake other reviews of students' progress as the department prescribes;



communicate the departmental review procedure in writing to all its students;



maintain records of the outcomes from reviews;



inform the Research Degrees Unit, no later than the end of each academic year, of the names of those students who may not re-register. Departments are advised to consult the Research Degrees Manager before making any recommendation for de-registration.


Review procedures must:



include at least one member of the academic staff other than the supervisor;



be based on an appropriate area of the student's research;



provide an appropriate amount of time for reviewers to read submitted work;



include an opportunity for the student to orally defend their work/progress achieved to the review panel.


By the end of the first year (or twenty-four months for part-time students), normally the student should have:



defined the area of research;



become acquainted with the background knowledge required, including research skills;



familiarized him- or herself with the appropriate literature;



developed a framework for the future progress of the research with a timetable for the next two or three years (three or four years in the case of part-time students);



produced a substantial amount of written work. 'Substantial' should be defined by the supervisor or department at the outset.


At the end of the third year (or seventh year for part-time students) the review should include consideration of:



when the student will be ready to submit the thesis. The supervisor should agree a timetable for completion that includes ensuring the examination entry is made;



any request for an extension beyond the maximum period of registration permitted by the Regulations for Research Degrees. Requests should be submitted by the end of the third year.

Upgrading to PhD


It is the normal expectation that the decision to upgrade a student to PhD will be made either at the first year review or by the end of the second year of registration.


If a student is not upgraded, students should have the opportunity for a second attempt within six months from the original attempt. Where a second attempt is unsuccessful, students are normally permitted to continue in registration and submit for an MPhil.


The decision to upgrade a student from MPhil to PhD registration should reflect the upgrade panel's judgement that the student is working at a level that, if continued, should lead to the award of a PhD.


Upgrade procedures are agreed by each department and are likely to vary, but should:



specify the amount and type of written materials a student is required to produce and indicate the deadlines for submission;



require the student's written materials to include a clear framework for the research and a timetable for completion;



provide for an upgrade panel that will normally include the student's supervisor(s) and at least one member of the department who is not directly involved in the student's supervision. Where a student's supervisor is not included on the upgrade panel, their view should have been sought in advance of the Panel reaching a decision;



include an opportunity for the student to orally defend his or her written materials.