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Roles and responsibilities

This text discusses some of the roles and responsibilities of the PhD supervisor.
A pinboard with the roles and responsibilities of a supervisor stuck on it.
© Dirk Wouters via Pixabay

In the previous steps, we explored the characteristics of an effective supervisor. However, besides you and the PhD candidate, PhD supervision implies the involvement of several other partners, each with their own role and their part of responsibility in the success of the PhD trajectory: the institution (or Graduate School), the other supervisor(s), the department in which the study is being conducted, the funding authorities, and, in some cases a (confidential) mentor.

If the PhD trajectory is comparable to a mountain hike, all these are part of the landscape that surrounds the PhD student and their supervisors. And each of them plays a role in the journey. But what is the specific responsibility of the supervisor? The Groningen Graduate Schools describes it as such:

“They [the PhD supervisors] ensure that the research project is of sufficient level and quality; they are responsible for the development of skills and competences of the PhD candidate, and guarantee the availability of resources, including budget for the entire PhD journey. Moreover, through their approval of the doctoral thesis they warrant for its quality.”

Individual graduate and research schools here in Groningen further define guidelines and regulations. See for example the 10 commandments of the School of Behavioral and Cognitive Neurosciences.

If we look at the broader regulatory framework, this document, established by the European Commission, includes the description of roles and responsibilities of each of the partners involved. The guidelines outline what the roles and responsibilities are, but it does not explain how to negotiate these in practice. In Week 2, we will focus on the relationship and interaction between supervisor and PhD student in this collaboration.

According to the guidelines, the supervisor is responsible for the following areas:

  • Introduction to general principles and integration of the researcher into the field- including equal access to information, equipment, guidelines, etc.
  • Support- including encouragement to acquire skills, providing feedback, monitoring and assessing the progression of the research, promoting the development of a career development plan, helping the researcher to gain autonomy
  • Career development- including counseling and giving information on available career paths and defining together a plan to match the PhD ambitions, as well as giving access to networking opportunities and access to information and key people in the field.
  • Mentoring and well-being – the supervisor should be a role model, help overcome hurdles, refer to institutional support if needed, raise awareness of possible problems, and encourage the researcher to dedicate time to well-being.
  • Communication and conflict resolution – including bringing up the need for clear expectations and referral to existing conflict resolution procedures.

How about your graduate school or institution? Do you see similarities and differences to the examples cited above? How do you see your roles and responsibilities as supervisor? And how do you harmonise them with your other academic responsibilities? (i.e. teaching, researching, collaborating with peers). Feel free to share and comment on your observations of your fellow learners.


European Commission, Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions guidelines on supervision, Publications Office, 2021,

© University of Groningen
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Successful PhD Supervision: A Shared Journey

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