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As an HDR student at the University of Sydney you have rights outlined in University policies. For supervision, you have the right to:

  • at least two supervisors
  • regular contact with your supervisors
  • an appropriate replacement when they are absent

You have the right to at least two supervisors, one of whom must be a research supervisor. Usually HDR students will have a research supervisor and an auxiliary supervisor. Your research supervisor assumes the main supervisory duties. When we refer to ‘your supervisor’ we mean your research supervisor. You may request a different supervisory arrangement if you prefer. Approach the postgraduate research coordinator in your faculty to discuss your options.

Your supervisor(s) should be in regular contact, and work with you to develop a progress plan. When you submit written work to your supervisor, they are required to return it to you with relevant constructive feedback within one month for one thesis chapter (or an equivalent length of writing).

When your supervisor is absent for a period of one month or more, the postgraduate research coordinator must put in place appropriate alternative supervisory arrangements for you.

If you’re not happy with your supervisor, you may change your supervisory arrangements. Consult the postgraduate research coordinator in your faculty to discuss this process.

Your supervisor’s role is to offer advice, assistance and direction to support you in completing your project. They are also expected to provide you with assistance in developing important applications such as ethics applications, progress plans, and progress reports. Your relationship with your supervisor can be complex, intense, and immensely rewarding. However, like any relationship, it is bound to have highs and lows and it is important to be realistic in your expectations of your supervisor.

How do I know if my supervisor is right for me?

Talk with other research students about their experience of supervision. You will learn that each experience is unique and what works for another student may not work for you.

A fundamental principle for a productive relationship with your supervisor is mutual respect. For an understanding of what the University considers as a standard supervisory relationship, and to know more about your supervision rights look at:

Establish what you need

This is likely to change during your time at the University. Ask yourself:

  • what level of direction or guidance do you need?
  • what is your supervisors role in your acquisition of skills?
  • do you expect your supervisor to be a mentor, critic, supporter, director, facilitator, provider or teacher?
  • how does your supervisor see their role?

The only certainty is that the supervisory relationship is your relationship, so take charge of it from the outset. If you feel uncomfortable or unsure about any aspect of your relationship with your supervisor, speak with someone you trust. You have a right to change your supervisory arrangements.

Every students needs are different and comparing your relationship with your supervisor to someone elses may not be useful. While there are guidelines, your supervision needs are based on many factors, such as workload, location and the nature of your project. Some students only need to see their supervisor a few times a year and supplement that contact with email, video chat, or phone; other students require more frequent face-to-face consultation. It is your responsibility to know what you need from your supervisor and the direction you want to take with your research. It is your supervisors responsibility to respond in accordance with the supervision policy and sometimes to communicate, and explain the reasons for, a different research direction.

Good communication

The most important part of your relationship with your supervisor is good communication. Establishing and nurturing good communication from the start is essential to ensuring you receive the support you need, especially at times when things are not going so well, either in your research or in your life.

Your research may dominate your life, while your supervisor may have many students to supervise in addition to teaching and research responsibilities. As a result, it is important to clarify expectations of both parties early on. Negotiate where your expectations differ and review the effectiveness of the arrangement periodically, such as at the beginning of each semester, or just before each progress review.

At the beginning of your candidature, discuss with your supervisor the process for resolving problems if they arise. This is to ensure that you are given the opportunity to address any of your supervisors concerns before a progress review.

Intellectual property

Clarify your expectations regarding authorship of publications with your supervisor and document this agreement in writing. The University does not assert any claim over intellectual property (IP) created by a student unless prescribed otherwise by law or you agree otherwise. Note that the University cannot force a student to assign their IP rights to the University as a condition of enrolment. Some students agree to assign their IP rights in order to be involved in a project, but this must be your choice.

Read more on intellectual property.

Feedback on writing

You have the right to feedback that is timely and constructive. One chapter, or writing of equivalent length, must be returned with feedback within one month, unless otherwise negotiated.

Identify with your supervisor how your progress will be monitored (written work, seminars, progress reviews etc). Within three (3) months of commencement (or six (6) months for part time enrolment), you are responsible for having a progress plan in place, in consultation with your supervisor.

Read more on progress reviews and progress plans.


Research students are entitled to have adequate facilities and other resources available in your department. Such facilities normally include all-hours access to appropriate work space, lab space, equipment and appropriate access to technology. Support resources should be discussed with your supervisor at all stages but particularly in the early stages of your degree. It is your supervisors responsibility to ensure that facilities identified as necessary to your degree are available to you. Each faculty and school varies in the level and type of resource support they offer but if you need something you have a right to ask your supervisor for assistance. Note that exclusive access to a desk or computer are not available in all cases.

Library resources

One-on-one consultations for HDR students: each faculty has one or more Academic Liaison Librarians who can help you to identify the best information resources for your research. Book an appointment.

Research support: such as advice on strategic publishing, how to make your research more discoverable, social media, researcher profiles, etc.  The Library also runs a Quick Bites training series that is aimed at HDR students.  You can watch previous Quick Bites on YouTube.

Access hundreds of research databases: log in with your UniKey and password for access at any time to the Library’s databases and eresources.

Request items from other libraries: the Library can source articles/books for your research that aren’t held at the University of Sydney.

EndNote training and support: learn how to manage your references with EndNote.

Absences and leave

If your supervisor is away for a month or more, they should make suitable arrangements to ensure that you have ongoing supervision. This may mean increased contact with you while they are away. If your supervisor knows about the absence in advance, they must notify the postgraduate coordinator, your other supervisors and you at least one month before their date of departure. If a supervisor is intending to retire or resign, you should be consulted and actively involved in planning the arrangements for your supervision.

If you require some time away from your research project, it is your responsibility to let your supervisor know. Remember, you are entitled to annual leave of up to four (4) weeks per year, so plan to have breaks and give advance notice to your supervisor.

Know your faculty (your supervisor does not know everything)

There are many things your supervisor can’t do for you. You should attend faculty and department inductions/orientations and spend some time familiarising yourself with your faculty’s structure, culture and ‘personality’. It will save you time and effort if you know how to work with the faculty office and how to access workshops, conferences, seminars, networking information, scholarships, funding information, employment information and support or social opportunities. Your faculty must comply with University policies and procedures, so it is a good idea to understand relevant policies on research supervision, as well as your faculty’s practices.

Voice your career aspirations

Let your supervisor know your career aspirations – it may help them facilitate opportunities for you. If you are hoping for an academic or research career, publishing papers will be a priority. However, if you are considering managerial, business or government roles, it may be more important for you to network with relevant groups. Research students are expected to take advantage of opportunities to meet other academics and researchers, and your supervisors have a role in facilitating and supporting such opportunities.

Research budget, ethics approval, and progress review

Your supervisor is expected to provide you with assistance in developing important applications, research plans and reports on progress.

When problems arise

Take the initiative to raise any issues with your supervisor early on no matter how trivial they seem. This will help prevent the escalation of problems. Many HDR students will encounter some problems with their supervisor or arrangements at some point during their candidature. Act quickly to sort them out and try at first to solve any problems by yourself. If you require assistance, contact the postgraduate research coordinator in your faculty.

The progress review aims to uncover difficulties in your candidature, and supervisory problems are often addressed at this time.

Some supervisory relationships become abusive or bullying in nature, and this is never acceptable: you deserve to be treated with respect and have the right to raise a complaint against your supervisor to the faculty or the University. If you experience problems with your supervisor that cannot be addressed within your faculty, contact us for support.

Model of supervision

The head of school or postgraduate research coordinator appoints a team of supervisors to each individual student, with a minimum of two supervisors per student. The model can be:

  1. research and auxiliary supervisors
  2. co-supervisors
  3. a supervisory panel

It is your right to ask for a different model if you prefer, and you may approach the postgraduate research coordinator in your faculty to discuss this.

Changing supervisors

You have a right to change your supervision arrangements. Many students think about changing their topic or supervisor. Sometimes changes are justified. It is important to carefully consider such decisions and the consequences. How will a change affect your wellbeing, scholarship, project, publications etc? Can the problem be resolved without changing supervisor?

For some candidates, it becomes obvious that their supervisor cannot give them the guidance that is required or, at times, there are cases of a supervisory relationship that is either not productive, or has broken down. When changing your supervisor is not an option, moving to another faculty or institution may be possible, but you should be very clear that your intention for leaving is based on circumstances that cannot be resolved through negotiation. Seek advice from us before making any final decisions.

Take care of your supervisory relationship

If you want to have a productive and respectful relationship with your supervisor, you need to take equal responsibility in nurturing that relationship. Changing supervisors can be stressful, awkward, or simply not an option. If your supervisor chooses to end the supervisory relationship, be aware that the faculty may not be able to appoint a replacement. In such a situation, the expectation will be for you to find a new supervisor. If your research topic or area is narrow, this may be difficult.

Research Supervisor Connect

The University maintains a website called Research Supervisor Connect, a register of all individuals approved as research and auxiliary supervisors for HDR students.

Need more help?

Student Advice and Advocacy Service

Our Student Advice and Advocacy Officers (SAAOs) can help with academic and wellbeing issues, such as academic appeals, renting and supervision.

Read more about the SUPRA SAAO Service

Legal Service

Our Legal Service solicitors can help with a range of legal issues, including migration law*, intellectual property, contracts, fines and criminal law.

Read more about the SUPRA Legal Service

*MARNs 1911813, 1912229