At this time of year we are all required to reflect on the achievements and challenges that we have faced over the last year during our research. Progression is an important time to remember what your responsibilities are as a postgraduate researcher no matter what stage of research you are at. Equally important is understanding the responsibilities of your supervisors so that you can make sure that you are getting the right amount of support. The annual progress review is intended to be a productive process, so that both sides can check-in with how things are going, get feedback and identify any potential issues early-on.
The 2015 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) suggested that nearly 90% of PGRs understand their responsibilities as researchers. However, a smaller percentage of PGRs fully understand the responsibilities of their supervisors or where to go for help if they are facing a problem with their PhD. We are all on a learning curve (supervisors included!), so here I will list some of the main responsibilities of PGRs and supervisors. This information and more can be found in the PGR Code of Practice and in the supervisor development booklet for the College of Science and Engineering.
What are your responsibilities as a postgraduate researcher?
Simply put, you are responsible for planning, developing and completing your research alongside the support and advice provided by a supervisor(s) along the way. This includes personal time management, organisation, communication skills and leadership.
What are the main responsibilities of supervisors?
The responsibilities of your supervisors may vary depending on the nature of your research or the number and expertise of the supervisors that you have been allocated. The PGR Code of Practice delves deeply into the role of a supervisor but, in short, they are there to provide you with advice and guidance. This guidance could include helping you to plan your research, pointing you in the direction of appropriate literature and training. They are also there to provide constructive feedback on any written work that you submit for review prior to completion of your thesis.
They are not there to provide leadership, this instead is your responsibility as a PGR. Leadership is a major skill that you develop throughout your time as a researcher and is a key skill to highlight once the PhD is completed and you look for further research or a new career.
How often should you see your supervisory team for support?
The College of Science and Engineering say that you should be meeting with your supervisor(s) at least once a month. Any more than this is great! However, if you are a full-time PGR and you see your supervisor less than once a month then you might consider bringing this up at your progression meeting.
What do you do if you are having issues with your research or your supervisory team?
Your first port of call when experiencing problems with your research should be your supervisor. After all, they are there to provide advice to help you complete your PhD. However, you will likely know more about your project and the details behind it than anyone else. Therefore, don’t expect your supervisors to have all the answers, or the time to help you work through the issues. Don’t forget all of the other tasks and responsibilities that your supervisors have, alongside advising you on your PhD.
If you are having problems with your supervisory team and are unsure what to do next then progression gives you the perfect opportunity to bring this to the attention of others who will be able to help. This is one of the big benefits of progression, so don’t be worried about bringing up any issues that you might be having. This can be a difficult if you perceive the progress review as some form of assessment but everyone will benefit in the end if you can be up front now about any issues. As we said at the beginning, it’s intended to be a two-way process.
Benefits of the annual progress review
From personal experience progression might not seem all that important in the first year of your research, or if you joined in January, and seems simply or annoyingly like a necessary requirement to allow you to carry on with your research. At first it might also seem daunting, or like a waste of time. But, as you progress through the years you may come to realise that progression can actually have a lot of benefits.
It is a time of year when you can get recognition for your achievements, a time to reflect and realise that actually you are doing loads of really awesome research! You can really use progression to your advantage, getting feedback on a piece of work, or your research plan (depending on your department’s requirements). And, if you are having any troubles with your research experience then you can raise these and tackle them.
It can be good for your supervisors too, as it is a time when they can see exactly what you have been up to over the last year and what you plan to do next.