Becoming a dissertation supervisor

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In many ways, the supervisor is the most important support person for a doctoral student. The supervisor supervises the dissertation research and acts as a mentor for the doctoral candidate. The supervisor must commit to a research process that may continue for several years as the journey towards a doctorate may sometimes be unexpectedly delayed. When you are considering becoming a supervisor, you should think about whether you will also have the time and resources in the coming years, not just the current one.

Despite the difficulties, supervising a doctoral student can be very rewarding. Some supervisors may be tempted to take on the supervision of as many doctoral students as possible. However, many doctoral programmes have quotas for the maximum number of doctoral students that can be supervised by one person in order to keep the workload of individual supervisors under control and ensure that the supervisor has time for all the students.

Supervision arrangements

Supervisors can have many roles in a supervision relationship, and the responsibilities and requirements may vary. One dissertation is usually supervised by several supervisors. It is important that the roles and duties of the supervisors are clarified in advance and recorded in the supervision plan prepared early on in the dissertation process. The roles of the supervisors may vary in terms of, for example, responsibility and the level of expertise and/or experience.

If you are interested in supervising a doctoral student, it may be a good idea to start as a partner to a more experienced supervisor or participate in a more limited role. It is possible to become a supervisor quite soon after you have finished your own doctorate. This will allow you to gather experience of supervising a dissertation study before you become the principal supervisor for a whole dissertation study. The minimum requirements set for supervisory arrangements in each doctoral programme are described in more detail in the admission criteria for the doctoral programmes, which are available on the separate doctoral programme website, under the selection criteria for doctoral study rights.

What kind of expertise is required?

The supervisor’s expertise may be related to the research topic or the study’s theoretical or methodological starting points, but it may also concern supervision and project management. Some dissertation projects require special expertise for supervising multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral research. 

In a good supervisory relationship, the student should get sufficient support for planning their studies and their funding, learning the rules of academic work, integrating into the scientific community and planning their career. Click here for more information on the practices of dissertation supervision.

In addition to the expertise related to the dissertation study, new supervisors should get to know the degree requirements of the student’s doctoral programme. These are available in the doctoral programme’s course catalogue in WebOodi. One of the supervisor’s duties is to support the student as they are planning their studies, so it is important for the supervisor to know the study requirements set by the student’s doctoral programme.

Where can a supervisor find help?

The doctoral programme’s management team is responsible for the programme’s supervisory arrangements, so when you need help, you can turn to the director of your doctoral programme, a member of the management team or the programme’s education planning officer. 

The other supervisors, your colleagues in the programme, may offer valuable peer support. You can met them at the events organised by your doctoral programme, your doctoral school and the university. 

The Centre for University Teaching and Learning (HYPE) organises training and studies in university pedagogy for supervisors as part of the staff training organised by the University of Helsinki for its teachers and researchers. Additional information:

See also the Instructions for Students

You will find related content for students on the Instructions for Students Service.