Excellence in PhD Supervision in the College of Science and Engineering

Abstract 3D network in future

The College of Science and Engineering has over 1700 registered PhD students at various stages of their programme. Each of the seven Schools exercise a large degree of freedom in organising a whole variety of research degrees most of which are funded by external organisations: UKRI, Welcome Trust, ERC, and other such research funding bodies as well as direct funding from Industry. There are a large number of students who are supervised by members of staff of external organisations such as the Scotland’s Rural College, the Botanic Gardens of Edinburgh and the National Museum of Scotland.

There are few College policies; instead the Schools and Institutes are trusted to process their students according to the local cultures and system which exist in their home disciplines. We share good practice in an annual away day for Heads of Graduate School, monitor effectively through a robust QA system, monitor completion rates and concession requests and provide mandatory training, in conjunction with the IAD, for supervisors.

The supervisor training is a vital part of our College provision. It not only helps the University to discharge its duty of care to its PhD students by keeping staff up to date with regulations and policies but it also enables the Dean and office staff to encourage a uniform high level of care for their students though an ethos of taking responsibility for their research students’ development throughout the entire student lifecycle.

Our Schools have developed a wide range of examples of good practice including:

  • PG Advisors take additional care of the students’ well-being independently of the supervisory team. In Mathematics, the PG advisor meet all students annually to help detect problems early.
  • All Schools interview applicants and staff are encouraged to take care when taking on students who they are not confident will form a good relationship with the supervisor. Interviews are carried out by at least two members of staff.
  • In addition to the annual reviews, some Schools have additional monitoring points or enhancements of the normal review. For example, the Schools of Biological Science and Engineering require students to prepare formal thesis plans and to present posters and present at a specialised PG colloquium. The School of Physics and Astronomy asks all students at the end of their first year to meet the Head of Graduate School and Head of School. The School of Chemistry runs an annual conference, the Joseph Black Conference, where students present their research and receive talks from eminent Chemists from around the world.
  • Some Schools encourage student led activities. For example, the School of Informatics facilitates a student run SNACK club which is funded by the IAD to allow students to practice their presentation skills. The School of Geosciences helps to runs a PGR conference which is organised by the students.
  • The College pioneered the use of PhDs with Integrated Study which form the basis of several cohort based PhD programmes. These programmes help students form strong communities and enable the supervisory teams to be provide flexible training. They are also very much favoured by the funding councils and integrate well with industrial employers.

Next steps:

Find out more about research programmes and support in the College of Science and Engineering on the College website.

Antony Maciocia

Antony Maciocia is the Dean of Students in the College of Science and Engineering. He is also senior lecturer in the School of Mathematics and is leading the working group into grade point averages in the University.

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