The rules of supervision

What is supervision?

Supervision can be defined as an interactive and educative relationship between a mentor (a person with experience) and a beginner that advances personal and professional development. The supervision relationship and its developmental nature form a dialogue. Open dialogue means constructive and creative activity where the supervisor and supervised exchange ideas which keep them in contact with reality. Thesis supervision can be defined as regular discussion concerning the progress of the thesis in the form of personal interaction between the supervisor and novice.

Why supervision?

Effective thesis supervision helps students to complete their theses in the allotted time and to graduate more quickly. Any delay in starting the thesis has been shown to lengthen the time to finish one’s studies. Supervision affects study progress when the duties and responsibilities of the supervisors and students have been clearly defined. For this reason the university of applied sciences has to define how the thesis learning process is supported. The responsibility for supervising theses has been spread over a variety of different parties: internal and methodological supervision is the responsibility of the ‘senior supervisors, there is also mother tongue supervision, foreign languages supervision, IT supervision etc. Supervision concentrates on ensuring that students complete their degree when it should be supporting the development of expertise, career planning and life-long learning.

Is being committed to supervision a challenge?

Completing your thesis is goal-oriented learning that requires motivation, planning and collaboration of both students and supervisors. This shared process lasts from one to one and a half years and demands the commitment of all parties involved; the supervisor must be committed to providing supervision and the student must be committed to completing the thesis. Who participates in supervision depends on the UAS and disciplines involved. Usually supervision sessions include the student, a peer partner/opponent, UAS teacher(s), a supervisor from the work place and if necessary study office or library staff.

At the outset of the thesis process it is a good idea to discuss and agree upon common rules. This agreement, which can be drawn up in writing, contains the most important rules concerning the tasks linked to completing the thesis and supervision. To what are the students and supervisors committing themselves and on which conditions? Your peer partner (opponent) should also be covered by the agreement. A written supervision agreement can be included in the commissioning agreement to avoid having to make an extra written supervision agreement.

The rules

Common rules, recorded in the supervision agreement ensure that the supervisors and student have a shared interpretation of the objectives and aims of the thesis. Such an agreement also ensures that the thesis will be completed on time because both have to obey common rules. The agreement is ‘psychological’ because it involves face to face to discussion between the supervisors and the person requiring supervision before it can be recorded in writing.

Agreeing some common rules ensures the success of the whole supervision process. At the beginning it is a good idea to agree how much supervision resources are available and how such resources will be sued. It is also necessary to agree on how you wish to receive supervision (length of session, scheduling, material) and how your supervisors should provide you with feedback concerning learning progress during the thesis. The discussion and recording of such rules advances the supervision sessions and the development of supervision.

The rules may contain many issues. The following is a list of issues that you may with to discuss and agree upon:

  • Supervision relationship: attitude and motivation, how to deal with problems, control, responsibility and division of tasks, confidentiality, honesty, equality
  • How to arrange supervision: amount and quality of supervision (expertise), timing, preparation for supervision, forms of supervision, means of contact 
  • Supervision sessions: atmosphere, prevention of disturbances, topics of discussion during the session, how the session will be documented, the aim (process, expertise, learning), the nature of the supervision and how to change it as the process advances, shared expertise
  • Schedule: keeping to the agreed schedule, how to deal with changes to schedule 
  • Way of working: accuracy, flexibility, rhythm, evaluation and feedback, co-operation between supervisors, supervision skills, level of difficulty, supervision style and method, role of supervisor and person under supervision 
  • Expectations: how easy should it be to contact your supervisor, arrangement of supervision according to plan, how to take into account personal situation, how to obey general ethical rules concerning research 
  • Other issues: student PEP, professional studies, assessment of the supervision session, provision of criticism

Here is an example of some rules produced by a group of students before the start of the thesis topic seminar. Each student wrote down one rule that he/she wanted to be followed during every seminar throughout the next one and a half years:


    - same rules for everyone
    - flexibility
    - schedule must be followed
    - friendly, co-operative, helpful
    - appreciation
    - appropriate behaviour
    - supportive and mutual
    - considerate
    - open interaction, respect
    - help each other with problems that may arise
    - dialogue (listening and discussion)
    - co-operation
    - flexible group work
    - agreements must be kept to
    - honesty
    - right to constructive criticism

Theses rules have been produced by one group of students for their own group and they are valid from the topic seminar until the thesis is finished!


What you should consider

What sorts of rules govern the supervision process of your own thesis? Consider with your supervisors whether you should make some rules together that govern supervision during seminar sessions. Write them down before the next seminar!