Principles of Good Supervision

(c) University of Greifswald, Till Junker

What should a good supervision entail?

The good supervision of a doctoral thesis requires a number of skills from the supervisor: they are part of the doctoral studies of their protégées, act as mentors in professional and often personal matters, are not only the superior, they evaluate the doctoral thesis and sit in on the defence of the doctoral thesis. A good relationship and clear agreements about responsibilities between the supervisor and doctoral student are of great importance for the success of the doctoral studies. Doctoral agreements that regulate the rights and obligations of all involved parties are helpful here. Such doctoral agreements exist in Greifswald at the Graduate Academy, the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, the Faculty of Arts and Humanities [de], the Faculty of Theology [de] and the University Medicine [de].

Indications relating to the areas of responsibilities of a good supervision can be found in the Guidelines on the Doctoral Studies Phase [de] of the University of Greifswald, the DFG Guidelines to Ensure Good Scientific Practice  (here particularly guidelines 3 and 4) as well as the UniWiND Publication ‘Supervision of Doctoral Students. Recommendations and Good Practice for Universities and Supervisors’ [de].

Good supervision is generally characterised by

  • sufficient time for the doctoral candidates and an adequate number of doctoral candidates that are being supervised
  • regular exchange between the doctoral advisors and the doctoral candidates (e.g. in personal conversations, working group meetings, etc.) and feedback on the achieved results
  • joint preparation of a research and career plan even beyond completion of the doctoral degree
  • adequate time planning so that the doctoral studies can be completed within an adequate amount of time (usually three years)
  • conveyance and control of good scientific practice
  • support of further education options for doctoral candidates
  • support of doctoral candidates during the integration into the scientific community and promotion of their involvement in national and international networks

It is to be pointed out at this point though that there are two sides to every supervision, doctoral candidates must also show commitment to being supervised.

    How do I find a good doctoral supervisor?

    A few points that could help you decide in favour of or against a researcher as doctoral supervisor:

    • Is the person entitled to confer doctorate titles? This usually only applies to university professors or Privatdozenten (senior lecturers with a habilitation).
    • How well does the person know my field of expertise or my chosen doctoral topic?
    • How renowned is the person in his/her field?
    • How renowned is the research institute, which employs him/her?
    • Do I know him/her already? Does s/he already know me?
    • How many other doctoral students are currently supervised by him/her?
    • How many doctoral candidates successfully completed their doctoral studies under him/her? How many prematurely ended their doctoral studies?
    • How satisfied are/were these doctoral students with the supervision?
    • How long did it take on average to complete doctoral studies?

    Help in the search for an adequate doctoral advisor can be found on the webpage and [de].

    Who can I turn to if I do not feel adequately supervised?

    If the supervision fails to comply with your expectations, there is no universal protocol to change the situation. There are however de-escalation options that are listed below beginning with the most obvious to the strongest level of response.

    1. Try to discuss the situation on several occasions with your doctoral advisor. Request a one-to-one meeting.
    2. Inform the doctoral supervisor of the things that bother you in an email or a letter. Request an oral or written statement.
    3. Consult a person of your trust who belongs to your supervision team, the same chair or the same institute, who can serve as a mediator.
    4. Inform an official entity that is familiar with such problems about the situation. These could be the following:
      - the Graduate Academy with regard to basic questions of supervision,
      - the Staff Council (for members of academic staff) with regard to the employment,
      - the Gender Equality Officer of Your Faculty [de] or the Central Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Officer [de] in the case of unequal treatment due to one’s own gender, family situation, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, religion or similar aspects,
      - the Disabled Students’ Officer, the Representatives for Disabled Employees or the Inclusion Officer in the case of unequal treatment due to physical impairment.
    5. Contact an Ombudsperson in case of violations against good scientific practice.

    Responsible for these pages

    Graduate Academy of the University of Greifswald


    Dr. Michael G. Schöner

    Tel.: +49 3834 420 1618