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Research supervision

Your supervisor supports you to produce research of the highest quality. They provide professional advice and guidance throughout your candidature.

You are required to have at least one research supervisor and one secondary supervisor.

Your supervisor’s role is to guide you through your higher degree by research program and usually involves:

  • offering advice in your field of study and providing direction for your research
  • setting milestones and monitoring your progress
  • providing feedback, encouragement and support.

Communicating with your supervisor

When you start at the University of Sydney, you should discuss your proposed progress with your supervisor. You’ll create a research progress plan and outline realistic milestones for your research.

You should establish a communication plan that allows you to regularly meet or correspond to discuss your progress. This will help you keep on track and provide an experienced and expert sounding board for your ideas.

Resolving difficulties with your supervisor

Problems sometimes arise between candidates and their supervisor(s). It’s best for these issues to be addressed as quickly as possible.

You may want to consider the following to resolve any difficulties.

  • Make an appointment with your supervisor. For example, you could say: “Could we arrange a meeting to discuss how we can work most effectively together?” By phrasing it this way, you are encouraging dialogue and your supervisor is less likely to be defensive.
  • Before talking with your supervisor, speak to a friend or a counsellor. Expressing your frustration with a third person will help you be calmer when you speak to your supervisor.
  • Make notes of the points you want to raise with your supervisor. Refer to those notes during the meeting if you need to.
  • Meeting your supervisor can be daunting. Remember, though, that if you are open and courteous, and listen carefully to what they say, your supervisor is more likely to respond positively.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as “What are your expectations of a supervisor-student relationship?” and “What can I do to make your job easier?”. Once you have heard the supervisor’s point of view, you can share your own perspective.
  • You might use your annual progress review to express your problems – other staff members will be present, and they may be able to offer solutions.

If you are not able to resolve any issues directly with your supervisor, you can seek the help of the postgraduate coordinator, head of department/school or any other member of permanent staff.

You can also seek advice and support from the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA), Counselling and Psychological Services (CAPS) or compliance officers (for international students).

Changing your supervisor

As you progress with your research, you might move into different areas of interest or your thesis topic might change.

In this case it may be beneficial to have additional or alternative advice. You can complement your supervisor’s experience with an academic staff member in another discipline or faculty.

You can also explore Research Supervisor Connect to discover the research interests, experience and publications of University academic staff.

How to apply

Once you find suitable academic staff, talk to them about your research and supervision options. Consult your current supervisors and discuss any new supervision arrangements.

You can then submit a request to change your supervisor. This will need formal academic approval.

Submit your request through Sydney Student. Go to ‘My studies’, ‘Research details’, then ‘Request change of supervisor’ next to your current supervisor.

Higher Degree by Research Administration Centre

  • HDRAC is closed for in-person enquiries

    Level 5, Jane Foss Russell Building, Darlington Campus


Find your discipline contact

Opening hours:
9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Last updated: 21 January 2021

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