PhD candidate supervision

Norsk versjon - Veiledning for doktorgradskandidater

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The relationship between the PhD-candidate and the supervisors is an important part of any doctoral project. The supervisor plays a significant role as academic contact, expert, supporter and project manager.

Before you apply for admission to a PhD-programme, you should already have a main supervisor prepared. By contacting the department or browsing their web pages you should be able to find information on the academic staff, their field of research and who might be of interest to you and your project. If you are employed as part of a larger research project, your main supervisor will usually be part of the project group. At least one of your supervisors, usually your main supervisor, must be employed at NTNU.

All academic supervisors must hold a doctoral degree or equivalent qualification in the relevant research field and must be active researchers. At least one of the appointed supervisors must have previous experience or training in academic supervision of PhD-candidates. In selected cases where it is deemed reasonable, such as with an Industrial PhD, the Faculty may also appoint one or more mentors. A mentor does not meet the qualification requirements for supervisors, but may still provide supervisory assistance.


At NTNU there is a general rule that all PhD-candidates should have at least two supervisors. The supervisory team should be ready as early as possible in the process, and it is important that the responsibilities are clearly defined among the supervisors. The main supervisor has a specific responsibility for coordinating the supervision.

If you have a co-supervisor from a foreign institution, you may consider a cotutelle agreement. A cotutelle agreement is a comprehensive agreement of joint supervision between two institutions and includes stays at both institutions, joint evaluation of the thesis etc. You must get in touch with faculty early on if this shall be an option.

It is possible to make adjustments to the supervisory team throughout the doctoral period. This includes adjusting the supervisory resources, changing supervisors and including new co-supervisors. Changes must be cleared with the existing supervisors and any request should be addressed to the faculty and sent via the department.

Content of supervision

In many cases the supervision will start with improving the project description. If you have been accepted to a programme with a preliminary project description, you must hand in a complete project description within three months of admission.

We recommend that you and your supervisors have a start-up conversation and discuss your expectations and look through the PhD Handbook. As a preparation to the conversation you and your supervisor may use an expectation clarification form. This can be a useful way of ensuring a good start for the supervisory relationship. Some faculties and departments have created forms for these opening meetings. Your supervisor should be aware of this if this applies at your unit.

The relationship between you and your supervisors is regulated by Section 8 in the PhD-regulations and Part B of the Agreement concerning admission to organized doctoral degree education. The agreement should be signed within two months of being accepted to a programme. Both you and your supervisors have a duty to keep each other informed of any matters of significance for the progression of the project.

The supervisor must:

  • offer advice about formulating and limiting areas for study and research
  • discuss and assess hypotheses and methods
  • discuss results and their interpretation
  • discuss the structure and mode of presentation (outline, linguistic form, documentation, etc.)
  • provide assistance in finding specialist literature and data sources (using libraries, archives, etc.)
  • help to introduce the candidate to relevant academic groups and bodies
  • provide the candidate with guidance in ethical principles for research in connection with the thesis

The PhD-candidate must:

  • keep the supervisor updated on an on-going basis of all matters of significance for the supervision and work on the doctoral thesis
  • actively seek advice from the supervisor(s) on academic matters in connection with the research work or work on the thesis
  • follow up on agreements made with the supervisor
  • submit drafts of parts of the thesis to the supervisor(s)
  • comply with ethical research principles in force in his/her disciplinary field

The faculty/department may have set their own norms for supervision, but most have the guideline of 210 hours in total, equivalent to 70 hours a year for three years.

Problems in the supervisory relationship

It is not uncommon to encounter challenges in the supervisory relationship along the way. Some possible problems are considered in the Ethics Portal. The most important thing you do when encountering problems is to bring it up as soon as possible, preferably with the supervisor in question. However, if for some reason, it is difficult to discuss it with the supervisor or if bringing it up with the supervisor has no effect, you should contact the department or the faculty. Who you should get in touch with will depend on the type of problem and who you feel comfortable discussing the issue with. The main thing is that you get in touch with someone and then you can jointly look at the matter and agree on how to proceed.

There are a variety of measures that may be activated depending on the problem, but you are responsible for informing someone yourself. The earlier in the process the problem is addressed, the higher the likelihood that necessary adjustments can be made to ensure your progress and a good outcome for all parties.

If you or your supervisor feel that the other party is not fulfilling their obligations in accordance with the doctoral agreement and the regulations, you must attempt to work together to find a solution. If you are unable to resolve the matter together, both you and the supervisor may request a termination of the supervisory relationship. According to the doctoral agreement such a request should be addressed to the faculty and sent via the department. The faculty makes the final decision in such a matter and your supervisor may not terminate their supervision until a new supervisor has been appointed. Any disputes of you or your supervisor’s rights and obligations can be brought up with the faculty for assessment and decision.

NTNU has created their own code of ethics for employees which you should get acquainted with, in particular the specific guidelines for teaching and supervision.

Supervision after the end of funding

Once your funding has run out, you do not necessarily have the right to continued supervision. Generally this is something you and your supervisor come to agreement on together. You should inform the faculty of the agreement between you concerning continued supervision in connection with the annual progress report.

See: Delays during the PhD period