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NOTE: This supervisor's guide assumes that you are both a student's Chair of Panel and their Primary Supervisor.

The supervisory panel

When a student first enrols, an interim supervisor is appointed for them -- probably, this is you, and you are likely to be confirmed as the Chair and Primary Supervisor when the topic and supervisory panel are formally approved three months after enrolment. At this early stage of the candidature, you should consult with the student on the development of the thesis topic and on the composition of the supervisory panel.

The panel must be appointed within three months of commencement of candidature. We cannot stress how important this is. Without a panel, the student cannot submit their early milestones; in particular, they cannot present their Thesis Proposal Review seminar unless all panel members have been appointed and are present at the seminar. A knock-on effect of this is that students cannot apply for Crawford HDR student funding until their TPR has been submitted and approved. Similarly, online forms cannot be actioned by the Chair unless both a Chair and Primary Supervisor have been registered on the student's record. To help in the administration of forms, a Chair and Primary Supervisor are, by default, listed when the student first arrives -- again, this is probably you. If you do not want to take on either or both of these roles, you will nevertheless remain listed as such until the panel is appointed. This means that you will be the one responsible for signing off on all academic approvals for the student until the panel's details are updated.

Composition and role of the panel

Typically, a panel of three (sometimes more) guides a student's work. Supervision panels consist of members with the titles of Chair, Primary Supervisor, and Associate Supervisor. As Chair you are responsible for the academic administration of the degree, i.e., you have the power to endorse things such as requests for software or applications for Crawford HDR student funding. The Chair also defines roles for Associate Supervisors and may limit their responsibility. The Chair is the supervisor responsible for arranging panel meetings, monitoring your progress, and ensuring compliance with required milestones and other University rules and policies.

In most instances, but not all, the Chair is also the Primary Supervisor, i.e., the person who the student consults most often about the intellectual direction of the project. As Primary Supervisor you need to be available for regular consultation and maintain regular contact with your student, as you play a direct role in shaping the research project. You are expected to read and comment on your student's written work and to guide them in their reading and in the development of their research questions.

These other panel members provide additional expert advice; how much a student ends up using them will depend on a number of factors. In general, Associate Supervisors are less closely involved in the supervisory process and are not expected to read all of the student's written work or to meet with them on regular basis. Associate Supervisors are typically appointed to provide expertise in specialist subject areas or methodologies, or to facilitate access to a range of contacts and resources, often external to the University.

The Delegated Authority may approve supervisors not holding a PhD or who are not employed at ANU, but only with the approval of the Associate Dean HDR. At least one panel member must hold an ANU appointment for the duration of the program. Visit the You and your supervisor page as well as the Supervision and Candidature Policies and Procedures for more details. You might also want to check out the Research Supervision website for supervisors for more information.

Setting expectations

In your first meeting or two with your new student, you should discuss both your and their expectations for this working relationship. How you do this is up to you, but you might consider using something like this questionnaire or the Annual research plan as a 'conversation starter'. In any case, expectations are something to be negotiated, rather than imposed, and should be re-visited on a regular basis. Supervisors and candidates are expected to arrive at an agreed set of expectations in line with various HDR supervision and candidature policies and procedures.

Meeting with your student

Within the first few months of candidature, it is expected that you will meet regularly (i.e., weekly or fortnightly) with your student. After that, the frequency of meetings will depend upon your and your student's particular needs and on your workload. As a general guideline, Crawford advises students that they should expect to meet you formally and on average at least once a month and at other times as needed. Towards the end of your student's candidature more frequent meetings can be expected. Full panel meetings are expected to be held twice a year, and the Chair of the supervisory panel has the responsibility for organising such meetings.

It is good practice for you to email the student after a supervision meeting, outlining what was discussed and the objectives to be reached or deadlines to be met before the next meeting, and seeking the student's agreement on both. This provides both you and the student with a 'paper chain' if anything comes up for dispute; it doesn't have to be a full-on recounting of every detail of a meeting, but having some kind of consonant record is a smart thing.

Giving feedback

As a guideline, you should provide feedback on your student's written work within two to four weeks, but this will depend on how much work you has been produced for comment; if a single chapter has been produced, then a reasonable turn-around time would be one to two weeks. You are not expected to provide feedback on multiple iterations of draft chapters, as your student is expected to incorporate your feedback into their work as they go. Individual circumstances will vary but as a general rule you should probably not be expected to comment on more than one detailed outline and two complete drafts of each chapter. Don't forget that students can always get non-content feedback on their work from the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor.

Associate Supervisors are not formally required to read drafts, but they may read and provide comments in their areas of expertise; whether they have a greater involvement varies according to particular cases.

Changes to the panel

Either panel members of the student may request changes in supervisory panel arrangements during the student's candidature, and may seek advice on this from a number of sources. It is not unusual for students to make changes to their panel arrangements, especially if the research has changed direction (as often happens) and a supervisor can no longer provide advice on the topic. Sometimes you find that you and your student simply do not get on. Regardless of the reason(s) for the change, it's best to act early to either find the student a new Chair and Primary supervisor (with you staying on as an Associate Supervisor) or to remove yourself from the panel entirely.

In the case where a student would prefer a new Chair or Primary Supervisor, the student will typically firstly investigate who else might be an appropriate supervisor for their thesis. Once they have some ideas, they will approach the HDR Convenor, who can advise on the staff member's likely suitability and availability. The HDR Convenor will liaise with you, with any potential supervisors, and with the student. Supervisory changes under such circumstances can be mentally and emotionally draining for both parties, so you should have a chat with someone you trust and who can provide advice on how the system works and on how best to proceed. Feel free to talk to the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator if you like. All discussions are held in confidence.

The Chair of Panel (who is likely also to be the Primary Supervisor) must sign off on any changes.

Topic development and topic changes

The first few months are crucial to the development of a viable thesis topic, i.e., one which in your view can be completed within the maximum time allocated to the course. This is why regular meetings with your student, in which you guide them in the development of their topic and research questions, and in which you suggest relevant literature, are so important early on.

During the first year of your student's HDR candidature their research topic is likely to evolve. It may continue to do so in response to research results, and following the first PhD thesis seminar and thesis proposal review (TPR). If, however, a student wants to change their topic in a significant way following their TPR they may need to undergo the process again and no extension to the candidature can be guaranteed. Such a change should thus be carefully considered and discussed in detail between student and panel. CHANGE OF TOPIC IS DONE thru UPDATING CHANGE IN PANEL FORM -- PAPER FORM.


PhD candidates are required to do at least 12 units of coursework as part of their PhD program. A full academic coursework load is 24 units per semester, and at Crawford all students are required to undertake at least 12 credits of coursework (across the life of the degree, but usually at the start of their candidature). Students enrolled in less than 24 units per semester are expected to spend the remaining time on their research work. Coursework requirements at Crawford are generally as follows:
  • Economics PhD students are required to successfully complete eight semester-length courses, including three required courses. The remaining five courses are made up of electives.
  • National Security College (NSC) PhD students are required to undertake POGO9096 Research Design and NSPO9020 Research Methods, both offered in Semester 1.
  • Policy and Governance (POGO) PhD students are required to enrol in a research design course (12 units, semester 1, offered by Crawford) and a research methods course (6 units, offered by the School of Politics and International Relations).
  • Resources, Environment, & Development (RE&D) PhD students are required to undertake 12 units of coursework.

View the list of Crawford courses, including compulsory courses.

Students will need to discuss with you whether or not they should undertake any courses in addition to the courses above. In consulting with you on this, you should consider the student's abilities and academic background, a course's suitability, the time committments required, and so on. The student will need your approval before signing up for a course.

To the best of our knowledge, poor coursework marks have not in the past acted as an obstruction to a student's being awarded the PhD, as both both milestones and examination are the chief, formal obstacles to gaining the degree. Of course, if your student were to do poorly in coursework, then that would act as a 'red flag' and you, as supervisor, might consider recommending terminating the candidature, but a lot of support for the student should be put in place before things get to that stage. Feel free to discuss any such matter with the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor and the HDR Administrator.

PhD seminars

Each student is expected to make at least three seminar presentations during their period of PhD candidature in the Crawford School (after completing coursework requirements). The first PhD thesis seminar and thesis proposal review (TPR) will typically include a research proposal and some preliminary results; this is a formal, University milestone requirement. The second PhD thesis seminar presentation (aka Mid-Term Review) will normally be based on an original chapter; this is not a formal milestone requirement of the University, but at Crawford we nevertheless encourage students to present such a seminar The third PhD thesis seminar presentation will usually be based on an additional research chapter and must present overview of the key results of the entire thesis; this is a formal, University milestone requirement.

Students should make arrangements for their seminar presentations with the PhD Seminar Co-ordinator in your area. Please bear in mind that staff and students are often on holidays between the end of November and late January, so students should not schedule any seminars at those times.

Read more about PhD seminars.

Thesis by compilation

If your student will be writing and submitting a thesis by compilation, there are certain ANU guidelines and procedures that must be conformed with Please see the ANU's Procedure: Higher degree by research - thesis by compilation and thesis by creative works, the Research Awards Rule (2016) , and the ANU's Procedure: Higher degree by research - submission and examination of theses.

Submitting a thesis by compilation requires approval from the Delegated Authority, as per section 16 of the ANU's Procedure. Students should Fill out the form to make this application, making sure that you email cap.hdr@anu.edu.au to advise that you have done so. The PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor can advise students further on making this application.

Students wishing to submit a thesis by compilation should discuss this with their supervisor at an early stage in their candidature and must notify and obtain the endorsement of their panel least 12 months prior to submission, and no later than 6 months prior to submission. The approval process ensures that the student has received important, discipline-specific guidance on the appropriate quantity and quality of papers for submission as a thesis.