Department of Statistics


Supervisors and supervision

What is a supervisor?


Your supervisor is a member of staff who knows about your project research area. They are able to offer advice and guidance concerning your project. They will enable you to overcome the problems you will undoubtedly encounter while doing your research.

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Who can supervise me?


To supervise a PhD candidate, according to the University’s statutes covering the registration of PhD candidates, a supervisor “must be actively involved in research in the candidate’s general field, and must either hold a doctoral degree or be appropriately qualified and experienced”. For a 90 point Masters thesis the Board of Graduate Study Policy on Administration of Research in Masters’ Degrees states that supervisors “must have a scholarly understanding of the field in which the student is working”. For Masters and Honours projects I cannot point to any documents which specifically lay out the requirements for supervision. In the Department of Statistics any of the lecturers or tutors employed in the department can supervise. However, tutors are primarily appointed to teach, while lecturers are expected to also do research. Thus generally supervisors are those who are lecturers.

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How do I get a supervisor?


You ask one of the lecturers if they have a suitable project and are willing to supervise you. More importantly who do you ask? The graduate officers can talk this over with you. You can check the interests of the academic staff on the Department website. Choose someone who has some knowledge of an area which interests you. You might also choose someone who has taught a course which you enjoyed or found interesting.

Talk to one of our graduate officers

See a list of Statistics academic staff

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What should I expect from my supervisor?


You should expect your supervisor to be willing to talk to you about your work, and if unable to help, to try to direct you to someone who can. You will probably need most help when you are starting your research, and when you are in the final stages of writing up. Do not be afraid to ask your supervisor for help at critical times. Regular meetings will build a good working relationship and may serve to prevent problems in your work. Do take their advice. Remember they have more experience in research than you do and are trying to help you produce a well-rounded piece of high quality.

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What should my supervisor expect from me?


You should work independently and not expect your supervisor either to do your work, or to think for you. Remember that they have other responsibilities and may not always be immediately available when you need help. If you are running into problems, let your supervisor know. Do not expect them to bail you out at the last minute. Set deadlines for yourself. When you want your supervisor to read through first drafts of your thesis, make certain you have allowed enough time for them to read it and for you to revise it. Supervisors may be away from the University (attending conferences for example) or may wish to take holidays. Make sure that your supervisor is aware of when you need your report to be read, is able to provide the necessary feedback in time.

If you want to gain the most from a meeting with a supervisor, put some thought into preparing for it:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What do you think they can do to solve it?
  3. Does your supervisor have any suggestions?
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What if I have difficulties with my supervisor?


First of all, try to explain the problem to your supervisor. Think about what you need to say, and always be constructive – tell the supervisor what they can do to help rather than just telling them that what they are doing is not helpful. Also try to mention positive things that the supervisor is doing: they will find it easier to respond to your difficulties if they feel that something they are doing is right! If the problem still persists, or if you don’t feel confident talking to your supervisor, come and see Rachel Fewster in Room 220. We can discuss the problem and possible solutions. Anything you say will be in complete confidence unless you ask me to pass information on to other people.

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What if I need to change supervisors?


This may be possible. You may decide to change your topic and find that another staff member is more suitable to oversee your work. One of life’s basic realities is that some people cannot get along, despite all their best efforts. If you find yourself in this position, seek the advice of the Graduate Advocate (Stephane Guindon, Room 381). Explain your problems clearly and she will help you solve them in the most appropriate way. Remember however, that change of supervision does not mean that time for completion of the degree will be automatically extended. You may also want to consult the Graduate Officer.

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What should I do before I meet with my supervisor?


  • Submit any work you want feedback about to your supervisor so she/he has plenty of time to read it.
  • Review your notes and records from your last meeting which will help you to evaluate the progress you have made.
  • Identify any problems/difficulties you are having.
  • Decide what you want from the meeting and prepare an agenda with your questions and concerns.
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What should I do during the meeting with my supervisor?


  • Let your supervisor know what you want from the meeting; your supervisor may have other things to add to the list.
  • Know the things that are the most important for you to clarify (the matters that will hold you up if you leave without answers).
    The agenda might include:
    • Progress since last meeting (a must!).
    • Current problems: e.g. lab work; literature; methods; organisation of field work or laboratory work; discussion of readings; location of resources; feedback received or needed; general problems and difficulties; renegotiation of working arrangements.
    • Ideas you want to explore.
    • Goal setting: what you want to achieve by the next meeting (a must!).
    • Evaluation of overall progress.
    • A date for the next meeting (a must!).
  • Work through the agenda: Say when you don’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Keep a record:
  • Decisions made (including goals and next meeting date). References suggested; new understandings etc. Keep a copy for yourself; send a copy to your supervisor(s).
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