Matching expectations

A PhD study programme and PhD project is a learning process. It is a journey into performing high-quality research and science – into learning to think critically and independently, to develop and communicate ideas, to design and execute research plans, make decisions, set up experiments, interpret research data, etc.
Of course, this is not something that you are expected to do all alone. Your main supervisor is one of the key persons who can help you.

To help this process further, GSST suggests the following topics for discussion between you and your main supervisor. Please feel free to pick and choose between them.

Matching expectations

To ensure that your PhD study gets off on a good start, GSST recommends that you and your supervisor set aside time to match your expectations for your PhD study and project. For instance this could take place in connection with filling in the initial PhD plan in the planner system.


Some of the core issues to talk about could be:

  • What is the research project? How much is given beforehand (for instance, if it is part of a larger research project), and how much can you decide for yourself?
  • Who should be the driving force of the project, you or your main supervisor? Should you be very self-sufficient, self-reliant and independent, not needing many meetings, supervision or help from your main supervisor, or do you prefer more of the opposite?
  • How and to what extent will your main supervisor be involved in the project – for instance in connection with developing the PhD project, writing articles/publications, planning stays abroad and conferences, networking, etc.?
  • If there are any co-supervisors, what will be their function and how will roles be divided between your main supervisor and co-supervisor(s)? 

Even though you may have daily discussions on various issues, e.g. in the lab, GSST also recommends that you have regular meetings on the progress of your PhD studies and project to make sure that the PhD as a whole is on the right track.

Supervision meetings

  • How often should they be held? Are regular meetings required (perhaps planned in advance), or should they be scheduled along the way? Who is responsible for scheduling them? Should you prepare something in advance? Should an agenda be prepared for the meetings and notes/minutes be taken? If yes, who is responsible?
  • Purpose of the meetings – discussion of project framework, articles/publications, methodology, experimental work, development of the project(s), feedback/professional discussions, etc.
  • Besides one-on-one meetings, will there also be (regular) group meetings with other members from the research group?
  • What about informal meetings/discussions? Does your main supervisor have an “open door” policy, or should you always book an appointment in advance?
  • If co-supervisors are assigned to the project: Should they be present at (some of) the meetings? If yes, how often?
  • What about periods leading up to more demanding deadlines, e.g. progress report/qualifying exam and thesis submission. Is extra time for supervision and discussion possible, if necessary?

Working hours, deadlines, cooperation in the research group, etc.

  • Working hours and presence in the office/the lab and work/life balance.
  • Being in the lab – safety issues, keeping a logbook or protocol?
  • Deadlines? How do you work towards a deadline, and what are your expectations of each other in that regard, for instance when finishing abstracts, papers, publications, conference papers, etc., but also if you need your main supervisor to read and comment on a given text before a meeting.
  • Cooperation within the research group – e.g. what are the traditions/expectations within the group regarding helping each other out with experiments, proof reading, etc.

Text feedback, co-authorship and code of scientific conduct

  • How much feedback will be given on texts, manuscripts, posters, progress report and thesis drafts, etc.? And how? And when?
  • Co-authorship and your main supervisor’s role – will your main supervisor be co-author on all manuscripts or only on some of them depending on involvement?
  • Code of Scientific Conduct – when and where is the right place to discuss grey areas and boundaries between what is okay and what is not okay in science?

Planning and prioritising

  • PhD Planner – the initial plan and the half-year evaluations.
  • How to prioritise time with regard to courses, teaching/work obligations, dissemination, going abroad/research environment change, writing articles/publications and the PhD project?
  • If the PhD study consists of more than one project, how to prioritise time between different projects, and does it make good sense to have more than one project?
  • Going abroad/research environment change – who should be the driving force in initiating and organising it, you or your main supervisor?
  • Participation in conferences and development of scientific networks – when and how?
  • Who should you talk to if any problems are encountered in the day-to-day work – main supervisor, any co-supervisor(s) or someone else?
  • Career planning – academia, industry or something else? And how does this relate to courses and going abroad/research environment change, for example?

Money - and Practical matters

  • Budget for expenses related to the PhD project, e.g. lab equipment, books, courses, conferences, etc.
  • Who should you contact with questions about e.g. office space, laptop, computer software licensing, insurance, PURE registration, holiday and illness?

Changes along the way

As a PhD project is most likely subject to changes along the way, and the supervision needed may differ through the various stages of the PhD study period, it is equally important to discuss your expectations of each other and the project regularly during the PhD studies.

Other issues may also crop up along the way which could be relevant for some PhD students to discuss with their main supervisor. These could be:

  • How to handle unforeseen issues that may postpone the PhD and project(s)?
  • What to do if the main supervisor goes on sabbatical, ordinary leave, maternity/paternity leave or similar?
  • What to do if the supervisors disagree on the direction of the PhD project?

And finally, at times issues may crop up that can be difficult to discuss. If this happens, consider contacting the Head of the Programme Committee.

GSST is also always very willing to offer help and assistance. See our website for contact info on your PhD partner

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