Supervising candidates

Supervising candidates

Your role as a supervisor will vary depending on what type of supervisor you are. Each candidate has one primary supervisor and at least one other. The different types of supervisors are:

  • Principal Supervisor: oversees all aspects of candidature and is responsible for guiding the candidate’s work, as well as ensuring all administrative and academic requirements are met. To be a Principal Supervisor, you must be a full-time or part-time member of academic staff for three years or longer and normally located in the candidate’s Department.
  • Associate Supervisor: supports the candidate and Principal Supervisor, often through expertise in a different but relevant area of research to the topic.
  • Acting Supervisor: appointed when the Principal Supervisor is absent for a period of less than six months. The Associate Supervisor often fills this role.
  • Co-Supervisor: appointed in this role if new to supervision. The Principal Supervisor will mentor the Co-Supervisor with the goal of handing Principal Supervision over when appropriate.
  • Adjunct Supervisor: not employed by the University. Generally appointed when a candidate is studying externally or conducting fieldwork for an extended period.

Full details of your responsibilities are outlined in the Higher Degree Supervision Policy.

Before starting and early candidature

Evaluating and finding candidates

Macquarie encourages you to keep an eye out for potential HDR candidates. If you come across a student who you think will be suitable, you should discuss with them the opportunities, criteria and scholarships. You may also find yourself approached online by potential students investigating options.

Before taking on an HDR candidate, it is important to consider their suitability. HDR study is not for everyone, and it is better to turn down a student than to waste their time.

Beyond evaluating a student’s research proposal, ask yourself the following:

  • Do they have any evidence of research experience?
  • What are their results like?
  • Is Macquarie the best place for them?
  • Do other academics have any information about them?
  • Can they realistically complete their project in the timeframe?

Student Proposals

HDR applications at Macquarie require a research proposal that outlines the applicant’s project. This forms part of the assessment for admission. You are encouraged to work with potential applicants on their proposal, as this facilitates a stronger alignment of the applicant’s interests and your own, but also allows you to begin a dialogue early, establishing a working relationship and ground rules.

You may also need to assess the proposals of applicants. When doing so, it is important to remember applicants are not experienced researchers, so cannot be expected to turn in polished research proposals. Instead, you should be assessing these proposals in terms of whether yourself and your department are capable to supervise the project, and whether it is realistic in scope. These proposals will also indicate what general knowledge and writing skills the applicant has.

Early candidature and commencement programs

The first few months of candidature are often the most critical. It’s important you are familiar with the commencement programs your candidates are required to undertake. You must also make sure to establish your supervisory relationship in this period, including the negotiation of expectations and routines, fleshing out a timeline, and ensuring the candidate’s research topic is well developed and refined.

Remember that you are mentoring a rookie researcher. As well as helping your candidate refine their topic, conduct research and write their thesis, it is also important to provide guidance on time management, dealing with fatigue, and coping with the other stresses and obstacles that emerge during such long projects. Ensure you recognise when a candidate might need professional help, and make them aware of the support available to them via Student Wellbeing.

Progression and completion

Your candidate will face a number of challenges along their degree. It is up to you to support your candidate through the more trying times, by ensuring adherence to (or flexibility of) the Action Plan. You may find you need to set about managing conflict that has arisen due to progress thus far or other expectations.

It is important you remain aware of University, Faculty or Department mandated milestones as well, such as Confirmation of Candidature and the Annual Progress Report.

Refining the research topic

While some students will begin their PhD with a well refined research topic, often their topic will actually be formulated in the first six months of candidature. To help your student refine their research topic, you should meet frequently, provide guidance towards relevant literature in their field, and offer practical advice about what is achievable.

Candidates that may need the most guidance will be those who feel they have never done enough reading, who may become too focused on their field's specifics, or who have greater expectations than what is achievable in a PhD. You may wish to consult other academics if you and your candidate are struggling to refine an idea.

Writing and editing

Depending on your supervision style, your role in editing your candidate's work will vary. Generally, it is acceptable for a supervisor to work with the candidate on structural issues and fleshing out certain ideas in the early stages, while shifting more to grammatical detail and other nuances towards the end of candidature. The extent is up to you and your candidate, but must adhere to Macquarie's guidelines.

Your candidate may experience writer's block or other difficulties in writing their thesis, especially if they do not come from a writing-heavy discipline, or English is not their first language. In some cases, you may wish to refer them to the various L&T tools offered by the University. That said, it's important that you encourage good writing habits from the get go. Keep the following in mind:

  • Don't assume what works for you will work for your candidate
  • Encourage writing early and often
  • Prepare and stick to a writing schedule
  • Give specific feedback
  • Remember to praise as well as critique


It is important that your candidate learns about publishing practices within their discipline, and you should encourage them to publish as soon as their work reaches an appropriate stage, as well as present their research at conferences. Publication and conferences allows the candidate to showcase their research, as well as giving them realistic goals to work towards.

However, you should be realistic about when your candidate is ready to publish. If you feel they need to do more work, you should make them aware of this.

Before deciding if you should be a co-author on your candidate's publications, you must ensure you adhere to the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research guidelines regarding authorship:

Attribution of authorship depends to some extent on the discipline, but in all cases, authorship must be based on substantial contributions in a combination of:

  • conception and design of the project
  • analysis and interpretation of research data
  • drafting significant parts of the work or critically revising it so as to contribute to the interpretation.

The right to authorship is not tied to position or profession and does not depend on whether the contribution was paid for or voluntary. It is not enough to have provided materials or routine technical support, or to have made the measurements on which the publication is based. Substantial intellectual involvement is required.

It is important to have an open and ongoing dialogue with your candidate about co-authorship.


Successfully completing a thesis on time demonstrates a deep understanding of the research area, as well as a candidate’s aptitude for seeing a project through to the end. In a practical sense, funding for domestic candidates via the Australian Government’s Research Training Scheme (RTS) as well as scholarships have strict time-limits. Once a candidate’s allocated RTS has expired, the University receives no funding. International candidates also face more fees if they run overtime.

Generally, an HDR candidate is embarking on a project bigger than any they have before, and will often have unrealistic goals. While it is the candidate’s responsibility to complete their thesis on time, as their supervisor it is your duty to ensure they are able to.

Strategies to ensure your candidate completes on time include:

  • Have a clear and succinct project that is doable within the degree’s timeframe
  • Meet regularly with your candidate to review progress
  • Delivery timely, clear and practical feedback
  • Quickly identify and act upon academic or personal problems that may be delaying research
  • Re-establish communication quickly if your candidate loses contact

Candidates may find themselves unable to finish for a variety of reasons, ranging from being overawed by the research in their field, anxious about committing to their argument, or just worried about what life will be like post-thesis. It’s important you try and provide advice to your candidate during this period, but you also must recognise when someone else needs to intervene.

The final draft

Reading your candidate’s final draft is an important part of your role as a supervisor. You often won’t get a holistic view of a thesis until it is close to submission, which can reveal issues that were not previously apparent. While minor issues such as structure, presentation and scholarly standards can generally be remedied through clear and thorough feedback, more major problems must be handled more carefully. It is up to you to make judgements about what changes are necessary, and those that can be left for post-examination publication.

Termination and appeals procedures

Candidates are encouraged to access the support services provided by the University's Student Advocacy and Support office for additional support and independent advice regarding the University's rules, procedures and related matters. Questions about this process can also be directed to the Office of Higher Degree Research Training and Partnerships on

The current termination of candidature procedure is available on Policy Central.

The documents below provide support through the procedures:

Supervisors Toolkit

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