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Supervision code

Supervisory Code of Practice for Experimental Psychology

The principles laid down here concern the supervision of graduate students. The supervisor-student relationship is the basis for postgraduate study in the Department. It is expected that a supervisor will have formal meetings with their student at least once per term. In addition, students in their first year should have meetings in the first term to initiate research and study, and in the third term to discuss and prepare the research report. What follows details the arrangements in place for ensuring adequate supervision of graduate students in the Department of Experimental Psychology.

Principles for monitoring and regulation of supervisory performance

The majority of supervisors perform their jobs both conscientiously and well. For these supervisors any system of regulation should seek to make their jobs easier by providing additional information and a framework to support their actions.

A few supervisors perform their duties less adequately. Any monitoring system should identify these supervisors, and any system of regulation should seek to support their current students, and make problems with future students less likely.

In respect of current students, the first year is crucial both in identifying supervisory problems and in respect of preparing for PhD registration. Hence systems to monitor supervision are particularly important in this year.

Supervisory performance can also be assessed at the time of PhD completion (see below).

Monitoring supervisory performance during the first year

Personal Logs. The student’s personal log provides an opportunity for the Departmental Graduate Education Committee (DGEC) to ensure that students meet with supervisors regularly, and that at these meetings adequate supervision is given. Copies of these logs should be collected and reviewed by the DGEC at the time of first year assessment.

Advisors. The role of advisors in reporting on any potential problems with supervision to the DGEC should be made explicit. Such reporting should occur when problems are detected, but an annual very short advisor’s report requested by the DGEC will ensure monitoring.

College Tutors. We believe that the Colleges can be enormously useful in monitoring any supervisory problems encountered by the student, as they are often able to take a more detached and objective stance. College tutors are urged to meet with the Graduate students in their charge at least once per term to check on their progress. Any misgivings about supervision should be reported by College tutors to the DGEC.

The first year assessment

Objectives and implications for form of assessment. The first year assessment has three objectives. These are to check that the student has the ability to complete the PhD; to sort out the specifics of the project the student will pursue, and to establish that there are no difficulties with the supervisor/student relationship or other aspects of supervision.

In particular it is essential that assessors be able to speak to the student in the absence of the supervisor at some point in the process. It is also desirable that the supervisor is able to discuss the student and project with the assessors.

Timing. Timely completion of the assessment is essential for the student, and is a crucial part of good first year supervision. Submission of first year reports should allow time for the assessment to occur and the DGEC to evaluate assessments etc before twelve months have elapsed.

Late performance of first year assessment

The responsibility to hand in a first year report on time rests with the student. However, preparation of the report requires co-operation of the supervisor, as does performance of the assessment. If the supervisor fails to perform their duties in this regard in a timely fashion, this will be reflected in the student’s Personal Log, and the student can also report to Adviser and/or DGEC.

Failure to complete a first year Assessment in a timely fashion (if it is a failure in supervision) will trigger some consideration of any sanctions to be applied to the supervisor. This would initially take the form of a letter of enquiry about the assessment from the DGEC to the supervisor by twelve months, with copy to Head of Department.

Delayed submission of a thesis

Delayed submission of a thesis can occur for a number of reasons, however Degree Committees will be aware that some individual supervisors have a worse track record than others. The Degree Committee will bring persistent records of delayed submission to the attention of the Head of Department.

Mediation procedures

If a student is dissatisfied with his/her current supervision, for whatever cause, then there is a system of mediation. A supervisor also has recourse to mediation, if he/she thinks that the problem cannot be resolved in any other way (for example, by consultation with the adviser).

The Graduate School has established a Mediation Procedure, which will be employed to resolve graduate students' complaints . This has as its objectives (i) satisfactory assessment and resolution of the problem (ii) an incremental procedure, which depends on the availability of several levels of access by the student to processes that will attempt to resolve the problem. The procedure aims to resolve the problem at the lowest level possible.

The Adviser's (mentor's) role

The procedure, which will come into play at an early stage, is designed to avoid small problems becoming big issues and resulting in formal action being necessary. It is important to start the process while there is still a reasonable chance of resolving the problem satisfactorily. Certainly, there should not be delay until a formal complaint has been made. Graduate students should seek an early meeting with their adviser (mentor) in cases of a dispute or disagreement with their supervisors which cannot be resolved by reasonable discussion. It is likely that advisers can play a major part in resolving most disputes between students and supervisors at an early stage.

The role of the DGEC

If a dispute or problem cannot be resolved by the supervisor and/or the adviser, then it must be referred to the DGEC (Department/Institute Graduate Education Committee). A student who considers that the problem remains unresolved thus has access to the DGEC. The Chair of the student's DGEC will play a part in helping resolve the dispute.

The Chair of the DGEC may also wish to consult the student's Head of Department/Institute (HOD) in appropriate circumstances. Students, of course, also have access to their HODs and should not hesitate to consult them if this seems the next best step.

Mediation Advisers

The student's DGEC may consider it appropriate to call on one or more Mediation Advisers. Each department or institution will have access to one, two or more relatively senior members (perhaps including the Chair of their DGEC) to act as Mediation Advisers, either from the same or another Department/Institute There will be at least one adviser of each sex.

The Mediation Advisers, who will be appointed for a minimum of four years, will have undergone training in mediation techniques. The Mediation Adviser will be responsible to the DGEC and, where it is necessary to make representations to a head of department or institution, then those representations will be made in the name of that Committee. The Mediation Adviser will not be in a position of personal conflict with his/her head of department. Any person raising a problem with a Mediation Adviser must make that problem explicit and in full from the outset: there will need to be a written record. The problem cannot be varied at a later date, unless new issues develop. It is important that issues are made clear at the outset and not confused by the subsequent addition of other matters.

Currently, the mediation advisers for the Faculty of Biology are:

Dr Kate Plaisted (Department of Psychology) email: kcp1000@cus.cam.ac.uk Dr Michael Hastings (Department of Anatomy) email: mh105@cam.ac.uk

The role of the College's Graduate Tutor

In the case of a student bringing a problem to the DGEC, it will be made clear to the student that his/her college tutor will be contacted and kept informed of the situation, unless the student specifically requests otherwise. As a matter of courtesy the college should be informed and, in some cases, the Graduate Tutor may be able to contribute valuable information and advice.

The Mediation Adviser may call on expert advice as required, and will have the right to do so and to choose whom to approach. In making this choice, the Mediation Adviser will have in mind the need to select a person entirely neutral to the proceedings. No party to the dispute should be able to influence the choice of that advice, but neither should there be any room for partiality.

The role of the Degree Committee

If the issue cannot be resolved at DGEC level (including, where appropriate, mediation), then either student or supervisor has the option of appealing to the relevant Degree Committee.

Both parties should be in no doubt that the Degree Committee is reluctant, unless there are compelling reasons, to overturn the decision of a DGEC. To appeal to the Degree Committee, the student or supervisor makes a written case addressed to the secretary of the Degree Committee who will put this before the Committee at the nearest convenient time. The Degree Committee will consult as it sees fit and produce a written verdict, and this will be sent to the complainant, the other party involved (ie student/supervisor/adviser), the student's supervisor and adviser, the Chair of the relevant DGEC and the College graduate tutor.

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