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The MPhil/PhD supervisory relationship

Over 90% of Birkbeck's academics are active researchers and they are keen to supervise your MPhil/PhD research. You'll develop your research project under the guidance of a principal supervisor, but your school may appoint a second supervisor and, in some cases, you may be able to arrange co-supervisions.   

Birkbeck takes its responsibilities towards its students very seriously and has formal guidelines, procedures and policies that you'll find useful to refer to.

How the relationship works

Finding a supervisor 

What to expect from the supervisory relationship

  • Your principal supervisor will provide you with information and advice on:
    • the nature of research and research techniques 
    • the standards expected of your research 
    • the planning and scope of your research project 
    • primary sources and secondary literature 
    • completion dates for successive stages of the work, so that the thesis will be submitted on time 
    • requirements for attendance at relevant seminars and taught classes 
    • questions of originality and plagiarism 
    • attending and presenting your work at conferences, and publishing your work  
    • ensuring your thesis is suitable for submission 
    • preparing your thesis for submission 
    • preparing for the final oral examination (viva voce), including conducting a mock viva 
    • research and conference funding 
    • organising and running a conference. 
  • Your supervisor will request written work at agreed intervals and provide constructive criticism. 
  • You supervisor will make you aware if your progress is inadequate or if your work falls below required standards. 
  • If you are an award-holder, your supervisor will advise you on submitting periodic reports on your progress and meeting other regulations stipulated by the funding body. 
  • Your supervisor will refer you to other professional support services for personal or other problems not directly related to your research. You should speak to your supervisor if you are struggling or feeling isolated. 

The second supervisor 

  • The main responsibility for supervising your research rests with your principal supervisor, but your school may appoint a second supervisor, who acts in an advisory capacity. 
  • Your second supervisor will be available for informal meetings and discussions, particularly when your principal supervisor is unavailable. 
  • You may wish to meet both supervisors at the same time, especially if your project is interdisciplinary and your supervisors have expertise in different subject areas. 


  • At the discretion of your school, two members of staff may jointly share the responsibilities of first and second supervisors. 

How often should I have supervisions? 

  • Full-time MPhil/PhD researchers should formally meet with their supervisor at least three times a term or at least twice a term if they are part-time. 
  • However, the number of supervisions may be varied, if necessary, by mutual agreement. 
  • You can also maintain contact with your supervisor via email and through seminar meetings. 
  • Your supervisor should be accessible at other appropriate times if you need advice. 

Your supervisor's role in your examinations

Changes to the supervisory relationship

Annual Graduate Monitoring

  • Each year you will be required to complete an Annual Graduate Monitoring report on your own progress, which will include your projected timetable for completion. Keeping a log of your research can help when you have to report your progress. 
  • The Annual Graduate Monitoring process is an opportunity for you to give feedback and discuss your research progress, your supervisions and other aspects of your experience. 
  • Each faculty convenes an Annual Graduate Monitoring Panel, which monitors the progress of all research students and approves transfers from MPhil to PhD status.