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Changes to the MPhil/PhD supervisor-researcher relationship

Occasionally, the relationship between you and your MPhil/PhD supervisor may change, so this page tells you everything you need to know about those potential changes. 

What to do if your supervisor is away 

  • If your supervisor is on sabbatical leave, they will usually continue to supervise and regularly meet with you. 
  • If your supervisor is on sabbatical leave away from Birkbeck, they will secure supervision cover from a suitable colleague. 
  • If your supervisor is on parental, sick, compassionate or other leave, they will secure appropriate supervision cover from a suitable colleague. 
  • Your second supervisor or a senior staff member in your department will usually cover your supervisions for the period that your principal supervisor is away.

What to do if your supervisor leaves Birkbeck 

  • If your principal supervisor is moving to another institution, they will inform you as far in advance as possible. 
  • You should speak to the MPhil/PhD Programme Director in your department for advice on the best steps to take in this situation. 
  • Some possible scenarios include: 
    • remain at Birkbeck and continue to be supervised by your principal supervisor, if they and their new institution are willing 
    • follow your supervisor to their new institution (you will need to discuss this with the other institution) 
    • find a new supervisor at Birkbeck, with the assistance of your department. In some cases, it may prove difficult to appoint a new supervisor if the requisite expertise is unavailable in the department and you may be advised to seek supervision elsewhere 
    • remain at Birkbeck and be supervised by an academic at another institution within the University of London. 

Problems within the supervisory relationship

  • Rarely, supervisory relationships do not function to the mutual satisfaction or benefit of the MPhil/PhD researchers and the principal (or sometimes second) supervisor. 
  • You may feel that you are unable to establish an effective working relationship with your supervisor, or you may feel that your supervisor is failing to meet their responsibilities. 
  • Every effort should be made to try to resolve concerns in other ways before considering a change of supervisor, but it is possible to change your principal and/or your second supervisor. 
  • In the first instance, and if you feel able to, you should endeavour to discuss your concerns with your supervisor before seeking help elsewhere. 

Changing your supervisor 

  • You should contact the MPhil/PhD Programme Director in your department and describe in writing the difficulties in your relationship with your supervisor. 
  • You should then meet with the MPhil/PhD Programme Director to discuss the difficulties. 
  • The MPhil/PhD Programme Director will then discuss these issues with the supervisor either alone or with you also present. If no resolution seems possible, the MPhil/PhD Programme Director will consider a potential new supervisor for you. 
  • In some cases, it may prove difficult to appoint a new supervisor if the requisite expertise is unavailable in the department. In such instances, you may be advised to seek supervision elsewhere. 

Official policies and regulations