Doctoral candidate talking with her supervisor

Good supervision during the doctorate

Information for doctoral candidates and professors of Jena University
Doctoral candidate talking with her supervisor

The PhD is the independent academic output of a doctoral candidate, who is accompanied and supervised by advanced academics. The scale and quality of supervision influence the success of a doctorate. Good supervision is focused on

  1. supporting a doctoral candidate's independent research,
  2. guidance in terms of creating high-quality and academically relevant output, and
  3. finishing and submitting the dissertation within an appropriate period of time.

The doctoral phase is also an important period of qualification for a job in research, within or outside of a university. Thus, good supervision has also the goal of preparing young researchers for a job at a university, in industry, or in today's society.

The Graduate Academy will gladly support you in your supervising activities. At the same time, the Graduate Academy promotes that the supervision of young researchers is appropriately recognised.

Who is eligible to supervise dissertations? Expand entry

The doctoral regulations of the faculties determine who is entitled to supervise. Traditionally, the supervision of doctoral candidates is one of the basic tasks of university professors. Increasingly, the independent leaders of junior research groups are also entitled to take on the role of first or second supervisor [pdf, 235 kb].

Recognition of Supervision Expand entry

Although the qualification of young researchers is part of a professor's job requirements, the Graduate Academy pled for the possibility of deducting teaching activities in graduate education from the regular teaching hours. Thuringian law states:

"With regard to the courses considered in Paragraph 2, the Dean or the Chair of the Independent Administrative Unit of a university or music conservatory, with approval of the Governing Board, can reduce up to five per cent of the total teaching capacity of all Instructors of an Independent Administrative Unit for the coursework that can be counted towards the education of doctoral candidates, according to § 54 Abs. 3 und 4 ThürHG, if it is guaranteed that the proper provision of necessary coursework by the Independent Administrative Unit is not impaired" (§3 Absatz 4 ThürLVVO)." (This translation is for your information only and has no legal force. Please refer to the German version as the legally binding document.)

At Jena University, this is typically valid for teaching in structured doctoral programmes that have been admitted to and are members of the Graduate Academy.

Good Supervision Expand entry

Supervising doctoral candidates means to assist doctoral candidates lika a mentor while they independently complete academic tasks. In this respect, doctoral supervision differs significantly from supervising students of the "first two cycles" (bachelor and master programmes): It implies allowing the young researchers to have free space to independently work and do research.

In addition to imparting special knowledge and research methods, the supervision of the dissertation process from start to end should be in the focus of the supervisor. This includes monitoring the research process, giving feedback on the state of the doctoral candidate's research and results, discussing the planning of future research acitivities, and instructing about and ensuring good scientific practice.

In addition, good supervision includes supporting the doctoral candidate throughout the entire doctoral phase, introducing the young researcher to the international academic community, and helping the doctoral candidate with regard to qualification measures and adequate career steps. Finally, supervisors have the job of motivating their doctoral candidates and supporting them in problematic phases of their work.

Supervising in Teams Expand entry

Supervising in teams is a practice that has played a major role in structured doctoral programmes for years. It is supported by third parties, such as the DFG. Therefore, the Graduate Academy recommends that the main supervisor is the first and main, but not the only contact partner ("Doktorvater" or "Doktormutter"). Other experts should be included in order to provide the best support possible.

The number and selection of supervisors depends on the topic and methodology of the PhD, as well as the academic and organisational context in which the PhD is being written. Even mentors who are not directly experienced in the subject area can be associated with the project. In any case, it is helpful for the supervisor to have conversations about supervision itself and also to have a clear division of responsibilities.

Supervision Agreement Expand entry

Supervision is never standardised; each doctoral candidate has individual needs and requirements. The extent to which supervision is needed, the appropriate forms of supervision, and the rights and duties are defined and refined in the relationship between the doctoral candidates and their supervisors. It is best to specify this relationship at the beginning of the PhD in a written form and to come back to it over the course of the PhD, revising this definition if necessary. This supervision agreement can include specific traditions of a subject area as well as individual specifications for each doctoral candidate (e.g. family duties, professional life). In these agreements, regular and binding supervisory meetings can be scheduled on a long-term basis. In addition, concrete expectations for these meetings can be planned. These agreements can also be dissolved as part of a transparent process.

At the University of Jena, written supervision agreements are necessary in order for the admission as a doctoral candidate by a faculty.

What does a supervision agreement have to at least contain?

  • name of the doctoral candidate
  • working title of the dissertation project
  • name of at least one supervisor
  • a statement from the supervisor(s) agreeing to receive progress reports on the ongoing project from the doctoral candidate on a regular basis
  • a statement from the doctoral candidate agreeing to provide progress reports for the supervisor(s) on a regular basis
  • planned type of dissertation project (cumulative/monograph)
  • if applicable: information about cooperation with other research institutions (e.g. universities of applied sciences, non-university research institutes, industry)
  • if applicable: participation in a doctoral programme (e.g. Graduate School, Research Training Group)

What may a supervision agreement contain additionally?

  • additional information on the dissertation project, e.g. if it will be written in English
  • project plan
  • other rights and responsibilities of the doctoral candidate, e.g. teaching, participation in qualification programmes or faculty's events
  • other rights and responsibilities of the supervisor(s)
  • regulations on working conditions (workplace, Internet access, laboratory access, and other resources)

You can find sample agreements of all faculties here.

Dissertation Topic and Length Expand entry

The responsibility of the supervisor already begins when proposing a dissertation topic: The supervisor should insist on an in-depth conversation, narrowing down the topic, and assessing both its academic relevance, and its risks. In addition, the outline of content and the timetable of the PhD must be agreed upon. Doctoral candidates should have enough time to work on the PhD. At the same time it is important that the dissertation can be finished within a reasonable amount of time, which is especially crucial with regard to the future career prospects of the doctoral candidate.

Supervisory Meetings Expand entry

The necessary frequency of the supervision varies depending on the culture of a certain subject area and its dissemination cycle of new knowledge. In lab-based disciplines regular meetings and the frequent exchange of information is normal, but in book- and archive-based subjects, longer intervals are typical and in fact more practical.

In all disciplines, at least one meeting for feedback and advising should take place every semester, followed by yearly status talks with the entire team of supervisors. In each of these meetings, both parties should discuss expectations. In order to increase the binding character of the status talks, the results on status and advancement should be put in writing and should be signed. It is highly recommended to set goals, milestones and deadlines.

Friedrich Schiller University provides a guide for status talks in German. If you are interested in using this for inspiration or structure of your talk, or as the basis for a talk protocol, please click here [pdf, 521 kb] de to download.

Integration in the Academic Community Expand entry

It helps doctoral candidates tremendously when their supervisor helps with their first steps into academic networks. This includes creating possibilities or facilitating possibilities so that doctoral candidates can report on their research and results in a peer group and receive feedback on it. Possibilities may be local research colloquiums, national and international conferences, and publications in national and international journals or publishing houses.

In addition, all doctoral candidates should receive a chance to teach. Independent of their funding situations an appropriate timeframe should be provided for teaching acitivities which does not cause delays in the PhD process.

International doctoral candidates and postdocs Expand entry

International doctoral candidates and postdocs require special attention, at least at the beginning of their stay. Because of this, the Graduate Academy has set up an international tutoring service that can help you and your international guests with information and support with many practical things.

There is a welcome website that will help you with the necessary steps to prepare a stay at FSU Jena, including entry requirements of Germany and arrival in Jena. Start with the checklist early, so that there aren't any terrible surprises later.