SUPERVISOR TROUBLE-SHOOTING GUIDE
FAQ for tricky situations
A prospective student has approached me. Errrrr ...
Check out Being approached by prospective students on this website. There is also other useful Admissions info on that page that you should have a look at. You can also direct the student to our Info for prospective students page.
My prospective student 'only' has an Honours degree
The Honours degree is an undergraduate research degree that selected students undertake after successfully completing a Bachelor's degree. Honours typically involves a semester of coursework and a semester of researching and writing up research thesis. Students work closely with a supervisor throughout their Honours degree, and the degree is seen as training for a PhD. As such, many Honours students come to the PhD better-prepared to conduct independent research than do straight Masters coursework students. If a first-class Honours student approaches you, they are likely to be intellectually capable of undertaking the PhD. Students with Honours IIA are also worthy of consideration for the PhD.
My prospective student comes from the public service (or an NGO or similar) -- will they struggle to get back into academia?
Our experience at Crawford PhD is that such students often struggle early on in their candidature to switch back into an academic mindset. Often such prospective students are used to writing reports or briefs or papers that provide very practical solutions to specific, on-the-ground problems. This is all well and good in a professional or governmental context, but in an academic context such students might need re-orienting to the idea that in the academy we seek to understand problems better, and to not only provide practical solutions facing aid workers, governments, policy makers, and the like. That said, once the intial shock of being back in an academic environment wears off, such students are quick to slip back into the intellectual environment.
My student has experience in the area and they want a coursework exemption
A good number of students do not want to do coursework and so they seek exemptions. It will be up to you, as Primary Supervisor (and, presumably Chair) to decide whether or not an exemption should be granted. Bear in mind that the coursework at Crawford has been specifically developed to meet the needs of our particular cohorts, and therefore is not easily substituted. In addition, if a student is asking for 'credit' for another course they have undertaken, or for the same course they have undertaken previously at the ANU, then they must have completed that other course within the last five years.
If you are in any doubt, then the student should do the coursework. Besides, it will be good for them.
See Coursework for more info.
My student wants to collect data without Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) approval
Under no circumstances should you allow your student to collect data without HREC approval. Similarly, you should not allow your student to use data that they have obtained without HREC approval. Failure to comply with any human research ethics obligations means not only that the student cannot use the data they have collected without approval, but that the student (and you, if you are found to have endorsed the student's conduct) risks being dismissed the university.
See Human ethics review for more info.
My student wants Crawford funding to pay friends or acquaintances or former colleagues to collect data, on the weekend, from a national government bureau, without official authorisation, and to have payment for this work transferred directly into a private bank account.
Any data collection that cannot be gained through legal and authorised means must not go ahead. To test such situations, ask, 'Can Crawford or the ANU invoice an institution or organisation and then arrange for a direct payment into an institutional or organisational account?' If this basic test cannot be met, then the chances are that the data cannot be collected by the desired means and a legal and authorised alternative must be found.
See Responsible conduct of research for more info.
My student and I disagree over the intellectual direction of the thesis
This can happen, and it can happen at different stages in the candidature. If it occurs early on and it seems that the disagreement will be fundamental to the direction of the research (maybe you disagree on methodology or research subject, let's say), then it might be best to help the student find a new supervisor. If the disagreement occurs half-way through, switching supervisors is still an option -- and maybe even a good one, depending on the situation; however, you might also decide to enlist the intellectual assistance of the other panel members to gather their scholarly opinions on what they think about the points at issue. It might also be appropriate to convene a full-panel meeting, either with or without the student (or do both), to discuss the matter.
If the disagreement manifests itself close to submission, then things can become more complex, as you are responsible for signing off (or not) on the thesis submission. In such instances, you should most certainly consult with other panel members as well as the student, preferably calling a meeting of all parties (the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor is also available to attend any meetings as a neutral observer or consultant who can provide advice, where appropriate). Bear in mind that sometimes, towards the end of a degree, a student might be expressing a legitimate difference of academic opinion that is supported by rigorous research and intellectual evidence. If this is the case, then be thankful that you have taught your little one so well, and let them fly. If, however, the student is being intellectually obstinate, and you, based on your scholarly judgement, expertise, and experience, believe that to not change intellectual direction will jeopardise the chances of having the thesis passed, then you must not sign off on the thesis. You need to decide what is best, here, as you have the knowledge and background to make such decisions in relation to your student.
In any case, dealing with matters in a timely fashion is always preferred to letting problems drag on: students are on a schedule, and, frankly, you don't need the aggravation and possible anxiety that unresolved issues can cause. Further advice can be sought from the HDR Convenor in your area, the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor, and the HDR Administrator.
See Changes to your supervisory panel for more info.
My student wants to submit without my approval
Crawford in no way endorses the submission of student theses without supervisor approval. If you are having problems in this area, please consult in the first instance with the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor, and the HDR Administrator. Following this, the matter might need to be escalated to the HDR Director and to the College Associate Dean (HDR).
STUDENT COMPETENCE AND PROGRESS
My student's English is not as strong as I was expecting
Some students might also need assistance with their writing; if this is the case, then it is best to address things early, so consider directing your student to the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor for help.
I want to terminate my student's candidature. There may be a number of reasons you believe that your student's candidature should be terminated: lack of progress, failure to complete milestones in a timely fashion, lack of intellectual ability, and so on. In the first instance, it is best to first discuss the matter with PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor to see what might be done to support the student to get quickly back on track. If, after that, termination seems the only option, then be aware that you will need to provide evidence to support your request for termination, so any communications with the student regarding progress should be recorded in writing (e.g., as file notes relating to supervision meetings, or follow-up emails).
See Withdrawal, unsatisfactory progress, and termination of candidature for more info.
My student has gone walkabout
As Primary Supervisor, it is your responsiblity to make sure that you meet regularly with your student. However, even with the best of efforts, students sometimes avoid supervisory meetings or, even, take off back home without letting you know. Students (and staff) cannot travel on University business without travel approval, and similarly, cannot Annual (aka ‘recreation’) leave without your permission. If you aren't sure where your student is, or if they are not responding to your requests for meetings, then please contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator for advice.
My student isn't filling in their paperwork
If your student is tardy in completing their milestones, not applying for travel or annual leave, failing to complete paperwork relating to panel composition, fieldwork, extensions, or similar, then questions may be asked about the student's progress and termination of candidature considered. You will receive notifications if your student isn't addressing the administrative aspects of their degree, and you should act on these notifications promptly. Failure to do so will put your student's candidature at risk, and, possibly, you at risk of disciplinary action. Please contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator for advice.
My student keeps wanting extensions
Just because a student asks for an extension, it doesn't mean that you need to support it. That said, an initial extension of six or fewer months is provided by supervisors without dispute, typically because the student is close to finishing. After that, however, if your student is still struggling to finish after their first extension, you need to seriously consider whether or not the student will, indeed, be able to submit at all. This is especially the case after an international student has not managed to complete whilst on-shore and who has returned home to complete. Although there is technically no time-limit on students in such situations, their candidature nevertheless cannot continue indefinitely and if there is a lack of progress termination of candidature will be souight by the School. Students who do not apply for extensions before their program end date risk having their candidature terminated.
Please contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator for advice. See extensions for more information.
Just because my student wants something -- or I want something for my student -- will they get it?
No. Resources are not unlimited. Items directly related to the successful completion of the research, such as software or access to certain data sets, are likely to be provided and/or funded under Crawford funding, but things such as laptops, books, chargers, and so forth, are not supplied by the School.
An examiner has contacted me about my student's thesis ...
They shouldn't have, so send a polite response telling then that you aren't at liberty to discuss the matter.
My student seems depressed
Consider your own comfort-level, skills, qualifications, and experience in handling depression before seeking to help your student. Sometimes, a student experiences a single episode (brought on by the PhD!) of mild-to-moderate depression that can be treated by self-directed cognitive behaviour therapy; more serious cases may require medical intervention. Visit the mental health section of this website for information about resources and organisations that can help your student.
My student has 'life' issues
These may range from emotional or health problems, to financial or relationship difficulties, to visa or accommodation concerns, or, in the case of women in particular, to matters concering childcare, managing homelife, domestic violence, rape, abortion, stalking, and other distressing situations. You are not expected to solve or take responsibility for these problems for your student. You do, however, have a duty of care to your student, and if your student needs help, you must at least work to ensure their safety and well-being. If you become of aware of a situation in which your student's health, safety, or well-being -- or that of others -- is compromised or likely to be compromised, contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator without delay for advice.
Won't someone take care of me?
Yes! We will! Although our focus on this site is, by necessity, on students, we nonetheless recognise that supervisors, too, sometimes need to chat. Supervisors can also be affected by their student's PhD experience, so it is important that you seek help if you are struggling with student demands, problems, expectations, emotions, incalcitrance, neediness, aggression, dependence, pressure, or whatever. Just as you have a duty of care to your students, the School has a duty of care to you. Contact the PhD Academic and Research Skills Advisor or the HDR Administrator for advice.