Supervision and change of supervisor

As a doctoral student, you are entitled to supervision for the duration of your studies (the Higher Education Ordinance, chapter 6 § 28). Only in exceptional cases, and following a lengthy review process and a decision by the vice-chancellor, can supervision be withdrawn.

You are entitled to at least two supervisors, of which one is the main supervisor. The others are called secondary supervisors or supporting supervisors. The Individual Study Plan should specify the obligations of each supervisor and the extent of supervision expected. 

The supervisors have an important role in your education, their main task being to help you develop into an independent researcher. 

The supervisor should help with choosing a thesis topic and making a research plan, ensuring that the plan is realistic and can be completed on time. It is important for you to discuss your aspirations with your supervisor early on, so you can get help and support in planning your future career. 

Some departments regulate the minimum number of supervision hours that the supervisor should offer. Even when there is no such regulation, the ISP provides a tool for setting up a minimum and a system of supervision. Supervision time means time that you spend together with your supervisor on your education, for example on research projects, or reviewing your work, planning the thesis and the defence etc. 

Having an active research environment is an important part of becoming an independent researcher yourself. The supervisors contribute towards this by being available for group meetings and for more informal discussions about research and the field.

If you are in a situation where you and your supervisor are working from different locations for long stretches of time, you can agree on staying in touch regularly – an agreement like this can be added to the ISP. 

One important thing to note is that, even if you are employed by your university, your supervisor is not your employer, or your boss, or your manager. It may be relevant in certain work-related situations, such as accessing occupational healthcare, to know who your boss or manager is, and you can always ask the HR department. The direct boss, if you are employed by the university, is usually the head of the department (prefekt). If you are employed by another entity than the university, you should ask the HR department of your employer. If you are financed through a scholarship, you do not have a boss or manager, but in some situations, such as accessing employee benefits, the head of the department or the director of research studies are responsible for you.

If problems arise in relation to the supervisor, you can take it up at any time with the supervisors directly, with the head of the department, or with those responsible for research education. You can also seek advice from your student union, the ombudsperson for doctoral students, or the trade union.  

You have the right, through national legislation, to request a change of supervisor (the Higher Education Ordinance, chapter 6 § 28 ). A doctoral student is admitted to an educational programme at a department in a University, not to a supervisor or to a project. You do not, if you change your supervisor, lose your financing or your resources – this is true even in cases where your financing was coming from a project tied to your original supervisor.

You may need a new supervisor if your supervisor becomes unable to fulfill their duties – for example if your main supervisor is no longer employed at your university of enrollment, or if one of your supervisors is on leave for a long time. You may need a change because the project has developed into a scientific direction where your supervisor can no longer help, or because a conflict of interests has arisen. But your right to change supervisor is not conditioned on these reasons.

As changing supervisors is your right, the faculty and university are obliged to assist you. The person responsible for a change of supervisor may be the head of department, or somebody else in the leadership. If you request a change of supervisor, it is their duty to assist you in finding a solution which as far as possible satisfies the interests of all parties. For example, it may be the case that the original supervisor retains scientific responsibility for the project, but not for you, or it may be the case that in addition to a change of supervisor you also make a change of project. The exact arrangement depends on many factors, such as the reason the change is necessary in the first place, how far along in your research you are, what supervisors and projects are available. You can ask your student union, the ombudsperson for doctoral students, or your trade union for help.