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Pharmacology research project guidance: Supervisory Expectations

Help, resources and links to guide you through your research project.

Contact with your supervisor

Engaging with and completing the final year research project is the student’s responsibility. It is a collaboration between the student and the supervisor, with supervisors providing occasional, but important input in the form of advice and correction. Supervision does not mean intensive coaching (even if supervisors may occasionally provide extra help for students experiencing difficulties). Supervisors will guide, but students must do the research.

Students should meet their supervisor on a regular basis. How often this is will vary depending on the type of project and ability of the student. As general rule, students should expect a formal meeting with their supervisor for 1 hour every two weeks. At the discretion of the supervisor this might be more frequent for a shorter period of time. Also, if you are performing similar research to another student or supervisor’s research group you might be invited to attend group meetings. Students performing laboratory-based projects might engage with their supervisor or a member of their laboratory more frequently, as they will need to be taught a particular technique. Students should expect replies to email enquiries within 48 hours, although a complete answer to complex questions may take longer. Although many supervisors will be pro-active in arranging meetings, it is ultimately the students’ responsibility to arrange meetings to discuss their research. In this regard, it might be beneficial to the supervisor and student to set meetings for the whole term.

Students cannot expect that a supervisor is able to provide immediate and substantial assistance within a few days of a deadline: supervisors have multiple students and many other duties. It is the students’ responsibility to be fully aware of any deadlines and manage their time and progress so that they do not need such assistance at the last minute. Supervisors are not available for meetings outside of normal office hours and certainly not at weekends.

Supervisory styles

People are different and supervisors have different styles of supervision. For example, some supervisors tend to be more hands-on, scrutinizing the details of students’ work and progress, whereas others tend to be more hands-off and let students get on with things by themselves. There is no consensus about which style is pedagogically best. Both styles are liable to have advantages and disadvantages.

Students with a more hands-on supervisor may receive more corrective feedback. However, this may lead to the student becoming less independent. In contrast, a less hands-on supervisory style may help students to learn how to become independent researchers, but students will be expected to scrutinize their own work. A supervisors’ style will also differ in other ways e.g., meetings will be more or less formal depending on the supervisor. This is normal and students also have different learning and research styles as well.

The nature (and progression) of the project, and the ability and attitude of the student, will lead supervisors to adjust their supervisory style. In general, supervisors appreciate students who work hard and who come to meetings prepared to talk about their research in an organised way.

Students will not be penalized for seeking legitimate assistance from their supervisor e.g., how to perform a complex biological reaction. However, a supervisor cannot be expected to act in a remedial role, such as teaching a student how to do tasks they have covered in previous years or other parts of the module e.g., like carrying out a simple statistical test such as a t-test.

Meeting with your supervisor

It is important that you plan appropriately when meeting with your supervisor to make sure that you make the best of the time.

You should prepare an agenda for your meeting, this may include:

  • Results – a summary of how your project is progressing
  • Questions - A top tip is don't be afraid to put questions to your supervisor, but it is often better to ask specific questions that you have attempted to find answers to first. Instead of asking "How am I doing?" you are more likely to get the detailed answer you need if you ask, "What do you think of the methodology I am using? Is this the best way to address this question?"
  • Your research plan until the next meeting

The kinds of things that your supervisor can advise on:

  • Whether your project is manageable in the time you have
  • If you need to have a more focused title or question
  • Whether your project outline is reasonable/workable
  • Suggestions for books and resources
  • Design of the research protocol
  • The data collection process
  • Analysis of the results
  • Advice on the structure and plan of your project and report

Feedback on work

The final year research project and presentation are designed to be both a means for teaching students and for assessing them. A supervisor’s level of input into the research project should be limited, it cannot be their work.

Students can provide supervisors with examples of their work for feedback. However, supervisors cannot provide feedback on a full draft of the research report until spring term. Acceptable examples of work that students can request feedback on are:

  1. A figure and figure legend that they intend to include in their report
  2. A short paragraph of intended for inclusion in the report or poster
  3. A plan of their final report including headings and subheadings

Supervisors will not provide feedback on extensive text or whole sections of the report. Students should not attempt to gain an advantage of the system by asking for multiple rounds of feedback on a single piece of work. Supervisors have some discretion in applying these guidelines as some projects and some students will require different levels of support.

Extensive detailed feedback on draft reports and presentations will be provided after they are submitted. Whatever the level of completion the draft is in, so long as it has been submitted by the due date, feedback will be provided. However, submission of incomplete drafts will impact the amount of feedback a supervisor can provide. If a student fails to submit a draft before the deadline, then there is no mark deduction, but they forfeit the right to feedback on a draft. Ultimately, this will affect the quality of the final research project report.

After students have received their feedback on the draft reports, they are entitled to a further 1-hour meeting to discuss their feedback. As with other meetings, it is the student’s responsibility to organise this meeting.