Frequently Asked Questions


This information answers some of the most common questions about research supervision. We encourage you to review these FAQs and if you have any further questions or need to know more, please talk to your School or Institute HDR Director or contact us at the Graduate Research School.

HDR Supervisor Register

What is the HDR Supervisor Register?

The HDR Supervisor Register(opens in a new window) maintains a list of all current higher degree research supervisors at Western Sydney University.

All principal supervisors must be admitted to the register before being eligible to supervise candidates.

At this stage, it is optional for co-supervisors to join the register. It is highly recommended for co-supervisors to join as this will allow us to send you relevant information and updates and allows for the transition to principal supervision after the successful completion of a candidature.

Who is eligible to join the HDR Supervisor Register?

To be eligible for admittance to the HDR Supervisor Register,(opens in a new window) you must meet each of the following conditions:

  • Be a non-casual academic or research staff member at Western Sydney University.
  • Be research active on the Researcher Portal.(opens in a new window)
  • Hold a higher degree by research or have an equivalent record of scholarly achievement.
  • Be currently engaged in either research degree supervision or in research methodology appropriate to the discipline or have been a co-supervisor for at least one higher degree graduate.
  • Have participated in HDR supervision training or development as described in the Supervision of Research Candidates Policy.(opens in a new window)
  • Agree to carry out the responsibilities of an HDR supervisor as described in the Supervision of Research Candidates Policy.(opens in a new window)

How do I join the HDR Supervisor Register?

To join the HDR Supervisor Register:

  1. Complete the HDR Supervisor Training online induction module.
  2. Submit an Application for HDR Supervisor Register form (PDF, 72.75 KB)(opens in a new window) and a brief CV detailing your research qualifications and experience to your School or Institute HDR Director for approval.
  3. Attend an HDR Supervisor Forum.

How to I access the HDR Supervisor Training online induction module?

The HDR Supervisor Training online induction module is designed for academic staff who are new to supervision, or new to Western Sydney University.

The module covers two key areas:

  • Everything you need to know - Administrative requirements and responsibilities
  • Tips, tricks and excellence - Supervision best practice and advice

The module should take about one hour to complete and is the first step in gaining admission to the HDR Supervisor Register.

To arrange access to the vUWS site, please contact the Graduate Research School at grs.hdr@westernsydney.edu.au.

What are HDR Supervisor Forums?

HDR Supervisor Forums are an opportunity to engage in discussion with your colleagues about current issues and developments in research supervision. The sessions are run regularly throughout the year at various campuses.

You are required to participate in at least one forum every three years to maintain an active status on the HDR Supervisor Register, however, we encourage you to attend sessions on a regular basis.

Are co-supervisors required to join the HDR Supervisor Register?

At this stage, it is optional for co-supervisors to join the HDR Supervisor Register. It is highly recommended for co-supervisors to join as this will allow us to send you relevant information and updates and allows for the transition to principal supervision after the successful completion of a candidature.

Responding to potential research applicants

I have been asked to supervise a potential research candidate – how should I respond?

As an academic staff member, you may be contacted by potential research candidates who would like to work with you directly or who are contacting a wide range of people in their search for a supervisor.

If you are interested in working with the student, you should request some further information about their qualifications, experience and area of research interest. If you consider the student to be an eligible research candidate, please direct them to our course pages for more information about how to apply.

All applicants are expected to have a discussion with the relevant School or Institute HDR Director before applying. For more information about the application process, visit the course pages.

If you are not interested, it is still worthwhile sending a short response to let the student know and to thank them for their enquiry.

What do I need to consider when evaluating a potential research candidate?

If you are asked to supervise a potential research candidate, you should consider:

  • Why do they want to do a research degree?
  • Are they enthusiastic about their line of enquiry?
  • Are they qualified for admission?
  • Does their content knowledge and experience match the topic they are interested in?
  • Do they have the right skill set for their project?
  • Are they familiar with you and your research?
  • Are they open to refining their proposal to a more suitable topic?
  • Do their goals and expectations align with our research culture?

What do I need to consider before agreeing to supervise a research candidate?

If you decide you would like to supervise a research candidate, you should consider:

  • Is the applicant's area of interest also an interest to you?
  • Are you actively involved in the applicant's research area?
  • Do you have time to supervise the candidate?
  • Do you have other students working on similar projects?
  • Can you find the right people to join the supervisory panel?
  • Are you confident in the applicant’s ability to complete their research in the required timeframe?
  • Would you feel comfortable supervising this student for the duration of their candidature?
  • Is there a conflict of interest between the candidate and any potential panel members?

Who can I talk to for advice about supporting a potential research applicant?

If you need advice or assistance with supporting a potential research applicant, please talk to your School or Institute HDR Director.

Candidature milestones

What milestones must be completed in the first year of the candidature?

Completing a PhD within a three years means that time is precious and it is important to help candidates establish their studies quickly. The progress made early in the candidature will have a significant impact on the amount of time available for for researching, writing and preparing the final thesis for examination.

In the first year, all candidates should:

  • Attend an orientation session.
  • Complete the Postgraduate Essentials and Responsible Conduct of Research Training online modules
  • Complete an Early Candidature Plan
  • Complete a Confirmation of Candidature

What is Research Fundamentals?

Research Fundamentals is a compulsory online induction module that all research candidates must complete within the first three months of their candidature. The program covers topics such as project management, working with your supervisor, writing a literature review and preparing for the Confirmation of Candidature.

Candidates will receive an email from the Graduate Research School about how the access the module and the completion requirements.

Candidates will be required to provide evidence of completion at their Confirmation of Candidature.

What is Responsible Conduct of Research Training?

Responsible Conduct of Research Training is a compulsory online ethics and integrity module that all research candidates must complete within the first three months of their candidature. The program covers topics such as research conduct, authorship, intellectual property, research limitations, human and animal ethics and research governance.

Candidates will receive an email from the Graduate Research School about how the access the module and the completion requirements.

Candidates will be required to provide evidence of completion at their Confirmation of Candidature.

What is the Early Candidature Plan?

The Early Candidature Plan provides an outline of tasks and objectives that the candidate would like to achieve prior to their Confirmation of Candidature.

It establishes a framework that can be used to assess the candidate's progress in the early stages of the research project and can be used to highlight skills that require further development.

You can find out more about the Early Candidature Plan from the HDR candidates frequently asked questions page.

What is the Confirmation of Candidature?

The Confirmation of Candidature is a comprehensive review of the current progress of the candidature, the merit and integrity of the project and the plan for completion. The process is designed to identify improvements that can be made and it is an opportunity to provide candidates with feedback about their progress.

The Confirmation of Candidature is a compulsory milestone and must be completed within the first year of the candidature.

You can find out more about the Confirmation of Candidature from the HDR candidates frequently asked questions page.

Managing the candidature

Why is a supervisory panel required for research candidates?

All research candidates must have a panel of at least two supervisors, with a principal supervisor appointed to take leadership in the management of the candidature.

Supervisory panels introduce HDR candidates to a wider range of expertise and open up opportunities for interdisciplinary research, including bringing in experts who are external to Western Sydney University. They provide a backup in situations where the principal supervisor is unavailable for any reason.

Panel supervision is also a great opportunity to mentor new supervisors and new co-supervisors are encouraged to join panels with established principal supervisors to gain experience.

How is a supervisory panel established?

Supervisory panels are established by the principal supervisor and must be endorsed by the School or Institute HDR Director. Panels must include a principal supervisor and at least one co-supervisor. External co-supervisors are permitted.

Note that Master of Research students only require a principal supervisor, although co-supervisors are recommended.

What is the role of the supervisory panel?

The responsibility of the supervisory panel over the initial phase of candidature extends to:

  • ensuring access to resources, as specified in University and School policies;
  • encouraging the candidate to participate in the research culture within Western Sydney University; and
  • ensuring that commitments made in respect of availability and contact are met by the candidate and the supervisory panel.

The supervisory panel also has a responsibility to provide timely feedback to the candidate on progress and ensure that any potential issues are identified early so that they can be managed.

Do research candidates have access to scholarships or other financial support?

Western Sydney University provides a range of scholarships to support research candidates. These are awarded on a competitive basis, with scholarship releases and various project scholarships available throughout the year. For more information, visit the scholarships page.

Research candidates also have access to candidature support funds through their School or Institute. For more information about how candidates can access these funds, visit the HDR frequently asked questions.

How should I monitor the progress of the candidature?

There are some formal progress reporting requirements that you and your students should be familiar with throughout the candidature.

Firstly, candidates are required to work with their supervisors to develop an Early Candidature Plan detailing the goals to achieve within the first 3-6 months. It is an important task that establishes a framework for both supervisors and students to work towards and can be used as a guide for monitoring the early progress of the research project.

The Annual Progress Report provides a direct signal to Schools and Institutes about a candidate's progress, including highlights of achievements, potential problems that might impede the candidature and details about the plan for completion.

As the candidature progresses, you should continue to talk or meet with your students to monitor progress made within the context of the overall research plan. The contact arrangements may vary over time and will depend on the nature of the project and the level of assistance required by the candidate, however, both candidates and all of the supervisory panel must be clear on what they expect of the others.

When the time comes to writing the thesis, you should be ready to advise on the requirements on style, provide prompt feedback on drafts and advise on how to prepare the thesis for examination.

What resources, workshops or support are available to research candidates?

All research candidates have access to a Research Training vUWS site that provides access to online programs, tools and resources. The site features videos, articles, handouts, suggested readings and other information to help candidate's develop their research writing and presentation skills.

You can find out more about the Research Training vUWS site from the HDR candidates frequently asked questions page.

There is an extensive HDR workshops program that covers a wide range of topics. Supervisors should encourage candidates to attend any workshops that will help to develop their research skills.

Visit the HDR workshops page for more information.

How can I introduce candidates into the research culture?

Western Sydney University is focused on continuing to develop a strong research culture where excellent research practices are encouraged, recognised and rewarded. Our higher degree research candidates play a large part in this culture and supervisors should encourage candidates to take on opportunities that introduce them to the research community, including attending and presenting at seminars, participating in events, publishing, academic employment, attending external conferences and collaborating with other Schools and Institutes or external organisations.

What do I need to know about the examination process?

It is important for supervisors to have a clear understanding of the higher degree research examination process. You should encourage your students to start preparing for their examination well in advance to ensure the process is as streamlined and as least stressful as possible.

Who maintains authorship over research publications?

Candidates should be encouraged to publish during their candidature with the support of their supervisory panel. The supervisory panel should reach an agreement with the candidate concerning authorship of publications and acknowledgment of contributions during and after candidature. There should be open and mutual recognition of the candidate's and any supervisor's contribution on all published work arising from the project.

What should I do about problems that arise during the candidature?

Higher degree research is a challenging experience for both candidates and supervisors. Difficulties of one sort or another may arise during candidatures, and candidates and members of the supervisory panel should be aware of the problem solving mechanisms and the support services which exist within the University, and to ensure that the School Research Management and Training Director is kept informed as necessary.

If you encounter a problem, it is important to seek advice from your School or Institute HDR Director so that action can be taken to resolve any issues.

Am I responsible for any administrative requirements?

Principal supervisors are responsible for certain administrative requirements and you should also be able to advise your candidates about their administrative requirements as necessary.

You should ensure that:

  • you know where to find information about your administrative requirements;
  • who the key contacts are in your School or Research Institute;
  • candidates seek the necessary approvals for travel, leave and other absences from the University;
  • candidates receive any due entitlements from the University; and
  • candidates are aware of any fees or other payments they owe the University.

If you need more specific advise about your administrative requirements, you can contact the Graduate Research School.

What is the expected timeframe for completion of a research project?

An important part of research training is the completion of a project within a particular time frame. In this regard, a critical early phase is when the supervisory panel assists the candidate in drawing up a research proposal.

Three years full-time is the expected time for completion of a doctorate and students must always plan to complete within three years. Any potential additional time is intended for any problems that slow down progress beyond the originally planned three year completion.

The Early Candidature Plan and Annual Progress Reports should be used to assist this process. You must pay particular attention to the likely time scale of the project, bearing in mind that a three-year PhD candidature should be an objective for a full-time student.

When working with a candidate to plan out the timeframe for their research project, you should ensure that the candidate is aware of the standards expected of the degree concerned, and identify with the candidate the particular research skills that will need to be agreed indicators of progress being made. It is also important to take note of known periods of leave and your should ensure that there will be sufficient time left for the candidate to write up the thesis.

Candidature time is counted in equivalent full-time study load (EFTSL) and this is determined by a candidate's enrolment pattern. This method takes into account periods of full and part-time enrolment and periods of leave, with the EFTSL clock stopping during periods of leave. EFTSL is accrued at 0.25 per part-time session and 0.50 per full-time session.

Masters (Honours)
  Minimum Maximum
EFTSL 1 2
Full-time years 1 2
Part-time years 2 4
PhD, Professional Doctorates
EFTSL 3 4
Full-time years 3 4
Part-time years 6 8

Is it possible to complete a PhD by publication?

PhD by publication is available to Western Sydney University staff only and cannot be transferred into from any other HDR program. There is no government funding available for this degree and there is no completion money.

Applicants must be recognised researchers with an established record of peer-reviewed publications. Enrolment is for one session full-time or equivalent to write an overarching statement that:

  • demonstrates the contemporary relevance of each publication
  • makes clear the way in which the publications make an original, scholarly contribution to knowledge at a doctoral level
  • provides a thematic overview which converts the individual publications into an integrated work
  • makes clear the applicant's contribution to all jointly authored publications
  • lists the publications being presented for examination in chronological order and indicates the way in which the applicant's work has developed.

For more information, refer to the doctorate policy(opens in a new window) or contact the examinations team.

Is it possible to complete a PhD as a series of papers?

PhD as a series of papers is an option available under the doctorate rule for candidates. It is not available for professional doctorates or Master of Philosophy degrees. Students usually decide on a PhD as a series of papers early in the candidature. This encourages a methodical approach to planning the papers as a cumulative whole. It is not a suitable option for disciplines that experience long delays in having papers accepted.

For more information, refer to the doctorate policy(opens in a new window) or contact the examinations team.

How can I help candidates avoid plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a serious issue in academic research and it is your responsibility to ensure candidates understand how to avoid plagiarism and maintain high ethical standards.

Candidates must be aware that plagiarism cases are not judged by intent but by their nature and that they will not be treated leniently for accidental plagiarism. All work produced, including drafts, is subject to plagiarism ethics.

You are advised to become familiar with the Library pages on citing resources and referencing and to encourage candidates to contact the library if they have specific questions about referencing.

All higher degree research candidates have access to the plagiarism prevention software Turnitin. Candidates can access Turnitin originality reports through the links provided in the HDR Workshops vUWS site.

Is it possible to self-plagiarise?

Yes, it is possible for researchers to self-plagiarise by failing to acknowledge their own work. It is not considered to be modesty and is effectively a misrepresentation of the context of your work. Candidates should be reminded that all material that has been previously published must be clearly referenced.

Conflict of interest

What if there is a conflict of interest between an HDR candidate and a supervisor?

All staff and students must be protected from conflicts of interest, whether perceived, potential or actual. You should refer to the Conflict of Interest Policy(opens in a new window) in the first instance if you have any concerns about a conflict of interest.

All potential conflicts of interest must be declared to the Graduate Research School and a planned management strategy must be established. It is important to consider these issues if there is a change in the supervisory panel or when any new potential conflicts arise.

If a potential conflict of interest is identified, the principal supervisor will:

  • Describe the nature of the conflict of interest
  • Explain why the arrangement should proceed
  • Outline ameliorating strategies
  • Provide evidence that the matter has been discussed with the student and that they are satisfied with the risk management strategy, which may include appointment of additional member(s) to the supervisory panel
  • Arrange approval of the risk management strategy by an authority at least one step removed from the potential conflict of interest.

The points above assume that the arrangement will proceed. It may also be decided to alter the situation so that the conflict no longer exists.

What if there is a conflict of interest with a thesis examiner?

When nominating examiners, supervisors should consult the Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in the Appointment of Examiners (PDF, 134.18 KB)(opens in a new window).

If you need further advice about a conflict of interest with a potential examiner, please talk to your School or Institute HDR Director.

Managing off-campus candidates

What are the key points to consider about off-campus candidates?

It is important for supervisors to be aware of the challenges faced by off-campus HDR candidates and to apply measures aimed at reducing candidature risk and providing an enriched education experience where attendance on campus is limited.

The focus of this issue has often been on risk management for students who are at obvious geographical distance to Western Sydney University, with a tendency to think about students located interstate, in far regional NSW or overseas and group them together as 'off-campus'.

However, this only identifies a portion of students who may be distant to campus and does not address the specific needs of the broader group of students who are not able to regularly attend a university campus. Isolation has many forms that can be just as significant as a postcode. Students may have a full-time professional work load, carer responsibilities or health issues that limit their mobility or availability during the day. These are somewhat invisible factors and management will involve self-identification by students and/or their supervisors.

Research culture is a powerful contributor to high quality research education as it immerses students into exemplars of excellence in research and engagement with colleagues. Satisfaction surveys consistently rate research culture as highly valued by students, but this can be difficult to achieve with students who are based off-campus.

What can I do to help off-campus candidates?

We can create an alternative space to build a research culture through the use of technology and blended learning resources to foster a rich learning and peer support environment that is beneficial to all our students, but of particular importance to our off-campus or otherwise isolated students.

Supervisors should work with students early in their candidature to identify potential issues around distance and isolation clearly establish the terms of the supervisor-student relationship (ie. how often will you meet, what is the preferred method of contact, etc). Supervisors should also provide their students with guidance as to where they can find additional resources and support.

Students should be encouraged to engage with the wider research community by attending local events and conferences and online via blogs, discussion groups and social media. The Graduate Research School can assist students in identifying the most useful online resources and suggest ways that they can join the online research community. Regular events are also advertised in advance to ensure that students have the opportunity to make arrangements so that they can attend.

What advice is available for supervising candidates located overseas at partner institutions?

Candidates may be required to spend extended periods overseas at a partner institution. This may occur when they require access to facilities, resources or expertise that is not available in Australia.

Some of the questions you should discuss with the candidate include:

  • Who is funding the travel and living expenses for the period overseas?
  • Who is funding the access to the facilities and/or resources?
  • What is the advantage of undertaking study at this location?
  • What role will the supervisor at the partner institution take in the overall candidature?
  • What progress has been made in the candidature so far and what is the plan for completion?
  • How often will the candidate be in contact with their principal supervisor and panel in Australia?
  • How will the candidate communicate with their principal supervisor and panel in Australia?
  • Are there any candidature issues that may impact the study at the partner institution?
  • How will the candidate ensure that they meet all milestone requirements at Western Sydney University (i.e Confirmation of Candidature, Annual Progress Reports, etc.), as well as any required by the partner institution?
  • When will the supervisor intervene if satisfactory progress is not being made or other issues arise at the partner institution?

In all cases, the principal supervisor should find an external supervisor to support the student at the partner institution. There must be an explicit timeline and objectives established prior to the candidate joining the partner institution. There should be a statement of support describing how and why the arrangement with the partner institution is required and this should be endorsed by the supervisory panel and School or Institute HDR Director.

What advice is available for supervising candidates undertaking off-campus fieldwork?

Candidates may be required to spend extended periods off-campus undertaking fieldwork. Depending on the nature of the work, this can impact the progress of the candidature and there may be some risks that need to be considered to ensure the personal safety of the candidate.

Some of the questions you should discuss with the candidate include:

  • How will the candidate stay in regular contact with their supervisory panel during the fieldwork?
  • Will a supervisor be participating in the fieldwork?
  • Does the location provide access to the internet, and if not, will this impact the candidature?
  • Has a full risk assessment been carried out for the proposed fieldwork?
  • How is the fieldwork being funded?

In all cases, there must be an explicit timeline and objectives established prior to the candidate undertaking fieldwork. There should be a statement of support describing how the fieldwork will be undertaken and why it is necessary and this should be endorsed by the supervisory panel and the School or Institute HDR Director.

HDR Delegations

Who has responsibility for decision-making for HDR candidatures?

The decision-making delegations for HDR candidature matters are prescribed in the Doctorate Policy(opens in a new window) and other HDR-related policies. These policies should be your first point of reference in all instances.

In most cases, a matter will be initiated at the School or Institute level by the supervisory panel or HDR Director and referred to the relevant decision maker with sufficient background information, comment and a recommendation.

The Schedule of HDR Delegations (PDF, 277.12 KB)(opens in a new window) lists the matters for which each level of authority has final decision making responsibility and provides a summary of all HDR delegations.

What is the School and Institute Higher Degrees Committee?

The School and Institute Research and Higher Degrees Committee (SRIHDC) are central contributors to the discussion on all HDR matters. Further clarification on candidature matters may be sought from them by the Dean, Institute Director or Research Studies Committee (RSC).

Examinations

Who is responsible for nominating the examination panel?

Selecting the right examiners is critical to the successful completion of a candidature and examiner expertise should be closely aligned with the approach taken by the research candidate. Examiner reports have a life beyond the granting of the award and may be used for future job applications and references.

The examination panel is nominated by the principal supervisor and endorsed by the School or Institute HDR Director.

What are the key considerations when selecting examiners?

  • All examiners should be leaders in the field of research undertaken by the candidate.
  • Examiners must hold qualifications at least at the level at which they are asked to examine.
  • Western Sydney University staff may not be nominated to examine students at Western Sydney University.
  • The Conflict of Interest Policy(opens in a new window) applies to the nomination of examiners.

Candidates and supervisors should be thinking about potential examiners from an early stage in the candidature.

Candidates should tell their supervisors of their preferences, both who they would like and who they would prefer not to have. Candidates should not know the final composition of their examining panel at the time of examination.

As a supervisor, you may reject a candidate's suggestion based on your knowledge of the examiner. In most cases, it is wise for the candidate to accept their supervisor's judgement. However, where the candidate specifically requests that an examiner not be used, the supervisor should respect that wish.

Supervisors should think about the mix of experience of the examiners, as research suggests that inexperienced examiners tend to be harsher in their judgement.

Occasionally, it may be best to delay the exam for a brief period if a highly sought after or most suitable examiner is not immediately available.

How many examiners are required?

All examinations require the nomination of two examiners.

A reserve examiner must also be nominated. The reserve examiner will be used when unforeseen circumstances prevent other examiners from proceeding or when there is a significant disparity between the reports provided by the first two examiners.

When should I approach potential examiners?

Supervisors are advised to nominate examiners up to three months before final submission of the thesis to allow time for approval of the nominees and for contact to be made with minimum delay of the examination.

How do I approach potential examiners?

Supervisors should make an informal approach to potential examiners and ask them for a brief CV which includes information on the proposed examiner's experience in supervision and examination of theses, their qualifications, publications summary and affiliations.

Supervisors must discuss the nature of the thesis topic and the line of inquiry, and this discussion should include the thesis abstract.

It is the responsibility of the Academic Registrar's Office (ARO) to make all formal contact with the examiner and to provide them with relevant information and instructions.

What advice is provided to examiners?

Extensive advice and instructions are provided to examiners (PDF, 559.84 KB).(opens in a new window) Candidates and supervisors may also find it useful to review these guidelines for information about examiner expectations.

What about special examinations such as exhibitions and performances?

In some circumstances, such as examinations for Doctor of Creative Arts (DCA), examiners must be told about arrangements for exhibitions or performances in advance.

They should know ahead of time when to expect to attend an event and when they will receive the exegesis. It is not unusual for the exegesis to follow the attended event by up to a couple of months, but the examiner should be made aware of this and their availability for both parts of the examination should be confirmed.

Is the examination process anonymous?

Candidates may learn the identity of their examiners if the examiner agrees to their name being disclosed on the thesis report. Examiners may request that their identity not be disclosed.

Can I consider overseas examiners?

Yes, overseas examiners may be invited and there is no limit on the number of international examiners. The selection should be based on who is best to carry out the examination and not in what country they reside.

You may wish to consider nominating an examiner in the home country of international candidates. The examiner may be able to act as a mentor for the candidate after graduation.

What else should I consider when selecting examiners?

  • High profile and experienced examiners are often generous and encouraging with new scholars.
  • A well-known and respected examiner can be an additional benefit after graduation.
  • Research suggests that inexperienced examiners tend to be harsher in their judgement.
  • Select examiners based on their level of experience and expertise in the field.
  • Merely being available is not a suitable reason to select a potential examiner.

Where can I find the Nomination of Examiners Form?

The principal supervisor is responsible for selecting an examination panel and submitting a Nomination of Examiners Form (PDF, 564.05 KB)(opens in a new window) to the Graduate Research School. You should include examiner CVs as supporting documentation.