Each student is appointed a Supervisor by the Degree Committee. The Supervisor will be someone from the student's general field of study whose role is to guide the student's programme of study or research. Some Departments also appoint an adviser for each student to provide extra support in case issues arise between the student and the Supervisor.
In scientific subjects, students work daily in the Faculty or Department and often in close contact with their Supervisor. In the humanities, students often find that contact with their Supervisor is less frequent. In either case, though, your relationship with your supervisor will be crucial to your progress. You will need to look to your supervisor for help and advice on many things, from methodology and results to the administrative jungle of the University. You cannot afford to leave it to chance that the two of you get on well: you must take responsibility for understanding and managing the relationship. Although that may sound obvious, there are cases every year in which the relationship breaks down, with serious consequences for the student's research. What is so sad about many of these cases is that they could probably have been avoided if both student and supervisor had gone into the relationship with a clear idea of what they could expect of each other.
What you may expect of your Supervisor
Your Supervisor has agreed to supervise you, and that means that you can expect certain things of them. You should note that none of the following points is enforceable within the University, but neither are they particularly unreasonable, and if you find that issues like these are proving difficult, perhaps you should discuss it with your supervisor, or with someone else. It is also worth asking whether your department has established any guidelines of their own on the supervision of postgraduates. If they have, try to get hold of a copy.
Your Supervisor should be able to give you advice on your first steps, perhaps a few references for your literature survey, or advice on how best to go about the survey. Ask your Supervisor, too, for advice on drawing up your programme of work, and your long-term planning.
It is also worth asking your Supervisor about any courses on research methods which it may be useful for you to attend, and whether there are any lecture courses within the department which would be helpful.
When you ask your Supervisor for a meeting to discuss some question, you should not normally have to wait longer than one week. If you find that you consistently have to wait longer than that, and you are finding it inconvenient, you should talk to your Supervisor about it. At the meeting itself, it is not unreasonable to expect that your Supervisor will set aside enough time and make an effort to be undisturbed by other business.
When you hand in written work, you should be able to get back some written comments on it, or, at least, reasonably detailed verbal comments. If you feel that you are not getting enough feedback on your work, see if you can get your Supervisor to go into more detail.
Interchange of ideas
Your Supervisor is likely to know of other work being done in your field, and may be able to introduce you to the people doing it, or perhaps to get you invited to conferences where you will be able to meet them....ask!
If things go wrong
Most students will stay with their Supervisor, and will not have any great problems. However, it may be that, no matter how hard you've tried, you find that you just can't carry on with your Supervisor. You may disagree on something, or your work is taking you outside your Supervisor's particular expertise, or you just don't get on. If this happens, talk to someone else, whether it's a friend, your tutor, or, if you feel it's serious, the Board of Graduate Studies. It is possible to change Supervisor, and carry on with your research under someone else. However, this can be a delicate business if your current Supervisor is not happy with the position, and you should take advice before doing anything. The Graduate Union President or the Welfare and Graduates Officer at CUSU are always available for consultation by people who find their situation in any way difficult.