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Research postgraduate issues

Student Services are available to all postgraduate students. Many postgraduate students can feel a little lost when they start at St Andrews, so popping in for a chat can often help. Also, the Money Adviser can help with information on budgeting, and sources of funding.

All postgraduate experiences are different, mainly because the dynamic between each student and their supervisor will not be the same. Many students take a little time to adjust to the independent learning required for postgraduate study. Postgraduate students also tend to be unsure of their role, and that of their supervisor. For more information, see Policy for supervisors and students in research postgraduate programmes.

If you feel you that you are not getting proper supervision/feedback, you should discuss this directly with your supervisor. If you cannot do this, you should attempt to consult one of the following people, as you feel appropriate:

Make sure you have read the relevant sections of the Policy for supervisors and students in research postgraduate programmes, detailing the responsibilities of the supervisor and the student.  Don't be afraid to ask questions - it is your postgraduate study, but your supervisor is there to guide you through it.

Many students do not feel that they can raise issues either because they are under the impression that all students have problems, and / or they don't want to damage their relationship with their supervisor / internal examiner / other staff in the School, or have raised problems in the past without resolution. If you are deciding whether to raise the issue, or would like advice on how to raise it, contact Student Services.  Speaking to your supervisor about any problems you are having as soon as possible is the best way to resolve most problems.

However, you can also raise issues on the Annual Report form, which are monitored by the PGR Pro Dean of the relevant Faculty.  You can indicate on the form whether you would like the PGR Pro Dean to investigate the matter further, by contacting you, or the School.  Any pattern of issues or general comments may be passed onto the School's Director of Postgraduate Studies.

It isn't always possible to change your research focus.  It is dependent on the staff available and you would need to discuss any changes with your supervisor/School. Although sometimes a little unnerving, changing research focus isn't always a bad thing. If you have been asked to do some work on another project for a short while it should expand your field and may lead to additional publications. If you are being asked to change your focus entirely, you may want to discuss this with other staff within the School, your secondary supervisor and the School's Director of Postgraduate Studies. You may be given extra time to complete the work, and it may lead to better results than the original project.

Change of Supervisor - In exceptional circumstances, you may need a change of supervisor—for example, if your research focus changes or if your current supervisor is moving. Your Director of Postgraduate Studies will be able to advise you. You can find further information on Change of Supervisor Form for Research Postgraduate Students (Word, 29 KB). You can read about the experience of a student whose supervisor moved Remote Supervision Article (PDF, 215 KB).

Your primary focus should be to complete your project within the necessary completion date.  However, it is important that you take the opportunities to expand your skills and experience.  You and your supervisor can discuss how best to incorporate career development into your work schedule. Although attending and presenting at conferences is a necessary part of your development, funding isn't always available.  Discuss the options with your supervisor.  They might be saving the money for you to participate in a more relevant conference, or they may know of external sources of funding. 

Different students need different levels of guidance throughout their study, just as there are conferences and other opportunities that are better suited to particular students or projects. If you feel as if another student in your group gets more attention/conference money, you should speak to your supervisor about how you feel, or your second supervisor if more appropriate.

Breaks for study are very important. They allow you to take time away from your work to refresh, so that you can return ready to meet the next goal.  The holiday entitlement and expected working hours for postgraduate research students is usually stipulated by the funding body (if applicable).  With a little forward planning, you may be able to identify periods of intense workload, allowing you to allocate appropriate time for analysis, writing, conferences, career development and breaks.  If you discuss your plan with your supervisor and meet your targets then you should be able to take a little time out to recharge!

If you feel the need to take a break from your studies, have a look at the guidance on Taking Time Out. Postgraduate research students can apply to take a leave of absence at any time.  To discuss this further, contact the Registry Officer.

Often research students can become very focused on work, and may find making friends outside of their research group/School difficult.  Come and speak to someone at Student Services, or get in touch with the Postgraduate Society.

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Advice and Support Centre
79 North Street
St Andrews
KY16 9AL
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 (46)2020


Student services

Eden Court
The Scores
St Andrews
KY16 9AS
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: 01334 462720
Fax:01334 464007

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Encountered any difficulties?

Not the right match?  If you haven’t formed a good rapport with your Adviser or you’ve encountered any difficulties and wish to speak informally to someone, please contact Ellen Mackintosh ( or Dr Penny Turnbull ( Assistant Directors of Student Services, in the first instance.

Please also be aware that the University has Complaints Handling Procedure for formally addressing concerns.


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