Graduate Supervision

This page provides an overview of regulations and good practices about supervision for doctoral students and supervisors. While there are certain universal principles that guide supervision, there are also discipline-specific practices that you can get acquainted with in your department.
Supervision is a critical part of your doctoral studies. You and your supervisor(s) collaborate to compile an individual plan that corresponds best to your research and career needs. The university provides some common guidelines for supervision for both the student and the faculty.

Relevant regulations

 The Regulations for Doctoral Studies state that:

  • A doctoral student can have more than one supervisor, one of whom will be appointed supervisor in charge.
  • The supervisor of a doctoral student must hold a doctoral degree; exceptions can be made in justified cases.
  • If a student has multiple supervisors at least one must be a university employee, usually the supervisor in charge.
  • A new supervisor can be appointed during study.
  • Both the doctoral student and the supervisor can initiate change in the supervision agreement. Learn more
  • A doctoral student can have a supervisor in the University of Tartu and in a foreign higher education institution. In the case of joint supervision or cotutelle agreement, doctoral student receives a diploma from both universities. Learn more
  • An industrial doctoral student has a supervisor both in the University of Tartu and in the institution or company which is the partner of the trilateral agreement.

Good Practice of Doctoral Studies provides the advisory code of conduct for doctoral students and supervisors, as well as the principles by which a supervisor is appointed. Learn more

Relevant aspects of supervision

When starting out as a doctoral student, it is important to keep in mind that supervision is a process. It entails a long-term relationship between you and your supervisor during which you develop the skills necessary for independent research and grow as a scholar. In this relationship, your supervisor takes on the responsibility to guide and assist you in your research. Your supervisor also provides advice on your study plans, publication goals, conferences, and training related to your thesis project. Supervision can take many forms, depending on your programme, specialisation, your supervisor's working style, as well as your own needs and learning habits.

Supervision is a two-way street where both the student and their supervisor learn and grow as researchers through their collaboration. In addition to providing research guidance, the supervisor’s role is to help students explore career opportunities, get acquainted with the scholarly and professional culture in their discipline, and point them to resources available at the university, especially in case of any obstacles that might negatively affect their work progress.

  • keep your supervisor informed about any issues that might affect your progress;
  • be sure to have regular meetings with your supervisor(s);
  • avoid conflicts of interest;
  • revise and review your individual plan as your proceed - research is a dynamic process.
  • help to plan doctoral student's studies and research;
  • provide guidance, feedback, and support;
  • be accessible;
  • avoid conflicts of interest.

Beginning your studies

Here you can learn more about the purpose of the supervision agreement that is concluded between you and your supervisor(s). You will also find information about the expectations management worksheet that helps you and your supervisor to conduct the introductory conversation and organise work in the future.

supervision agreement is concluded between the doctoral student, the supervisor(s) and the university within one month of the matriculation. The same obligation applies to external students.
The agreement indicates the division of responsibility and tasks between the supervisors. 
In addition, the agreement states basic conditions of the ownership of intellectual property rights and confidentiality of personal data 

Learn more

Document form

Successful completion of doctoral studies requires cooperation based on mutual understanding and consideration of the doctoral student's strengths and weaknesses. To ensure that the new doctoral student and the supervisor in charge better understand each others expectations and perceptions of doctoral studies and the supervision process, they should discuss these issues at the beginning of the academic year. 

The expectations management worksheet is a practical resource for conducting the introductory conversation. For the doctoral student, it gives a better overview of the relevant topics for their doctoral studies, and for the supervisor, a better understanding of the aspects in which the doctoral student might need more guidance.
Both gain a better sense of security for organising their work in the future. The worksheet helps to formulate the purpose of and expectations to the doctoral studies, define the roles and responsibilities of the doctoral student and supervisor, establish the routines for supervision (meetings, etc.), determine the rights to the research (ownership, etc.) and the writing and publishing process.

The worksheet is to be filled in individually by both the doctoral student and the supervisor with the specific doctoral project in mind.
After completing the form, the supervisor and the doctoral student compare their responses and discuss the differences and similarities in their expectations. During the conversation they can also raise other topics that are not included in the worksheet.

The completed worksheets are not collected or archived, but it is mandatory to have a conversation based on the expectations form. At the doctoral student’s first progress review, the committee will ask about the results of the conversation.

Document form

Remote supervision

While face-to-face meetings are certainly recommended and preferred, the need for remote supervision can arise for more reasons than one. Here you can find information containing advice about strategies that supervisors and students can rely on in order to make the supervision process efficient and maintain support. 

Strategies for remote supervision 

Maintaining a healthy dynamic between supervisors and their students can be challenging during times when face-to-face meetings are limited or not an option. In such circumstances, isolation from their supervisors and/or peers can be stressful for students, which is why an effort to establish a regular meeting schedule is relevant for feeling supported and making progress with one’s research.  

  • Schedule regular meetings with your student(s). Depending on individual needs and research stage, make use of asynchronous feedback as well as synchronous follow-up discussions.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations and timelines for submission and feedback.
  • Encourage students to revisit and adjust their work timeline based on the individual plan, and support task completion.
  • Encourage students to use different university resources that support their progress and decrease isolation. 
  • Keep or request regular meetings with your supervisor(s). This is especially important while working remotely since limited possibilities to discuss challenges and difficulties often make them seem more problematic than they are.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations and timelines for submission and feedback.  
  • Join (or create) an online support group! This could be a writing group with peers where you can write together, track your progress, and share goals.

For technical support, please consult the University of Tartu IT helpdesk guidelines.


Studies abroad: what to know about planning your study abroad experience

Andres Tennus

Doctoral defence: Peeter Kenkmann "Development of the Authoritarian Regime in Estonia between 1934 and 1940: Roles of the Constitution and the State of Emergency"

Doctoral defence: Valentina Punzi "Making (hi)stories in Amdo: voices, genres, and authorities"

On 13 June at 12:00 Valentina Punzi will defend her doctoral thesis "Making (hi)stories in Amdo: voices, genres, and authorities".