Appendices: Guide on Thesis Supervision

(Version July 2019)

A.   Appointment of the Thesis Supervisor

  1. Each research postgraduate (RPg) student will be assigned a thesis supervisor who oversees the student’s research from the time the student embarks on his/her research.
  2. In cases where non-academic professionals or academic members carrying titles of Visiting or Adjunct faculty, Research Assistant Professors, or Visiting Scholars, are invited to supervise the research work of an RPg student, they can only be appointed as the co-supervisor, but not the prime supervisor of the student. In addition, the appointment of non-academic professionals as a co-supervisor requires the prior approval from the HKUST Fok Ying Tung Graduate School.


B.   Thesis Supervision Committee

  1. Each student will be supervised by a Thesis Supervision Committee (TSC) which consists of at least two members: the thesis supervisor and the committee chair.
  2. For MPhil students, the TSC is normally formed within their first year of study. The TSC for PhD students is normally formed within their second year of study before they attempt their qualifying examination.
  3. In most cases, the formation of a TSC is initiated by the thesis supervisor. The student may be consulted in the process. The authority to approve and appoint TSCs usually rests with the departmental PG studies committee.
  4. For both MPhil and PhD TSCs, at least one committee member must normally have had experience, at the University or elsewhere, as the designated supervisor of the thesis research work of at least two RPg students who have successfully completed their degrees.
  5. For PhD TSCs, at least one member of the committee must normally have had experience, at the University or elsewhere, in the supervision of at least one PhD student who has successfully completed the degree.
  6. Members on a TSC usually have research expertise relevant to the student’s area of research.
  7. TSC members should meet regularly with the student under their supervision to ensure that the student’s academic and research progress is satisfactory. The student, the thesis supervisor and the TSC are required to complete an annual progress report which serves to document the study progress of the student.
  8. When a thesis supervisor goes on sabbatical leave, he/she will usually continue to supervise his/her students through various means. In the case of a thesis supervisor leaving the University, another member on the TSC should be appointed as a temporary thesis supervisor until a replacement thesis supervisor has been identified.


C.   Responsibilities of Thesis Supervisors

To ensure the quality of thesis research and to enhance the learning experience of RPg students, thesis supervisors should provide their RPg students with advice, guidance and direction at every stage in the planning and conduct of research and in the writing of the thesis, and to ensure that replacement supervision is available to the student during any significant period of absence. Thesis supervisors are expected to:

  1. Provide guidance about the nature of research, the standard expected, the planning of the research program, the review of literature, the selection of coursework, and appropriate training in research techniques;

  2. Establish, at the beginning of the student’s research, a framework for supervision, including arrangements for regular meetings. The stages of progress the student is expected to have completed at various points should also be agreed on;

  3. Meet with the student regularly following the agreed schedules and with a clear agenda, and be accessible to the student at other appropriate times when he/she may need advice;

  4. Ensure that the student’s research:
    • Falls within his/her own area of expertise;

    • Can be completed with the resources available;

    • Can be completed within the prescribed period of study; and

    • Is suitable for the degree program the student aims to undertake.

  5. If applicable, discuss any potential hazards involved in the research work and how these can best be dealt with, ensuring that safety procedures are followed;

  6. Provide advice on the publication of research work, ensuring that attribution is discussed before publication;

  7. Deal promptly with any research problems the student may encounter;

  8. Adhere to the schedule for submission of the annual progress report;
  9. Advise the student promptly of unsatisfactory progress with regard to any aspect of his/her study, and put this advice in writing if such unsatisfactory progress is considered likely to interfere with satisfactory completion of the research by the agreed deadline;
  10. Guide the student in the preparation of the thesis examination;
  11. Identify prospective examiners for the student’s Thesis Examination Committee;
  12. Treat the student professionally, ensuring proper credit for his/her work; and
  13. Be on the lookout for signs of behavioral changes, stress and depression, absence from classes, laboratory sessions or appointments with no prior notification, reclusion, or erratic behavior in the student being supervised. The department head and PG Coordinator should be notified if any of the above behavior has been observed or reported. If necessary, the student should be referred to the Counseling and Wellness Center of the Dean of Students' Office for professional advice.


D.   Responsibilities of Students

RPg students are expected to:

  1. Discuss with the thesis supervisor and TSC the type and scope of guidance he/she needs, and agree on regular meeting times;
  2. Take the initiative in raising problems or difficulties with the thesis supervisor, however elementary they may seem, before they become serious;
  3. Attend supervisory meetings well prepared and with a clear agenda for the meeting; and be accessible to the thesis supervisor and/or TSC during the course of study;
  4. Make satisfactory academic and research progress following the advice of the thesis supervisor and TSC;
  5. Discuss with and obtain the approval of the thesis supervisor regarding any changes in the direction of his/her research focus and its implications;
  6. Provide a brief self-evaluation summary report to be attached to the annual progress report for submission through the thesis supervisor as part of the annual review process;
  7. Ensure that the thesis is completed and submitted within the period stipulated by the University for assessment;
  8. Abide by the rules and regulations governing postgraduate studies of the University; and
  9. Ensure that all work done by others which are used in the thesis is properly acknowledged.


E.   Relationship between Thesis Supervisors and Students

  1. The establishment and maintenance of good relationship between the thesis supervisor and the student are founded on mutual respect and open communication. A successful relationship relies on the devotion of both the thesis supervisor and the student.
  2. To avoid unnecessary disruption, the student and the thesis supervisor should inform the other party as soon as they are aware that there is a possible change in their status, e.g. a student plans to withdraw from the program of study or a thesis supervisor may take sabbatical leave.
  3. In the event that a good working relationship has failed to develop and that the student and/or the thesis supervisor believes that, for this reason, satisfactory study progress cannot be made, either party may approach the PG Coordinator for advice. The PG Coordinator should, in consultation with the department head/Associate Dean of the relevant School responsible for postgraduate studies, consider the matter carefully. If appropriate, the PG Coordinator may recommend a change of the thesis supervisor.


F.   Joint Supervision with Non-academic Institutions

  1. The joint supervision of RPg students between academic institutions and the corporate sector is a universal trend which has been gaining popularity in overseas countries. This is an encouraging development as it allows academic and corporate personnel to work together on research topics of common interests. This type of collaboration helps increase mutual understanding as well as provides opportunities for the establishment of closer and longer-term relationship between the corporate and academe. This complementary relationship also allows faculty from institutions to work with research staff of major corporations on application-oriented research.
  2. The principles, limitations and framework for joint supervision of RPg students between the corporate sector and the University are provided in the “Guidelines on Joint Supervision of RPgs with Non-academic Institutions”.