Welcome to all members of the Postgraduate Advisory Service. This service is designed to enhance and enrich the ‘Trinity Experience’ for all registered postgraduate students. We hope you will find the information included here helpful in the delivery of this goal. We have tried to include as much as possible on this webpage. If however, we have omitted anything, please contact us (Email) and let us know. Should you have any queries in relation to any aspect of the service please contact us by telephoning (01) 896 1417, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org (Email).
Complaints about student/supervisor relationship difficulties are one of the most common complaints dealt with by the Postgraduate Advisory Service in its provision of advice to postgraduate students.
The academic relationship between supervisors and postgraduate researchers at Trinity College Dublin is structured in accordance with the Best Practice Guidelines on Research Supervision for Academic Staff and Students (PDF, 40K) and the University of Dublin Calendar Part 2, 2.8 (PDF, 2.59MB) which set out, among other things, the very minimum level of supervision that supervisors should provide for their research postgraduates. This includes the supervisor being required to request regular written work and to return the work with constructive criticism. Importantly, these documents also set out the responsibilities of the research student themselves.
The most important thing to remember when discussing supervisory issues with a student is remind them that clear communication is an essential ingredient of a healthy relationship. You can play your part by raising issues for discussion before they become major problems. Here are some suggestions that have proven very useful in assisting postgraduates with strategies to enable them to solve their own problems.
This may sound obvious but sometimes it’s the most difficult part. Postgraduate students can arrive at your office with a long list of woes. Can one primary problem be identified? Additional problems may be secondary and will disappear when the primary problem is sorted out. If there are a number of separate problems, get the student to start to work on the one that is causing them the most anxiety.
Is the complaint reasonable? Enquire whether the student has spoken to other postgraduates and/or staff members about their experiences. In this way they might discover that what they thought was a problem, is generally accepted around the university (eg they have had a room to themselves for a year and now the department has moved in two other students!). On the other hand, they might find out that what they have been accepting as ‘normal’, is in fact anomalous. Establishing such a ‘University wide perspective’ may be very beneficial to the particular student in comprehending and rationalizing their particular predicament.
Ask students what they would like to achieve? Encourage them to think about possible and realistic solutions. It is always more productive to be able to offer a solution along with the complaint. Encourage them to write down the main points so that it is clear in their mind what the issues are. Depending on the nature of the problem, they may have to decide whether the consequences of raising it within their department will be worse than just putting up with it for the remainder of their candidature. For many students, just talking about their problem can be extremely therapeutic.
If the particular problem occurred some time ago and now no longer exists point out to the student that seeking either ‘revenge’ or apology can cause unnecessary stress and waste their precious time and energy.
Point out to the student that, in most instances, it is best to go directly to the source of the problem before trying anything else. If they have a problem with the quality of their course, encourage them to speak directly to the course coordinator in the first instance. Most departments will want to know if there is a level of dissatisfaction among their postgraduates - sometimes the solution is simple and the problem easily addressed.
If the student has a problem with a supervisor, encourage the student to go and talk to him/her about it directly. While this may be both difficult and potentially stressful for the student, it is vital tha, in the first instanc, they give the Supervisor the opportunity to work with them to find a solution. Encourage them to make an appointment to see their supervisor so that they have an allocated time to talk privately. Encourage them to stay cool and calm and to raise any issue in a professional and courteous manner. They may be surprised to discover that what seems to be an enormous and obvious problem for them is something of which their supervisor is not even aware. In many cases the solution may be as simple as telling their supervisor what is bothering them.
There is no point in a student launching into full-scale formal grievance procedures if they have not given their department ample opportunity to respond. Apart from being the right thing to do, problems are much more likely to be resolved while they’re being dealt with informally. If for whatever reason the student does not get any satisfaction from their first point of contact, they are strongly are advised to contact the next person in line. In many cases this is the appointed Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate). If the appointed Supervisor is also the Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate) then the student should make an appointment to discuss the matter with the Dean of Graduate Studies.
The particular process to be followed is in each case, dependant upon the type of candidature, and the nature of the complaint. There are however some general guidelines that are relevant to all cases;
- In all cases students should be advised that it is neither possible, nor permissible to lodge an appeal simply because they disagree with the outcome of a particular examination procedure, be it a viva voce, or written examination.
- Appeals arising out of examinations or other academic circumstances from registered postgraduate students will only be considered where the student’s case i) is not covered by the ordinary regulations of the College, or ii) is based on a claim that the regulations of the College were not properly applied in the applicant’s case, or iii) represents an ad misericordiam appeal. Therefore, if the student’s case is not reflected by any of the above grounds, no appeal will be entertained.
- The Dean of Graduate Studies or an Academic Appeals Committee who will consider an appeal cannot overturn the examiners’ academic verdict on the thesis/dissertation. It can only recommend changes of a procedural nature.
- It is also important to ascertain whether the student has already made contact with the appropriate staff member in their department/school ie. Course Coordinator/Director, Director of Teaching and Learning (Postgraduate), Supervisor, or indeed Dean of Graduate Studies to ascertain the viability of any appeal. It is also important to ascertain whether the student has approached any other member of the academic or student body for representation and/or advice.
- You should also ask to see a copy of any Departmental Handbook that the may have been assigned to the student upon registration for their course of choice.
When you have met with a student, and if you are satisfied that there are indeed grounds for an appeal, you may inform the student that you are willing to act in the capacity of Graduate Advisor and accompany them to any appointment with either the Dean of Graduate Studies or the Academic Appeals Committee for Graduate Students. Details of the procedures in place in respect of all appeals processes are outlined in your Advisor’s Handbook. Alternatively, you can consult the University of Dublin Calendar Part 2 (PDF, 2.59MB). Should you have a query on any aspect of the procedures outlined do not hesitate to contact either the Postgraduate Student Support Officer (Email) or the Graduate Studies Office.
The Junior Dean is responsible for discipline and good order in College. Students who have breached the College regulations as laid down by the Board (PDF, 2.59MB), will be asked to meet him/her to discuss the suspected offence. If you are contacted by a student to act in an advocacy role during the disciplinary process it is important that you make the student aware that above all else, honesty is required. You should consult the University of Dublin Calendar Part 2 (PDF, 2.59MB) for information regarding the procedures and penalties that are in place. Should you have any query, do not hesitate to contact the Postgraduate Student Support Officer (Email) for confidential advice and guidance.
While it is not your job to convince students to stay in College, you should do your best to ensure that the student has fully explored all the possible implications and dimensions of such an important decision. Should the student still wish to withdraw from College following a consultation, they must notify the Dean of Graduate Studies, and their Supervisor/Course Coordinator/Director in writing. Further information on withdrawing from College, particularly with regard to any fee implications that may be involved, can be obtained from Ms. Helen Thornbury (Email) at the Graduate Studies Office.
At present the Postgraduate Advisory Service neither administers nor handles enquiries into any aspect of Financial Support for postgraduate students. Any query on Financial Support should be directed to Ms. Helen Thornbury (Email), or Ms. Jennifer Hill (Email) in the Graduate Studies Office .