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Appointment of principal supervisor and possible co-supervisor(s)

The Head of the PhD School appoints a principal supervisor on the recommendation of the Head of Department. The Head of Department with the approval of the principal supervisor must take into account how many PhD students he or she is already principal supervisor for and whether the principal supervisor has the professional and supervisory skills as well as the time resources required for the supervision. On the recommendation of the respective PhD Study Committees or Head of Department or on his or her own initiative the Head of the PhD School can also appoint one or more co-supervisors.

For PhD students under the Industrial PhD Programme a supervisor must be appointed from the Faculty of Science as well as a co-supervisor who is affiliated with the company where the PhD student is employed and who has business-relevant research experience in the relevant discipline.

The Head of the PhD School may on recommendation from the Head of the Department decide to appoint a support group to support the PhD student's supervisor. 

Principal supervisor

The principal supervisor must be a recognized researcher in the relevant field and have qualifications equivalent to the level of professor or associate professor, be employed by SDU and be affiliated to the PhD School. The principal supervisor must have supervision qualifications, such as having passed the SDU's PhD supervisor course.


Co-supervisors must have research qualifications in a relevant discipline. In appointing the co-supervisor the Head of Department must take into account how many PhD students he or she is already supervising, and whether the supervisor has the necessary time resources to supervise the student.

Under special circumstances, the Head of the PhD School can approve the appointment of co-supervisors who are not permanently employed by SDU. This occurs after application and the application must show what particular reasons there are for the connection to an external co-supervisor and be accompanied by documentary evidence that the external co-supervisor is qualified in the relevant field. The Head of the PhD School approves the connection of an external co-supervisor on the recommendation of the Head of Department. For students on the Industrial PhD Programme a co-supervisor must be appointed who is affiliated with the employing company and who has special insight into and responsibility for the research project at the company.

The supervisor's obligations

The supervisory function is the most important component of the PhD programme. The supervision includes information and advice on all aspects of the PhD programme focusing on academic guidance in research activities. The principal supervisor should however also be prepared to huide the PhD student in issues such as teaching skills and career guidance.

The principal supervisor is responsible for the overall PhD programme, see PhD Order § 8.

The principal supervisor is responsible for ensuring that all formalities in connection with the PhD programme, as described in the PhD Order and supplemented by local regulations of the Faculty and any regulations of the Department or research training programme, must be respected. 

The principal supervisor must ensure that the PhD plan can be approved by the Head of the PhD School no later then three months after enrollment. It is therefore recommended that the PhD plan is completed and handed in for the Head of the PhD School's approval no later than two months after enrollment.

The principal supervisor is responsible for project supervision, which includes ensuring that the supervision and advice is relevant and adequate (usually meeting at least once a week, unless there are reasons otherwise) 

  • That any other supervisors are involved where appropriate
  • That the PhD project is feasible within the allotted time
  • That the project could lead to new results on a sufficiently high level to form the basis for a PhD thesis at an international level
  • That there is enough time for the PhD student to have a realistic opportunity of submitting the PhD thesis on time 

Prior to each of the regular evaluations of the PhD study programme, the principal supervisor, together with any co-supervisors, shall evaluate whether the PhD student is following the PhD plan satisfactorily and that continuation may be recommended unconditionally, or whether the PhD student should be given three months to put his or her studies in order (this option can be given only once). At the same time the principal supervisor together with any co-supervisors should assess whether the PhD plan should be changed.

The principal supervisor must seek to ensure that the student has a realistic chance of following the PhD plan. In the event of unforeseen difficulties, for example equipment problems, weather problems in biology, the idea is not sustainable, etc., the principal supervisor is then responsible for changing the PhD plan together with the student and any co-supervisors, so that a realistic opportunity is re-established for the PhD student to obtain a PhD degree without delay.  

The principal supervisor has primary responsibility for the environmental change and, in due time, usually within two years before the end of the study, plans, together with the PhD student, the environmental change, preferably abroad.

The principal supervisor is also responsible for

  • Being in regular contact with the PhD student, and serving as a sounding board for the research project
  • Advising the student about relevant courses and conferences
  • Assisting the student in establishing contacts with relevant national and international centres of research
  • Advising the student on how work commitments and the knowledge dissemination element can be accommodated in the course of study
  • Reviewing and commenting on the PhD project
  • Preparing the final statement of the principal supervisor which summarizes the overall PhD programme when the PhD thesis is submitted
  • Participating in the assessment work and PhD defense

A good PhD programme requires that from the start of the PhD education there is a good working relationship between the student and principal supervisor, in which the PhD student and principal supervisor can reach agreement on the demands and expectations placed on each other. An outline of the mutual demands and expectations of the supervision process - including expectations regarding the form and extent of supervision - should be included in the PhD plan.

Co-supervisors assist the principal supervisor. The tasks of a co-supervisor are agreed on his or her appointment and will usually include academic discussions in selected parts of the research project.

The PhD student's obligations in relation to supervision

The PhD student is required to:

  • Contact the principal supervisor in good time in the preparation of the PhD plan and the periodic evaluations
  • Send course descriptions regarding courses that are not pre-approved to the Faculty PhD Committee for approval and to send certificates regarding courses passed to the PhD secretariat
  • Keep the supervisor(s) informed about the project
  • Ensure the arrangement of supervision meetings, meeting agendas, deadlines, delivering texts for feedback, etc.
  • Contact the principal supervisor and possibly the Head of Department in good time if there are problems with carrying out the project which the student cannot resolve himself or herself within a reasonable time
  • Together with the supervisor(s) plan
    • the research (the project)
    • courses
    • the environmental change
    • dissemination of knowledge
    • participation in international meetings
    • the writing of the thesis

The PhD student is entitled to a reasonable amount of relevant supervision and advice from supervisors, usually at least once a week, unless there are grounds for this not to be the case.

Change of supervisor

The Head of the PhD School may on his or her own initiative or upon request from the PhD student approve the replacement of the principal supervisor or co-supervisors, or appoint additional co-supervisors.

Upon the request of the PhD student it should be shown that the PhD student, Head of Department, the previous and new supervisor have accepted the change of supervisor.

Last Updated 10.08.2023