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

The process of appointing supervisors for PhD students involves several steps and considerations:

Appointment of main supervisor: The Head of the PhD School appoints a main supervisor based on the recommendation of the Head of the Department. The Head of Department, with the approval of the main supervisor, should assess their capacity, both in terms of professional and supervisory skills and available time, to effectively supervise the PhD student. This is important to ensure that the student receives adequate support and guidance.

Co-supervisors: In addition to the main supervisor, one or more co-supervisors can also be appointed. The recommendation for appointing co-supervisors may come from the PhD study board, the Head of Department, or may be initiated by the Head of the PhD School. Co-supervisors provide additional expertise and support to the PhD student.

Supervision for Industrial PhD Students: For PhD students enrolled in the Industrial PhD Program, there must be a supervisor from the Faculty of Science and a co-supervisor affiliated with the company where the PhD student is employed. The co-supervisor from the industry should have relevant research experience in the specific discipline of the project.

The appointment of supervisors and co-supervisors is a critical aspect of the PhD program to ensure that students receive the necessary guidance, expertise and support for their research projects. 

Main supervisor

The main supervisor in the PhD program must meet specific criteria:

Recognized researcher: The main supervisor should be an established and recognized researcher in the relevant field. This typically means that they have a strong track record of research contributions in their area of expertise.

Qualifications: The main supervisor should have qualifications equivalent to the level of a professor or associate professor, indicating a high level of expertise and knowledge in the field.

Employment: They should be employed by SDU (University of Southern Denmark) and be affiliated with the PhD School. This affiliation ensures that they are part of the academic environment that supports and guides the PhD student.

Supervision qualifications: The main supervisor should possess relevant supervision qualifications. This often includes having completed specific training, such as SDU's PhD supervisor course and the internal PhD supervisor course offered by their faculty. These courses equip them with the skills and knowledge required to effectively supervise PhD students.

These criteria are in place to ensure that the main supervisor is well-qualified to guide and support the PhD student throughout their research journey.


Co-supervisors play an important role in guiding and supporting PhD students. Here are some key considerations and requirements for co-supervisors:

Research qualifications: Co-supervisors should have strong research qualifications in the relevant discipline to the level of an assistenat professor or associate professor or professor. Their expertise is valuable in providing additional guidance to the PhD student.

Supervision load: When appointing a co-supervisor, the Head of Department should take into account how many PhD students they are already supervising. This helps ensure that the co-supervisor has the necessary time and resources to effectively support the student.

Supervisor course: Co-supervisors are typically required to have completed SDU's PhD supervisor course and the faculty's internal PhD supervisor course or an equivalent course. This training equips them with the skills needed to effectively supervise PhD students.

External co-supervisors: In exceptional cases, the Head of the PhD School can approve the appointment of co-supervisors who are not permanent employees of SDU (University of Southern Denmark). To do this, the applicant should provide reasons for the connection to an external co-supervisor and furnish evidence of the external co-supervisor's qualifications in the relevant field. The Head of the PhD School approves the appointment of an external co-supervisor based on the recommendation of the Head of Department.

Industrial PhD Program: For students enrolled in the Industrial PhD Program, a co-supervisor must be appointed from the employing company. This co-supervisor should have special insight into and responsibility for the research project conducted at the company.

These requirements and considerations ensure that co-supervisors are well-equipped to provide effective guidance and support to PhD students in their research endeavors.

The supervisor's obligations

The main supervisor has several key responsibilities:

Overall responsibility: The main supervisor is responsible for the entire PhD program, ensuring that all formalities and regulations outlined in the PhD Order, as well as local faculty and departmental regulations, are adhered to.

PhD Plan: The main supervisor must ensure that the PhD plan can be approved by the Head of the PhD School within three months of enrollment. It is recommended that the PhD plan be completed and submitted for approval within two months of enrollment. 

Project supervision: The main supervisor is responsible for project supervision, including the following aspects:

  • Ensuring that supervision and advice are relevant and adequate
  • Scheduling regular meetings (typically at least once a week, unless there are specific reasons otherwise)
  • Involving other supervisors as needed
  • Ensuring that the PhD project is feasible within the allocated time
  • Assessing whether the project can lead to new results of a high international standard suitable for a PhD thesis
  • Confirming that there is enough time for the PhD student to realistically submit the thesis on time

Evaluations: Before each regular evaluation of the PhD program, the main supervisor, along with any co-supervisors, should evaluate the student's progress in following the PhD plan satisfactorily. Continuation may be recommended unconditionally or, if necessary, the student may be given three months to address any issues. The supervisor should also assess whether the PhD plan should be modified if circumstances require.

Environmental change: The main supervisor is responsible for planning an environmental change in consultation with the student, typically within two years before the end of the study.

Other responsibilities: The main supervisor should maintain regular contact with the PhD student, serve as a resource for the research project, offer guidance on relevant courses and conferences, facilitate connections with research centers, provide advice on managing work commitments and knowledge dissemination, review and comment on the PhD project, prepare the final statement when the PhD thesis is submitted, and participate in the assessment process and the PhD defense.

A successful PhD program hinges on a strong working relationship between the student and the main supervisor. Mutual expectations and demands should be outlined from the beginning, including the form and extent of supervision, and documented in the PhD plan.

Co-supervisors: support the main supervisor and their tasks are determined upon appointment. They typically involve academic discussions related to specific aspects of the research project.

The PhD student's obligations in relation to supervision

The PhD student responsible for several important tasks in their academic journey, including:

  • Contacting the main supervisor: It's crucial to initiate contact with the main supervisor in a timely manner during the preparation of the PhD plan and regular evaluations
  • Course descriptions and certificates: Providing course descriptions for courses that are not pre-approved to the PhD study board for approval and sending certificates for courses passed to the PhD School for registration
  • Project updates: Keeping the supervisor(s) informed about the progress of the research project
  • Supervision meetings: Arranging and coordinating supervision meetings, setting meeting agendas, adhering to deadlines, and submitting texts for feedback
  • Communication about project issues: Promptly contacting the main supervisor and, if necessary, the Head of Department, in case of project-related problems that cannot be resolved within a reasonable timeframe
  • Collaborative planning: Collaborating with the supervisor(s) to plan various aspects of the PhD program, including the research project, a timeline, courses, environmental changes, knowledge dissemination, participation in international meetings, thesis writing, and agreements regarding intellectual property rights
  • Entitlement to supervision: The PhD student has the right to a reasonable amount of relevant supervision and advice from supervisors, with regular meetings, typically at least once a week, unless there are valid reasons for a different arrangement
  • PhD plan: The PhD plan is a dynamic document that should be updated as needed. This includes updates in response to significant changes in the project, modifications to the time spent at other research environments or institutions, leave of absence, and other relevant developments

These responsibilities ensure that the PhD students remains actively engaged in their research and receives the necessary support and guidance from their supervisors. The PhD plan, in particular, serves as s flexible roadmap for their acedemic journey, allowing for adjustments as required. 

Change of supervisor

The Head of the PhD School has the authority to make changes to the supervisory team of a PhD student. This can include the replacement of the main supervisor or co-supervisors, as well as the appointment of additional co-supervisors.

If a PhD student requests a change in their supervisory team, they must provide evidence that the following parties have accepted the change:

  • The PhD student themselves
  • The Head of Department
  • The previous main supervisor (if there is a change in the main supervisor)
  • The new supervisor (if there is a change in the main supervisor)

This process ensures that all relevant parties are in agreement with the changes to the supervisory team, maintaining a smooth transition and continuity in the PhD student's research and guidance.

Last Updated 29.01.2024