Guidelines for external supervisors

The audience for this page is external supervisors of graduate researchers.

What is the role of an external supervisor?

As an external supervisor, you contribute specialist expertise to the intellectual development and training of the graduate researcher. This includes having the appropriate skills and qualifications to guide and mentor them in a specific area of their project, with knowledge of its academic, technical, creative, or scientific merit.

Your expertise is gained through research or working within industry, business, the community, not-for-profits, or government.

Your contribution to the graduate researcher’s supervision will complement the contributions of other members of the supervisory team, who will have overlapping but different expertise. Effective supervision teams use their collective expertise to assist and enhance the experience and research outcomes of their graduate researchers.

Examples of external supervisors include:

  • An academic staff member employed by another academic institution
  • An honorary, emeritus, or adjunct appointee at another academic institution
  • A scientist employed by scientific research organisation
  • A University of Melbourne supervisor whose formal employment or honorary appointment ceases and who continues to supervise their current graduate researchers
  • A retired academic who is active in research and does not hold an honorary appointment*
  • A specialist employed in an industry, business, community, government or non-profit organisation
  • A specialist in the creative industry
  • A self-employed person with expertise relevant to the project
  • An Indigenous Elder, community leader, or knowledge holder
* active in research means that you continue to write, review, or disseminate material related to your research area.

Your influence

As a member of a supervisory team, you have significant influence on the overall experience of the graduate researcher during their candidature. You are expected to provide guidance and mentorship and share your research, industry, creative, or technical expertise.

Supervisors are expected to be proactive in assisting graduate researchers to develop, through steps such as seeking to initiate meaningful opportunities and introducing them to networks. If you are an active researcher, share your knowledge about publishing in high-quality journals in your field, co-authorship and responsible research conduct. If you are a creative practitioner, share your knowledge about publishing creative content, co-creation and responsible conduct for practitioners.

If you work outside of academia, consider facilitating a graduate research internship to develop the research, professional, and transferable skills of the graduate researcher. Help them to understand your industry's or community’s concerns and needs so they may consider them within the scope of their research.

Other expectations of supervisors are explained on the Graduate Research Hub.

Supervising graduate researchers

Provide specific and detailed feedback and be aware they may be receiving different advice from other supervisors. Building trust and a collaborative culture will enable the graduate researcher, and their supervision team, to openly discuss different views and their impact on the project and candidature timeline.

Refine and adjust your supervision style to fit the needs of the graduate researcher. If you have previously completed a research degree yourself, the style that was used by your own supervisor when you undertook research training may no longer be appropriate, so consider what this current candidate needs.

As a member of the supervisory team, it is appropriate to acknowledge your competency limits and seek support or direction from the principal supervisor. They are your primary contact with the University of Melbourne and will invite you to progress meetings and manage the related administration. You will not have access to administrative systems, staff services or supervisor training.

Joint PhD candidates have a principal supervisor at the University of Melbourne and the partner institution and the supervisor at each institution manages the administration relating to their institution.

Recognising your contribution

Your contribution to the graduate research project is valued and you are assigned “load” on their record to acknowledge this. A lower percentage indicates that your contribution towards the project is limited in scope or time. A higher percentage indicates that your contribution and responsibility towards the success of the project is greater. Clarify expectations and discuss your load with the principal supervisor before you commence supervision.

Your name will appear on the graduate researcher’s Evidence of Enrolment statements while they are enrolled and their Evidence of Qualification when the graduate researcher has completed their degree.


You are expected to behave with professionalism, ethics and integrity: ensure that respect for the graduate researcher underpins your decisions and actions. Be aware that you can influence their wellbeing, conduct, thesis quality, and future career direction.

There is an inherent power imbalance between the supervision team and the graduate researcher because the supervisors are in a position of authority. This can lead to exploitation and inappropriate behaviour. Such behaviour is unacceptable and does not comply with the University of Melbourne Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Policy MPF1328. You are expected to abide by all University of Melbourne policies that relate to staff, students, and visitors.

Issues may arise during supervision, including health or behavioural matters. These issues should be referred to the committee chair; if you are not sure who the committee chair is, the faculty administrator will find this information for you.

Approval process

You must be formally approved to become an external supervisor. The approval process normally commences after you are invited to supervise the graduate researcher. You initiate the process by completing the External Supervisor Agreement. An agreement must be completed each time you are appointed as a supervisor for a graduate researcher at the University of Melbourne.

If you are appointed as an external supervisor as part of a jointly awarded PhD, please complete an External Supervisor Record (Joint Award) form so that we can record your details on our student system.

Leaving the University

If your employment or honorary appointment at the University of Melbourne ceases, and you will continue supervising your current graduate researchers, the University must register you as an external supervisor. Discuss the next steps with your faculty administrator.

Approval steps for external supervisors

  1. You complete an External Supervisor Agreement and attach your CV, or an External Supervisor Record (Joint Award) form if applicable*
  2. Your employer must endorse your involvement by completing the employer section**
  3. The faculty dean or dean’s delegate will review your application
  4. After approval your title, first name, last name, gender, date of birth, address, suburb, state, country and email address are recorded on a limited access section of the University of Melbourne HR database
  5. Your name and assigned supervisory load are added to the enrolment record of the graduate researcher that you will supervise
  6. The faculty or department invite you to commence supervision
*  If you are an Indigenous Elder or knowledge holder or you are supervising joint PhD, you do not need to attach a CV.
**If your candidate is enrolling in a joint PhD; you are self-employed; or an Indigenous Elder or knowledge holder you do not need employer approval.

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Graduate Research Hub information for graduate researchers

PhD and Masters by research timelines

University of Melbourne Policy Library

Melbourne Policy Library all University of Melbourne policies

Graduate Research Policy MPF1321 see reference to advisory committees at clause 4.23 to 4.27

Supervisor Eligibility and Registration Policy MPF1322 see reference to external supervisors at clause 4.6

Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Policy MPF1328

Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Policy MPF1359

Intellectual Property Policy MPF1320

Authorship Policy MPF1181

Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research