Supervising doctoral procedures

Supervising and assisting doctoral candidates

Care should be taken when choosing the topic of a doctoral degree, but it is just as important to select the most suitable candidate. Supervisors and doctoral candidates will have their own ideas as to how the doctoral degree should proceed, the time required and the relationship between the supervisor and the candidate, and these ideas will not necessarily always match up. Holding an in-depth consultation in advance allows both parties to get to know each other better and discuss their expectations.

Before beginning the doctoral degree

As well as discussing what is actually to be covered by the research, there are a number of bureaucratic requirements and organisational procedures which have to be complied with.

According to the General Doctoral Regulations of FAU RPromO Section 5 (2), lecturers (Section 2 (3)(1) BayHSchPG) (in German) who are employed full-time at the respective faculty, professors on leave or retired professors can act as supervisors.

Special cases and exceptions are stipulated in the doctoral regulations of the respective faculty or school. Within the context of a cooperative promotion procedure, professors from universities of applied sciences who have completed a doctoral degree may also be involved in supervising the doctoral thesis.

Often, the primary supervisor is supported by an assistant or postdoctoral researcher who is available to support the doctoral candidate and supervise them on a day to day basis (day-to-day supervisor).

The chosen topic should not only interest you and the doctoral candidate, it should also be directly relevant to your own area of research. It is also important that you can find sufficient time to devote to supervising the doctoral degree over and above your normal workload. Lastly, the topic which is chosen should be such that it can be covered and summarised by the doctoral candidate in an appropriate time frame.

You are under no obligation to supervise a doctoral candidate and can refuse if there is a valid reason for doing so. This may be the case, for example, if the applicant does not have the required scientific background knowledge or if you do not have the time to provide adequate supervision for further doctoral candidates. According to the study ‘Doctoral programmes for the European knowledge society,’ supervising more than 10 doctoral candidates is counter-productive in terms of providing quality supervision and focussing on having the doctoral thesis completed. The Doctoral Affairs Committee is responsible for checking the candidate’s suitability, and you should wait for this procedure to be completed before starting the doctoral research.

Before agreeing to supervise doctoral research, it is important to clarify the reasons motivating the doctoral candidate to carry out the research, as by agreeing to act as a supervisor you are promising the doctoral candidate to provide them with methodical and subject-related advice and assistance, as well as advising and helping them with respect to their time and work schedule.

In a move to implement measures for good scientific practice, universities are increasingly providing templates for supervision agreements, for example between a doctoral candidate and their supervisor. The supervision agreement provided by FAU is intended to avoid later misunderstandings by ensuring that the framework for the doctoral research is agreed in advance. By signing the agreement, the supervisor agrees to supervise the doctoral candidate until the doctoral degree is completed, irrespective of how long funding is provided for. As a supervisor, you are responsible for overseeing the doctoral candidate’s teaching and discussing their future career prospects. If necessary, you are also expected to help doctoral candidates balance their family commitments and academic career.

The supervision agreement is not a formal requirement for completing a doctoral degree. One copy is kept by the doctoral candidate and one by the supervisor; it does not have to be submitted to the Office of Doctoral Affairs and is not binding.

The supervisory relationship is governed by public law. However, the supreme court has ruled that even if a written supervision agreement is concluded, it is not considered a contract under public law and the relationship between the supervisor and the doctoral candidate is not classed as a quasi-contractual relationship. As it is not classified as a contract as such, damages cannot be claimed on the basis of the supervisory relationship.

If a doctoral degree is to be supervised effectively, it is important that you, acting as the supervisor, and the doctoral candidate each have a clear idea of your duties, rights and obligations. The checklist for the initial meeting between doctoral candidates and their supervisor, also known as the Checklist for good practice for carrying out and supervising doctoral degrees  is used as a guideline. It provides the basis for the initial meeting between the doctoral candidate and you, their supervisor, that must be held at the start of the process.


The formal requirements applicable to the doctoral candidate and their research are set forth in the doctoral regulations of the respective faculty. They must be complied with in order to ensure the smooth running of the doctoral procedure.

Effective communication between the supervisor and the doctoral candidate is crucial for the success of a doctoral degree. In view of the supervisor’s duties, a distinction should be made between the supervisory relationship and the doctoral relationship.

A supervisory relationship exists between the doctoral candidate and their supervisor. This is a relationship of trust which incorporates both scientific and educational elements.

The doctoral relationship describes the relationship between the doctoral candidate and the faculty and the university which will later set the examination and grant the doctoral degree to the candidate. The doctoral relationship is subject to provisions under public law on the basis of the doctoral regulations.

As a supervisor, you agree to draw up a time and work schedule together with the doctoral candidates and to meet regularly every quarter, or at least every six months, to obtain detailed feedback on how the research is progressing. This report forms the basis for an in-depth discussion between you, as the mentor, and your doctoral candidate, covering the progress of the research and more general topics as well. A brief record is kept of the meeting and signed by both parties. The schedule for the doctoral degree may be revised following this discussion.

For the doctoral procedure to be completed successfully and the final evaluation written, it is crucial that all formal requirements of the respective faculty are complied with.

As well as the General Doctoral Regulations of FAU (in German), the following is a list of the doctoral regulations for all faculties and other interesting links (in German).

Faculty of Medicine

Faculty of Sciences

Faculty of Engineering

Faculty of Humanities, Social Sciences, and Theology

Faculty of Business, Economics, and Law

The members of staff at the FAU Offices of Doctoral Affairs are happy to answer any admin-related questions you may have.

In the case of external doctoral theses, doctoral candidates do not have close ties to the Institute or Chair, and are certainly not employed there. They cover their costs with paid employment in a company.

It ought to be borne in mind that allocating theses of this nature raises many questions about legal issues and processes that affect all those involved (students, companies, lecturers acting as supervisors, FAU). They are outlined in the Information sheet on allocating topics for and completing
external Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctoral theses (in German)

If any problems arise

As supervisors and doctoral candidates work closely together, difficulties may arise on either a professional or personal level. If this happens, both parties should try to address the situation as soon as possible and take a calm, objective approach to dealing with the situation and each other. Mutual feedback should continue to be given, allowing a common solution to be found.

Please feel free to contact Dr. Elena Zeißler, Coordinator of the Graduate Centre, or the chairs of the bodies responsible at the faculties at any time.

In addition, you can also contact the following mediators:

It is important that both parties seek advice and assistance from impartial third parties (in German), as it is often easier for someone from outside to find a constructive way to solve a problematic situation. Please feel free to contact the FAU Conflict Management Team.

FAU Conflict Management Team

Simone Stein

Konfliktberatungsstelle FAU

Department of Human Resources
Referat P7 - Personalentwicklung und Familienservice

Commission for Research Conflict Management

Another option is to contact the Commission for Research Conflict Management. Members of the University who are affected by conflicts at the workplace are free to contact any of the conflict management officers in the Commission.

Sometimes, there is no option but to end the supervision, in particular if the doctoral research shifts into an area too far removed from the supervisor’s subject area, or if the supervisor accepts a position at another university. If this is the case, both parties should make every effort to find a solution acceptable to everyone involved as soon as possible.

The Graduate Centre is happy to assist.