Life as a supervisor
Supervising a doctoral student is one of the missions of researchers and teacher-researchers and is an essential step in their career. The term "supervisor" is used to designate the thesis director, the co-director or any person who contributes significantly to the supervision of the doctoral student.
Doctoral students are placed under the responsibility of their thesis director, who signs any administrative documents associated with the doctoral course. The thesis director is also responsible for the scientific direction of the doctoral research project, a responsibility which can be jointly assumed by the thesis director and a thesis co-director. When the co-director is affiliated with another French university, the co-direction is formalised in an agreement signed by both parties.
Co-supervisors can also contribute to the supervision of the doctoral student. In this case, the respective responsibilities and duties of each must be determined with the doctoral student from the beginning of the preparation of the doctorate and set out in the training agreement that is signed upon first registration for the doctorate. This agreement may be modified at the time of each re-enrolment.
The term “supervisor” therefore encompasses the thesis director, the co-director and any person making a significant contribution to the supervision of the doctoral student.
Within the framework of a co-supervision agreement with one or more foreign higher education institutions, doctoral students carry out their work under the responsibility, in each of the countries concerned, of a thesis director who carries out their supervisory duties in collaboration with the other thesis director(s).
In France, the direct research accreditation (HDR) is a national higher education diploma that is necessary to be the director, co-director or rapporteur of a thesis. (see decree on doctoral training)
To respond to particular situations, the head of the Sorbonne University may issue an authorisation to perform the functions of thesis director without an HDR at the proposal of the director of the doctoral school and with the approval of the research commission of the academic council. This authorisation applies only within Sorbonne University and gives no rights other than that of directing doctoral students registered at Sorbonne University.
A professor emeritus or supernumerary professor may complete the supervision of an ongoing doctorate, but may not recruit new doctoral students under their sole supervision. They may continue to participate in the supervision of a doctoral student directed by another person as a co-supervisor. They may also participate in thesis juries, possibly presiding over them, and be a thesis rapporteur.
The missions of thesis directors
Being a thesis director not only means monitoring the research project, it also means accompanying doctoral students in their professional development and in preparing for their professional future. The function of thesis director therefore includes a strong dimension of managing the work and careers of doctoral students: supervision of research, implementation of strategies for publishing and promoting results, drawing up a career development plan, etc.
Thesis directors develop the subject of the research project in consultation with the doctoral student. They ensure that it is original, that it is feasible within the envisaged time frame, and that all the scientific, material and financial conditions have been met to guarantee the smooth running of the doctoral student's research work.
Thesis directors individually supervise the doctoral students who are under their supervision and commit to regular and frequent appointments to support them with their doctoral project. They have a maximum possible number of doctoral students under their responsibility, a number defined by the doctoral school they belong to. Thesis directors validate the scientific quality of the approach followed and the results obtained with the doctoral student, and ensure that doctoral students acquire autonomy in the course of their research activity. They instil research ethics and scientific integrity into doctoral students.
Thesis directors also ensure that doctoral students are well integrated into the scientific community and particularly into the research unit. They accompany doctoral students to allow the best possible promotion of their work on a local, national and international scale.
Thesis directors support doctoral students in their professional project and set up the conditions necessary for the development of their skills and the promotion of the knowledge created by their research. Thesis directors undertake to ensure that the doctoral students they supervises have the necessary time to participate in further training, as well as in the life of their research unit and their doctoral school. When other people (co-director or co-supervisor) are involved in the supervision, thesis directors coordinate the supervision team and ensure the coherence of the instructions given to doctoral students.
Finally, thesis directors participate in the life of their doctoral school (participation in individual monitoring committees, juries or admission committees, scientific days, etc.).
Accompanying supervisors in their missions
To help the supervisors in their duties, for over 15 years, the doctoral college has been offering them support in the form of workshops in small groups which allow them to understand the current issues of doctoral training and the evolution of the supervisor's role. This includes understanding the importance of the professional project for doctoral students and the supervisor's responsibility in this area, identifying the skills expected of doctors and supporting their development, knowing how to identify areas of progress in the development of a skill and helping doctoral students become an expert in their field. A workshop is also dedicated to the issue of recruitment and integration of doctoral students into the research unit.