Rules and conventions governing doctoral degrees

As a doctoral researcher you have a number of responsibilities to yourself and those around you. These are typically conferred upon you from one of the following sources:

  • The law. All organisations and individuals have to operate within national and local legislation. This governs a large variety of activity and can include health and safety, discrimination, bullying, data protection, freedom of information and harassment among other issues.
  • National or regional regulation. Higher Education institutions are regulated by a number of external bodies, which lay down rules, guidelines and suggestions for how individuals or institutions should operate. 
  • Institutional regulation. Your institution will have rules and regulations governing issues such as research ethics and the management of research degrees. 
  • Departmental culture and conventions, frequently informal, which you will probably discover by trial and error. 
  • Your supervisor's’ working style. Your supervisors will have a way that they like to work and a series of expectations about how you should work. 
  • Your peers. Other doctoral researchers will also have an impact on how you work and are expected to behave.

Find out as much about what is expected of you as possible. Sometimes different rules and conventions will be in conflict and you will have to negotiate between them. Where possible try and go along with rules and fit into the established culture. However, if you feel uncomfortable doing this or you feel that they are unjust you have a number of avenues of redress.

  • Talk to the people involved. Often problems with rules and conventions can be sorted out just by talking to people.
  • Seek some advice. Speak to your peers, your supervisory team, institutional support services or to a local representative and gain their perspective on the issue. 
  • Get some representation. This may be through a student body or association, such as the National Union of Students in the UK, or through a trade union if you are on an employment contract. 
  • Make a complaint. Part of your institution's regulations will be a complaints procedure which is designed to help you address serious concerns through official channels.
  • In very serious (and rare) cases you may find that you need to consider taking legal advice or going to the police.