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New postgraduate applicants

It is important that the decision to do a higher degree is not taken lightly. It is important to ask the question – “Why am I choosing to do the degree?”  This is a very personal decision and the answer to the question is generally not simple.  Bear the following in mind:

  • Be well informed on your career path. Many careers do not require a higher degree, but rather are dependent on in-house training, or highly focused training in other aspects pertaining to the job. Other jobs, such as a research career, call for at least an M.Sc.
  • The recommended time for a Masters is 12-18 months and for a PhD 24-36 months (full time). Therefore one is committing oneself to a great deal of intensive work for a significant period.
  • You must have a deep interest in the work you are going to do. At the very least you may as well enjoy what you are doing!
Rights and Responsibilities of Students

The following has been taken from the University’s Strategic Research Plan:

  • Every research student should be familiar with the rules, regulations, procedures associated with the degree for which they are registered and they should be aware of all policies which relate to postgraduate research programmes. Much of this information is detailed in the Faculty Handbook and can also be accessed from the University’s website.
  • Students have a right to negotiate their own research programmes subject to the constraints of the University/Faculty/School resources and the expertise and research interests of the academics within the University. It is important to realise that academics often work within well defined research programmes for which they have obtained funding. It is therefore difficult/impossible for them to supervise and/or fund projects outside of their own research framework.  Please familiarise yourself with the research programmes of the various members of staff and enter into discussions with those that are of interest.
  • Students must take responsibility for registration and re-registration for the degree.
  • Research students must take responsibility to complete their work (both written and practical) timeously.
  • Research students have a right to receive adequate supervision and have a right to receive timeous response to any written work submitted. It is advisable that students consult with their supervisor regarding the staff member’s workload so as to facilitate reasonable timings.
  • In particular, students have a right to know when the supervisor is of the opinion that they are not making satisfactory progress or their work is below the standard expected for the degree for which they are registered.
  • A research student has the responsibility of formulating the specific research aims and objectives in collaboration with their supervisor.
  • A student will be expected to develop a work plan for their research, including timelines and budgets and should maintain the progress of the work in accordance with the stages agreed to with the supervisor(s).
  • A student has a right of access to progress reports submitted by the supervisor(s) to the relevant University structures.

At your first postgraduate committee meeting (see below) you will be provided with a standard contract between you and your supervisor (the official ‘Statement of Principles of Postgraduate Supervision’), which you need to go through together, modify as necessary and sign.  This must be submitted together with your formal project proposal (see below). Collectively these documents represent a formal acknowledgement by the student to undertake the research under the guidance of the supervisor(s) and a commitment by the supervisor(s) and University to facilitate the achievement of the degree.

Role of the Supervisor

There are some fundamental requirements of the supervisor as laid out in the University’s Strategic Research Plan:

  • Supervisors are responsible for providing academic guidance to their students, monitoring their progress and rendering appropriate and reasonable assistance so that the study can be completed within a reasonable period.
  • It is expected that a supervisor will keep abreast of developments in the field of the student’s research project and should themselves be competent in that area.
  • A supervisor is expected to meet regularly with the student to discuss, assess and guide the progress of the work.
  • Supervisors are expected to give timeous feedback to students on any written work and give critical and constructive comments on the work.
  • Supervisors should be in sufficiently close contact with the student’s work at all times, and be able to report on the student’s progress and to judge when some intervention might be desirable.

It is important that the student and staff member have a thorough and solid understanding of how their interaction is to be handled. Each staff member approaches this interaction in a different manner and it is therefore difficult to define. Nevertheless, the interaction should be collegial and, above all, professional. Indeed, many student/supervisor interactions develop into meaningful collaborations as the student progresses through their subsequent career. In the future formal contracts between the supervisor and the student may become a requirement. There are, however, some important issues that should be considered and discussed before registration, for example:

  • Intellectual property rights and authorship
  • Expectations – e.g. with respect to the work and the content of discussions
  • Confidentiality agreements
  • Frequency and mode of interaction
  • Where appropriate, how joint supervisors will interact with the student and each other.
  • Rights and responsibilities of the student
  • Dealing with written work and feedback
  • Funding of the research (not necessarily of the student)
  • Progress
  • How the dissertation/thesis will be written up
The Postgraduate Committee

In order to develop a collegial approach to the postgraduate research conducted in the School each person registered for a higher degree is required to have a research committee associated with their project. As a result, people other than the direct supervisor become involved with the research and this allows for the generation of interest and scientific interaction.


The supervisor, usually in consultation with the student, selects a number of other people (up to 3 or 4) to constitute the committee. These people are generally other academics (Wits and other tertiary education institutions) who are familiar with the field of study, but often also include appropriate people from industry, governmental, non-governmental agencies etc. The post graduate coordinator(s) chair all the committee meetings and the Head of School is an ex officio member.


The role of the postgraduate committee is to provide the student with a group of people, over and above the supervisor, who can assist the student with aspects of the research. Members of the committee are usually selected because of their familiarity with the area of research, but also can bring other particular expertise. The primary rôle of the committee is to provide guidance and support to the student. However, the committee can also be used as a mechanism to improve both the quality and rate of work and, if need be, act in a disciplinary nature.

Frequency of meetings

You are only absolutely required to have one PG Committee (proposal) meeting for your degree, but to monitor the progress of the project, meetings may also be called during the course of the degree. The supervisor is usually responsible for calling the meetings; however the student also has the right to call meetings. The supervisor is required to take the minutes of each meeting and circulate these to all members of the committee. A record of the proceedings of the committee meetings is kept by the School. The student is required to take appropriate action to the minutes of the meeting.