Supervising Final Year Projects & Dissertations
This inclusive teaching guide is aligned to Baseline Standard 1 and the Professional Standards Framework A2. It provides general advice on how you can supervise your students final year projects and dissertations inclusively.
- Diversify the type of Final Year Projects (FYPs) and dissertations available by giving your students options aligned to their aspirations following completion of the course.
- A diverse student body will include students with different motivations who are likely to be far more engage with a project if they can link the skills and knowledge they are developing to potential future use. 1
- This aligns to the University of Leeds Institutional Assessment Strategy
Give practical information
- If permitted within your school, provide guidance to your students on the structure and possible layout of the project, including examples to look at and information to refer to as needed. This resource from Advance HE can help you with this: 'Guiding Student Dissertations' (Advance HE website).
- Giving your students guidance from the outset about how the word count can be broken down and the purpose of each section, will make the project seem more manageable. This is particularly important for students with specific learning difficulties (SpLDs) who may find academic writing challenging and have difficulties with organising their work and managing their time.2 Many students may have limited experience of what a dissertation or long project involves and this may create anxiety about completing one. Guidance and pastoral links to academic skills workshops is essential.
Support skill development
- Refer your students to further sources of support for help with tasks such as referencing and keeping track of sources e.g. ‘The Final Chapter’ (Library website)
- Many of your students will not have acquired these skills through their course unless they have been explicitly taught.
- Provide support to help your students to make realistic project plans.
- Many students with SpLDs and Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC) find it difficult to break down larger tasks into smaller chunks and to estimate how long each activity is likely to take.
- Provide examples and explicit guidance to your students on how to be reflective, where required. This skill can be particularly challenging for some students, such as those with ASC.
- Encourage students to use text to speech software for proofreading their work. This may be built into the device they use e.g. Voice-Over on Apple devices and the Immersive Reader on Office 365. If students do not already have access to such software, information about free apps is available on the Assistive Technology Resources site on Minerva.
- Students with SpLDs and those who speak English as an additional language, may benefit from hearing their work read back to them in the Immersive Reader in order to check it for sense and minor errors. Third party proof-reading is not allowed under the University’s Proof-reading (taught components) policy (Student Education Service website).
- In some exceptional circumstances, however, disabled students can be recommended a proof reader. Advice on individual cases can be provided by a Faculty Disability Coordinator (Student Education Service website).
Prepare your students for fieldwork and lab work
- Help your students to assess any risks involved in off-site activities at an early stage and identify measures that your students can put in place to prevent any difficulties from arising.
- Ensuring your student has planned and prepared well, will mitigate against problems which might disrupt the progress of their project. This is particularly important for disabled students who will need to think through additional challenges associated with their disability as early as possible.
- Familiarise yourself with disabled students’ support summaries and arrange a meeting prior to anticipate any difficulties the student may encounter.
- To learn more, please see our guides to Field Trips and Laboratory Practical Sessions.
Managing the student-supervisor relationship
- Encourage your students to challenge your ideas and engage in debate with you.
- Some of your students may be from cultural backgrounds where authority figures might not be challenged, so they may be naturally inclined to agree with you, rather than understanding that debate is a learning opportunity.3
- Hold a clarification session with your students to ensure that you both have a clear understanding of the purpose of the project.4
- Due to prior educational experience or cultural background, your students may have a different understanding of the meaning and purpose of research-based learning.5
Regularly revisit the focus of the work and monitor progress
- Ensure you maintain the same vision of the purpose and direction of the project throughout your students learning journey.
- Use the project plan milestones to identify whether your students are falling behind and identify problems early.
- Through the process of reading, researching and thinking, your students can change direction with their ideas and may not think it is relevant to inform you. If this change is potentially problematic, you need to know as early as possible in order to salvage the project. It may be more difficult for disabled students or those with additional responsibilities outside of university life to find the time they need to rescue a project that has gone awry, or to catch up when they have fallen behind.
- Familiarise yourself with the University’s Student Support services and processes in case this is needed.
Encourage systematic record keeping during supervision meetings
- Allow your students to use a digital voice recorder to record supervision meetings as this will reduce the need for note-taking.
- Some students, such as those with dyslexia, have difficulty listening, engaging fully in discussion and taking notes concurrently. This also applies to people with concentration and memory difficulties, such as those with mental health conditions and other chronic health conditions e.g. involving chronic pain and fatigue.
- Consider providing a template for your students to use to record key points from supervision meetings and actions to complete. Discuss this with your students at the end of the meeting so that you are both clear about key points and actions.
- Some of your students may have difficulties organising their work and therefore may need support to ensure they come away from supervision meetings with useful information. Providing a template ensures both you and your students are clear about what should happen next and provides an opportunity for the student to consolidate the main points of the discussion. Keeping co-authored notes will also give you a record of any advice given, particularly where this has involved external pastoral support requirements.
Support your students to prioritise their time
- Be aware of students’ other commitments outside of university and enable them to be realistic about the time commitment involved in undertaking a dissertation or long project. Arrange online meetings if this is more convenient.
- Students with caring responsibilities and other external commitments that impact their studies may find it difficult to devote sufficient time to a longer project without guidance on time management, particularly if they have not done a longer project before.
- Guide written by Dr Say Burgin and Jenny Brady | Updated July 2022 by Jenny Brady and Mike Kerr
- © University of Leeds 2022 | Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0)
- Deane, J., Hill, S., Keane, J. and Simmons, C. (2012). Rethinking final year projects and dissertations. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/projects/gloucestershire_2010_ntfs_final_project_report.pdf [Accessed October 2016]
- Grace, S. & Gravestock, P. (2009). Inclusion and Diversity – Meeting the needs of all students. Routledge – see page 212 for advice on supporting disabled students with dissertations
- Melles, G. (2005). Supervising international undergraduate medical students. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia – conference paper
- Roberts, A. (2009). Learning and Teaching Guides: Dissertation Management. Higher Education Academy. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resource/learning-and-teaching-guides-dissertation-management [Accessed October 2016]
- Rowley, J. and Slack, F. (2004). What is the Future of Undergraduate Dissertations? Education and Training. Vol. 46, No. 4. Pp176-181