Respectful Relationships

About respectful relationships for advisors and HDR candidates

The nature of the research training environment allows for considerable power imbalances between advisors and HDR candidates. Candidates are highly dependent on their advisors throughout their program, and know that advisors can also have an impact on their future careers. This power imbalance means that the relationship can be vulnerable to perceived or actual exploitation, and all due care should be taken to ensure that the relationship is built on respect and informed decisions.

It is important that you discuss professional boundaries with your HDR candidates early on, and maintain the established boundaries throughout candidature. For instance, there should be clear agreement upon how regularly you meet, where the meetings will take place, how you communicate outside of meetings, and what to do when there is a change of plans. Expectations of both parties should be clear and understood by all. 

In order to assist in establishing and maintaining respectful relationships, Universities Australia has released the Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships as a guide, developed jointly by Universities Australia, ACGR, National Tertiary Education Union, and Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations. The Principles are:

  • A sexual or romantic relationship between a supervisor and their student is never appropriate, and under UQ policy it would be considered a conflict of interest to be declared and reported. 
  • Universities recognise there is a power imbalance in the supervisor-student relationship and that the greater power rests with the supervisor
  • The professional relationship between a supervisor and their student is characterised by mutual respect and trust
  • Expectations, roles and responsibilities of students and their supervisors are clear
  • Safeguards are used to protect students from situations of risk and unwanted advances from their supervisors
  • Sexual assault and sexual harassment are unacceptable (Visit the UQ Respect website for information and support in relation to sexual assault and sexual harassment)
  • The safety and wellbeing of anyone who reports sexual assault or sexual harassment are promoted and protected by the university. The Sexual Misconduct Support Unit (SMSU) provides support, guidance and advice to survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment at UQ.
  • Disclosures or formal reports of sexual assault or sexual harassment are met with support and compassion. There are guidelines for responding to disclosures of sexual assault or sexual harassment are available on the UQ Respect website, via the Help a Survivor guide.

The University of Queensland has a number of policies and procedures that support these Principles, including the Sexual Misconduct Policy and Procedures, but ultimately it is up to you, as the advisor and the candidate to implement and maintain a respectful relationship.

Candidates and advisors must both be familiar with 4.60.02 Higher Degree by Research Candidate Charter.  This outlines the University’s expectations on the candidate, but also what the candidate can expect from the University, especially in terms of education, mentoring and guidance from their advisory team.  This, along with the above Principals, should guide you in establishing a respectful supervisory relationship with clear expectations.