the Changing Face of Doctoral Education – implications for supervisors

This is a guest post from staff at the University of Bristol: Kate Whittington, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Bristol Medical School; Anne Lee, Associate Professor, University of Stavanger and Research Fellow in the School of Education; and Sally Barnes, Professor of Doctoral Education, School of Education.

A search on Google can quickly identify a plethora of articles and personal experiences of PhD’s that have ‘gone wrong’ with poor supervision surfacing as a common complaint.

Undoubtedly, successful completion of a PhD relies on sheer hard work and determination from the doctoral researcher, but the critical importance of the supervisory relationship cannot be underestimated (Ives & Rowley, 2005 and see McCallin & Nayar 2012). Continue reading “the Changing Face of Doctoral Education – implications for supervisors”

Supervising in the dark – a call for an expanded doctoral pedagogy

This is a guest post by Dr Søren Bengtsen, Associate Professor in the Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media at Aarhus University.

Doctoral education, or researcher education, has with certainty moved, or has been pulled, out of its seclusion within the disciplines and away from its ‘secret garden’ within private-professional and exclusive spaces of doctoral supervision. Akin to higher education, doctoral education today is seen as vital in policy making for enhancing the general living standard of a population, increasing financial growth and societal health (Andres et al, 2015). Continue reading “Supervising in the dark – a call for an expanded doctoral pedagogy”

Community Acuity (8) complementary supervision expertise: team-working our development.

‘Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. 

Professor Helen Abbott is Director of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School at the University of Birmingham.

I see first-hand what happens when supervisor/supervisee relationships become strained or break down. I’ve been there myself, as a supervisor.  Now, as a Director of Graduate Studies I oversee programmes, and supervision, for a large community of doctoral researchers. Crucial to resolving problematic situations is knowing some of the best tools for how to recover them. But we can’t all know it all.

This is where team work between supervisors can help. Imagine this scenario: as a new supervisor who knows a student is struggling with thesis progress, I might be tempted to focus on setting writing targets, advising on the breadth and depth of secondary reading, completing supervision reports, looking at data collection, chapter outlines and draft findings, and I may resort to setting deadlines. But while those are all vital parts of supervising doctoral students, when this doesn’t help them achieve, what do I do?

I’ve learned over the years that this supervisor needs advice from someone who understands that the student isn’t making progress because they fear producing something their supervisor(s) (or other readers) may not like. Supporting PhDers who are fearful, or lacking in confidence is a very important part of the supervisor’s role.

I’m not talking about those situations where there are genuine issues of anxiety, depression, or wider mental health issues (those need professional support networks). I’m talking about the everyday experience that is a normal part of academic life: to be anxious about showing your work to someone who will then scribble comments all over it.

Have you ever felt, as a supervisor, that you are offering all this advice, and drafting a lot of targeted and very specific comments, but the PhD student apparently doesn’t want to or know how to do anything about them. Your comments go ignored. Progress slows. Frustration increases. What can you do?

Firstly, recognising when you have reached an impasse is key. That’s the part I haven’t always got right – catching it on time. But I have got better at knowing what to do about it. And for me, that means having a good team of colleagues and supporters to draw on for guidance and input. Sensitively airing issues to critical friends is a healthy way to interrupt a stuck partnership.

To make this approach work, my own professional networks need to be strong. I am in a place now where I can pick up the phone to colleagues and ask them to come and join me and the supervisee for a joint session on, say, writing style, redesigning a thesis structure, or thinking about viva prep.

These are colleagues who are not experts in the specific topic of the PhD, but people who have a particular skillset and way of interacting that I sense will be beneficial to my supervisee and our partnership. It’s about having a fresh voice in the room who can help you navigate a way through a challenging moment. Everyone benefits.

Such additional time isn’t officially recognised in anyone’s workload, so, for me, being part of a team means contributing to support others too. Helping out other supervisors from time to time is as much a training opportunity for me, as it is a release for the supervisor who needs assistance with an impasse.  Supporting each other as supervisors – and recognising that we have our own development needs, and different skillsets which it can be helpful for others to draw on from time to time – will make us much better supervisors in the long run.

Community Acuity (7) trust your gut: a cautionary tale for the eager new supervisor

‘Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. 

This guest post is anonymously shared in the spirit of helping others to learn.

In Business Schools, we get a lot of applications from overseas students with full scholarships from their governments, often with mediocre proposals (think “dull but worthy”) and qualifications that it’s hard to map onto our own more familiar entry requirements. The best of these are invited to take up 4-year programmes where they study a taught Masters in Research and providing they do well, are offered a place on the PhD programme. Continue reading “Community Acuity (7) trust your gut: a cautionary tale for the eager new supervisor”

creating a shared way forward with new research students

This is a guest post by Dr Duncan Cross (PFHEA), Senior Lecturer (Education), University of Bolton.

There are a range of complexities involved in effectively supervising PhD candidates that are recognised in the literature. Delany’s (2008) literature review highlights some of those complexities as significant predictors of candidate completionwhich includes demographic data around age, funding and area of subject, and also, importantly, ‘the intellectual environment of the department …’.

Continue reading “creating a shared way forward with new research students”

Community Acuity (6) enabling discussion about students’ state of mind

‘Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. 

This is a guest post by Dr Paula Meth, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.

This piece explores my personal views on fostering supervision that enables communication between supervisor and student about their ‘state of mind’ (worries, emotional health or mental health). I write this from the position of a supervisor who has both failed and succeeded in supporting students through tough emotional times, ‘writing blocks’, and intellectual confusion which have resulted in their inability to move forwards with their work. Continue reading “Community Acuity (6) enabling discussion about students’ state of mind”

Community Acuity (5) supervising doctoral writing — situated practices

‘Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. 

This is a guest post from Dr Amanda French, Associate Professor, School of Education and Social Work, Birmingham City University.

Much of what I do in my supervision sessions is based on what I wish someone had told me when I was a PhD student struggling to make sense world of doctoral education where, or so it seemed to me, everyone else appeared to magically understand what was expected of them. Continue reading “Community Acuity (5) supervising doctoral writing — situated practices”

democratising doctoral education

This is a guest post by Dr David Hyatt, Director of the Doctorate in Education (EdD), University of Sheffield.

My recent research and practice have focussed around the ways in which we establish more collaborative and collegial relationships between supervisors and supervisees on doctoral programmes.  I’m currently teaching on two taught professional doctoral programmes, directing one of them, and so the cohort/group nature of these programmes has become a feature of this work.

Continue reading “democratising doctoral education”

supervising research writing: encouraging group development

This post is by Cally Guerin, senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide, South Australia. She is a co-editor of the DoctoralWriting Blog. 

Recently I was involved in a research project aimed at scoping the range and variety of supervisor development programs offered by centralised academic development units in Australian universities. The research uncovered what we had suspected to be the case – that some universities here offer extensive training, preparation and ongoing development to supervisors, while others provide only the most cursory induction to university policy and requirements. This uneven provision of academic development is a concern: as supervisors find themselves working with more students – and more diverse students – in institutions that are expecting them to do more with less, innovations in supervisory practices become necessary. Continue reading “supervising research writing: encouraging group development”

encouraging robust scholars: how can we encourage students to critically give and receive?

This is a guest post from Dr Steve Hutchinson, a freelance consultant and author on doctoral development and supervision.

Let’s start with two quotes taken from a book called Enhancing the Doctoral Experience. Both quotes are from research students and they highlight a common ingredient in the challenge of growing as a researcher. Continue reading “encouraging robust scholars: how can we encourage students to critically give and receive?”