Was it worth it? How supervisors influence the value of the PhD – pre-session preparation

Conceptual model of how PhD graduates perceive the value of their doctorate

Summarised from Billy Bryan & Kay Guccione (2018) Was it worth it? A qualitative exploration into graduate perceptions of doctoral value, Higher Education Research & Development, 37:6, 1124-1140, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2018.1479378

Doctoral graduates perceived that they had derived value from their PhD studies that benefitted them after graduation. This was organised into the following core themes: (1) career value; (2) skills value; (3) social value; (4) personal value.

These themes were consistent across the sample, although the way each graduate judged value was influenced by contextual and situational factors.

The derived value from the doctorate was experienced differently by different individuals. Participants identified four main influencing factors in making value judgements: (1) time since graduation; (2) supervision; (3) accrued social connectivity; (4) employer value of the doctorate.

The four core themes of doctoral value, and the four influences on value judgements, were consistent across all participants’ accounts of their doctoral and graduate experiences.

Our conceptual model of doctoral value (below) was developed from these findings and provides a frame of reference for discussions of value, and value added in the design and quality assurance of doctoral programmes.

Supervision was the major influence on students’ perceptions of value. In line with other research, participants cited issues with supervisory support and relationship quality as causal in creating either positive or negative doctoral experiences. Those describing positive supervision relationships also cited supervisors as key proponents of their development, compared to those who reported poor relationships. The supervisory relationship is of key importance across much of the literature about the doctoral experience, and a number of sources highlight the relationship as being pivotal to successful completion.

Achieving Balance in Research Supervision – pre-session preparation

In some ways the doctorate is a journey and the thesis is merely evidence that a candidate collects along the way. At the start of this journey a student may require a great deal of guidance, but by the time they reach their destination they should have developed into an independent scholar. This learning and development requires an appropriate supervisorial balance of support and challenge. In this session we’ll examine the doctoral journey and consider what type of intellectual, professional and psychological support is required at each point of the journey.

In preparation for this session, please would you consider the model below (adapted from Gurr, 2001). If you want to, you can access the original article.

Geoff M. Gurr (2001) Negotiating the “Rackety Bridge” — a Dynamic Model for Aligning Supervisory Style with Research Student Development, Higher Education Research & Development, 20:1, 81-92, DOI: 10.1080/07924360120043882

The journey (what Gurr refers to as the ‘rackety bridge’) towards scholarly independence involves a degree of student apprenticeship and different types of supervisory support at different stages. Of course, every student is different, as is every supervisory partnership.

So, as preparation for this session could you spend a little time thinking about:

1. What sort of supervisory support is appropriate and when? Essentially what ‘works’ for you?
2. Should this support be purely technical or are other types of interaction required?
3. What sort of support did your supervisor provide that was particularly helpful? What was not particularly helpful?
4. What ‘good practice’ have you collected that you can share?

Come along ready to share your thoughts.

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”

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”

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”

ally with your stressed students

I guest posted here on the Supervision Whisperers’ blog a couple of weeks ago on how we might ‘design-in’ self-care strategies for doctoral students. In response a few supervisors have been in touch to ask about how they might approach a student they believe to be stressed, without making things worse. Visible stress symptoms:

Continue reading “ally with your stressed students”

October is coming…

Dear doctoral supervisor,

“I was blissfully unaware how long it would take me to write up. To be honest I would have preferred a more clear marker from my supervisor, or from the department, saying stop doing experiments now and write! I was expecting someone to say when I had enough data, because I never felt I did, so instead I kept going much longer than I needed in the lab because I didn’t know how much was enough. I feel pretty annoyed about that.”

The 31st of October is coming. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With still 6 months to go, now is a perfect time to make sure that your thesis writers know it’s time to spend some time each week — an hour a day, every day? — writing. Continue reading “October is coming…”

PhD –> postdoc no sweat, or posthoc regret?

I work a lot with stuck and panicking PhD researchers near the end of their time here, and from them I have some intel to share. Bear in mind then that what follows doesn’t represent an ever so typical experience, but it does represent an important and keenly felt negative experience. One we can all learn from as colleagues in researcher development: be your role full time academic superhero and supervisor, or like mine, a specialist learning and development role, I think this will be relevant to you. Continue reading “PhD –> postdoc no sweat, or posthoc regret?”

coaching myths and coaching legends

I teach professional practices in coaching and mentoring* in an education context and have developed some short workshops for academic supervisors and principal investigators that focus on the relational aspects of research leadership and use coaching techniques as the basis for conversations that help people develop their thinking and understanding. Continue reading “coaching myths and coaching legends”

a willingness to accept uncertainty and make oneself vulnerable in the face of insecurity

Trust is often mentioned as an important part of ‘good’ supervision relationships but the literature is fairly vague on what we mean by ’trust’.

Continue reading “a willingness to accept uncertainty and make oneself vulnerable in the face of insecurity”