Supervision Blog

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 …’.

The UK Quality Assurance Agency’s documentation supports this analysis, and adds that ‘Higher Educations providers accept research students only into an environment that provides support for doing and learning about research…’.  The code also suggests that Higher Education providers appoint supervisors with appropriate skills and subject knowledge to support and encourage research students’, however what institutions deem as appropriate is potentially difficult to ascertain.

That an effective supervisor ‘achieves high completion rates, has candidates submit within expected time frames, engages in multiple supervisions and receives excellent supervisory reports(Delany again, but also language we see reflected in many institutional ‘Supervisor Statements’ and ‘Codes of Practice’) could be challenged as being a reductionive attempt to describe what is actually a highly complex relationship, with expectations to ba managed on both sides.

There is a recognised need for research regarding the management of postgraduate research students expectations and tools to explore the supervisory relationship (e.g. Ali, Watson and Dhingra, 2016; Benmore, 2016). Yet there appears to be a reluctance or hesitation to take supervisory conversations into what may seem a less ‘academic’ place, engaging in personal dialogue that takes supervisors and students beyond personal and professional boundaries.

Gina Wisker (2003) states on p24 that a good supervisorstudent relationship can only thrive if both parties share mutual expectations and have established ground rules about the regularity, type and focus of supervisions and I would agree.

Though, for many the question is how do we do this?

A plethora of research on communication and consultation skills exists in a medical context with many of the models being transferable to the supervisory relationship. I have successfully adapted the Health Belief Model (Becker and Maiman, 1975) which originally gave clinicians a structured conversational model to explore the patients ‘Ideas, Concerns and Expectations’ (ICE) with regards to their health.

The ICE model of communication applied to supervision, gives a framework for a discussion that allows exploration and management of not only the student’s ideas, concerns and expectations of their studies and how life may impinge on those studies, but also the management of the supervisors own ICE for the period of study.

Each person in this relationship (and there many be multiple supervisors) has the ability to understand and manage Ideas, Concerns, and Expectations by contributing to the discussion in a meaningful manner: through active listening and participation. Through this we not only ‘manage’ expectations but we also ‘match’ our expectations through open discussion of our perceptions and the realities of each of our situations.

The following scenario shows how the ICE model could be used to manage and match expectations.

During the first supervision conversation the supervisor uses the ICE model to find common ground and understand the student’s perceptions and expectations of a PhD and their expectations of the supervisor using, for example, the following questions:

  • What do you think a PhD is? (Idea)
  • Are you worried about anything? (Concern)
  • What do you think you’re going to be doing during the PhD? (Expectation)

By giving time to this basic dialogue the supervisor(s) begin to build a relationship with the student as they are all engaged in the process, the supervisor is able to explore and explain the requirements of doctoral study and manage the ‘idea’ of what the PhD journey is likely to entail.

By asking about ‘worries’ the supervisor opens their office door to personal as well as professional worries – but worries exist whethere they are vocalised or not. By discussing them the supervisory team can now anticipate whether personal challenges or barriers are going to impact on the student journey and how they can be managed by or with the student, or whether signposting is needed to support services.

By asking ‘what do you think you’re going to do?’ the supervisor(s) can appropriately manage (up, down or sideways) the student’s perceptions with the reality of what they may be doing during the journey through their PhD.

This scenario gives us an idea of how the ICE model could work and potentially deliver a less transactional ‘supervisor centred’ approach and allow supervisors to not only ascertain the student’s’ Ideas, Concerns and Expectations but it would allow them to manage their own expectations and those of the student in a more transformational ‘student centred’ approach.

The supervision journey can be a fraught experience an we’ve all heard a multitude of anecdotes of poor and of good experiences and their causes. Using Fleming’s quote ‘shaken not stirred’ as an analogy we can either violently shake or gently stir the ingredients together to gain our preferred Martini. Not every student will benefit from a violent shake up and the model above presents a less aggressive tactic for preparing our students as researchers.

We must also be careful that using the ICE model does not leave the students ‘on the rocks’. Ideas, Concerns and Expectations is a useful starting point but if there is no future engagement or exploration with the resulting conversation there is no point in making the student feel listened to, only to disappoint them through lack of follow up.

We must ask ourselves how we would wish to be treated. Using the ICE model gives us an opportunity to explore a situation and manage expectations not only of the research journey, but also to manage the expectations of the personal aspects of the supervisory relationship.

So I suppose the question is. How do you want your ICE, shaken or stirred?

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?”

Community Acuity (4) leading and following: a dance of equals

‘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. See also #comacu on the @predoctorbility Twitter.

This post is by Cristina Devecchi (@dmc_devecchi) Associate Professor in Education, University of Northampton. Continue reading “Community Acuity (4) leading and following: a dance of equals”

Community Acuity (3) taking the ‘super’ out of 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. See also #comacu on the @predoctorbility Twitter.

This post is by Tamara Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, University of Sheffield. Tamara’s own blog is here.
I don’t recall too much about being a PhD student. It was a wild, unstructured experience which, although fun at the time, in hindsight was not a good preparation for life as an academic. One thing I do recall, though, is my cousin’s drawing of her PhD supervisor (I couldn’t find it so please accept this image of Dr Hank McCoy by Evan Shaner) . He is a geeky superhero, trying his best to save the (PhD) world in which he lives, but obviously totally ill-equipped for the expectations bestowed upon him. Continue reading “Community Acuity (3) taking the ‘super’ out of supervisor”

the importance of creating a nurturing and creative research culture for you and your PhD students

This post is by Dr Rachel Cowen who is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Manchester. She specialises in creating and delivering researcher and academic development programmes nationally and internationally.

Researchers often liken their research experiences to the famous Thomas Edison quote about genius suggesting success is “one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”. Particularly at an early career stage many researchers invest a great deal of sweat and emotion reading huge volumes of literature in their field, doggedly repeating experiments that ‘won’t work’, poorly planning research with an ever expanding scope and going off at a tangent from their original line of enquiry with little thought or discussion. Continue reading “the importance of creating a nurturing and creative research culture for you and your PhD students”

Community Acuity (2) kindness and tough love: interacting with international students

‘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. See also #comacu on the @predoctorbility Twitter.

This post is by Dely ElliotLecturer in Education (Creativity Culture and Faith), University of Glasgow.

I am inspired by articles that I have read as well as a few events that I participated in recently, which impressed on me the idea that PhD supervision style tends to be strongly informed by one’s own experience of being supervised. Often, there are tacit traces of good supervisory examples, which were previously observed from the PhD supervisors’ own supervisors. Continue reading “Community Acuity (2) kindness and tough love: interacting with international students”