Supervision Blog

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.

Traditionally the relationship between supervisor and supervisee has been viewed as a master/apprentice, expert/novice one, with the supervisor as an authoritative figure, dispensing knowledge and advice. However, these types of relationships place power in the hand of the supervisor and positions the student as the lesser scholar, potentially patronised or infantilised. Even the terms ‘supervisor’ and ‘supervisee’ imply such positions for each party.

So, what is the purpose of doctoral education? Is it training? Is it the transmission of expertise? Is it the delivery of knowledge? I would argue it’s none of these things. For me this process is about creating spaces and opportunities to challenge assumptions within our fields and consider alternatives to these assumptions. It is in part a process of enculturation, learning to be active, competent experts within our field. It is part of inviting and inducting our students into an academic community. And in order to do this we need to treat them as genuine academics from the outset.

This involves working with our students in more collaborative, equitable ways, and genuinely valuing their contributions. It also requires the adviser (a much more equitable term!) to be careful and reflect upon their actions, and the impact of those actions, and it requires us to help our students expand their research capabilities. Such a perspective on this process recognises that our student are the future curators of the field, and our job as advisors becomes one not just of ‘skilling up’ our learners but of helping them to develop the repertoire (the day to day practices and behaviours) of a successful member of the academic community, one which mirrors established professional norms beyond the academy.

What our students will need reflects the fact that a patchwork of attributes are necessary to be successful in both doctoral study and in becoming an academic or other professional. These needs are personal, individual and dependent on who people are, where they come from and where they want to go. They will be moulded by an individual’s biography and should be more than just technical, instrumental and measurable. They might well include technical skills, but also they can include dispositions, attitudes, experiences, knowledge, ethical orientations, theoretical orientations, assumptions regarding knowledge and learning, ideological positions, understandings, and beliefs. These will differ in different contexts/disciplines and in where these disciplines merge (e.g. contexts of interdisciplinarity and co-production). Learners will engage with a broad variety of groups, networks and communities, and their resources are consequently learned through a wide variety of trajectories, tactics and technologies.

It’s important to realise that this view is not a denial of expertise/experience or knowledge, not a denial of the psychological safety students desire in feeling their supervisor is ‘expert’, not a ‘sink or swim’ abandonment of students but rather a structured programme of learning that works from the student’s current state of knowledge. It is not, either, a disregard of the importance of scholarship – rigour, subject knowledge, originality, significance, credibility nor a neglect of the demands of professional practice, and not a face-threat to the ‘supervisor’.

There are a number of avenues through which advisors can encourage their learners to begin to consider themselves as academic colleagues. Some of these might include:

  • Creation of student-determined spaces for authentic dialogue;
  • Work around critically considering the language of the discipline, and the assumptions inherent in this;
  • Repeated presentation and defence of work amongst supportive, yet challenging, peers;
  • Advisors sharing draft work with their students, viewing them as the kind of critical friends that they might do their peers;
  • Collaborative writing and co-publication between advisers and students, ensuring this is ethically done and the students get full credit for their contributions;
  • Questioning the discourse surrounding doctoral education – should we be supervisors or advisors (or mentors)? Would Doctoral Training Centres be better conceptualised as Doctoral Development Programmes? Could we replace Training Needs Analyses with Doctoral Development Analyses?

This approach to doctoral development is one in which learners are invited to take ownership of their learning and to develop their academic repertoire. As such, the doctoral process then becomes an invitation to a critical and principled inclusion in the academic discourse community.

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”

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”

designing self-care into the doctorate

Re-posted with permission from my original post on The Supervision Whisperers’ blog @superwhisperer.

Discussion of academic workloads, measurement culture, and the impact of stress on mental health, and wellbeing has seen some recent and well deserved attention. Many of us have known in an uncoordinated, experiential, day-to-day way about academic strain and stress for a while, through doing, supervising, or supporting research work. Those of us to whom doctoral researchers turn when they’re stressed, are glad to see the mental health needs of an at risk group of people being better documented and championed. Continue reading “designing self-care into the doctorate”

Community Acuity (1) the sympathetic supervision of 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 Jane Plastow, Professor of African Theatre, University of Leeds.  Continue reading “Community Acuity (1) the sympathetic supervision of international students”