Naming and Acclaiming the SuperVisionaries, and insight into who nominated whom…

You may have seen that I’ve been running a #SuperVisionaries ‘name and acclaim’ project where PGRs can recognise their great supervisors, and the impact of good supervision. Read more about the idea and the process for nominating and recognising supervisors here.

#SuperVisionaries is not competitive, there are no shortlists, and no awards — I have just simply named and thanked all those who do a great job for their PGRs.

It’s been brilliant to do this positive exercise and we got 199 nominations, which represents about 8% of our PGRs. They recognised 83 women* and 116 men as excellent supervisors. The gender split in the nominations, which is 42% women and 58% men, is proportionally, just about (if you squint) in line with the relative proportions of academic staff who work at Sheffield (33% women and 67% men). The staff proportions can be error-prone in various ways (academics who don’t supervise, supervisors who are registered in more than one dept…) so please just understand this as reflective speculation rather than absolute truth.

Interestingly though the split of PGRs at the University of Sheffield is 46% women and 54% men. In the nomination process, women took the time to write 145 of the 199 nominations (73%), compared to men who made 54 (27%), and only 10 men nominated women for recognition. [For completion in the dataset 72 women nominated men.]

Given the even-ish split of M/F PGRs we have, and the fact that men consistently report having a ‘better’ doctoral experience than women do (through tools like the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey), my aim for #SuperVisionaries 2019 then is then to get more men to recognise and thank their supervisors, especially their female supervisors.

Interestingly for me who is familiar with many of our supervisory staff, there are names that do not appear on the list who I totally expected to see. People I know to be phenomenal supervisors, tremendous mentors, and who I know have made a difference to their students. I am disappointed and sorry that their students didn’t thank them formally, but I guess maybe they are in the habit of thanking them personally rather then through an anonymous process? Or they didn’t realise what it would mean to a supervisor to be recognised (see below). Or perhaps, sadly, they missed the email ‘call for nominations’ and the reminder email? A second development for #SuperVisionaries 2019 then, could be to invite each of the the Departmental PGR Tutors to make sure that those supervisors that they see going above and beyond in their work are recognised too. This kind of recognition could potentially have impact on career progression for staff, and so it’s important to get a more rich and inclusive perspective of ‘excellent’. I think with time, the importance and the profile of this kind of recognition will grow, and no doubt those supervisors who are absolute diamonds will be named and acclaimed many times to come! And hey, if you know someone who wasn’t nominated and you feel should have been — please let them know how great you think they are!

Caution 1: While this initiative is intended to provide reflection and to start conversations around supervision, it can’t provide evidential support for career progression e.g. probation/promotion and shouldn’t be used for student recruitment purposes. Being recognised as a SuperVisionary is not based on any past or present framework of professional standards or values. There has been no stringent process of assessment of the nominated individuals. The ‘stories’ gathered are the reactive opinions of individuals, who are not qualified to critique or assess supervision in a way that should influence either of the above.

Caution 2: We should not compare across departments, even though it’s tempting, departments are not in competition with each other and I advise against using the numbers of nominations to conclude about dept cultures/practices. A department could receive a high number of nominations because, for example, SuperVisionaries was heavily promoted internally by e.g. PGR Tutor, because individual supervisors put pressure on student to nominate them, because the dept contains a high proportion of PGRs from more deferential cultures, because the dept contains a high number of students who know me well and read my emails. The numbers of students per supervisor, the degree stage of the individual student (meaning their relative time commitments), gender, location, etc will also influence a student’s inclination to nominate.

But back to the celebration, just a couple of examples that I LOVED are below…

 

The first comments back from the supervisors who were Acclaimed were:

 “I’m chuffed to bits to have been nominated in 2 categories. Given the pressure of the current metrics-driven climate, it’s good to know that the Department appears to be getting the balance right!”

“Oh MY GOD, whaaaaaaaaaaat?! Amazing!”

“This is really, really lovely and it’s made my day.”

“Thanks for doing this. The recognition really means a lot to me!”

“This has made my day, thank you. And thanks as well for continuing to keep the discussion about supervision active in people’s minds. Also, as you say, it’s just really nice to get positive feedback like this – it’s so rare that anyone says ‘hey, you’re doing a good job!’.”

I am happy to chat to anyone at any institution who would like to know more, and I’d be delighted if any of you want to copy/adapt the model. Spreading more positivity is important.

*both our student and staff systems only record two genders so I am only able to report men and women as recorded in our databases, nothing more inclusive. I know.

what does supporting international doctoral learners mean?

This is a guest post by a team from the School of Education at the University of Glasgow: Dr Dely Elliot, Dr Muir Houston, Dr Kara Makara, Dr Kate Reid, Dr Catherine Lido. They reflect here on their recent national event with the UK Council for Graduate Education.

We cannot fail to notice the strong presence of international doctoral learners in British Higher Education Institutions. After all, they comprise almost half of the entire doctoral community. Although they may be under the umbrella of ‘international learners’, they are far from being a homogeneous group as they often hail from different continents. Interestingly, their shared experience of being away from home to pursue what often becomes an isolated doctoral journey can also easily lead to comparable experiences of the rewards and concerns that international doctoral education entails. Continue reading “what does supporting international doctoral learners mean?”

recognising the valuable contribution that postdocs make to the supervision of PhD Students.

This is a guest post from Laura Lane, Head of Strategy and Operations at the Graduate School, Imperial College London and currently Chair of the UK Council for Graduate Education’s Graduate School Managers’ Network. Grad School twitter  |  facebook  |  Instagram

This blog post is designed to provide a practical example of how Imperial College London has chosen to formally recognise the valuable contribution that postdocs make to the supervision of PhD students.  It briefly summarises how and why the framework was established and provides links to all relevant documentation which forms part of the process.  I am very happy for colleagues to contact me with further questions about any aspect of this provision.

Background

During 2014-15, the Graduate School established an institution-wide project called, the world class research supervision project.  As part of this project, over 1,400 doctoral students and 400 academic staff shared their thoughts and experiences of research degree supervision at the College.  As a result, the College agreed 40 recommendations, covering many aspects of the research student experience, which were taken forward by seven task and finish groups.

Between 2016 and 2018, the Task and Finish Group for the Student Supervisor Partnership worked to address the recommendations which related specifically to supporting students and supervisors to have effective working relationships.  However, one other important aspect of this group’s work was to review the role and valuable contribution postdocs make to PhD supervision and to implement means of recognition.  This came through really strongly in the feedback received from staff and students as part of the original consultation.

Working Party for Recognising Postdocs

In order to take this forward, the Task and Finish Group for the Student Supervisor Partnership itself established a Working Party to look specifically at this recommendation.  The Working Party for Recognising Postdocs comprised academic staff from each of the College’s Faculties, Postdoc Reps, the Head of the Postdoc and Fellows Development Centre (Dr Liz Elvidge), representation from Human Resources and myself.  This Working Party met twice to consider the roles and responsibilities that postdocs carry out with respect to PhD supervision, the training and support needed in order for postdocs to carry out these roles effectively and finally to develop a process which formally recognises postdocs as Assistant Supervisors to PhD students.  At the first meeting, draft documentation was prepared and the Postdoc Reps were asked to consult with the Postdoc Rep Network on the draft paperwork and proposed process in time for the next meeting.

Recognising Postdocs

The following documents were developed by the Working Party for Postdocs, agreed by the Task and Finish Group for the Student Supervisor Partnership and approved by the College’s Postgraduate Research Quality Committee.  All have now been implemented.

  1. A roles and responsibilities document for the role of Assistant Supervisor
  2. Continuing Professional Development Framework for Assistant Supervisors which includes mandatory training and other recommended workshops and support.
  3. Assistant Supervisors also have access to the online Supervisors’ Guidebook which contains further resources and information to support them in their role.

The formal process for recognising postdocs as Assistant Supervisors was agreed with Human Resources (HR) and enables academic Departments to make requests for HR to issue formal notification of appointment to Assistant Supervisor, subject to completion of the mandatory online training course “introduction to supervision at Imperial College London” and with agreement from the postdoc’s line manager.  On a termly basis, the Graduate School confirms to Departments which postdocs have completed the mandatory training.

Concluding remarks

It is hoped that postdocs who are formally appointed to Assistant Supervisors will find this helpful in terms of their career development and can refer to this appointment on their CVs.  As a final note, the College also agreed to include reference to Assistant Supervisors in the Early Stage Assessment Form (9 month milestone) and Late Stage Review Form (18-24 month milestone).

Although driven by the Imperial College Graduate School there have been many contributors to this important project and I would like to extend thanks to all those who have shared their expertise and given up their time to contribute.

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 (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”

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?”

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?”