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.