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. Read the rest of this entry »
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.”
It’s 246 days until the 31st of October. I mention this date as we have around 1100 third year doctoral students whose theses are due on that date*. With 8 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. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been working as an insider in research and academic staff mentoring programmes for a good fair bit now, and I’ve tried to anchor my work in the idea that mentoring is for any and all people who see a benefit to being part of the programme. There are also people for whom mentoring is not the right approach right now: perhaps it’s not the right time, maybe they haven’t got enough time to dedicate to such an involved form of development, or maybe they need a more specialist conversation (e.g. specific funding expertise, english language support, software training, careers service consultation, disability services, counselling services, HR specialists, occupational health etc). It’s my job to facilitate this understanding, and to signpost to alternative/complementary services.
Not signing up to the mentoring programme is therefore ok with me. Similarly I count it as a positive outcome if a potential mentee changes their mind after attending the induction session and decides that mentoring is just not what they thought, or not for them. Properly engaging people in their development is not about coercing them. No-one needs to be guilted into 3-6h critical career evaluation over a 6 month period. Read the rest of this entry »
Through my thesis mentoring work, PhD supervisors write to me most weeks and ask — with varying tones of enthusiasm and frustration —
“how can I support/encourage/motivate/force my student to get their thesis written?”
I tailor my reply to the cues I pick up from the emails, the context, timing, relational aspects. I ask for more detail about what’s been happening. Sometimes I coach the supervisor, sometimes I coach the student. Read the rest of this entry »
This is a gust post from Saima Eman, a PhD Commonwealth Scholar in the Psychology Department and UREC student representative at University of Sheffield. She is also a Lecturer in Psychology at the Lahore College for Women University in Pakistan.
No relationship is perfect, and a student and supervisor are very lucky if they can build a trusting and respectful supervisory relationship. In this post, I share some precautions and practical tips to get the best match for you, and maintain good student-supervisor relations throughout the PhD, drawn from my own 17 years of experience in research.
Finding out about the academic and ethical reputation, working styles, and idiosyncrasies, of the potential supervisor will be significant to your whole future career. Do not rush into making commitments, take your time. Delve deeper into institutional and group rules and procedures before formally agreeing to work on the project. Try out a pilot study at the beginning if you can, take summer projects, research assistant posts, be choosy.
2nd Researcher Education & Development Scholarship (REDS) Conference — University of Sheffield — Friday 14th October 2016
Anchoring Researcher Development: theoretical mindsets
The second annual REDS conference will focus more deeply on the professionalisation of the researcher developer role and access to scholarly activity, and consider the challenges involved for practitioners in developing research ideas/projects. We aim to share and explore the designs, outcomes and impact of practice-based research into doctoral and post-doctoral experiences, researcher learning and development mechanisms, and enabling supervisory practices. The event is organised to provide opportunities to network and share professional and research practices across multiple perspectives and contexts for developing researchers.
I am getting well stuck in to a new project that looks at the relationship between students and supervisors. The project has its own blog and Twitter that are helping me collect stories of PhD supervision from across the country. Below are links to two pieces of writing on vulnerability on both sides of the relationship, that I have shaped up through the initial interviews and discussion groups:
‘Trust’ as a phenomenon can be understood as “willingness to accept uncertainly and make oneself vulnerable in the face of insecurity” (Hope-Hailey et al., 2012).
Through the perceptions of doctoral students and supervisors of what constitutes ‘quality’ in doctoral supervision relationships the project will develop practical tools to support academic relationship building.
So, if you are a doctoral student, or supervisor, please have a browse of the study information sheet available here, and share your supervision experiences on the main blog page. Comments are moderated so that we can ensure anonymity for everyone involved.
Announcing TRUST ME! A multi-university research study into doctoral student-supervisor relationships…
This project (@predoctorbility on Twitter) is about the relationship between doctoral students and their supervisors and it asks about the quality of that relationship: what constitutes ‘quality’, what does quality mean for learning, and how do you get a quality relationship, and how would you recognise if and when you have it?
The work I’m doing in this project looks at a the relationship between students and supervisors with a particular sharp focus. I want to understand more about what distinguishes a good quality supervision relationship, asking — it it the presence or absence of trust? And what kind of trust? We know from the literature in organisation, management and leadership studies that trust is important, and it’s mediated by the front line managers. Is it the same for student-supervisor relationships as it is for management relationships, are the academic staff the equivalent front-line managers? Opinions vary about supervision… is it leadership? What kind or leadership? What makes a good academic leader? Can supervision be more closely compared to management, or to learning and teaching. What rules apply?
I think we can at least all agree that the doctoral experience is intended to be a learning experience. Good working relationships play a critical role in workplace learning and the emotional dimension of professional work is significant (Eraut, 2004). Research into the role of emotion, and motivation as determinants of the student experience, successful completion of the doctorate, and academic ability is gaining momentum as a discipline (e.g. Cotterall, 2013; Jairam and Kahl, 2012; Wellington, 2010; Kearns et al, 2008). Emotionally competent leadership, as well as technical and intellectual mentorship is expected of academic leaders, and the need to establish good rapport and craft a ‘high-quality’ student-supervisor relationship has been emphasised (Jairam and Kahl, 2012).
So what do you think? I am collecting anonymous stories over on the TRUST ME! blog and your thoughts are needed.
Doctoral students, I’m interested in hearing about what your supervisor does that impacts on you, what makes all the difference, how are you supported, what does good supervision look like, how do you and your supervisor interact, how did you come to trust each other, is your relationship typical?
Supervisors, what’s your approach, where did you learn about supervision, how is it working for you, what does good supervision look like, what are the essentials for supervision, where does trust come from, how do you interact with your students?
I’ve recently read a journal paper by Nasriri and Mafakheri (2015) in Studies in Higher Education which nicely reviews the last 10 years of research into the challenges faced by academics and students faced with research supervision at a distance. It also goes on to offer strategies used to try to overcome some of the difficulties which I thought might be nice to share on here so that any of our readers, whether you are academics or students in this situation might benefit from it. Read the rest of this entry »
Academic work is commonly understood to be a tripartite trifle of research, teaching and admin. Researchers obviously have free and abundant access to doing research as a formalised part of their role, and can find admin work to do by joining formal research staff committees, organising sector conferences, and belonging to institutional special interest groups e.g. Athena Swann.
So what about teaching? Where do researchers learn not just how to ‘do teaching’ but also how to ‘be a teacher’ in a university setting. David Hyatt says that thinking beyond workshop learning and skills development, we need to aid researchers in developing ‘repertoires of practice’ that fit their work environment, doing academic work by a process of inclusion and actually supporting them to get on with the job. And for universities to do this properly we have to look around at the value that research staff offer to our teaching & learning, and supervision strategies.