In the old days, the PhD was just a lone scholar with a supervisor. That situation created a lot of dependence and power imbalance. Nowadays, the universities are moving towards a supervisory-team model which diffuses imbalance and dependence. This shift requires a change in thinking and re-training on the side of supervisors – such as the research supervision trainingin University College Dublin, every last Friday afternoon.
The last meeting focused on:
i) Research supervisory styles
ii) Identification of roles and responsibilities
iii) Expectations of research students and supervisors
PhD aims to move the student from a dependent research mode to an autonomous one. In the classical model, the power and control in the relationship was distributed unequally. The supervisor controlled student’s working time, vacation, travel (to conferences) and thesis. She was the moon on the student’s sky, but for her, the student was only one of the many stars on her sky. She was there with all the cookies in the jar (See Figure 1). Success in such an uneven relationship, as measured by (PhD) completion, wasn’t guaranteed. Understanding of own communication style, role and expectations can help more PhDs finish and enjoy their work.
Personal tendencies of the supervisor and the PhD student can be very different. Because we naturally seek communication with similar-style students, and avoid students who don’t ‘talk our language’, it’s important to know your style. The Meyers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory (MBTI) can help you identify your style.
How many PhDs should you supervise at a time?
2, 3-4, 5, or 6-8?
There’s no definitive answer to this question. The value of the question is the question. The optimum number is Discipline-specific and also depends on the dynamic of the research group (note. not applicable for some disciplines). My two previous posts about the supervision training brought advice of Hugh Kearns, about the time management of academics, and Tadgh O’Keeffe, about the dangers of taking too many research students in the early career stages.
My first task on the research job in Ireland was to go through a two-foot high pile of articles, sort them and throw out irrelevant papers. For people new to research, it is important to clarify the expectations. According to the literature, clarification of the following areas was perceived as crucial by PhD students:
(1) Working practices
Timekeeping, annual leave, weekends – students found it useful if they were told to take the PhD as a full time job.
(2) Management of meetings
Agenda, minutes, goals are best delegated to students – it’s their PhD. Hugh Kearnsalso advised that meetings build structure into a relationship. Each mentoring meeting should have an agenda. Ask the student to send agendas in advance of the meetings.
Clarify to the student about the communication channels, Email, phone, etc., but most importantly, tell them about when to (not)call you and how prompt are you going to be responding.
With the increasing popularity of the co-supervision and supervisory teams, the role and involvement of the co-supervisor should be clear. We found the co-supervision useful in teaching addiction literature reviews, when I provided methodological advice to my PI’s students.
Recognisable transferable skills certificates or credits are in high demand globally. If you don’t believe in transferable skills training, your students won’t do it.
(6) Writing and publications
Ask students to write from the beginning. Give clear goals and set time frames. Clarify how you’re going to provide feedback on writing, ie. email or oral. Explain co-authorship of group papers. Borrow students your own thesis or give a printout of your paper.
This post offered my views on the third meeting of the new Research support and supervisor development programme at the University College Dublin, Ireland. This programme is targeted at new and experienced faculty who would like to refresh their knowledge in the area. The 6 last-Friday workshops are based on sharing of practices with experienced supervisors and students, case studies, open forum discussions and knowledge sharing with colleagues on policy in the research supervisory field. Watch this space for my observations from these workshops.