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It is the aim of PhD programmes to ensure that their PhD students become skilled researchers. A key factor in a successful PhD programme is the supervision process. This process is a partnership between the supervisor and the PhD student, where both parts must play a positive role. The supervisor must give the necessary guidance, while the student must be able to take the initiative regarding the performance of the programme. Good communication between the supervisor and the student is necessary throughout, but especially at the start the expectations of both parts must be clarified and agreed. This paper seeks to describe some of the main elements of the supervision process. These include finding the right person, matching of expectations, project planning, meeting activities, optimising the research environment, and text production. The paper also describes some ways in which problems can be avoided and also, if they do arise, how these can be solved. In all cases, these questions are addressed both from the supervisor’s and the student’s point of view. The paper underlines that the supervision is a two-way process that continually needs to be nurtured.
M.A.R.B. Castanho and G. Güner-Akdogan (eds.), The Researching, Teaching,
and Learning Triangle, Mentoring in Academia and Industry 10,
DOI 10.1007/978-1-4614-0568-9_5, © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012
5.1 Introduction
This chapter is aimed at supervisors and PhD students and gives advice about
how the parties can collaborate to ensure a successful supervision process and
ultimately produce a dissertation of high quality. Good supervision is essential for a
successful degree programme. The purpose of the publication is to assist supervi-
sors and PhD students in optimising the supervision process. The overall aim is to
emphasise the importance of positive and productive collaboration between stu-
dents and supervisors.
A good student is a curious and committed individual who is ambitious and pre-
pared to be dynamic and take initiatives during the PhD degree programme.
Similarly, a good supervisor is an individual who – in addition to relevant academic
knowledge, international networks and solid research production – is good at com-
municating, creating the right environment and promoting personal and academic
growth in the PhD student.
Chapter 5
Successful PhD Supervision: A Two-Way
Gitte Wichmann-Hansen, Lise Wogensen Bach, Berit Eika,
and Michael J. Mulvany
Faculty of Health Sciences, Aarhus Graduate School of Health Sciences,
Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark
This chapter is based on a booklet, with the same title as the title of this article, prepared as the
Aarhus Graduate School of Health Sciences. Both students and supervisors were deeply involved
in the process of identifying and selecting the typical problems discussed here. Together with the
PhD student counsellor and the leadership of the graduate school, they have identified solutions
and tools that can help promote a good supervision process. This chapter describes and discusses
a number of these tools.
56 G. Wichmann-Hansen et al.
It is the aim of PhD programmes to ensure that their PhD students become
tional research environment after finishing the dissertation. The graduate school
should thus ensure that all students have optimum conditions for developing their
research potential. The responsibility for this lies both with the individual student
to complete the PhD programme, and with the supervisor who is responsible for
providing support throughout this process in the form of qualified feedback and
general advice. All parties are responsible for ensuring that the process functions
We hope this chapter will contribute to the continued improvement of the quality
of the supervision process for the benefit of both PhD students and supervisors.
5.2 Find the Right Person
There are several ways to commence a PhD programme. Perhaps it will start with a
Panel 5.1 Finding the right person
5 Successful PhD Supervision
procedure, both the student and the supervisor must clearly state their expectations
to the other party before committing to working together.
The questions in Panel 5.1 are intended as a supplement to the basic assessment
of academic qualifications preceding a serious dialogue about a possible coopera-
tion. The questions can assist both student and supervisor in determining whether
the right person has been found to collaborate with, and that both parties know the
other person’s approach to supervision requirements, supervision style, work meth-
ods, etc., and are able to agree on the way they want to collaborate.
When stating expectations and needs for a working relationship lasting
several years, it is important to understand that both parties are part of a larger con-
text. Both supervisors and students are part of a network of colleagues, manage-
ment, and rules, and both have private life and professional commitments to
5.3 Matching Expectations and Roles
During the initial meetings, the supervisor typically assesses the academic level of
the student, whereas the student primarily checks whether the right chemistry is
present [1, 2]. However, one of the most important aspects of establishing a good
supervision process is to create the right match of expectations and roles [3]. The
whole process works much more smoothly if the parties are able to commence the
collaboration by expressing their expectations to the exact form of the working
relationship and the sharing of responsibilities.
A number of specific topics should be addressed – and questions asked – during
the initial meetings:
Be open about your thoughts regarding resources – are additional funds required,
outstanding, etc.?
Many PhD programmes stipulate requirements about active participation in s
research environments and gaining teaching experience. Do the student and the
supervisor agree on the practical interpretation of these requirements?
PhD programmes involve various more or less compulsory activities such as s
summer schools and targeted courses. What does the programme in question
offer and what are the student’s plans?
For some tasks, the entire responsibility lies with the supervisor, for example s
applications, notices convening meetings, etc. Who will be responsible for
58 G. Wichmann-Hansen et al.
Some PhD programmes include a period abroad. What attitude do the student s
and the supervisor have to study periods abroad?
5.4 Project Planning and the PhD Plan
PhD programmes will normally be based on a research and study plan (the PhD
plan) for the individual student [4, 5]. The PhD plan can be more or less detailed,
but should include a timetable, an agreement about the form of supervision, plans
activities, a budget and agreements regarding copyrights and patents, if applicable.
The intention of the PhD plan is to ensure that the student and the supervisor make
their expectations clear.
It is important that both parties are aware of expectations and plans at all times
and are open to changes and new ideas. Regular meetings with the supervisor or the
guaranteeing a sufficient progression and quality. These meetings should include
conferences, teaching, etc.) and career planning. In the literature, these meetings are
to attend to process issues [6]. However, it has been argued that supervisors have a
tendency to neglect process issues like students’ writing skills, ability to manage
time, seek realistic goals, ability to communicate verbally, etc. [7]. It is important to
ing/publishing results. It is also a study and learning process that needs facilitation
by supervisors.
5.5 Meeting Activities
Regular supervision meetings are essential for the supervision process, as they pro-
vide a regular forum for advice and academic assistance. It is recommended that
meetings should be regular, planned and systematic, whether they focus on process
issues (status, deadlines, well-being, relations, etc.) or product-related issues (data,
analysis, results, drafts for manuscripts, etc.).
Students and supervisors must agree on how often to meet. It is therefore a good
idea to prepare a meeting calendar early in the programme. It ensures ongoing dia-
logue in what is often a busy working life. Planned meetings cannot be replaced by
informal daily contact. The points in Panel 5.2 show some of the points that should
be dealt with. Note that it is recommended that it is the student who takes the initia-
tive to the meetings.
5 Successful PhD Supervision
5.6 Research Environment
Next after the student–supervisor relationship, the research environment is crucial
for a successful PhD programme [8]. Here the size and scientific excellence of the
department and the institution are central to creating the conditions for a positive
outcome. Another crucial point is the number of PhD students. Here, a delicate bal-
ance exists between assuring the PhD student close contact to other PhD students
and avoiding that the number of PhD students per supervisor is so high that the
individual student does not get sufficient supervision. No exact number can be
given. This being dependent on the supervisor and the students concerned. However,
none of these can be effective if students are not involved in the academic network.
Panel 5.3 shows some of the points that should be considered.
Panel 5.2 Meeting activities
60 G. Wichmann-Hansen et al.
Panel 5.3 Research environment
5 Successful PhD Supervision
5.7 Text Production
Students and supervisors should agree on how they plan to work with manuscripts
and presentations [9]. People have different ways of writing and different needs for
feedback and advice. Some people write many drafts and improve them along the
way in accordance with the overall goal. Others write finished sections right away
in accordance with a carefully prepared outline. Some need assistance to plan the
material – others need assistance with communication or procedures. Common to
all is the fact that writing an article is something one has to learn and that the feed-
back from the supervisor should match the student’s experience. It should therefore
change character as the PhD programme progresses [10]. The points in Panel 5.4
show some of the points to consider.
The content and structure of the PhD dissertation is normally discussed between
the student and the supervisor, but it is naturally the student who has the final
responsibility for the content. The supervisor’s main task is to supervise, i.e. to
support the writing process and ensure that the dissertation can be assessed, which
means that it should be submitted correctly and comply with formal requirements.
5.8 Advice and Assistance
to quickly agree on a solution and no problem is too small to be discussed. Both stu-
dents and supervisors should address any aspects they are unhappy with or puzzled
about and try to solve the problem informally through dialogue. No matter how trivial
the problem may appear, you are encouraged to initiate a discussion as soon as pos-
sible. Students or supervisors can seek advice and assistance from colleagues, who
often have experience with similar situations, co-supervisors who know the entire
supervisor group and the PhD system or the leadership of the graduate school.
If problems arise, the student or the supervisor should first of all determine
whether the problem has to do with the relationship between the parties. This most
often happens when the parties have not discussed and agreed beforehand how to
handle the topic [11]. Specific problems should be discussed at a supervision meet-
ing. The student or supervisor concerned should try to discuss the issue in general
and non-accusatory terms and ask whether it is possible to change the form of the
Prepare thoroughly. What should be said and clarified, and how can it be said and s
still maintain constructive collaboration?
The issue should be clarified in writing and distributed to the participants so they s
have time to think of possible solutions. Formulating a problem in writing also
makes it easier to understand.
Do not address serious topics immediately before holidays or important events.s
Create a good setting for the conversation – make coffee available and make sure s
there is sufficient time and that the meeting will not be disturbed.
62 G. Wichmann-Hansen et al.
Panel 5.4 Text production
5 Successful PhD Supervision
Avoid making accusations. Base arguments on one’s own situation, and explain s
how one experiences the other party’s words or actions.
Use examples to explain one’s situation, if possible.s
5.9 PhD Student Counsellor
It is our experience that the student–supervisor relationship can be strengthened by
the appointment of a PhD student counsellor. This person should be independent of
the Graduate School leadership and someone who can meet confidentially with
both supervisors and students for assistance in case of problems with the supervi-
sion. Such a PhD student counsellor can offer personal conversations with students
or supervisors who experience difficulties or unsatisfactory situations with regard
to supervision. The counsellor can also give advice to students concerning personal
motivation, the social environment at the workplace, etc. In that regard, the PhD
student counsellor provides professional assistance by helping the students and
supervisors to clarify their situations and options. In case of difficulties with the
collaboration, the PhD student counsellor can also give advice about rights and
obligations within the PhD degree programme and provide an overview of possi-
bilities for conciliation.
If the problem cannot be solved in any other way, the possibility of changing the
composition of the supervisor group should be considered. It is incumbent on both
student and supervisor to take action if circumstances are preventing the completion
5.10 Conclusion
In conclusion, successful supervision is not something you can take for granted. It
relies on both supervisor and student to fully engage in the research work as well as
the study process. It requires both parties to regularly and deliberately reflect upon
their relationship, roles, responsibilities, ambitions, etc. Successful supervision is a
two-way process!
3rd edn. Open University Press, Buckingham
University Press, Maidenhead
64 G. Wichmann-Hansen et al.
6. Olga D, Akylina S (2006) (red) Forskningsveiledning på master – og doktornivå. Abstrakt
Forlag. Norge, Oslo
supervisor relationship. Open University Press, Berkshire
8. Delany D (2008) A review of the literature on effective PhD supervision. Centre for Academic
Practice and Student Learning, Trinity College.
9. Dysthe O (2009) What factors influence the improvement of academic writing practices? A
study of reform of undergraduate writing in Norwegian higher education. In: Bazerman C,
Routledge/Taylor & Francis, New York, NY
10. Lauvås P, Handal G (2005) Optimal use of feedback in research supervision with master and
doctoral students. Nordisk Pedagogik 3:177–189
11. Grant B, Graham A (1994) Guidelines for discussion: a tool for managing postgraduate super-
vision. In: Zuber-Skerrit O, Ryan Y (eds) Quality in postgraduate education. Kogan Page,
12. Karolinska Institutet (2008) Successful supervision – a dialogue facilitator. HTTPKISEKIJSP
POLOPOLYJSPDALEN (a fine check list for the initial discussions about
personal expectations of supervision and work processes)
link about matching expectations)
14. Clarifying expectations. The Australian National University. http://researchsuper.cedam.anu. (a very useful link about clarifying and
matching expectations)
15. Morrel K. Supervisors’ questions to think about before applying to do a PhD http://www. (a list of questions for supervisors to ask
students at an early stage)
... Increased number of postgraduate students according to research done in Brazil improves the economy of a country among other things, leading to general development of the country [29]. Although some studies [30,31,32] have reported on the nature of PhD supervisors', they have not focused on PhD supervision in the faculties of education in the South African context. ...
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This article addresses the challenges encountered by doctoral supervisors as they interact with their doctoral students in the contexts of South African universities. In a qualitative study of seven doctoral (PhD) supervisors and six PhD students, data was collected using interviews to examine the challenges supervisors experience as they supervise doctoral students. The PhD students were included in this study in because their responses would confirm or refute supervisor's views/opinions that emanated from their experiences in a social, cultural, and political context. Data analysis showed that doctoral supervisors experienced multiple challenges including overworking, time, and a set of academic characteristics of PhD students. Overall, the results of this study suggest that certain aspects among doctoral students who have completed doctorates in South African context, and their supervisors in different parts of the world would provide a starting point in the understanding of the implications of these aspects and their effect on the selection of doctoral students and the ongoing research in doctoral supervision in the South African context. doctoral supervision.
... Many postgraduate students have failed to complete their research within the stipulated time frame or have given up conducting their research due to problems related to inadequate supervision. Wichmann-Hansen et al. (2012) stated that the responsibility for completing a dissertation or thesis within a reasonable time lies on both the postgraduate student and the supervisor. Moreover, the relationship between a supervisor and a postgraduate student has always been considered as a key factor in determining the success or failure of postgraduate students' research work. ...
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Effective supervision received by postgraduate students boosts their motivation to produce a high quality research. This paper looks at the perceived postgraduate research supervisory practices and satisfaction towards supervision among supervisees at Faculty of Education in a Malaysian public university. Data was collected through a questionnaire on the sample of 45 Part 3 full-time Master’s degree (Coursework) students. However, only 33 sets of questionnaires were returned to the researchers (response rate=94.3%). It was found that most supervisees perceived that their dissertation supervisors have continually applied various supervisory practices during the supervision session and they were very satisfied with the supervision that they have received. Furthermore, there was a positive, strong, and significant relationship between the perceived supervisory practices and supervisees’ satisfaction. Nevertheless, there were no significant differences between perceived supervisory practices and courses, as well as between perceived supervisory practices and frequency of meeting. As for the implications of this study, it contributes to the corpus of knowledge in the area of postgraduate supervision in local higher education institution context and provides empirical data to assist the Ministry of Education in conducting strategic planning to enhance implementation of effective supervisory practices among postgraduate research supervisors.
... The crucial role of supervision is recognized, successful supervision being a two-way process, with responsibilities on both sides. Formal contracts are made in many graduate schools between supervisor and PhD student upon enrolment, underscoring the need for qualified supervision with relevant courses for supervisors, and also students [9]. Increasingly there is also agreement about the need for interdisciplinarity, and in some instances giving PhD students career development opportunities through being exposed to industry and other relevant employment sectors during their training. ...
... A key driver for facilitating successful and timely completions is the input of such data to national research assessment exercises such as: the UK's 'Research Excellence Framework [REF]' (HEFCE, 2011), and the Australian 'Excellence in Research for Australia [ERA]' (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010). Previous research has identified the issue of research supervision as being a critical factor in PhD completions (Baird, 1995; Barnes & Austin, 2009; HEFCE, 2011; Wichmann-Hansen et al, 2012). A major Australian report on PhD supervision, conducted at the Australian National University [ANU], (Cullen et al, 1994, p.108), concluded that, " …the identification of effective supervisory practice was best accomplished not through simple aggregation of existing best practice, but rather through the deconstruction of supervisory practice and through the identification of those aspects of supervisory practice which would most benefit from strengthening, elaboration and change. ...
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From PhD-doing to PhD-done is not as from A to B. This research aims to improve the understanding of the complex relationship between doctoral research and the supervisory process. The research model developed utilises repertory-grids and discussion is presented in relation to the nature of factors contributing to successful completions. The paper is argumentative in nature and provides insights to a complex process which is largely untested. A supervisory model previously presented by the authors (Aranda-Mena & Gameson, 2004) is tested in two areas: (1) the research process and (2) personality factors. The research increases common understanding of what it takes to complete a PhD, and the supervisory challenges in such a long process. It is concluded that supervision is a key factor in completing a PhD, and in developing the intellectual, analytical and research skills expected of PhD graduates. The authors call for more research, both theoretical and, in particular, empirical, in this important area.
Full-text available
For students as novice researchers, a master’s thesis is the most demanding component because it requires them to display and learn research skills and work independently. Unfortunately, master thesis supervision has remained far from the limelight of university pedagogy. Drawing on mixed-methods research, this paper characterizes the writing and supervising of a master’s thesis from the perspective of cultural-historical activity theory. It presents various components of the activity system and how the interaction between these systems creates conflicts and contradictions. The implications of such an understanding to effective master’s thesis writing and supervision have been provided.
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Ph.D. students need to be supervised by someone with an international reputation so that the name on the recommendation letter carries weight. But they also must not be professors traveling from place to place, frequently leaving campus, and missing mentoring sessions to advance their careers. They have to be recognized, well-known, but also able to guide you without constantly refusing to meet you just because you have to take outside of the university. Many students affirm that they never received any satisfactory, effective, or useful guidance during the study. The student in Ph.D. research-level needs to have the right to choose a supervisor with whom he has a good relationship. However, as the bureaucracy in graduate management at universities increases, administrators and administrators' "pair" prospective doctoral students with supervisors more and more frequently. That will create bad cooperation and an uncreative scientifical product. A good supervisor-student relationship requires the joint efforts of both parties. Many Ph.D. students get into unnecessary trouble because they make some very common mistakes in their relationship with their supervisors. Unfortunately, our experience tells us that many students do not think deeply about this relationship and that most problems are predictable and avoidable. The study aims to interpret the negative action of supervisor practices of Ph.D. students during the supervising phasis and will classify the critical factors and types of a bad Ph.D. supervision.
The advent of the Information Age leading to the democratisation and massification of higher education has led to institutions of higher learning (IHL hereafter) offering more flexible and diverse learning modes that allow adult learners to pursue their studies and upgrade their skills. Researchers note that while IHLs have witnessed a steady increase in the number of postgraduate enrolments, close to 40–50 % of these postgraduates students often leave without completing their doctoral studies. The high attrition rate coupled with the low-completion rate of research students has put a critical demand on IHL to critically examine supervision practices. Therefore, this paper puts forward the findings of an exploratory pilot study which investigated the perceptions of 32 postgraduate supervisors from two local universities in Malaysia. It explored supervisors’ perspectives from a variety of aspects ranging from their roles and responsibilities to supervisory practices and level of support they provide to postgraduate students at various stages of writing a thesis. Data were collected using a questionnaire and semi structured interviews. Initial findings revealed that a majority of the supervisors felt that the main role of a supervisor is to help, coach and keep the students on track so that they can meet the required standards and quality in producing their thesis for examination at the end of their candidature. The supervisors also highlighted that a majority of postgraduate research students not only lacked reading, writing and research skills; but also the ability to take responsibility for and ownership of their work. The implications of the study suggest that postgraduate supervisors need to re-examine their roles in today’s changing landscape of postgraduate supervision.
Full-text available
The objective of this article is to study the perception that graduate students have of the thesis supervisor (tutor) during his/her graduate studies. Three Master programs were considered in the study to identify factors that influence motivation and satisfaction towards the work made by the thesis advisor and being able to identify possible improvement areas in benefit of graduate studies. This is a descriptive and transversal study with information collected from 60 graduate students. The results show that graduate students are satisfied with the guide provided by their thesis advisors, feeling an adequate emotional connection, feedback, motivation and words of encouragement from the advisors. However, it was found that the lack of willingness by the students to continue with the thesis is an element causing that a significant percentage have not obtained the master degree. Intervention strategies such as tracing academic careers and the implementation of thesis workshop are proposed.
Full-text available
From PhD-doing to PhD-done is not as from A to B. This research aims to improve the understanding of the complex relationship between doctoral research and the supervisory process. The research model developed utilises repertory-grids and discussion is presented in relation to the nature of factors contributing to successful completions. The paper is argumentative in nature and provides insights to a complex process which is largely untested. A supervisory model previously presented by the authors (Aranda-Mena & Gameson, 2004) is tested in two areas: (1) the research process and (2) personality factors. The research increases common understanding of what it takes to complete a PhD, and the supervisory challenges in such a long process. It is concluded that supervision is a key factor in completing a PhD, and in developing the intellectual, analytical and research skills expected of PhD graduates. The authors call for more research, both theoretical and, in particular, empirical, in this important area.
The process of supervising research students is not always smooth, and supervisors on occasion encounter difficult students whose research momentum is problematic. Some of the troubles supervisors experience are described, and remedies such as motivating students, issuing warnings to them and relinquishing the supervisory role are discussed. An alternative strategy is suggested, that of the negotiation of a written contract between supervisor and student, and the foundations of this form of agreement are examined. This is followed by a proposed outline for such a contract. Criticisms of this strategy are then discussed, and the article concludes with a call for more consideration to be given to a strategy rarely utilised or even considered in the process of research student supervision.
This handbook is a practical and realistic explanation of the processes of doing research for a PhD in the British educational system. Students and supervisors will find useful advice, including suggestions on how to manage the student-supervisor relationship. The chapters are: (1) "Becoming a Postgraduate"; (2) "Getting into the System"; (3) "The Nature of the PhD Qualification"; (4) "How Not To Get a PhD"; (5) "How To Do Research"; (6) "The Form of the PhD Thesis"; (7) "The PhD Process"; (8) "How To Manage Your Supervisor"; (9) "How To Survive in a Predominantly British, White, Male, Full-Time Academic Environment"; (10) "The Formal Procedures"; (11) "How To Supervise and Examine"; and (12) "Institutional Responsibilities." (Contains 47 references.) (SLD)
This handbook is a practical guide for the novice and experienced supervisor of Ph.D. students focusing on the British system. The book is organized to follow the progress of a student from starting out to a career after the viva voce examination. The chapters are: (1) "A Most Persuasive Piece of Argument"; (2) "Caught and Held by a Cobweb: Getting the Student Started"; (3) "The Balance between Tradition and Progress: Designing and Planning a Project"; (4) "Old Manuscripts: The Literature Review"; (5) "Heavy and Thankless Task: Overseeing the Data Collection"; (6) "Disagreeableness and Danger: Keeping Up the Student's Motivation"; (7) "Contorted Corkscrew: The Getting and Giving of Judgement"; (8) "An Emotional Excitement: Writing Up the Thesis"; (9) "A Lack of Genuine Interest: Choosing the Right External and Preparing the Student for the Examination"; (10) "The Brave Pretence at Confidence: Launching the Student's Career"; and (11) "A Rather Unpromising Consignment: Selecting Successful Students and Building a Research Culture." An appendix lists sources for further reading. (Contains 167 references.) (SLD)
Effective postgraduate supervision. Improving the student/­supervisor relationship
  • A R Eley
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Expectations in supervision of M
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A review of the literature on effective PhD supervision Centre for Academic Practice and Student Learning, Trinity College. http:// webcache. googleuserconten t. com/ search? q= cache: yXOchqBfKAcJ: www. tcd. ie/ CAPSL/ academic_ practice/ worddocs/ Effective_ Supervision_ Literature_ Review
  • D Delany
Successful supervision – a dialogue facilitator jsp? d= 15591& a= 58222& l= en (a fine check list for the initial discussions about ­personal expectations of supervision and work processes)
  • Institutet