Last week I looked at the role of the student in making an awesome PhD program. This week it is the supervisor.
The supervisor is probably the most neglected element of the PhD program. Yet, the supervisor has the largest impact on student experience. Indeed, most students cite supervisory difficulties as their reason for discontinuing a PhD1. At worst, supervisors are allowed to take on a (virtually) unlimited number of students. Finding ways around the system by having Post-Docs or other researchers named as supervisors on paper; when really, they have limited involvement. At best, supervisors are provided with ad hoc as well as on-going support. Encouraged to include selection and vetting processes that help ensure they are a match with their prospective students; as well as support groups to discuss and resolve issues as they arise. Few, if any, universities are providing this level of support. For the most part, supervisor training is a one-off exercise with a range of modules available over a 12-month period2. Just like with students, one-off training is great, but on-going support is better.
How well do your PhD
students and supervisors
Regardless of the support provided to the supervisor, there is no substitute for a good fit between the PhD student and the supervisor. Therefore, as a PhD Program Director the best support you can provide your supervisors is encouragement to test and trial their students. That could be via short meetings or interviews; internships (over summer); honours programs; or undergraduate programs.
Like students, knowing the motivation for a person supervising PhD students is important. Are they looking to grow their research team, and PhD students are part of that selection process? Is it cheap labour? Is it about meeting a requirement for promotion? Is it about giving back to the research community? No reason is better or worse than any other but knowing why will give PhD Program Directors an insight into how they might be able to motivate their supervisors and/or which projects, or PhD students might be a better fit.
Happy creating the next generation of researchers and critical thinkers!
Next week, the focus will be about the research program itself.
1Thesis Whisperer, Why do people quit their PhD? And references therein, https://thesiswhisperer.com/2014/03/26/why-do-people-quit-the-phd/, accessed 11 July 2018
2Flinders University, HDR Supervisor Professional Development Program, https://www.flinders.edu.au/graduate-research/supervisors/supervisor-training.cfm, accessed 12 July 2018