Explore The Current State Of Practice Of Training Education Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The focus of this literature review was to explore the current state of practice of training and development for supervisors of postgraduate research degrees. The literature revealed a number of interesting trends worth noting before the issues raised within the literature themselves are discussed. Firstly, the majority of studies published in this area stemmed from Australia, the UK or Sweden, with other studies occurring around the world, but these being the main locations of research within this area. The Scandinavian countries have always been, and remain today, focussed on educational research, and provide an education system that is often held up as a benchmark around the world and hence it is not surprising that at least one country in this region is focussing in this area in particular. The UK has seen a mass expansion in Higher Education post the 1992 transition to a unitary sector, and the emergence of polytechnics into the university sector has led to a proliferation of development within this field, so again it is not surprising to see studies looking into the development of supervisors within the newer players within the sector. For Australia the push is possibly more one to do with building a future academic workforce and the need to establish itself as the expert source of knowledge in this field in the Asia-Pacific region and hence the literature here is more proactively looking at what is needed rather than evaluating what is already being provided, such as in the cases of Sweden and the UK.

Secondly, there is a general consensus amongst the papers reviewed that while various models of supervisor development are being proposed, none are being empirically tested as 'the model for the future' and it is likely that there will be no single model to fit all needs. Hence we are probably looking at some continuum or typology of supervisor development practice being developed internationally to meet the differing needs of students in different fields and at different points in their candidature. In addition it is worth noting that there is an absence of literature evaluating different methods of delivering supervisor development at different points of the supervisor's development. That is, there is a lack of empirical testing of which types of supervisor development delivery methods are most effective in which situations.

Finally, the notion of supervision itself is not really challenged. It is assumed and accepted that supervision is the best pedagogy to support research students - and while this may be the case - nobody is actually challenging this paradigm or considering alternative models. Models are offered of individual, group or mixed modes of supervision (see for example McCallin & Nayar, 2012), but the notion of supervision as a pedagogy is not challenged in itself.

With these provisos noted, the review presented here is organised into a number of themes. Firstly is the focus in the literature on the nature of research and hence the nature of supervision. Second are the reflections of supervisors on their own experience of being supervised and how this impacts on their own supervisory practice. Next we present issues around the expectations of students and their supervisors and how these interact before moving on to look at the development of supervisory skills through the academic career itself. Finally we present ideas around what a pedagogy might be for supervisor development.

The nature of research and supervision

Much of the literature reflects on the nature of research itself and hence how supervision is conceived, either as part of the research process or as a process of teaching and learning. Often, supervision is understood more in terms of research than it is in terms of teaching (Green & Lee, 1985), and hence the way in which a supervisor conceptualises research itself can create difficulties with research students, while Lee and McKenzie (2011) note that supervision is neither simply teaching nor research, but an uneasy bridge between both. If a student is expecting to be 'taught' they may find that the supervision experience does not meet their expectations, particularly if the supervisor is not distinguishing the supervision process from the research process itself. Bills (2004) notes the need for supervisors to challenge and openly interrogate the values and assumptions underpinning their own conceptions of research, and hence recognise the effects of power and authority produced by their conceptualisation or formulation of knowledge. Bills suggests that this would challenge the nature of truth in academic discourses and help supervisors engage in a critical and reflective knowing of their own practice, something that they may then be able to articulate to potential students before they begin their candidature to clarify expectations around the way in which they will work together prior to them committing to each other. Diversity of practice varies between disciplines also, and Gurr (2001) suggests that a supervisory model needs to rise above the discipline specific attributes and shift to a generic process of developing an ability to conduct research. He sees students as needing to move from a dependent, hands-on relationship to a hands-off support for a competently autonomous researcher through the progression of the candidature.

Brew (2001) similarly found the nature of research and process of inquiry to be underpinned by underlying conceptions about the nature of research, and noted that these were grounded in different academic domains, genders, cultural backgrounds and experience, bringing the epistemology of the supervisor and student to the forefront. This may be articulated by differences in the use of language by supervisors between genders to describe and discuss their practice of supervision (Hammick & Acker, 1998). Further, in his study across seven disciplines, Gardner (2009) found that both disciplinary and institutional contexts significantly influenced how faculty members understand and articulate success for doctoral students, adding an ontological perspective to the mix. There also tends to be a greater plurality of perspectives and research approaches in the social sciences than in the physical sciences. This makes conceptions of research and their relationship to supervision perhaps more problematic in the social sciences. The implication here is that supervisor training is even more important in the social sciences, particularly given that student projects tend to be more individually conceived than in the physical sciences, where doctoral students often work on a group of related projects around a common research program and data set. Again, the further implication from this is that supervisor development is even more crucial in the new and emerging areas of the social sciences, such as the business disciplines.

Kiley & Mullins (2005) found a wide variation amongst supervisors in the conception of research, and good research in particular. They argue that unless the underlying conception of research is identified and addressed, research supervision training is being based on questionable foundations. If there is no clear agreement as to what research is, then supervising it well becomes an impossible task.

Grant (2003) is one of the few authors who questions the nature of the supervisory relationship in the research process, and whether it should be the sole vehicle for the education of research students, seeking wider stimulus and support from the research community of the department in which the research is taking place. He goes on to explore the proliferation of discourses around supervision as a cultural practice using stereotypes which function as a means of increasing the discourses around the subjects of supervision (Grant, 2005). Such discourses offer a range of epistemologies both about research and research supervision.

In questioning the purpose of the doctoral research process, Green (2005) explores the extent to which doctoral pedagogy is as much about the production of identity as it is about the production of knowledge. Social identity itself can be manifested within a job, vocation or occupation (Kreiner, Hollensbe and Sheep, 2006) particularly where personal identity and social identity merge within the demands of the work-role. Identity development through identity work and workspaces is explored by Petriglieri & Petriglieri (2010). They suggest that the higher education institutions' functions go beyond creating knowledge but are spaces for identity work. Situated within the institutional workspace the supervisor and student undertake rites of passage and traverse and test the boundaries of acceptable practice. Crossing boundaries from novice researcher to supervisor Vakkayil (2007) finds is the exercise of research. In Vakkayil's (2007) autobiographical case, he found transcending the boundaries included the variety of experiences he brought with him to his research acceptability and also adopting the identity of being the academic.

The role of supervision as a space for crafting scholarly identities is also noted by Rath (2008) for the supervisor and the student concerned, and a means of supporting a community of academics. The ontological outcome here is a way of being a supervisor within a community of academics. For the student the outcome here would be the PhD demonstrating their training in and development of research capacity, such that the production of the thesis to the required standard is a means of 'accrediting' them to do research in the future. Toward becoming an academic or recognised as legitimate (Petersen 2007) requires knowing what practices are accepted or acceptable and that they form part of the practices of the community to whom you belong. Petersen (2010: 481) describes supervision as 'category boundary work' and notes a distinction between 'becoming a doctor' and 'getting a PhD'. The former involves crossing the boundary into the community of academics; the latter is obtaining a qualification. If a supervisor was only to focus on the latter, the candidate may find that they lack the skills, identity and comfort within the academic community to work within the boundaries of the Academy.

In considering the context of research in universities and the development of the university sector, Green & Usher (2003) question whether the creation of new knowledge is the purpose of the research process now or whether it has broadened in scope to also include transferable employment-related skills - which requires a wholly different skill set from the supervisor if they are to model good practice. Quite what good practice would look like is far from clear; nor is it clear how to determine it. Australia has a cross-university measure that is centrally compiled for comparative data known as 'PREQ' (Postgraduate Research Experience Questionnaire). Marsh et al (2002) examined the impact of PREQ in Australia as it is designed to measure the extent to which PhD students have satisfactory experiences in relation to the quality of their research supervision, and it arguably provides strong evidence against the construct validity of the responses, concluding that there are few if any uses for the responses in their current form. They suggest that if there was a politically and ethically acceptable means by which students could identify their supervisor and provide them with feedback, then their ratings of supervision might be useful for improving the quality of supervision and for administrative decisions that reward effective supervisors. In the meantime, its contribution to establishing what good practice might look like is minimal.

While university policies emphasise the importance of the performance, accountability and quality assurance in the doctoral supervision process, the process actually involves supervisors in a complex learning process leading to the production of knowledge, and hence can be a perpetual process of subjective identity formation (Halse, 2011). As such, the development of expertise in the supervision process is contrary to the codified knowledge traditionally held in academia in that it is based on trial and error and negotiated practice rather than the formal, structured, cognitive transmission of knowledge that is the norm within universities. Johnson, Lee & Green (2000) note how the traditional image of the scholar leads to a fantasy around how knowledge is produced which in turn shapes current practice with regard to postgraduate pedagogy. They suggest that new modes of knowledge production will require skills of learning to work with a diverse range of individuals in collaborative and interdependent relationships, and hence a new epistemology is needed.

While many 'models' of supervision have been proposed to account for the range of factors involved in and influencing the supervision process, there is still a lack of empirical validation of any model in particular (Delany, 2008) and hence the effectiveness of the supervision process remains unclear. It is a process that has been sustained through tradition and the lack of development of an alternative, but the question of whether it should be sustained is rarely raised. If we were to go back to the drawing board and look at the needs of research students in completing their PhDs, would we, for example, establish such singular, focussed relationships as occur within current supervision arrangements? This said, any alternative design, for example some group intervention, would also require development initiatives to ensure that it was also carried out effectively (Fenge, 2011). As everyone who supervises research degrees has completed one themselves, often their only experience has been one of being supervised and hence the process perpetuates itself and remains unchallenged. In addition, the primary core of being supervised impacts on the supervisor's development of themselves as a supervisor as it is initially the only experience they have to draw on. Some supervisors gain additional supervisory experience from working in research centres on large funded projects where they have research assistants to supervise, but these are the minority. These supervisors have a wider range of formal and informal experiences to draw on from supervising others more junior to themselves in the research process before embarking on doctoral student supervision.

The supervisor's experience of being supervised

One of the key influences on supervisor's epistemology of research and research supervision was their own experience of being supervised through their own doctoral studies. For example, Brew & Peseta (2004) found that unless ideas about the nature of supervision are explicitly addressed in a development intervention, supervision is likely to be viewed as more or less an ad hoc programme built upon the supervisors' previous experiences of supervision, both as student and supervisor, which remains unchallenged in terms of the underlying conceptions of the nature of the task. Lee (2008) finds that the supervisor's own experience as a doctoral student combines with their concept of research supervision to influence their approach to supervision.

A thorough reflexive account of being supervised is offered by Bansel (2011) who concludes that multiple practices are involved in academic work and standards, and how academic subjectivities are constituted, regulated, embodied and performed lead to his framing of 'becoming academic'. He notes that the process of knowledge production within a PhD is complex, messy and not always rational, and the ideal of the normative, linear pathway with benchmarks set down by universities tends not to be neatly followed. This suggests that there is no single blueprint on how to supervise and hence supervisory development initiatives need to cater for this flexible and adaptive approach. Boud & Costley (2007) suggest that the role of academics needs to shift from one of project supervision to one of learner advisor as new educational and vocational expectations emerge from studies particularly those involving work-based learning, and Carr et al (2010) identify specific needs for specific praxis development when supervising professional doctorates. The introduction of the elements of 'practice' and 'the work place' to the doctoral process appear to add additional challenges for supervisors, particularly if they did not undertake research of this nature in their own PhDs, as will be the case in most cases currently given the relative newness of the professional doctoral development. This said, Malfroy (2011) found that experienced supervisors see the positives in industry based research both for their own research enhancement and for their student's intellectual enhancement and their potential for increased employability, although such collaborative doctoral research needed to be managed by the supervisor personally as institutional support frameworks were not in evidence. This relied then on the supervisor being willing to extend the scope of their supervision practice to explore new fields beyond those previously experienced.

Overall the sense from the literature is that the supervisor's own experience of being supervised is a core foundation to their epistemology of supervision, whether this is based on a positive experience that they wish to emulate, or a negative experience that they wish to counter. As it is the only experience most will have had regarding supervision prior to starting to supervise themselves, it is hardly surprising that it has such a high weighting and impact. It is perhaps strange that little is said in the literature about how general teaching experience in higher education informs and translates into the supervision experience, nor is there reference in the literature to supervision within larger research projects as a means of building skills, experience and capacity. It also, however, can help to perpetuate models of practice, good and bad, which can remain unchallenged as a means of supporting research degree students.

Student expectations

As the 'other party' in the supervisory relationship, the expectations of students can influence the nature of the relationship and hence the supervisory practice itself. Many research degree students have little experience of having undertaken research previously, and while they may have attended a research methodology program or course, their understanding of the experience of the research degree is usually both limited and flawed. The expectations of students vary considerably, and are often based on myths, reputations and hopes rather than a realistic understanding of what the supervisory relationship will entail and the PhD process itself. Many see the supervisor as the key factor in the success of their studies and can be unwilling to take responsibility for their own research, learning and development. This can stem from misconceptions and a misunderstanding of the nature of research, as well as a misunderstanding of the nature of the supervisory relationship. This is one of the key areas that raises questions as to whether supervision is the best process by which to support research students through their PhD or whether the whole pedagogic model needs revisiting.

The students' expectations of the supervisors support as a key to success affects both parties ability to perform. Pole et al (1997) find that the students' expectation of the supervisor change as they progress through their PhD, and the emphasis shifts from the supervisor to themselves. However, for some students a high level of dependency on the supervisor continues and their lack of confidence can be problematic when constructive feedback is "perceived as being 'negative'" (Sambrook et al 2008: 71). Among the many expectations they identified, Sambrook et al (2008) noted an expectation that the supervisor remains enthusiastic, keeps the student motivated about the research and acts as 'conduit' for their entry into academic networks. Fulfilling these diverse needs and expectations of students, which may sometimes be based on false hopes, raises the question about the traditional student-supervisor relationship (Pole et al 1997) and takes us back to the earlier discussion on the supervisors role in developing the candidates academic identity rather than simply getting them through a PhD.

Overseas students may place even more focus on the role of the supervisor in the success of their studies than domestic students. Their choice of university is driven by their choice of supervisor, and the timeliness of their completion, they believe, relates to the manner in which they are supervised (Abiddin, 2007). This suggests they anticipate a rigid model with deadlines and frameworks they need to adhere to, which may sit well in the sciences but is a less applicable perception within the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Wright & Cochrane (2000) identify interdisciplinary differences with regards to examining successful completions. They claim that the "psychological processes" inherent with the different disciplines should be incorporated into supervision training and support and argue that differences between disciplines (science and art) occur because science is an "objective phenomena" that is external to the individual student and therefore not affecting the individual's psyche, while art is subjective and "requires exposure to judgement of elements of the student's internal world" and does expose the individual student to having their personal identity challenged (Wright and Cochrane 2000: 193). In support of this, Seagram et al (1998) also found the nature of the discipline impacted the time to completion. Their study found support that the natural sciences took the least time whereas the social sciences took the longest time to completion and found that this was consistent to previous studies. They suggest that shorter completion times in the natural sciences is linked to enrolment status and the dissertation topic with a strong emphasis on the relationship with the supervisor.

Adkins (2009) also raises the issue of timeliness of completion noting the increasing requirement for supervisors to be strategic, reflective and able to prioritise timely completions, combining both the synthesis of knowledge domains and a platform for application in an integrative manner. If supervisors are overburdened in terms of their workload requirements this may cause delays in their responding to their students (Abiddin, Ismail & Ismail, 2011) which in turn impacts on their timeliness of completion. As early career academics have more burdensome workloads than more senior colleagues, they are disadvantaged further in this respect in terms of attracting high quality students.

Harding et al (2010: 164) question whether academics are exploited workers and state that in the UK, the average working week of an academic is "far in excess of the hours of the contract of employment" and suggest that the academics' labours are 'agonising' and all in a struggle to "strive to achieve an idealised but always unattainable self". There is a desire to achieve what is seen as the norm of being academic such that the norm or vision needs to be lived up to, which again returns us to the issue of the development of academic identity.

While the time to submission and number of completions was found by Sinclair (2004) to be a measure of a supervisor's success, the attraction of high performing students is not necessarily the most effective model for quality in higher education (Srikantham & Dalrymple, 2007). The quality of the candidate themselves appears to have an impact and some supervisors reflected on the changing nature of the student as the number of PhD candidates increases generally. Supervisors feel a need to provide a much higher level of academic support in some universities compared to the 'traditional academic elite' who would probably be successful at any university with little academic support (Symonds & Cater-Steel, 2009).

Kiley (2011) notes that the student satisfaction results of doctoral candidates suggests they are considerably more satisfied with the candidature and supervision they are receiving now than they were some years ago, a fact that she ties to the introduction or increased focus on supervisor training in universities rather than timeliness of completions. Trust also seems to be important. Students who value their supervisor's behaviour and feel they are acting altruistically demonstrate a more grateful affect and hence are more positive about their supervisory experience (Unsworth et al, 2010). Once such a positive trust relationship is established, the positive interpersonal climate allows risk taking to be enabled which in turn can lead to greater creativity and originality in the student's work (Whitelock et al, 2008). These issues however are not widely known and are not the basis on which students seek out supervision and a PhD registration. While ever timeliness of completion and number of completions remain priorities for the 'top' students in their selection criteria, more experienced supervisors and those in more elite universities will benefit from attracting the most capable students and hence the cycle becomes self-perpetuating. This makes it particularly difficult for early career academics to establish themselves within the supervision field, despite the fact they may bring more to the process in terms of applied research skills, relationship and communication skills than more 'established' academics might hold. In response to these organisational expectations and work intensification Ogbanna & Harris (2008) examine the extent of emotional labour exhibited by university lecturers. They question whether "emotional labour is a fundamental characteristic of professionals' working lives and find that while most upheld professional ethical standards despite increased pressures, it "contributed to a high degree of stress" (Ogbanna & Harris 2008: 1200).

Cullen et al (1994) note the need to structure and clarify the respective roles, responsibilities and goals of supervisors and students to make the process mutually rewarding to both parties. Hair (2006) developed a tool (Superqual) to help facilitate this process and found from a supervisor's perspective that it was useful to take a measure early in the candidature suggesting it could be built into a general student induction process. It is particularly useful to new supervisors rather than established supervisors early in the process as they tended to revert to a friendly chat over drinks while this helped them structure their early encounters. Likewise Mainhard et al (2009) developed the QSDI to look at the supervisor-doctoral student interaction and found that both doctoral students and supervisors have preferred styles of interaction and matching these can lead to a more satisfactory experience for both. In a study in the UK, Hockey (1996) took this further by establishing different types of contracts between students and supervisors depending on the supervisor's perception of the student's capacity and motivation. The greater the potential for professional tutoring, the more the contract was emphasised over a trust relationship.

International students appear to experience additional difficulties to local PhD students. As well as the cross-cultural communication issues that may arise during supervision, the students also have issues around financial and accommodation stresses, isolation, time management and so forth, which are exacerbated over local students as they experience the difference in institutional arrangements and expectations that local students have had previous experiences of studies to come to terms with (Homewood et al, 2010).

The literature we reviewed was silent on the point of the student's expectations regarding the PhD as preparation for their academic career, but some studies did reflect on how early career academics would have benefited from such career guidance and preparation as part of the process (see, for example, Adcroft & Taylor, 2011).

Academic Career Development

Much of the literature on academic career development focussed on the early career academic experience rather than at the higher end of the scale. This is worth noting as the requirements for supervision to completion become paramount when applying for Professorial positions.

Preparation for a career as an academic is systemically minimal (Amundsen & McAlpine, 2009). There is a lack of clarity around role expectations in general and the process of learning to do supervision within the broader context of academic responsibilities is ill-defined. New academics find they are evaluated intensively in academia but the criteria are vague and advice varies depending on who they ask (Amundsen & McAlpine , 2011), and hence there is a lack of clarity surrounding tenure and promotion processes.

A social process study of the experiences of early career academics by Adcroft and Taylor (2011) revealed the relationship between teaching and research as problematic and the need for them to be mentored early in their career, both to help with career management and aspirations, and with their professional development. There is no reason for this to wait until academics have their 'first' position. Arguably their PhD studentship is their first academic position as many students become involved in teaching tutorials and supervising undergraduate students while they are PhD candidates themselves. Amundsen & McAlpine (2009) suggest a pre-tenure experience for academics as a continuation from doctoral study to more established academic which situates supervisory experience within the broader development of academic practice. They suggest the preparation of supervisors should start during their doctoral studies phase rather than after they have completed. Induction and preparation for the pressures to produce peer-reviewed publications is raised by Lee & Kamler (2008). They present a case for a "network of peer relations as becoming-researchers" (Ibid: 516). This could be described as students learning to do supervision within their own candidature, rather like on the job training, students are learning to do the job before they have finished their own PhD. By peer reviewing other's work also gives the student an opportunity to hear about other students' dissertations and the different approaches used. This perspective also lends itself to a different model of PhD supervision by moving away from a dyadic supervisor candidate relationship. Peer supported learning and development with a more experienced senior researcher or academic present to mentor and moderate takes out some of the loneliness for the student and removes some of the pressure off the supervisor to be all. Arguably learning to supervise while being supervised would help the supervisees both manage and gain more from the supervision process, as learning to teach something always further develops the knowledge of the teacher themselves, which in turn can broaden the student's epistemology of supervision.

Stracke (2010) created a peer-group learning community amongst her PhD students when she started supervising as means of them all supporting each others' development. Such peer-group interventions can be found in many universities where mandatory supervision training (often in the form of a half day to two day program) occurs. Here new supervisors are put together as a group and share a development experience, and the hope is often that they continue to support each other as they progress through their first supervisory experiences. However, unless this is formally structured it is unlikely to happen, and even if it is formally structured - and linked to a supervisor accreditation initiative - actually getting supervisors to engage in such 'community of practice' activities can be challenging in Australia (Cater-Steel & McDonald, 2009), while the recognition of the positives of attending such peer development initiatives and events in Sweden appear better appreciated (Reinholdsson & Ekblad, 2003). Finally the benefit to inexperienced supervisors of talking to and being with other equally inexperienced supervisors is questioned in comparison to pairing with more experienced supervisors (Brennan et al, 2002), although it provided the basis for the supervisory development experience experienced by Blass et al (2012) in their collaborative research into their development as supervisors. As with most elements of supervision, there is no single answer but rather a continuum from all being new to one to one pairing with experienced mentors.

Brew & Peseta (2004) report on a supervision development program at the University of Sydney where the formal recognition of the program within processes for promotion or an award have contributed to the success of the program. Leeds Metropolitan University in the UK also have an award bearing program resulting in an Advanced Professional Diploma in Research Awards Supervision (Clegg, 1997) which combines information giving and reflective practice. Such accredited programs may encourage new supervisors to attend so that they can legitimise their status in the supervision process by virtue of 'having studied it'. As such it almost acts as a professional qualification that allows entry to the profession of supervising.

If doctoral supervision is viewed as professional work then the focus shifts from the individual to the social that captures the commonalities across the diversity of individuals, disciplines and institutions involved in doctoral provisions (Halse & Malfroy, 2010). The role of professional development thus extends beyond a set of rules on how to work with a student against a set of criteria, to a broader range of professional development activities including peer support, critical friends, mentors, development of critical reflection skills, and the provision of structured training. Lee (2007) sees professional development activity of supervisors as obvious as research supervisors need to be enabled to uncover the conception that they hold about research and supervision, and examine these alongside other supervisors. New supervisors in particular need to explore these issues as they lack confidence and suffer anxiety around their own lack of postgraduate research experience (McMichael, 1993).

Linden et al (2011) argue for a combined approach of supervision and mentorship for PhD students for a more holistic personal development approach within the professional context. As different types of doctoral degrees are emerging in the doctoral education field, Malfroy (2005) argues that the pedagogic practices evident in these programs point to the need for a broader conceptualisation of doctoral education and more collective models of doctoral supervision. Taking the doctoral space to the extreme, Stock (2009) focuses particularly on dance and asks what modes of supervision will best support choreographers and dancers, and answers it with a call for discipline specific skills and understanding, both experiential and theoretical. Clearly the nature of the discipline, the doctorate and the supervisor themselves will all impact on the suitability of professional development opportunities, and for some it may be contributing to the development of others in order to further develop themselves.

Lee and Williams (1999) question whether alternative forms of doctoral training could overcome the emotional distress and irrationality of doctoral training, or whether this is a necessary condition and effect of the production of the subject of doctoral study, ie the licensed independent scholar. They focus on the interpersonal relationship between the supervisor and student and explore the emotionality of supervisory relationships as something other than failure on the part of either or both parties. There are a wide range of reasons why students do not always discuss difficulties with their supervisors and hence supervisors need to develop strategies that detect early warning signs (Manathunga, 2005). Much like managers in a business need to manage their team, supervisors need to manage the process of their students work (Vilkinas, 2002). Interestingly issues with the supervisor relationship were linked to "significant gender differences" by Seagram et al (1998: 331), in that women appeared to have more problems with their supervisors than men did, although this did not contribute to women taking longer to complete.

Murphy et al (2007) suggest that research supervision should be the joint responsibility of the DVC Research and the DVC Teaching and Learning rather than the DVC Research alone as supervision of research higher degrees, they argue, is fundamentally a form of teaching. This takes us full circle back to the earlier discussion on the nature of research and hence the nature of research supervision, and illustrates well how circular the argument is.

Supervisor Training Pedagogy

The discussions around supervisor training pedagogy are equally as diverse as the discussions around the nature of research, and again a range of interventions could form a typology or continuum that captures a variety of options to fulfil a range of differing needs. Wright et al (2007) found that the what and how of supervision are mutually constituted and are not determined by traits, disciplines, tasks or activities that supervisors might take, but a deeper holistic understanding of what dissertation supervision is. Arnold (2005) also sees theory and practice as inextricably linked and mutually dependent.

Bruce et al (2008) carried out a wide ranging study within the technology disciplines in search of a pedagogy of supervision. They concluded that there was no 'signature pedagogy' and that the focus in development should be on issues of process rather than discipline content when discussing teaching and learning aspects of supervision. Processes considered included scaffolding, direction-setting and relationship building as supervisor approaches. Their resulting framework was further explored by Bruce & Stoodley (2011) developing further the nine different ways in which research degree supervisors experience the supervision process as teaching; from the rather supervisor focussed interpretations, such as 'promoting the supervisor's research development' through the focus on the student, such as 'promoting learning to research' and 'enabling student development', to the externally focussed interpretations such as 'forming productive communities' and 'contributing to society' as the supervisor's awareness developed (p5).

Li &Seale (2007) identify the need for training and content and conversation analysis such that the critical feedback offered by supervisors can be received in a manner that contributes to an educational relationship. The need for feedback to be received is also picked up by Pearson & Kayrooz (2004) who argue that supervision can be framed as a set of tasks and responsibilities that can be clustered and operationalised, and they develop a measurement tool - the reflective supervisor questionnaire (RSQ) - as a feedback instrument.

A number of authors set out to develop an overall syllabus or curriculum to cover the range of supervisory development needs they perceive as needing addressing. McCormack & Pamphilon (2004) break the syllabus for supervisory training down into three elements or purposes: information and resources; skills development; and scholarship of supervision pedagogy. Abiddin et al (2011) identify the need for variety in the development of skills in effective supervision, as a range of practices need to be developed within a broader supervisory system. Pearson & Brew (2002) concur, calling for a range of professional development to be provided to enable supervisors at different stages of their careers to access development programs and activities that best meet their individual needs. Adkins (2009) views postgraduate supervision pedagogy as interdisciplinary and question the extent to which universities deliver outcomes appropriate for policy environments emphasising knowledge transfer. He questions whether the appropriate resources are required to support activities such as literature review, research design, time management etc, and highlights the need for setting an appropriate context for peer review to assist students in persisting to submit their work. Building on this more holistic approach, Reid and Marshall (2009) suggest a model of development that focuses strategically on identified areas of need across the institution, for example research infrastructure or student engagement, and explore the complex interactions that arise between and within each element as a means of achieving sustainable change in supervisory practice, rather than focussing on the nitty-gritty of the supervision process itself.

At the other end of the continuum, where the focus is purely on the supervision process itself, there are those who focus on a reflective practitioner approach. Vilkinas (2008) found that innovation and reflection were desirable aspects of the supervision process for supervisors, but these are not generally found or discussed in other studies, particularly innovation. Drawing on Donald Schon's work 'the reflective practitioner' (1987), McMichael & McKee (2008) found that challenging situations on which reflection was needed included communicating successfully about the task itself, communication about the dialogue, and communicating about the relationship. This is highly reflective on the process of supervision itself in terms of communicating with the student about the research supervision process, rather than reflecting on the research process itself.

Clegg (1997) questions the use of reflective practice as a model for supervisor development as it does not provide a mechanism for assessing the relationship between an educational process and outcome measure of increased effectiveness. For example, you could have someone who is very good at reflective practice and write an excellent account of their practice but not actually be a very good supervisor. Frith & Martens (2008) also question the extent to which supervisors training needs to be a process of personal transformation, seeing rather explicit discussion on the processes of researching, time management and writing a thesis as the parts which the supervisor teaches and hence where the supervisory training should focus.

Other authors focussed on the pedagogic process of development rather than the content. Clegg & Gall (1998) used metaphors to help supervisors become aware of the underlying conceptualisation of their practice and hence helped them discover new perspectives on how they operate. McCormack (2009) advocates for the use of stories in particular as storytelling can return alternative ways of knowing. Zuber-Skerritt & Roche (2004) offer a repertory grid technique as a tool for supervisors to use for their own development as part of a constructivist knowledge development model. In a process-oriented analysis of group supervision of supervisors, five themes emerged as requirements for such supervision: trust, theories, tools, training and time (Emilsson & Johnsson, 2007).

Arguably leading the way, Bergenheim & Agren (2004) reflect on a thorough model of supervisor training offered over two years at Umea University in Sweden. This far exceeds any program known to be offered in Australia for example, and combines much of the content and pedagogy suggested within other literature. There the mandatory training involves six days of seminars, workshops, training, lectures, discussion and assignments, requiring the equivalent of two weeks full-time work spread over a 2 year period. To pass, participants are required to attend all sessions, observe a supervision session in another faculty, and write three individual reflective assignments. The key to the success of the program, for the authors, is finding the right incentives which make it worthwhile for the participants. It is worth noting also that even with this intensive approach, the authors are still finding the need to develop more specialised, advanced training for PhD supervisors.

The University of Sydney developed a postgraduate supervision development program with the focus on determining the competence of supervisors (Brew & Peseta, 2004). Manathunga et al (2010) question such competence based approaches arguing for creative approaches to supervisor development to return the personal to the supervision encounter which is often lost at the expense of the administrative and technical discourse. The tendency for mandatory training to focus on the bureaucracy of quality assurance and accountability is also questioned by Edwards (2002) who suggests that good supervisory development would empower supervisors to generate their own definitions of good postgraduate supervision. Otherwise the supervisors spend their energies developing means of by-passing the bureaucracy and avoidance and manipulation tactics rather than developing their reflexive practice. Hammond et al (2010) also raised concerns about the pressure that result from a process of compulsory supervisor development strategies and their focus on compliance rather than the quality of supervision. This focus on quality as consistency and compliance to minimum requirements to ensure a minimum provision is maintained raises concerns that a single model of supervision might suffice rather than recognising the range of supervisory skills and practices that might arise through the period of a candidature.

Gatfield (2005) also conceptualised supervisor training as needing to address the role of different supervisory styles at different times in the supervisory relationship. The time factor is also raised by McCallin & Nayar (2012) who note the importance of supervisors understanding the significance of external changes during the doctoral candidature period and the need to find alternative ways to address these as they impact on the research supervision process.

Extending this idea of multiple needs and demands arising throughout the candidature, Linden (1999) recognised competence in supervision as a mixture of practical know-how and of reflection mediated by abstract, symbolic knowledge, such that judgements are made unique to the circumstances of the situation within a wider ethical framework. Discussion amongst colleagues on various dilemmas and tensions being experienced in supervision can help supervisors bridge the gap between their personal experiences and more abstract knowledge. Although her work was in the field of clinical rather than doctoral supervision, Heid (1998:140) found that "experience in supervising does not, in and of itself, increase supervisors' competencies" and supervisors needed to develop their sense of identity, confidence, and understanding of their use of power and authority in order to be autonomous of or dependent on others.

Finally, as stated in the introduction, the majority of studies have been carried out in Australia, Sweden and the UK, and Calma (2011) points to the fact that little attention is paid to what is going on with regards to supervisory training programs in the developing countries. Here there are issues of inadequate facilities and resources dedicated to supporting staff and student research so progress will hinge on funding, infrastructure and capacity for academic staff development. A similar lack of attention to training of supervisors is found in the non-university higher education sector in New Zealand (Rath, 2009). The focus of supervision tends to be on proof-reading and there is a need to increase the research quality of staff and students, potentially through international collaboration (Calma, 2011), although joint supervision across institutions can be equally problematic with bureaucratic issues adding to issues around power relationships between the two institutions (Pole, 1998). McCarthy et al (2010) question the assumption that one having completed a PhD is automatically prepared to supervise the PhD of another person, an assumption that is often held particularly strongly in developing countries.

Lee (2009) identifies five main approaches to supervision which are complementary and interact in the doctoral supervision process in Europe: functional, enculturation, critical thinking, emancipation and relationship. She suggests that supervisors consider how they would deal with issues arising in each of the five approaches in order to develop their supervisory practice. These could equally apply to developing countries and could form the basis of an international supervisory practice development course.


While no agreement might exist as to the nature of a development program for supervisors in terms of pedagogy, curriculum and syllabus, there does seem to be some consensus in the literature as to the need for something beyond one's own experience of being supervised. This said, such consensus may not be held by supervisors themselves as the take-up of training being offered appears to be low. Having a specified outcome such as an accredited program may help gain the participation of early career academics but the benefits to experienced supervisors appear hard to sell. This may be because they are great at what they are doing, but given the complexity of the process it is hard to believe there are not areas where any individual supervisor might not benefit from some development.

The provision of training for supervisors across universities also varies, as it does between disciplines within universities. This is not necessarily a bad thing provided there is a range that caters for everyone's needs. Equally an individual's learning styles and needs will differ so offering a range of options from some form of structured reflective diary process through to peer-group support, through to mentoring or a structured classroom experience, or online resources supporting a community of practice should be considered. The diagram below summarises the types of supervisor training that are appearing across institutions, noting the variety in delivery modes (face to face through to virtual) and the individual or group nature of the activities. Clearly the literature is identifying a range of activities and development practices and opportunities but no single pedagogy is emerging. The square boxes represent sources of information that institutions provide; the circular elements represent activities that institutions offer for supervisors to engage in as a means of supervisory skills development.

The diagram assumes that the supervision development process begins after the candidate has completed their own doctoral studies, and yet the literature clearly points to the supervision experience the candidate receives shaping their own development process. Therefore, the argument for starting supervision training early in the students' academic career, i.e. prior to their completing their doctorate, could have merit, both from the perspective of them completing their own thesis, and for their early career choices and the more rounded formation of their academic identity. Through early intervention, early career academics could broaden their epistemology of supervision beyond one based on their own lived experience in their immediate past, to an experience which concludes in a more co-created manner, something which could then become ingrained into a way of their being as a supervisor in the future. Such practice is not identified in the literature here, but the gaps identified in academic identify formation, failure to meet expectations, and disagreement as to the nature of research could all be better developed and resolved within a model where supervision is an activity in which both parties 'engage' rather than one 'doing' supervision to the other. If the process of supervision was to be embedded in an academic's identity with their work rather than a process that is undertaken as part of their work, their commitment to ongoing self-development in the process may be greater as they further develop 'who they are' as a supervisor rather than 'what they do'. This could also impact greatly on how the research candidates themselves are socialised into the Academy. Gersick, Bartunek and Dutton (2000) explore the social networks and relationships that impact on individual academics and note firstly the value of relationships in themselves, and secondly the impact of negative relationships on the development of professional identity. Attention to this area of relational development, emotional wellbeing and the creation of a positive academic identity are neglected within the literature thus far and could be further areas for research in the future.