Alchemy and research supervision

In 2018, I was fortunate to hear Professor Michelle LeBaron (from the Allard Law School at The University of British Columbia) articulate her (organisational inquiry) model for reflecting on a range of organisational issues at the Artistry of Management and Organisation (AoMO) Conference in Brighton (2018). Recently, as I have edited a journal issue of Organisational Aesthetics based on papers and workshops from the same conference, I revisited Le Baron’s model in a paper written by Michelle with colleague Professor Nadja Alexander Director of the Singapore International Dispute Resolution Academy at Singapore Management University. (available through

The framework is inspired by the Medieval work of alchemy – understanding events from the basis of the four elements Air, Fire, Water and Earth. Their model describes these elements using Latin terminology – sublimatio, caclinatio, solutio and coagulatio.
LeBaron and Alexander (2020) explain

Because air is invisible, sublimatio reminds us that many invisible factors can influence organisational transformation processes including structures and habits that form part of the status quo. Identity is one such factor; it is both critically important and elusive to name. Frequently invisible both to us and others in organisational settings, identity images of self and the collective can keep us from embracing needed change…….

Fire illuminates and cleanses. Replete with kinetic energy, it is dynamic, unpredictable and often beautiful. It can also be destructive, leaving charred remains in its wake. Fire is contagious: it easily spreads. Fire is often invoked by those involved in transformative processes, and not usually in positive ways. Attitudes toward the intense fire of disagreement are all-important. As with fire, we must discern when to avoid conflict, when to try to manage it, and when to try to tap its transformative potential. It is difficult to dialogue with a fierce fire. Deepening understandings of its dynamics, we tap into its unrivalled energy and passion to realise organisational potentials: the operation of calcinatio.

Like water (solutio) , we can freeze and be blocked; we can pretend to disappear like gas; or we can experience a sense of flow together as when the river meets the ocean. As the structures of water molecules alter in adapting to their surrounding environments, so do we…..

The alchemical process of coagulatio, associated with earth, relates to things coalescing, or becoming solid and trustworthy. Coagulatio is frequently encountered at the beginning of transformation processes: people tend to resist change by clinging to the fixed and familiar ways of the past and present; alternatively, they may hold solid views and very clear ideas of what should be changed and how. Well-designed transformation processes can challenge deeply-entrenched home ground positions…..

As I read about their lenses for looking at organisational work, I was drawn to thinking about my own supervisory practices in the context of a university as an organisation.

My identity as someone knowledgeable about different methodologies and strengthened with two doctoral degrees, is what secured my research supervisory positions and roles. This is my sublimato. I am constantly adding to my identity with conference presentations and journal publications (I have also published in the same journal at Michelle and Nadja about Provenance). As a result of these identity factors, I have secured different doctoral candidates – ones who might be embracing more of the creative; and I have been invited to examine more creative dissertations.

The experiences of conflict are commonplace in all organisations. In the context research supervision there can be conflicts between the candidate and their supervisors, and indeed between the candidate and doctoral administration. My own candidature as well as the candidates I have supervised have many examples of calcinatio. I am reminded of the importance of engendering resilience and attempting to resolve conflicts with a sense of the candidate realising their own power in what is often perceived as a deficit position compared to their supervisors.

The lens of looking at what is frozen and blocked became very evident as I shifted my research supervision from the Australian context into a U.K. context. Even the professional doctorate, my own first doctoral degree, was understood differently in a different setting, and this brought with it need for different scaffolding and different ways of empowering candidates. This was my solutio. By seeing different ways of embarking on the professional doctorate, I was able to move beyond some of my long held views about what counts as doctoral. This had a major impact on the ways in which I examine a doctoral dissertation.

And finally, to what became solid and trustworthy- my sublimato. Having a greater number of research candidates than I previously had enjoyed, gave me strength in realisation of some of the ways I worked and advocated supervisors working.

The model may also provide you, the reader, with ways of thinking about your research supervision!

Lebaron, M. and Nadja M. (2020) Optimising Performance: How Jungian Alchemy Informs Organisational Transformation, Organizational Aesthetics: 9 ( 2) , 62-82. Available at:

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Practitioner inquiry and…


One of the ways to investigate research supervision is by the supervisor undertaking a practitioner inquiry. In the booklet from which this blog is taken (Hill and Vaughan, 2019), we elaborate nine different practitioner inquiries undertaken by research supervisors based at Birmingham City University in U.K. Each of these studies was initiated with a Provenance exercise (Hill and Lloyd, 2018) taken from the professional development program (Hill and Vaughan, 2017) they were undertaking.

The idea of Provenance is borrowed from antiquity study. It refers to the history of development of an artefact – who has made it, where it was made, what it represents in movements. Provenance can also apply to any professional practice with the notion that each practice has a history and each practitioner of that practice has their personal history or provenance.

Provenance within research supervision aligns with the notion that many research supervisors develop their initial supervision practices in response to their own experiences of being supervised (Pearson and Brew, 2002). Such migration may bring with it the ideas of what the student ‘liked’ and then attempts to reactivate these processes with their own students. It may also give rise to uncritiqued practice, such that what has been modelled in previous supervision experienced by the supervisor in their own student experiences is accepted without question as being ‘that is the way it is’.

As Finlay (2002, 536) suggests, Provenance as a mode of reflective practice needs to start from the moment that the practitioner inquiry is conceived to embrace the investigator’s motivations, assumptions and interests seeking to illuminate forces that might skew the research in particular directions. Once identified through reflection, the investigator can mark those experiences and literature that may bias their analysis of other practitioners’ descriptions of their practice, opening the ways in which they frame problems, make assumptions and understand power (Torbert, 1991).

Research supervisors’ reflecting on practice has been encouraged since the emergence of the professional discourse (Johnson, 1995). The idea of focused reflection mirrors recent higher degree research, such as Lee’s (2012) framework for research supervision and Taylor’s (2015, 2016) supervisor questionnaire, that encourage supervisors to audit their own practice. Within the reflective practice and self-auditing agenda are possibilities for supervisors to address institutional requirements for their own professional development, as well as raise their awareness regarding the professional choices they make in undertaking research supervision. Raised awareness about professional choices is an identifying feature of Practitioner Research (Stenhouse, 1981). This agenda highlights critical reflection on beliefs common to professional practice investigation within the ‘practice turn’ (Schatzki, Knorr- Cetina & von Savigny, 2001).

In terms of my own research supervision provenance I know that I started to informally supervise others while I was still completing my own doctoral inquiry. Higher degree research practices were the focus of my doctoral investigation so it helped that I had some first hand experience as I studied the practice. Two significant events informed the ways in which I supervised. The first was examining my first doctoral dissertation and developing a set of examination criteria (Sankaran, Swepson and Hill, 2005). Having this set of criteria sharpened my supervision practice. The second was my Readership at Birmingham City University which afforded an opportunity to concurrently supervise fourteen doctoral candidates. This provided a wealth of knowledge about the ways in which I varied my core practices to accommodate individual student’s support needs. Many of these insights have been shared on this blog. In many ways this was my equivalent to Salmon’s (1992) study of her research supervision experiences.

The practitioner inquiries (Stenhouse, 1981; Andersen & Herr, 1999) undertaken by participants in the BCU communities of practice around research supervision are a defining feature that secured SEDA accreditation. Each inquiry involved a two-month focus on one aspect of their own research supervision and a report back to the community of practice of their discovered knowledge. Projects were identified and supported through scaffolded community of practice discussions that took place in the preliminary community of practice meetings (elaborated in the final section of this booklet) when practitioners discussed issues within research supervision that ‘troubled’ (Schön, 1983) them. In later community of practice meetings, discussion focused on what counted as ‘good’ supervision, the different resources that can support supervision practice and finally an invitation for each participant to identify their proposed practitioner inquiry.

Positioning a practitioner inquiry in the context of a community of practice takes reflexivity from a private practice to a communal one whilst maintaining the personal and individual focus through individual practitioner inquiries.
If, as a result of reading this blog, you are inspired to begin working on your own research supervisor provenance, I am happy to act as ‘critical friend’ – send a copy of your first thoughts on Provenance for your research supervision to me at


Anderson, G. and Herr, K. (1999). The New Paradigm Wars: Is there room for rigorous practitioner knowledge in Schools and Universities? Educational Researcher, 28 (5), 12-21.

Finlay, L. (2002). Outing the Researcher: The Provenance, Process, and Practice of Reflexivity. Qualitative Health Research, 12, 531-545.

Hill, G. and Lloyd, C. (2018). Articulating practice through provenance. Action Research

Hill, G. and Vaughan, S. (2017). Conversations about research supervision – enabling and accrediting a Community of Practice model for research degree supervisor development. Innovations in Education and Teaching International DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2017.1406388

Hill, G. and Vaughan, S. (2019) Ten ways to investigate research supervision. SEDA, London: U.K.

Johnston, S. (1995). Professional development for post-graduate supervision. Australian Universities Review, 2, 16-19.

Lee, A. (2012). Successful research supervision: Advising students doing research. Abingdon, UK: Routledge

Pearson, M. & Brew, A. (2002) Research Training and Supervision Development, Studies in Higher Education, 27:2, 135-150,

Salmon, P. (1992). Achieving a PhD – ten students’ experience. Staffordshire: Trentham Books.

Sankaran, S., Swepson, P. and Hill, G. (2005) Do Research Thesis Examiners need training? Practitioner stories. The Qualitative Report, 10(4), 817-835.

Schatzki, T.R., Knorr-Cetina, K. and von Savigny, E. (2001). The Practice turn in contemporary theory. London, U.K.: Routledge.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. U.S.A.: Basic Books.

Stenhouse, L. (1981). What counts as research? British Journal of Educational Studies. 29 (2), 103-114.

Taylor, S. (2015, April) Benchmarking supervisory development, paper at 2nd International Conference of Developments in Doctoral Education and Training, UK Council for Graduate Education, 30-31st March

Taylor, S. (2016) UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) Dimensions of the Framework for Doctoral Supervisors. U.K.: Higher Education Academy

Torbert, W. R. (1991). The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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10 ways to investigate research supervision’


The publication of this blog coincides with the Staff Educational Development Assoc (SEDA) publication of a booklet celebrating eleven research supervisors investigating their supervision practice in single authored and co-authored vignettes/case studies of different ways in which an academic could investigate research supervision practice. The tenth way – the final section of the booklet – invites the reader to embark on their own practice-led inquiry into their research supervision. With growing numbers of doctoral candidates, more and more academics are becoming involved in research degree supervision. Supervision is a specialist academic practice that tends to be learnt through the experience of the practice, through supervising.

The booklet is the culmination of a university wide professional development program around research supervision based on communities of practice (Hill and Vaughan, 2017) and introduced into Birmingham City University in 2016. The program sought and obtained Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) accreditation. In the course of the program, academic staff across four different faculties engaged in communities of practice leading to and scaffolding their practitioner inquiries into their own research supervision. Eighty eight academic staff across the university secured their SEDA accreditation by engaging in the program, undertaking their practitioner inquiry and reporting on their interim outcomes in the final community of practice session. Eleven of those accredited practitioners took an extra step in writing up the inquiry methodology they adopted in undertaking their practitioner inquiry. These approaches included discourse analysis, strengths based analysis, time and motion analysis and a repertory grid, and were undertaken by academic staff in a range of disciplines including Education, Law, Psychology, Media, and Fine Arts.

The set of inquiries have been edited by Dr Geof Hill, the Principal Director of the Investigative Practitioner and a Reader in Higher Education at Birmingham City University, U.K. and Dr Sian Vaughan , a Senior Lecturer in Birmingham School of Art at Birmingham City (U.K) University and site Director for Midlands 4 Cities, an Arts & Humanities Research Council funded Doctoral Training Partnership.
The booklet can be purchased from SEDA .

The discussion of the model for the Communities of Practice around research supervision can be found at Innovations in Education and Teaching , under the title ‘Conversations about research supervision – enabling and accrediting a Community of Practice model for research degree supervisor development’. The Community of Practice handbook is available on request from Dr Geof Hill ( and he will also address inquiries about Australian based workshops for ‘Ten ways to investigate research supervision’.


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No-one is alone!: Five strategies for collaboration for professional development.


Dr Geof Hill The Investigative Practitioner

The idea of doing research is often associated with the lone journey. In doctoral research and inquiry, the supervisor can also feel alone!
Although most supervisory relationships now involve more than one supervisor as a precautionary strategy in case one of the supervisors needs to leave a team, this partnership does not always provide the individuals with reflective colleagues. Also, despite predominance of the co-supervision model, this does not always translate into both supervisors spending time together with their doctoral candidate – it may be that one of the two or more supervisors takes the predominant role and the candidate meets occasionally with the other supervisor.

The ‘busy’ ness of professional’s lives can often mean that time available for planning and after a supervision meeting for review is also not available.

As early as 1985 (Johnston, 1985), there has been discussion in the research supervision discourse about the importance of reflective practice for professional development. Clegg (2000) reaffirmed this position and reviewed some of the studies that entrenched reflective practice in Higher Education and specifically research supervision practices. Reflection can always be done as an individual professional, however when there is an element of conversation and discussion with peers, it enhances the learning emerging from the process.

Strategies for collaboration:

  1. With the official co-supervisor.

When a university appoints two or more supervisors for a doctoral candidate they are often implementing a risk averse strategy to provide a contingent in the event of one of the supervisors needing to leave the partnership. This model opens the opportunity for the supervisors to review the progress and process of each supervision meeting. If time permits, an ideal arrangement is that supervisors can meet prior to a candidate meeting and plan how they would like the supervision session to unfold, then at the conclusion of the official supervision, they can remain after the candidate has left to review the process and plan for their next meeting with the candidate.

2. With a community of practice.

For some time, universities around the world have been adopting research supervisor professional development models based on communities of practice. Research supervisors meet on a regular basis to discuss real issues in supervising doctoral candidates in a confidential atmosphere, drawing ideas from their colleagues. The model developed for Birmingham City University was discussed in Hill and Vaughan (2018) and involved five community of practice meetings over the course of seven months. These meetings scaffolded each participant/member of the community to investigate their own research supervision. In an earlier professional development model developed for Queensland University of Technology, several participants involved in an on-line community of practice talked about their different experiences in co-supervision and later converted their conversation into a journal publication (Spooner-Lane, Henderson, Price and Hill, 2007).

3. Establishing an electronic partnership

Collaborations and communities of practice do not have to be face-to-face. The provision of electronic portals means that it is possible to join electronic communities and become involved in electronic conversations about research supervision. This site – The research supervisor’s friend – is one such site that promotes conversations with and between research supervisors. A similar arrangement can be generated with a colleague at a different university where there is a common interest in exploring the nature of research supervision.

4. Research Supervision mentoring

In some university research management programs there are opportunities for official research supervision mentoring to be set up. At two of the universities where I have worked I have been involved with research supervision mentoring. At one university, the appointment was made when a research student was placed ‘at risk’ and the mentoring was arranged to provide the official supervisor with additional resources to manage and supervise through this challenge. At a different university, the role of ‘research supervisor mentor’ was used for pairs of supervisors with insufficient completions to meet the university requirements for a supervisor. Having a mentor with additional completions provided a cover for the inexperienced supervisors until their track record developed sufficient completions to meet the eligibility requirements.

5. Using the discourse as a constant ‘friend’ to help you to reflect on your research supervision.

Research supervision is a long standing academic practice with a well established discourse. Since the early emergence of practice-led inspired journal articles about research supervision there has been a growing conversation to provide food for thought for a research supervisor who feels alone. My own experience has been that following the lead of a published article with a contact email may even lead into long standing conversations with colleagues and peers around the world.

And now about the catalyst picture….

Pictures can play an important role in thinking about your research supervision. In some professional development programs, different images can be used to help participants talk about different models of research supervision. This particular image – a Leunig cartoon – lends itself to that form of interpretation but begs the question who is cradling whom? Is it the supervisor nurturing and cradling their doctoral candidate or the reverse. With the reputation of some quite demanding research supervisors, some doctoral candidates may see that it is they who manage and nurture their research supervisor!


Clegg, S. (2000). Knowing through reflective practice in higher education, Educational Action Research, 8(3), 451-469. DOI: 10.1080/09650790000200128

Hill, G. and Vaughan, S. (2018). Conversations about research supervision – enabling and accrediting a Community of Practice model for research degree supervisor development. Innovations in Education and Teaching, 55(2), 153-163.

Johnston, S. (1985) Professional development for postgraduate supervision. Australian Universities Review, 2, 16-19.

Spooner-Lane, R. S., Henderson, D. J., Price, R. A., & Hill, G. (2007) Practice to Theory: Co-supervision Stories. International Journal of Research Supervision, 1(1), pp. 39-51.
[and is available on request from]

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Cirque du research supervision

juggling balls

Dr Geof Hill The Investigative Practitioner

As discourse around doctoral completions has expanded, so too has the identified need for research supervisors to constantly reflect on their practice. Universities around the world have initiated a variety of professional development approaches to ensure that, not only do research supervisors reflect on their practice, but they have a constant agenda to improve. Sometimes these agendas require them to think outside the hegemony of the ways they have been supervising that have remained un-critiqued.

Amidst many models for research supervision are a plethora of metaphoric references. People see the research as the journey and the research supervisor as the guide; the research as the challenge and the supervisor as the coach or trainer. These different metaphors provide lenses through which to explore research supervision and by which to develop a range of intervention strategies to enable research students to complete.

In the same expanse of time in which research supervision professional development has been evolving, there has also been a popularity rise in performative research. This workshop, inspired by work in an Arts Design and Media faculty, embraces performative research supervision from a Cabaret/Circus genre associated with Cirque du Soleil. Different ‘circus’ acts provide catalysts for discussion about individual research supervision issues, and thus create an atmosphere of excitement and interest in advancing this aspect of academic practice.

balancing act 2

The paper, co-authored with Sian Vaughan (Birmingham City University) explores a process to bring together Performative Inquiry and Research Supervision Professional Development. We drew on the multiple references to ‘circus-skills’ embedded in contemporary research supervision discourse. Terms such as ‘juggling’, ‘walking a tight rope’ and a ‘balancing act’, often used when research supervisors talk about the nature of their supervision practices. We used experiential methods – i.e. circus skills – to encourage research supervisors to reflect on their supervision.

Setting the Scene
This paper was prepared in the context of practice-led inquiry (Gray, 1996) in that it arose out of a real problem experienced in our university in which both authors hold different positions related to research supervision and research supervision professional development. The problem we faced being how to engage research degree supervisors in professional dialogues (Haigh, 2005: Pilkington, 2013) about supervision as an academic practice. As discourse around doctoral completions has expanded, so too has the identified need for research supervisors to constantly reflect on their practice (eg. Johnston, 1995; Pearson & Kayrooz, 2004) and not just become licensed to supervise through one-off initial training. Universities around the world have initiated a variety of professional development approaches to ensure that, not only do research supervisors reflect on their practice, but they also have a constant agenda to improve. Our concern was how to engage both novice and experienced supervisors in reflective professional dialogues that would require them to think outside the hegemony of the ways they have been supervising that may have remained un-critiqued. Metaphors and analogies are common in the discourses of research degrees and research degree supervision, both in the growing body of literature on supervision and in the daily academic practice of supervisors and students. Thus, drawing on the use of metaphor and inspired by work in an Arts Design and Media faculty, the authors devised a workshop that embraces performative research supervision through a Cabaret and Circus genre associated with Cirque du Soleil. Different ‘circus’ acts provide catalysts for discussion about individual research supervision issues. Our aim was to challenge expectations of professional development programmes and to create an atmosphere of excitement and interest which would enable dialogues advancing this aspect of academic practice.

Gray, C. (1996). Inquiry through practice: developing appropriate research strategies. No Guru No Method? UIAH Helsinki.

Haigh, N. (2005). Everyday conversation as a context for professional learning and development. International Journal for Academic Development, 10(1), 3–16.

Johnston, S. (1995). Professional development for post-graduate supervision. Australian Universities Review, (38) 2, 16-19.

Pearson, M. and Kayrooz, C. (2004). Enabling critical reflection on research supervisory practice, International Journal for Academic Development, 9(1), 99-116.

The full paper is on Pg. 77 of the conference proceedings made available at  [in a 1.7 mg booklet]

If you are interested in this form of workshop for research supervisors at your institute contact me at

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Viva-centred research supervision- defending the thesis

Medieval armor on the body in the style of a lion with large shoulder pads on an isolated white background. 3d illustration

Dr Geof Hill The Investigative Practitioner

A defining element of the doctoral degree is that it can be seen to have made a contribution to knowledge. Validation of this evidential/definitional claim is an important part of the doctoral process. In most research, validation is through peer-review. One’s peers ascertain whether a contribution to knowledge has been made. In doctoral examination the peers are usually professionals who themselves have completed a doctoral degree, and their verification of the contribution to knowledge involves reading and evaluating the dissertation. The dissertation reading is often followed by an oral examination – the viva – in which a doctoral candidate defends their thesis.

The term “thesis” comes from the Greek θέσις, meaning “something put forth”, and refers to an intellectual proposition. Aristotle was the first philosopher to define the term thesis (source Wikipedia). In research, the term thesis often refers to the core argument. “Dissertation” comes from the Latin dissertātiō, meaning “discussion” and is often associated with the written version of the thesis – the examinable artefact. A researcher presents their argument in written form and then defends this argument either through correspondence with their examiners or in an oral defense – the viva. This act of defending one’s thesis can be traced to the medieval monasteries, institutes for education and precursors to the modern day university. Potential monastery applicants were required to present a thesis which they defended. The notion and practices of ‘research’ have changed substantially since Medieval times. When the Humboldt University was established in Berlin, research practices became aligned with university work, and the doctoral degree became a research degree. The paradigm wars broadened notions of research, as did a redefinition of research by OECD in 2002 to include creative and performative work. These definitional shifts impacted on what was recognised as a dissertation and what counted as a viva or defence.

The Viva paradigm

Research practice, since Kuhn’s identification of ‘paradigm’, has been seen to be underpinned by a set of beliefs – or a paradigm – about research practices. The viva similarly has an underlying paradigm. Minimally this paradigm articulates notions of truth (ontology) as well as what counts as knowledge (epistemology). The paradigm may also incorporate reader/examiner/peer beliefs about their professional identity. Do they see themselves as critical friends or experts? This identity paradigm strongly impacts examiner conduct in a viva. It can make a difference between the examiner/reader seeing themselves as an adversary or challenger to your thesis and a critical friend – supportive but raising legitimate questions and challenges to the dissertation.

Supervisor strategies

A supervisor draws on different strategies or pedagogies to support their doctoral candidate. Some of this pedagogy invokes notions of a final ‘viva’.

Discussion about the viva can begin with the initial meetings between the researcher and their supervisor. In the early stages of candidature, as a researcher develops their research project plan, they would include the viva as a culminating event. Their project plan may also include additional steps such as a ‘reader’ reviewing the final dissertation before it was sent for examination, and a ‘mock’ viva to prepare the candidate for the examination process. In addition to these end of project moments, a research supervisor might also position milestone events such as progress assessment presentations as rehearsals for the final ‘defence’.

Many of the research supervision pedagogies involve feedback provided on iterations of candidate writing. An academic writing feedback strategy aligned with the defence or ‘viva’, is to identify parts of the candidate’s writing that would invite certain questions at viva. This strategy might also be adopted by a ‘reader’ of the ready-to-submit dissertation.
If a supervisor is working from the doctoral candidature as research apprenticeship, they can support their student to develop a range of competencies (a repertoire of practice) that will help them defend their thesis. This repertoire might involve:
a. Written and oral skills for articulating or talking about their thesis.
b. Skills for defending a thesis.

How do you defend an intellectual argument?

It is important for a doctoral candidate to develop an understanding about how they might defend their intellectual argument. This can involve a number of different competencies:
1. Be clear about the provenance of the issue or practice at the heart of your investigation. Schön’s (1983, 50) notion of ‘troubling’ is a useful vehicle for talking about how the particular focus of the investigation migrated into a research proposal.

2. Accept the contested nature of most practices and issues and be clear about how the practice/issue that you have investigated is framed within the broader discourses. These discourses might include the literature to which you referred, along with other discourses, such as your own story about practice that led to the investigation or your ‘provenance’ with regard to the issue you are investigating. It is useful to know the relevant discourses that have shaped your understanding of what you are investigating and be able to explain how you identified these discourses.
3. From a position of multiple truths, consider how others may view your thesis and the types of questions they may ask. Invite others to read your developing thesis so that you can build up a repertoire of answers to possible questions.

4. Understand clearly the process that you have followed as you investigated your particular focus. Be able to explore the problems that you faced, the ways in which you acted ethically as a researcher and where there are recognisable deficiencies in the approach you adopted. This clarity of articulating the research/inquiry process contributes to the transparency of your investigation – one of the defining features of a doctoral inquiry.

5. Develop your resilience in being able to listen to critique of your thesis. In particular build up reflective listening [ and conflict resolution techniques of ‘I’ messages [ as well as an understanding of the ways in which readers/reviewers frame the problems that they pose about your investigation [].

Some common viva questions

Given that each reader will read a dissertation from their own view of the world. It helps to consider different questions that different readers may ask. One way to source these question is to look at some of the common questions asked at vivas.
1. Why did you chose this topic and how do you think your study makes a contribution to knowledge about that topic?
2. Tell me how you framed the issue in the context of what is already known about your topic. What was the search strategy you used to identity the relevant literature and discourses?
3. How did you identify the way in which your issue could be investigated and what did this involve in a research or inquiry process?
4. Did you find anything unexpected in your study?
5. What contributions do you think this study has made to practice?
6. What do you consider your next step following examination? This is often referred to as the ‘now what?’ question and positions doctoral candidature within a much broader researcher lineage.

The ten minute presentation

It has become a custom in contemporary vivas for the candidate to present a short (ten minute) presentation to begin the viva. Traditionally this has been an overview of the study, but in the light of the increasing endorsement of performative work in both research and research publication, this presentation could also be a performative piece. In some doctoral investigations around performative work, the ten minute presentation might be extended so that a fuller version of the performance work can been seen by the reviewers enabling them to examine in situ and see the work under investigation as it was intended to be performed.
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Conversations about research supervision – enabling and accrediting a Community of Practice model for research degree supervisor development Geof Hill and Sian Vaughan

The authors’ lived experience of devising a professional development programme for research supervisors and securing SEDA (Staff and Educational Development Association) accreditation informs this paper. Our first purpose is to outline the programme and discuss its uniqueness in using a community of practice model (Wenger, 1998) in conjunction with practitioner inquiry (Stenhouse, 1981) for developmental and for assessment processes simultaneously. The second purpose is to discuss the challenges and benefits in securing SEDA accreditation for the programme, and how we managed to do this whilst retaining the richness of the conversations that colleagues find rewarding and useful. In sharing our model, we aim to encourage others to think about how dialogic and community of practice approaches might be embedded in professional development and accreditation opportunities in their own institutions.

If you would like a copy of this paper please contact me on

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Supervising practice-based doctorates

(This resource was developed for UKCGE and published on their network site on June 6th 2017)


In the provenance of research practice, practical or experiential knowledge was consistently devalued. The Greeks preferred intellectual knowledge over practical knowledge. During the Renaissance, written intellectual knowledge had precedence over practical knowledge. The emergence of scientific method represented a point of ascendance for scientific knowledge and continued degradation of practical or experiential knowledge (Schön, 1983).

Since the paradigm wars, experiential and practical knowledge has found new epistemological popularity in university based research. Some of this can be accredited to Donald Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner that advocated not only the study of practice, but posited an inquiry paradigm to underpin that type of investigation. Similarly, ‘The Practice Turn’ (Schatzki, Knorr-Cetina and von Savigny, 2001) signified recognition of professional practice as embodied or being linked to people, and argued for situated study of professional practice in specific professional settings. Both theoretical innovations encouraged practice-based research or inquiry.

Undertaking an investigation into any form of practice involves an amount of reflection. In order to know what we do in any practice, there is a need to think about and articulate what that practice involves. Regardless of the practice being investigated, this form of reflection generates a stream of consciousness which can provide information about a given practice but, unless this knowledge is in some way systematized, it can be overwhelming for a reader, and raises questions regarding its value for other practitioners and more generally for practice theory. There are challenges in knowing how to document this body of knowledge in ways that make it both accessible for potential readers and manageable for interrogation by the practitioner/inquirer.

Research supervisors working with professionals as they interrogate their practice within the framework of research degrees need to help them elicit this often tacit knowledge into a form that makes it reviewable and examinable.

Some research supervisor strategies ….
I have found that encouraging the student to undertake provenance reflection of their practice can establish a first articulation of the practice they propose to investigate. Provenance is a term more commonly used in antique dealing where it refers to manufacture and ownership of items of antiquity. Within practice inquiry, I posit (Hill, 2014) that a practice has a general provenance – a history of that particular practice’s evolution – along with a personal provenance – how a particular practitioner has developed their practice. A given practitioner’s personal provenance may also contain wisdom about the practice derived from other fellow practitioners.
Provenance can be comfortably followed by or paralleled with Naming (Schön, 1983, 42) of the practice or elements of the practice. What one professional may call their practice and how that practice is referred to in the literature may have different names. Reflective practice is a good example. What is recognized by some professionals as an ability to think about their practice may appear in the literature as reflective practice (Schön, 1983) or can equally be referred to as mindfulness or reflexivity (Schippers, Homan and Van Knippenberg, 2013). Helping the inquirer focus on a name for the practice they are investigating and recognising the contested nature of the name of the practice are both ideas that can be facilitated or encouraged by the research supervisor helping a student to study their practice.

Framing (Schön, 1983, 42) a practice involves establishing a way of sorting all the knowledge about a practice – both the inquirer’s own practical knowledge and what is available through literature – into a format so that other people can learn about it. This may even involve expressing the practice diagrammatically. Sometimes this framing can be chronological as a time line. A given practitioner can list the critical incidents that have informed their development of a given professional practice. Chronologically sorting the literature about a practice can help to reveal specific lines of inquiry in which one author refers to another, or it could reveal a significant change in perception of certain practices over time. This sort of systemizing of the literature can help an inquirer situate what they know about the practice they are investigating within the larger discourse about that practice.

But, not all practices fit these sorts of systematization. Research supervision is a good example of a practice not fitting a chronological system. While individual practitioners may come to research supervision in a recognizable chronology that involves their own completion of a doctoral degree and being supervised, others may have experienced different developmental paths into their observed research supervision practice. Similarly the broader discourse around the investigated practice can be framed in a variety of ways. In my own practice led investigation of research supervision I posited (Hill, 2011) a framework for making sense of the variety of different articles on research supervision that presented research supervision:
1. Research supervision as pedagogy.
2. Research supervision as relationship.
3. Research supervision as management.
4. Research supervision as facilitating contributions to knowledge
I retained that framework for a blog on research supervision I developed: the research supervisors’ friend

Provenance, naming and framing can help an inquirer/researcher articulate their professional practice such that it opens up the articulation of practice to criticality, often thought of as a key feature of doctoral inquiry. For some, criticality involves application of another of Schön’s (1983) variations of reflective practice, in the form of advanced or critical reflection. Critical reflection is a contested practice. For some (Argyris, 1982; Mezirow, 1990) critical reflection involves identifying the belief systems or the doctrine that underpins a professional’s outplaying of their professional practice or aspects of professional practice. This often involves identifying the philosophy behind their practice. For others (Reynolds, 1998) critical reflection is referenced to neo-Marxists Freire (1986) and Habermas (1968) who were concerned with inequality brought about by unequal relations of power within capitalism. Both understandings about critical reflection bring criticality or critical interrogation to bear on a professional’s articulation of their practice, and add to its doctoralness.

As most research degrees are examined on the basis of a written document, research supervision also involves developing a researcher/inquirer’s writing about their professional practice and about their investigation into their professional practice. It helps to understand the dissertation as an extended argument in which one firstly frames a practice from their own experience and from the perspective of the literature; then posits a way to investigate that practice as framed. Thinking about the argument helps a practitioner who is immersed in their own practice to achieve a certain level of distance and ability to view their practice as an outsider. The argument continues as the researcher/inquirer makes sense of the data they have collected about the practice, either from themselves (auto ethnography) or from other practitioners of the practice and articulates their contribution to the knowledge about the practice.

1. Is it different undertaking research where the starting point is practice and even the researcher’s own practice?
2. How do you prevent an act of provenance being perceived as self-indulgent?
One of the tools I have used with my own doctoral students to elicit their knowledge of practice is based on a set of catalyst questions:
• What do you know about your practice?
• What do you know about investigative practice?
• What do you know about university based investigation and academic writing?

Some of my doctoral students have added to this with more specific questions such as
• What is your own relationship with the practice you are investigating?
• Do you consider yourself an insider/outsider to this profession?
• What do you think are the critical incidents that have led to your development/understanding of your practice?
• What are your own attitudes towards the aspects of the practice that you are investigating? Are you aware of any theoretical frameworks that may underpin these beliefs?
• What sort of impact do you hope for your research to have e.g. on practice?

As this posing of questions often coincides with a first research supervision meeting, there may be parallel questions relating to the nature of the supervision, such as, ‘What are your expectations from me as a supervisor?’

These questions are asked in an initial meeting with a student to start a short term process leading to production of a research proposal and a long term process of their doctoral candidature. The questions are underpinned by the assumption that students have answers to these questions and just need prompting to begin to affirm the knowledge that has already started to formulate their investigation. A contrasting and perhaps traditional strategy might be to encourage the student to look to literature to contextualize their investigative topic. Drawing on an inquirer’s background knowledge as compared to asking them to seek knowledge about the practice they are investigating in literature affirms their self-knowledge and focuses on marshalling and clarifying that knowledge into a research proposal.

The initial meeting is the first step in a model that includes six face-to-face meetings and five writing assignments over a period of (usually) six months.

The first writing task involve writing no more than two pages following the initial meeting addressing the following questions:
• What do you intend to investigate?
• What is the context of the investigation?
o Practice based context and
o Literature context And
• What role do you play in the practice based context?
• Why is it important to investigate this issue?
• First thoughts on how you think you might investigate this topic.

Feedback on this writing focuses on identifying in the writing where the student has described ways in which he (she) has been undertaking research in their industry. This helps the student to identify their ‘investigative practice’ as compared to the practice which is being investigated, their ‘professional practice’.

Following the second meeting the student builds the previous two page document into a four page document which again receives feedback, and generates the agenda for the next meeting. In our subsequent meetings we discuss the developing text and also address a number of issues, such as ethics, that are pertinent to writing about and undertaking practice based research.

After five meetings the student has written a document of about 32 pages. This is often the size specification for a research proposal. In this working document they have positioned their own proposed investigation within a summary of what is ‘known’ about the topic (a literature review) and suggested how they might go about investigating this topic (methodology). This supervision process is focused on producing a research proposal.

Argyris, C. (1982). Reasoning, learning and action: individual and organizational. San Francisco, U.S.A.: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (1986) The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation. (trans Donald Macedo ), U.S.A.: Macmillan.

Habermas, J. (1968). Knowledge and Human Interests. Boston, U.S.A.: Beacon Press.

Hill, G. (2011). Diffracting the practices of research supervision. In Kumar, V & Lee, A. (eds) Connecting the Local, Regional and International in Doctoral Education, Serdang, Malaysia: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press.

Hill, G. (2015). Cycles of Action and Reflection. In Coghlan, D. & Brydon-Miller, M (Eds) The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Action Research. Thousand Oaks, Calif: U.S.A.: Sage (pp234-239)

Mezirow, J. (1990). How critical reflection triggers transformative learning. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Fostering critical reflection in adulthood: A guide to transformative and emancipatory learning. San Francisco, U.S.A.: Jossey-Bass.

Schatzki, T.R., Knorr-Cetina, K. and von Savigny, E. (2001) (Eds) The Practice turn in contemporary theory. London: U.K.: Routledge.

Schippers, M., Homan, A., and Van Knippenberg, D. (2013). To reflect or not to reflect: Prior team performance as a boundary condition of the effects of reflexivity on learning and final team performance. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 34, 6-23.

Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action. U.S.A.: Basic Books.

[I would like to express my gratitude to Rebecca Snape, Fiona Wilcox, Martha Lopez, George Hart, Saphiya Rajer and Sarya Begum, my doctoral students, whose feedback and discussion about draft versions of this resource contributed to its final format]

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This blog has been written by Dr. Gerald Feldman one of the academic staff at Birmingham City University. He undertook a practitioner inquiry in the context of a community of practice around research supervision in his faculty and used an analytical framework based on Bøgelund (2015), to reflect on his research supervision in a Faculty of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment.

A Reflection of My Supervision Process


Four main types of supervision can be identified in the literature: (i) the traditional model, which involves a master and apprentice relationship; (ii) group supervision this is one supervisor has multiple students; (iii) team supervision where a team of supervisors are involved in the supervision of one student; and (iii) mixed model, this is a mixture of (i) and (ii) and supported by the use of technology (McCallin and Nayar, 2012; Guerin et. al., 2015). According to Sinclair (2004), these supervision types would either involve a ‘hands-on’ or ‘hands-off’. In the hands-on approach, the supervisee is dependent on the supervisor to guide them in developing the skills to become independent, while the hands-off approach suggests the student to be independent and self-driven (Boehe, 2016). In the hands-on, approach the supervisor or supervisory team adopts a project management approach to provide focus and empower the supervisees to achieve their milestones and make a decision in the direction of their research. The decision on which approach to adopt is dependent student, and thus, there is a need to tailor a supervisory style to a particular student’s needs and personality (Boehe, 2016). Understandably, it would be difficult to identify a single supervision style to suit all students when adopting group supervision. However, group supervision plays a major role in easing students into a research and enabling peer learning which can boost confidence and motivation (Guerin et. al., 2015).

Investigative Framework

In order to obtain a better understanding of my supervisory processes, I adapted Bøgelund (2015), analytical framework, and used two main themes to explore my supervision process: (i) perception of my supervision style; and (ii) my attitude and expectations. Lee (2008) proposed several contexts that refer to perceptions of supervision styles, these are: (i) functional; (ii) enculturation; (iii) critical thinking; (iv) emancipation; and (v) relationship development. In addition, I extended the framework, by extending my attitude and expectations based on the characteristics of a good supervisor proposed by Cullen et. al. (1994): (i) supportive, positive attitude; (ii) open minded and prepared to acknowledge error; (iii) organised and thorough; and (iv) encouraging and conveys interest for research. Reflecting on how my practice using this framework (see figure 1) would allow me to realise what I am portraying as my supervision practice.

My reflection is based on three students that I am involved in their supervision, but not their main supervision. These three cases offer sufficient depth to understand my supervisory process, along with any limitations in my approach, since the students involved demonstrate diversified characteristics. For example, one of the students is organised and independent, thus, requires minimum supervision (I refer to this student as Jo). The second student (John) lacks confidence and is very dependent on the supervisory team, the last student (Doe) has multiple characteristics, which are mostly triggered by extrinsic motivation.


Figure 1: Analytical framework to investigate my supervision practice


Before this examination of my supervision practice, I would identify myself as being a facilitator, adviser, mentor and critic during the supervision process, as such, I considered myself as a constructivist. Based on Lee (2008) framework, I would associate myself to the emancipation section. I also felt that my attitude was supportive, open minded and encouraging research, which led me to expect that the students are organised and thorough in their task. However, after a close reflection of the three cases, I established that I tend to be supportive and have a positive attitude towards Jo. I observed that whenever I attend meetings with Jo, I have an open mind and will readily acknowledge my error, and demonstrate an interest in his research, this could be because I consider Jo to be an equal. When it comes to John and Doe, I am supportive and mentor them, but I am guarded, and hence I turn into a gatekeeper, which ensures the earlier task is complete so that I can lead them to the next task. One possible explanation for behaviour could be associated with the student characteristics. For example, Jo is organised and thorough, independent and his motivation is intrinsic, hence prefers a hands-off approach, where he is given space to conduct his research and would seek support when he requires it. For John and Doe, it is quite the opposite since there is a need for a hands-on approach to provide them with the direction that ensures progression. In this case, I feel my role is more of a project manager, who directs, facilitate, mentors and encourages John and Doe to reach independence. This is more of a master -apprentice relationship, which is dependent on how much the student believes the master has the right level of knowledge to guide him or her to the next task.

Reflection of my supervision practice

Supervision is a balancing act of the supervisor’s attitude and expectations against the student autonomy. Similar to earlier studies (Boehe, 2016; Bøgelund, 2015; Guerin et. al., 2015; Harrison and Grant, 2015; Vehviläinen and Löfström, 2016), there are several aspects that I have identified to be core to the research supervision process (see figure at the top of the blog).

  • Identifying the student characteristics facilitates determining case by case the student needs and characteristics that allow adapting a particular supervision process to provide adequate support and guidance to the student;
  • Open communication is important in establishing good working relations and trust between the supervisor or supervision team with the student, which in turn allows the student to be comfortable to discuss progress and challenges;
  • The structure allows controlling the outcomes, for example, in the case of paper authorship, I am a strong believer that the someone should be added to paper only if they contributed towards that paper and not because they are part of a team, which is mostly what most people assumes to be the norm. In fact, the level of contribution should determine the order of authorship. This is something I would like to establish with the student and the supervision team so that we are all on the same page. So establishing structure is not only for the student but also for the supervision team, thus ensuring each person plays his or her assigned role in providing the right level of support and guidance to the student. I think the establishing of a structure will support and encourage the student to make significant decisions about the research direction and research independence.
  • Relationship and boundaries in any supervision process are vital, as a healthy relationship between the supervision team, the supervisor and the student, provides a conducive environment that makes the whole experience enjoyable. However, it also important to establish a clear boundary in that relationship, as being very friendly to the student may create a situation where the student would assume that you could cover up for their indecision or progress. Understandably, this is not common, as most students take ownership and feel responsible for their research; and
  • Formal meetings are important to satisfy the university requirements and establish the formal supervision structure. However, informal meetings provide a sense of freedom to discuss research issues and challenges openly since students feel supported and the supervisor more approachable. This can also result in trust and open communication which can help the students.  

Integrating these activities as part of the supervision process could lead to making the students more comfortable and confident in their work, especially if all the supervision team is involved. Thus, there is a need to move away from the master and apprentice model towards a hybrid model, which allows balancing the students’ needs and characteristics to the composition of the supervision team. However, research supervision is a complex process, suggesting that the supervisor needs to be adaptable to the students’ need since no single style fits all situations. Acquiring these skills to accommodate the different students’ needs and characteristics is a learning process, which early career supervisors’ (like myself) can best learn when integrated within an experienced team. Thus, I believe being part of a team when supervising a student is ideal as it facilitates acquiring various supervision practices and approaches, to improve my supervision practice.


Boehe, D.M., 2016. Supervisory styles: a contingency framework. Studies in Higher Education41(3), pp.399-414.

Bøgelund, P., 2015. How supervisors perceive PhD supervision–And how they practice it. International Journal of Doctoral Studies10, pp.39-55.

Cullen, D.J., Pearson, M., Saha, L.J. and Spear, R.H., 1994. Establishing effective PhD supervision. Canberra: AGPS.

Guerin, C., Kerr, H. and Green, I., 2015. Supervision pedagogies: narratives from the field. Teaching in Higher Education20(1), pp.107-118.

Harrison, S. and Grant, C., 2015. Exploring of new models of research pedagogy: time to let go of master-apprentice style supervision?. Teaching in Higher Education20(5), pp.556-566.

Lee, A., 2008. How are doctoral students supervised? Concepts of doctoral research supervision. Studies in Higher Education33(3), pp.267-281.

McCallin, A. and Nayar, S., 2012. Postgraduate research supervision: A critical review of current practice. Teaching in Higher Education17(1), pp.63-74..

Sinclair, M., 2004. The pedagogy of’good’PhD supervision: A national cross-disciplinary investigation of PhD supervision. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training.

Vehviläinen, S. and Löfström, E., 2016. ‘I wish I had a crystal ball’: discourses and potentials for developing academic supervising. Studies in Higher Education41(3), pp.508-524

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My First Year as a Research Supervisor: Developing My Own Model of Supervision


This blog has been written by Dr. Sarah L. Cooper one of the academic staff at Birmingham City University. She undertook a practitioner inquiry in the context of a community of practice around research supervision in her faculty and used a strengths based inquiry approach to reflect on her first year of being a research supervisor in a Law School.

In September, 2015 I began supervising my first PhD student. Despite the project fitting squarely within my own research area, which I had published widely on, and the fact I had very experienced colleagues to work with, I felt trepidation about taking on this responsibility. A year later, however, my student has finalised her literature review and methodology chapters, passed her qualification in research methods, and is on target to complete her data collection, analysis and write-up in good time. I helped her get to this stage, and soon I will start guiding two new PhD students along the same journey.

This blog post reflects on my first year as a research supervisor, and my initial ideas for developing my own model of supervision based on a strengths-based approach to supervision.


A SBA is an “approach to people that views situations realistically and looks for opportunities to complement and support existing strengths and capacities as opposed to focusing on and staying with the problem or concern. The problem and the person are separate; however, the problem is never minimised.” (Bernadette Glass)

My rationale for taking this approach as a new supervisor is that when you start supervising, your own strengths and common-sense are all you have to rely on for the diverse range of problem-solving, strategizing, and advising you are required to do. Moreover, your student (usually) arrives at your door equally as green.


Strengths-based analysis involves reflecting on certain areas of practice, including ‘relationships and communication’; ‘honesty and transparency’ and ‘framing.’ Below I summarise my reflections about these areas of practice during my first year as a supervisor.


A SBA values high quality relationships and communication. In the context of research supervision, I have found it important to engender good relationships with:

  • Your student. I have made a conscious effort to build a more collaborative and collegiate relationship with my PhD student. This is because I want to be able to clearly distinguish my role as a PhD supervisor from my role as a lecturer. I want my PhD student to see me as more of a colleague than superior. For example, there’s nothing wrong with conducting supervision over coffee or bouncing ideas around whilst on a run. Moreover, you need to be genuinely interested (and show as such) in your student’s research and success. You’ve got to foster a relationship that allows you to be the person they go to for critical feedback, motivation, and praise.


  • Your colleagues. Your colleagues are an excellent resource. There are few supervisory challenges that will have evaded an academic school or faculty. And, even if your challenge is unprecedented, someone will know an external colleague who has dealt with it before, or, at the very least, be able offer a sensible resolution. All you have to do is ask. I’ve found the most useful question to ask is “What would you do if…?”


These outlets not only disseminate knowledge but they also create networks. For example, there is a large and supportive PhD community on Twitter. Not only does every subject area have specific user accounts, but there are accounts dedicated solely to holistic PhD study. Accounts like @PhD2Published , @PhDForum , @PHDcomics bring together PhD students and supervisors from across various disciplines, offering a platform for discussion, trouble-shooting, collegiality, as well as an outlet for sharing the humour and realities of #PhDLife.

With regards to communication, in my experience, the following communication practices by supervisors are indicative of high-quality supervision:

  1. Communicates meaningfully and regularly about the substantive project. This includes keeping in-touch via e-mail and in-person meetings, and providing timely feedback on questions and work product.
  2. Communicates efficiently about the administrative ‘stuff.’ This includes keeping the student informed of academic regulations, deadlines, library loans, and completing the paper work required for things like ethics requirements, funding applications and conference attendance.
  3. Communicates the Bigger Picture. This means providing students with information about wider career enhancing opportunities, such as conferences internships, calls for papers, and teaching opportunities.
  4. Communicates at the right time and in the right way. This means knowing when to control a situation and when to back-off, and how to meaningfully celebrate success and help overcome disappointment.



It’s important to be honest and transparent with your PhD student about the following:

  1. Their performance, progress, strengths and weaknesses.
  2. You’re experience as an academic. Tell them about what makes you suitable for supervising their project. For example, tell them about why your colleagues have recommended you as a supervisor.
  3. Your approach to problem-solving and difficult situations.
  4. Your own research experiences. Tell your PhD student about the ‘good, bad and ugly’ side of research. Share your successes, failures, mistakes, and anything else that stands out to you as a defining experience. If you’ve completed a PhD or are undertaking one, tell them about it. It’s really powerful to be able to say you know how they feel because you have felt (or are feeling!) the same way.
  5. Your expectations. Tell your student about how you work and what expectations you have for them. Try and ground your expectations in your institutions research supervision guidelines. For example, if your institution requires students to pass a preliminary research methods qualification, and present at one national conference by the end of year two, tell your student you expect them to do just that. Also set out how expectations surrounding workload, methods and frequency of communication, and feedback.


How you frame key components of the research journey is crucial. In particular, I have found it is important to be clear about the following:

  1. Resources. Give students a list of texts they can consult. A text I have found particularly useful is “The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research” by Marian Petre and Gordon Rugg.
  2. Project Management. You need to help your student to clearly unpack the project into bite-size tasks, set realistic and precise deadlines, help design effective methodologies, and offer advice on how to prioritise and multi- task. In particular, encourage students to keep a comprehensive log of their sole activity and supervision sessions.
  3. Problem-solving. Supervising is a diverse problem-solving exercise. In a single year we have encountered challenges ranging from the organisation of voluminous data that cuts across multiple disciplines and jurisdictions, to how to pitch objective research within an area that houses contentious viewpoints. The most useful thing I have learnt to do is clearly and objectively label the problem, identify its source, and offer possible solutions. 



Although unconventional in a SBA, checklists are a useful way of capturing “a set of tasks or a process that needs to be completed, particularly if the process or tasks contain many detailed elements that need to be completed with great accuracy” (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Working Paper, 2011). Research Supervision involves just that. As such, based on my experiences so far, I have developed the following ‘to-do’ list, which aims to improve my own supervision practice, form the basis of a model of supervision, and offer guidance to new research supervisors.


  1. Draw up an agenda for my first supervision meetings that: Introduces the student to their supervisory team; Sets out clear expectations for the student-supervisor relationship; Suggests short, medium and long-term goals (in relation to the PhD and wider academic field) that the student should consider; Signposts students to helpful resources and people; and outlines typical internal and external procedures related to research practice, such as ethics requirements and funding applications.
  2. Encourage my students to create a virtual network by setting up professional social media account(s).
  3. Create a list of useful resources to share with research students.
  4. Create a list of what supervisors and students consider to be “good” and “bad” research supervision.
  5. Ask new students to carry out a SWOT analysis on their project at the start of their research and review it with them.
  6. Set-up regular meetings for all my PhD students to share ideas, progress and trouble-shoot through mutual learning.
  7. Ask my students to draw up an action plan (perhaps in the form of a Gantt Chart) every six months and ask them to define any problems they foresee, and how they might address them.  


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