7. Supporting candidates’ personal, professional and career development

  • Full: Required
  • Associate: Elective

Doctoral candidates are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in their personal lives. Supervisors need at least to be aware of personal issues, particularly in relation to wellbeing and mental health, and able to direct candidates towards the relevant professional services. They also need to recognise that they may be role models for their candidates, particularly in achieving a work-life balance.

Supervisors also have a responsibility to support the professional development of doctoral candidates in terms of socialization within their disciplinary community and, where appropriate, in undertaking teaching duties in the subject.

Traditionally, such activities helped to support doctoral candidates to prepare for academic careers, and supervisors have had a direct role in informing them about faculty work and life. In recent years, however, only a minority of doctoral graduates have become academics, while the majority have found employment in other spheres. Here, supervisors may have a role in supporting candidates to prepare for non-academic careers.

Typical Examples 

  • Supporting candidates with personal issues, including those relating to well-being and mental health.
  • Being good role models in terms of work-life balance.
  • Inducting candidates into disciplinary networks and activities.
  • Supporting their development as teachers.
  • Informing them about academic careers.
  • Supporting them to prepare for non-academic careers.

Supporting Materials

Literature and Evidence

Supervisors will normally have some pastoral engagement with candidates over the course of their doctoral studies as events in their private lives impinge upon their professional ones (Hopwood et al 2011, McAlpine et al 2012, McAlpine 2013). Minimally, supervisors need to be alert to the prospect of candidates experiencing personal issues and problems, for example by regularly checking with them. When such issues, including those relating to well-being and mental health, are identified, supervisors need be sympathetic, conscious of the limits of direct involvement, and aware of the professional services to whom candidates can be referred for further support. 

Supervisors need to be good role models for candidates is in terms of achieving an appropriate work-life balance. The latter can be an issue for candidates and there is some evidence that it is a factor in poor mental health (see Cohen 2011, Margrove et al 2014, Levecque et al 2017), non- or delayed completion (see Barry et al 2018), and in putting candidates off an academic career (McAlpine 2017).

As Walker et al (2008) have put the matter, supervisors are stewards of the discipline’ and responsible for inducting candidates into the disciplinary community. This may include encouraging them in joining appropriate networks (see Thein and Beach 2010), attending conferences, giving presentations, and possibly in publishing their work during candidacy (see 9: Supporting candidates to disseminate their research”)

Many candidates will engage in teaching during their studies, often on modules led by their supervisors. In such cases, as Muzaka (2009) and Jepsen et al (2012) have pointed out, supervisors have a responsibility to ensure that teaching assistants are adequately prepared and supported to undertake teaching duties and that they are fully informed about assessment methods, topics, and criteria.

Often, candidates embark upon the doctorate in the expectation of an academic career, and one obvious source of information is their supervisor. However, studies (see Austin 2002, 2011, Campbell et al 2005, Austin and McDaniels 2006) have found that their supervisors tended to assume that doctoral candidates either arrived with an understanding of academic work or would acquire one by a process of osmosis during their studies. Good-practice is then for supervisors to least be prepared to discuss what is involved in an academic career, including research, teaching and supporting learning, academic administration, public service, and entrepreneurial activity.

Following Pitt and Mewburn (2016), one way of evidencing this would be to discuss with candidates the key selection criteria in advertisements for posts in the field.

But if many are called to academic posts, few are chosen, and most doctoral candidates will end up working in other occupations (see Hancock 2014, Hancock et al 2015, McAlpine and Emmioglu 2015, Kweik 2019). While, unless they have worked outside universities, supervisors may be unable to advise candidates seeking non-academic positions, they can support them to acquire the so-called generic or transferable skills deemed necessary to enable them compete for non-academic careers.

  • What experience have you had of supporting a candidate at a time of personal crisis? What proved successful in getting them through, in your experience?
  • Can you give examples of how you have acted as a role model, e.g. by demonstrating your own effective work-life balance to candidates?
  • Could you provide examples, or a case study, of how you have inducted a candidate or candidates into the research community?
  • How have you supported a doctoral candidate in their teaching?
  • What is your approach to conducting training needs analyses? How do you identifying gaps in skills? How do you go about encouraging them to take advantage of opportunities to close those gaps?

Example Application Content


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