The days when, because they involved the creation of new knowledge, doctoral degrees took as long as they took are long gone. Globally, research sponsors have put policies in place designed to ensure that candidates to complete their degrees in three or four years of full-time study (or pro-rata for part-time).
Such policies have usually entailed financial penalties for departments and/or institutions that have failed to hit targets for completion rates and/or times. In consequence, over the past three decades or so, one of, if not the key roles for supervisors has become ensuring as far as possible that candidates complete on time.
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.
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 (Hopgood 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.
Evidence here, for example, could consist of a case study of how you have supported a candidate at a time of personal crisis.
As Taylor et al (2018) have suggested, candidates need to have or acquire the skills of project management, time management, and self-management if they are to stand a chance of completing within three or four years. In many cases, institutions now provide training programmes covering these skills, but you may provide evidence that you encourage your candidates to take advantage of the opportunities.
However, even if they do, this is not a guarantee of success, and supervisors need to be aware of slippages and ready to correct them, e.g. through progress reviews in supervisions. You could evidence this by, for example, regularly reviewing the candidate’s achievements against their research plan in supervisions.
Additionally, as a number of studies (see Delamont et al 2004, Cryer 2006, Kiley 2009, Phillips and Pugh 2010) have suggested, supervisors may need to motivate candidates in the middle stages of their studies who are suffering from the loss of confidence and/or boredom. Examples of how you go about doing this might include praising them, helping them to map out stepping stones to completion, re-focusing the research, or as a last resort perhaps advising them to take a break.
Another strategy for supporting progression can be the use of learning agreements with candidates. Such agreements are usually concluded at the start of the candidature and specify, among other things, the various milestones to final completion (see for example Gaffney-Rhys and Jones, 2010, Gilbar et al 2013). These are intended to be ‘live’ documents which afford a basis for the ongoing discussion of progress throughout the candidacy and evidence might then include the use of learning agreements for this purpose.
Additionally, supervisors will usually monitor progress through checking at supervisory meetings whether targets have been achieved and, if not, by providing advice and support to enable candidates to get back on track. This may be recorded in records of such meetings, which you could provide as evidence of this activity. Supervisors will also be involved in formal progression events.
Usually, candidates are initially registered for a lower degree or their doctoral candidature is subject to confirmation, and there is a formal review at between 9 and 15 months to determine whether they should be allowed to proceed to the doctorate/full candidature. Additionally, there will be further reviews of progress at regular intervals in future years of study. Supervisors may have roles in supporting candidates for progression events, writing reports for progression panels (see Mewburn et al 2013, 2014), and in some institutions sitting as members of such panels.
Evidence here might include a case study of you go about preparing candidates for such events and/or writing reports.
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).
You may be able to evidence this by describing how you have acted as a role model, e.g. by demonstrating your own effective work-life balance to candidates.
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 S 9).
Evidence again might consist of a case study of how you have inducted a candidate or candidates into the community.
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.
Again, you might provide a brief case study of how you have supported a doctoral candidate in their teaching.
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 if you discuss with candidates the key selection criteria in advertisements for posts in your 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 to compete for non-academic careers.
You may evidence this through conducting training needs analyses, identifying gaps in skills, and taking advantage of opportunities to close them.
Expand the section below to view references the academic literature supporting this criterion:
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Example Application Content
Below is an example of how evidence could be provided for this criterion when applying to the Research Supervision Recognition Programme: