Reflecting Upon and Enhancing Practice

If supervisors are to improve their practice, they need to evaluate it, reflect upon it, determine their strengths and weaknesses, build upon the former and address the latter.

As with other areas of academic practice, supervisors should undertake appropriate professional development to enhance their practice, which may include workshops and programmes as well as familiarity with the scholarly literature and its implications for practice.

Where supervisors identify good practice, then wherever possible they should disseminate it for the benefit of others.

Typical Examples
  • Using an appropriate mix of methods for evaluating supervision.
  • Undertaking initial and continuing professional development.
  • Familiarity with the scholarly literature.
  • Where appropriate, contributing to the professional development of other supervisors.

Supporting Materials

Literature and Evidence

As Taylor et al (2018) have suggested, supervisors can self-evaluate their supervision by, e.g. after each supervision spending a few minutes completing a simple pro-forma with ‘what went well?’, ‘what went less well?’ and ‘what will I do differently next time?’ and/or by keeping a reflective diary.

It can be problematic to use individual questionnaires for research students as the latter can be identified and may be unwilling to be critical of their supervisors. But the latter still might devote (say) one supervision a year to a general discussion of how the student feels about the quality of supervision, possibly based upon a list of topics such as that developed by Lee and McKenzie (2011).

Peer observation is a familiar part of evaluation in taught programmes, and it is equally applicable in doctoral ones (see for example Goode 2010, Hill 2011).

Your evidence here might include self-evaluation pro-formas, summaries of student evaluations, peer reviews, or candidate testaments.

Nearly all institutions now have initial professional development programmes for supervisors and many have refreshers for established supervisors (see Taylor 2018). As evidence, you might cite examples of workshops that you have attended, what you learned, and how this has influenced your practice. Also, there is now a substantial scholarly literature on the practice of research supervision and you could give examples of how studies have influenced your practice.

Where appropriate, you might present evidence of contributing to the development of others by, for example, mentoring colleagues or facilitating departmental events, institutional workshops or discipline, national or international workshops.


Expand the section below to view references the academic literature supporting this criterion:

10. Reflecting Upon and Enhancing Practice

Goode, J. (2010).

‘Perhaps I should be more proactive in changing my own supervisions: student agency in ‘doing supervision’.

In Walker, M. and Thomson, P. (eds.) The Routledge Doctoral Supervisor’s Companion. London, Routledge: 38-50

Hill, G. (2011)

Diffracting the Practices of Research Supervision

In V. Kumar and A. Lee (Eds.) Doctoral Education in International Context: Connecting Local, Regional and Global Perspectives. Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia Press.

Lee, A. and McKenzie, J. (2011)

Evaluating doctoral supervision: tensions in eliciting students’ perspectives.

Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 48(1): 69-78.

Taylor, S., Kiley M. and Humphrey, R. (2018)

A Handbook for Doctoral Supervisors. 2nd Ed.

London, Routledge.

Download the Research Supervisors Bibliography PDF 1.15Mb

Example Application Content

Below is an example of how evidence could be provided for this criterion when applying to the Research Supervision Recognition Programme:

10. Reflecting Upon and Enhancing Practice

Supervisors at Barchester are required to complete an initial professional development programme and to act as second supervisors for one student cycle before becoming principal supervisors. Once confirmed, principal supervisors are required to attend an updating workshop at least once every three years.

At the start of my career I attended the initial half-day programme, which was mainly devoted to understanding the university’s rules and regulations relating to research degrees. This was helpful in alerting me to the regulatory environment at Barchester – which was different to that in Uttoxeter. But it was ultimately disappointing because there was so little on the pedagogy and practice of supervision, an experience which does not seem uncommon (see Feather and McDermott 2014).

This might have been less of a problem if, when I became a second supervisor, my experienced colleague had properly mentored me but, as noted above, our relationship was often conflictual and I learned relatively little.

Overall, I felt very much that I had been left to muddle through, and one of the consequences of that was an initially overly-directive style of supervision. But, as noted above, I soon learned that there was a need to vary my style in accordance with the different needs of my student, and I determined to learn more. To find out more, I then attended an external workshop on the pedagogy of supervision and found out more about research on the relationships between styles and needs (see Lee 2012) and, moreover, how these should vary over the course of a research degree cycle (Gurr 2001). When I returned to Barchester, I suggested to the colleagues in the Centre for Academic and Researcher Development that this should be included in the supervisor development programme, and this has been done.

‘Muddling through’ also extended to supporting candidates to complete on time; most did so off their own bat but a couple sometimes seem to lose the plot and achieved very little for long periods of time. Supporting timely completion was actually a topic which was considered on an updating course I attended, which introduced me to the work of Ahern and Manthunga (2004) on ‘clutch-starting stalled research candidates’. I found their classification of the causes of stalling into the cognitive, affective, and social domains useful both in understanding why candidates were under-achieving and in deciding how to support them to progress. In particular, this led me to change my strategy with one of my candidates whom I had thought to be simply idle but realised that the problem was actually lack of self-esteem – what Kearns (2015) has called imposter syndrome – and that the solution lay in boosting her confidence. This proved effective and, while she went over time, she got there in the end.

As with my teaching, I evaluate supervision through a combination of self-evaluation and the Lee and Mackenzie (2011) questionnaire. For the latter, I devote one supervision per year to going through the items with the student and my co-supervisor just to make sure that we are all happy and on track.

In 2017 my candidates nominated me for a university’s award for excellence in doctoral supervision. I was particularly humbled by their testimonies. Extracts include:

‘Dr Other always went the extra mile to support me to successfully complete my thesis on time, to co-publish with me while I was a student, and to learn to teach. He was a brilliant role model who motivated me to become an academic and it is in no small part to him that I owe my success in gaining an academic post’.

‘I became pregnant during my doctoral studies. Dr Other was very understanding and supportive throughout the pregnancy and the first year of my baby’s life. He very strongly encouraged me to come back and complete my studies and arranged for me to transfer to part-time status. He scheduled supervisions for the evenings and weekends when my partner could look after the baby. When I was tired and flagging and ready to give up, he always had faith that I would get there in the end. I did, thanks to his support.’

‘When I came to Barchester from China, I had little idea of what was involved in research. Dr Other discussed many potential topics with me and showed me how to evaluate them until I came up with a good one. He helped me to design the study and then taught me how to work independently. At the end, he helped me to improve my writing and to prepare for my viva. His support was vital in helping me to gain my doctorate, and he has continued to collaborate with me after my return to Bejing’

I am pleased to say that I won the award. As a result of that, I was asked by my department to talk about my supervision at the research away day, and my talk went down well with both colleagues new to supervision and experienced ones, so much so that I have been asked to repeat it for the faculty and interest has been expressed by the Institute of Widgetology in a national workshop.

It has been a long journey from research student to novice supervisor to experienced supervisor to award winner, but an extremely worthwhile one; next to producing my own research, I find that supervising others to do the same is the most rewarding part of being an academic.