Student-oriented, supervisor-led, or externally-driven: balancing the supervision a modern doctorate

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Doctoral education in the technical fields has several distinct features, such as, the research is often projectbased, interdisciplinary, dependent on external funding, and affiliated with an industry. In other words, the epitome of a “modern doctorate” (Fillery-Travis, 2017; Lee, 2018). While literature on doctoral supervision in general is abundant (see e.g. Gatfield, 2005; Gurr, 2001; Ives & Rowley, 2005; Kobayashi, Grout, & Rump, 2015; Lee, 2008, 2012; Lindén, 2005; Lindén, Ohlin, & Brodin, 2013), supervision specifically in the technical fields has received less discussion. Haksever & Manisali (2002) study discrepancies between the expected and received supervision in an engineering field in the UK, and conclude that effective communication is critical. Grevholm, Persson, & Wall (2005) present a supervision model developed andused in Luleå University of Technology. Smit (2010) discusses the access to research community in engineering sciences, and sees it affected by the requirement of independence and power relations. Finally, two Danish studies focus on supervision practices in the context of international PhD students in engineering (Bøgelund & Graaff, 2015; Kolmos, Kofoed, & Du, 2008). This study attempts to fill the research gap with empirical evidence, focusing on factors influencing supervision style specifically in the technical fields. The study employs a qualitative research approach, and utilizes semi-structured interviews. Altogether 24 interviews were conducted during spring 2019 at institutions linked to Lund University. As the ambition was to capture the perspectives of both supervisors and students, the informants comprised 13 supervisors and 11 doctoral candidates. Interviews focused on communication practices, and the supervisory relationship. The interview protocol was followed loosely to allow important issues to emerge from an open discussion. The study identifies several influencing factors, that may be roughly divided into three categories. Factors identified in the Student category comprise the personal characteristics and maturity of the doctoral student. Similarly, factors in the Supervisor category include the personality and professional experience of the supervisor, but also the dynamics between main and co-supervisor(s). Interestingly, communicationpractices, which may be either very formal (scheduled meetings with minutes) or informal (ad-hoc discussions) do not necessarily reflect the relationship of the student and supervisor. Rather, the practices are often affected by External factors, such as institutional or departmental policies (statutory planning meetings, open door policy), or the project-based nature of the research work (project timeline). Based on the findings, this study presents three doctoral supervision approaches, the student oriented, the supervisor-led, and the externally-driven. Most interviewed supervisors maintain that their supervision is always adapted to the individual student, emphasizing the student-centered approach. However, the supervisors’ own preferences regarding e.g. communication practices play a significant role. Moreover,external issues, such as top-down policies, limit the possibilities of adaptation. In conclusion, doctoral supervision is most often a mix of the different approaches. The results of this study allow supervisors to reflect on their own supervision style, presenting a selection of potential approaches to supervision. The three approaches and their underlying factors may be particularly useful for researchers at the beginning of their supervising careers, or to be used as examples in higher pedagogy training.


ConferenceLund University's Teaching and Learning Conference 2019
Otherhosted by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, together with the Division for Higher Education Development
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Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Engineering and Technologies not elsewhere specified
  • Educational Sciences

Free keywords

  • Doctoral Supervision
  • modern doctorate
  • supervisor development
  • supervision pedagogy
  • Research education


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