Supervision

Guidelines, suggestions and tools

Aligning expectations

Making explicit agreements

Addressing any mismatches in mutual expectations early increases the chances of a good student-supervisor relationship and a successful completion of the PhD (Pyhältö et al. 2015).

GSST recommends simple tools to make the alignment of expectations between PhD student and supervisor efficient and effective. You can let your new student read a description of your expectations in a ‘supervisor letter’ and then invite him/her for a discussion based on it. Or you can ask the student to consider a number of statements about supervision, separately cast your vote on how you agree with the statements – and then sit down and compare.

Read more about alignment tools used at GSST and find templates here (access via Blackboard).

Pyhältö et al. (2015). Innov Education Teach Int, 52, 4–16.

Supervision in teams

Ensuring clarity and efficiency

Our research environments at GSST are highly collaborative and we have many PhD students that are helped, supported and supervised by multiple researchers during their PhD study. This is usually of great advantage to the PhD student and highly recommendable. It allows expert supervision on all aspects of a project – and alternative support in case the relationship with one supervisor fails. It also allows mutual inspiration on methods and approaches in supervision. GSST urges teams of supervisors to discuss expectations for the PhD research project and agree their roles and responsibilities before they start supervising. The Oxford Learning Institute gives suggestions of points to discuss when aligning expectations in a supervisory team. Access them here

Crisis and conflicts

How to avoid and where to get help

It is usually beyond the tasks and abilities of a supervisor to support PhD students with severe personal problems or mental health issues. Instead, GSST has mechanisms in place to help these students. We encourage supervisors to contact their PhD partner if one of their PhD students experience a personal crisis that can affect academic performance and progress. The PhD partner will identify suitable support either within the national health system, the university’s team of work psychologists or the management team. 

Occationally we see relationships between PhD students and supervisors failing. Also in these situations will the PhD partner take actions to help solve the conflict or find a way forward for both parties.  But first and foremost  we work to prevent conflicts by ensuring that PhD student and supervisor agree on the purpose and outcomes of the PhD study right from the beginning. Early and continous alignment of expectations is of crucial importance to this. 

Giving and receiving feedback

The most effective techniques 

Feedback is key to progress and in the top five of factors that improve learning in Higher Education (Hattie 2009). In general terms, feedback has to be critical, constructive, respectful and specific to be efficient.  The half-yearly evaluations is one important opportunity for GSST supervisors to provide feedback to their PhD students on performance and progress. In general, we recommend that students identify their own feedback needs where ever possible, e.g. by including a description when submitting a piece of work to their supervisor. It helps them identify gaps in their knowledge and skills – and it may increase their engagement with the feedback they receive.

Read general recommendations on good feedback practise here.

Many PhD supervisors are particularly challenged on feedback needs when their students are learning to write scientific texts. GSST has collected a few resources, tips ‘n tricks here (access via Blackboard) to help the process.

Hattie J (2009) in LH Meyer et al. (Eds.): Tertiary assessment & higher education student outcomes: policy, practice & research (pp 259 – 275). Wellington, New Zealand: Ako Aotearoa.

Code of conduct

Supervising responsible research

All researchers at Aarhus University must adhere to The Danish Code of Conduct for Research Integrity. GSST asks their supervisors to act as strong role models but also to continously adress the issue of research integrity with their PhD students. The requirements for honesty, transparency and accountabilty during the whole research process, from planning to publication, must be clear to all. 

If a student were to breach The Danish Code of Conduct, The Commitee for Responsible Conduct of Research at Aarhus University will always consider the role of the supervisor carefully as part of their investigation. To support supervisors in fullfilling their responsibilities, GSST can offer  advice on research integrity and on how to act when misconduct is suspected. Contact either the Head of Graduate School or the Faculty’s Adviser on research conduct for confidential advice and guidance.

Role and obligations

Meeting the learning outcomes

Supervisors can update themselves on the rules and regulations of the PhD study set out by the Graduate School here. The documents give valuable information on admission and financing, organisation of the Graduate School, extensions and leave etc. But most importantly it outlines the obligations of the supervisors, explains the procedure around the half-year evaluations and the requirements for a PhD thesis.

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Revised 16.05.2017