Skills training for PhD supervisors

June 23, 1995

Postgraduate students are quite rightly expressing their concerns about the provision made for them. As only a quarter of doctoral students achieve their PhD within five years of registration, there is cause for concern.

In the Government White Paper, Realising Our Potential (1993), the quality of supervision was identified as one of the factors influencing success for doctoral students. Supervisors come from the ranks of first-class scholars, masters in their fields. However, the skills of supervision are not normally part of a university education, and those who excel in research fields may not necessarily develop supervision skills.

Is it fair to expect senior scholars magically to "become" skilled supervisors without support and training? Both old and new universities will need to consider what form such training and support should take. The value of group methods for supervision has much to recommend it, without excluding the need for one-to-one contact, as postgraduates are often isolated and need scheduled and structured peer support. The group supervision model offers benefits to existing supervisors (who learn from each other) and future supervisors (the students).

Quality supervision is not just a skill, it is an integral part of the reflective learning process proper to postgraduate level work, and therefore should be provided as of right.

ANNE BROCKBANK University of North London

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