Time to lay out the facts for PhDs

August 13, 1999

Stories about the lack of quality or limited scope of PhD supervision are depressingly familiar. Perhaps one or two simple measures might resolve many of the problems, which are often based on the lack of clear statements on what PhD students should, and should not, expect their supervisors to do.

First, would-be supervisors advertising their wares on departmental websites should provide the names and addresses of referees - former students of theirs willing to vouch for their abilities. Second, they should detail the in-house training they have received that qualifies them to supervise PhD students - simply listing publications is not enough. Third, departments should draw up statements of what opportunities for teaching training and experience students can expect to have.

Fourth, university libraries should allow theses listed on computer catalogues to be interrogated by supervisor, as well as author and title. Prospective students can then find out a great deal about what to expect from departments and supervisors before signing up to a PhD course at a university.

It will not solve all the problems, but it should help to ground students' expectations in the realities of the kind of supervision a department and its staff are willing to provide.

Ken Farnhill Research associate Centre for Medieval Studies University of York

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