How Supervisors Perceive PhD Supervision – And How They Practice It

Pia Bøgelund
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 10  •  2015  •  pp. 039-055
In many Western countries, higher education has experienced a cultural change as a result of increased budgetary constraints, calls for greater accountability, and the greater competition for students. This development has had a profound influence on the working conditions of academic staff and on knowledge production in general at universities. The education of PhD students is no exception. However, little research has been carried out in regard to the implications of these changes. In particular, the way the supervisors think and react has not been explored.
What do supervisors think about educating PhD students in today’s university context? And how and to what extent do they modify their practice based on that understanding? This article seeks to qualify, illustrate, and discuss these questions based on an interview study among twelve experienced supervisors at the Faculty of Engineering and Science at Aalborg University in Denmark.
The data show that it has become more complex to be a PhD supervisor. Three knowledge production perspectives are identified, each embracing a specific university agenda: (1) High quality research; (2) Economically viable and efficient research; and (3) Internationally adapted research. Currently, the second perspective is dominant in the understanding and practice of supervisors – to some extent at the expense of the two other agendas. Finally, the consequences of this are discussed.
PhD supervision, Practice of PhD supervisors, Knowledge production, Doctoral student education, Working conditions for academic staff
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