The Relationships between Doctoral Students’ Perceptions of Supervision and Burnout

Solveig Cornér, Erika Löfström, Kirsi Pyhältö
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 12  •  2017  •  pp. 091-106
Aim/Purpose: Both the quality and the quantity of doctoral supervision have been identified as central determinants of the doctoral journey. However, there is a gap in our understanding of how supervision activities are associated with lack of wellbeing, such as burnout, and also to completion of the studies among doctoral students.

Background: The study explored doctoral students’ perceptions of different aspects of supervision including the primary sources, frequency, expressed satisfaction and their interrelation with experienced stress, exhaustion and cynicism.

Methodology: Altogether 248 doctoral students from three Finnish universities representing social sciences, arts and humanities, and natural and life sciences responded to an adapted version of a Doctoral Experience Survey. A combination of several measures was used to investigate the students’ experiences of supervision and burnout.

Contribution: The results showed that students benefit from having several and different kinds of supervision activities. Various sources contribute not only to experiences of the doctoral journey and burnout, but also to the completion of the studies.

Findings: Experienced lack of satisfaction with supervision and equality within the researcher community and a low frequency of supervision were related to experiences of burnout. Experiences of burnout were connected to students’ attrition intentions. Attrition intentions were related to source of supervision, the form of thesis, and inadequate supervision frequency. Frequency was related to both experience of burnout and likelihood of attrition.

Recommendations for Practitioners: A recommendation developed from this research is to assist doctoral students with sufficient support, especially equality within the scholarly community and frequency of supervision. Further, greater emphasis could be put on group supervision and other collective forms of supervision. It is important that doctoral students develop networks both nationally and internationally.

Recommendation for Researchers: A recommendation emanating from this research is to put greater emphasis on further investigation of the role of other predictors in burnout in order to enhance doctoral students’ well-being.

Impact on Society: A better understanding of factors that promote lower attrition rates and enhance well-being for doctoral students is likely to lead to more efficient use of finacial and intellectual resources in academia and society more broadly.

Future Research: Given the results of this study, qualitative interviews might be helpful in mapping out the dynamics that lead to attrition and to identify the mechanisms in the researcher community that support the doctoral students and enhance well-being in their doctoral journey.
doctoral education, supervision, supervisory activities, burnout
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