Team Supervision of Doctoral Students: A Qualitative Inquiry

Bjørn Tore Johansen, Rose Mari Olsen, Nina cecile T Øverby, Rudy Garred, Elisabeth Enoksen
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 069-084

The aim of this study is to contribute to current knowledge of team supervision. Specifically, we examine the relationship between main supervisor and co-supervisor regarding credibility in the division of roles and responsibilities within supervision teams.

The overall intention of this article is to provide more information about the dynamics in the relationship between supervisors and to identify and describe the mechanisms that support the doctoral students in their endeavor for doctorateness.

A qualitative descriptive approach combined with a thematic analysis is used to analyze in-depth interviews with ten supervisors working in five different doctoral supervision teams.

The body of literature in the field of doctoral supervision at Norwegian universities is scarce. Moreover, the supervisor perspective has received less attention than the doctoral student perspective. We contribute to reduce this knowledge gap by bringing forward the voices of five supervisor teams at three different universities.

The informants of this study reported that the responsibilities within their respective supervisor teams were clarified and well understood. There was a unanimous agreement that the main responsibility of the supervisor process lays with the main supervisor. Furthermore, it was claimed that this main responsibility includes both monitoring progress, ensuring feasibility, and acting if something is not going according to plan. Our results clearly support the fact that there is power imbalance within the teams, but this does not seem to lead to any conflicts in our sample. Although the power dynamics took on a hierarchical form as opposed to a horizontal form, none of the informants mentioned conflicts related to division of responsibility.

This paper invites others to consider their learning journey as well as their experience and reflection of the relationship between main supervisor and co-supervisor within supervision teams.

The study provides a framework for exploring power dynamics in the relationship between main supervisor and co-supervisor regarding the division of roles and responsibilities within a supervisory team from different institutions and academic fields.

Providing better team supervision for doctoral students is crucial for creating doctorateness. Clarity about division of responsibility and power is of crucial importance for the well-functioning of supervisor teams.

We recommend future research to examine whether the findings presented here could be replicated in other supervisory contexts. New studies should aim to use additional data collection approaches such as focus groups, including doctoral students, as well as obtaining data via survey approaches. Future research could benefit from a multi-pronged data collection approach, which was not feasible within the current project.

team supervision, power dynamics, responsibility, academic competencies, doctoral programs
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