Students’ Perceptions of Doctoral Supervision: A Study in an Engineering Program in Australia

Fernanda Helfer, Steve Drew
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 499-524

The overall aim of this study was to improve our understanding of engineering student satisfaction and expectations with PhD supervision and their perceptions of the roles in a supervisory relationship.

Studies on PhD supervision quality are highly valuable, mainly when they provide information on supervision experiences from students’ perspectives, rather than from supervisors’ perspectives. Understanding how PhD students think, their preferences and their perceptions of roles in a supervision process can help enhance the quality of supervision, and consequently, form better researchers and produce better research outcomes.

The method employed in this investigation was based on a student survey with scaled and open-ended questions of 30 full-time engineering PhD students from a research institution in Australia.

Studies that provide a better understanding of how engineering PhD students think and how they expect a supervisory relationship to be are limited. This study can be used to derive recommendations for improving supervisory relationships, particularly in engineering schools and institutions.

The majority of the students perceived most of the supervisor and student roles in close agreement with the roles described in the literature and existing codes of practice for the supervision of higher degree research students. The main reasons for dissatisfaction with supervision were identified as being the lack of involvement of supervisors in the research projects, particularly in the writing process, and the lack of supervisor’s knowledge in the field being supervised.

It is recommended that the roles of each party in a supervision process be discussed and clarified at the beginning of any PhD candidature to avoid false student expectations. The right supervisory fit should be ensured early in the candidature, and additional supervisors should be added to the team if the expertise of supervisors is deemed insufficient. The use of supervisory panels as opposed to individual supervisions to ensure that responsibilities are shared and to increase the range of advice and support available to each student is highly recommended.

It is recommended that this type of research be expanded to other disciplines. It is also recommended that specific actions be taken to improve supervision and these be correlated to satisfaction rates and/or student performance.

doctorate, higher education, relationship, advisor, survey
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