Using Stimulus Material to Explore How Supervisors and Candidates Clarify Expectations During the Research Supervision Process in England

Julia Everitt, Carolyn Blackburn
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 18  •  2023  •  pp. 025-053

This study examined the perceptions of doctoral supervisors and candidates around how expectations for doctoral supervision are clarified, and the strategies used.

Clarifying expectations is recommended in supervisor and candidate handbooks, supervisor training and recognition programme. Formal strategies have been adopted as a blanket approach by some departments, faculties, or universities but little research explores supervisor and candidate perceptions of this practice or available strategies.

Semi-structured interviews using stimulus material were held with nine supervisors and nine doctoral candidates from a university in England which adopts a team supervision model. Supervisor and candidate dyads were not used.

This study can be used to consider the process of clarifying expectations. A smorgasbord or selection of strategies is presented, for practice.

Six supervisors were clarifying expectations at the beginning using an informal discussion, although some supervisors used multiple strategies. Candidates did not recall their expectations being clarified. Some supervisors and candidates believed that expectations did not need to be clarified and there were concerns about formal strategies. Team supervision had a positive and negative influence. Four candidates wanted expectations clarifying but the different starting points and power issues suggested that supervisors need to create the space for regular discussions as part of a working alliance.

The stimulus material or smorgasbord of strategies can encourage dialogue between supervisors and candidates to enable them to discuss and select appropriate strategies, from the full range available.

Researchers might want to undertake their own studies using stimulus material. The smorgasbord could be used in practice and research undertaken to see how it could be further developed.

Supervisors and candidates using the smorgasbord and the idea of the working alliance can assist to have ongoing conversations about expectations.

Researchers could conduct studies in other universities to see if similar findings are discovered. Future research could be undertaken where institutions have adopted a formal approach.

research supervision, higher education, relationships, expectations, pedagogy, andragogy
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