With development of the second edition of Supervising Doctoral Studies underway, Commissioning Editor Emma Gallon discusses the Epigeum development process and how your institution can become involved.
Effective supervision is one of the most important influences on a doctoral researcher’s experience as they work towards their PhD. With supervisors playing an active part in the quality of a doctoral candidate’s research, and their successful and timely completion, it is important that doctoral supervision be recognised as a distinct academic practice requiring supervisors to develop a specific set of skills, knowledge, and understanding.
Our programme, Supervising Doctoral Studies, addresses this need, providing training in the core principles and practices of research supervision across the doctoral lifecycle, with content for both new and more experienced supervisors. In response to recent developments in doctoral education, we are currently working on the second edition of the programme, and I am excited to share this preview of our plans, a behind-the-scenes look at our collaborative development process, and ways in which universities can become involved.
Identifying key developments in doctoral supervision
The chief characteristic of Epigeum’s training programme development process is its highly collaborative nature. All of our programmes are created in partnership with the academic community and key experts at every stage. For Supervising Doctoral Studies, this period of collaboration began with seeking extensive feedback on the first edition from universities, who indicated how it should be updated to meet their changing needs. Information on recent policy developments, and findings from conversations with experts in supervisor development and at relevant conferences, were then collated and developed into a full peer-reviewed proposal outlining the aims and shape of the new edition.
Our research identified several recent developments that have particularly influenced the role of the supervisor. Some are specific to doctoral candidate supervision, such as the move towards structured training programmes. Some, like the increasing diversity of the doctoral student population, and the growing focus on developing respectful supervisory relationships, are related to developments in the wider academic community. Some are emblematic of more general societal trends, such as the recognition of the challenges relating to mental health and wellbeing that can be faced by doctoral candidates. All of the developments, although they may be addressed elsewhere by institutions, represent specific and significant challenges to anyone taking on the role of doctoral supervisor.
In order to address these developments, we have identified several new topics that will be addressed in the second edition of Supervising Doctoral Studies:
- Power dynamics
- Mental health and wellbeing
- Diversity and inclusivity
- Distance and online supervision
- ‘Non-traditional’ doctoral formats
- Engaging with industry
- Employability and careers, especially beyond academia
- Team supervision
- Giving constructive feedback
- Balancing workload demands with time for quality supervision
Our proposed updates to the programme will not stop at content changes, and we’ve been working hard on redesigning the programme structure and pedagogy in response to feedback. A new modular approach with streamlined content and concise screens will create clearer subdivisions to improve navigation and give busy doctoral supervisors the flexibility to locate relevant topics at point of need. In addition, our research into new developments in learning design has resulted in a brand new pedagogical framework, specifically tailored for this advanced audience and designed to promote knowledge and skills development. This means that learning will be activity-led, with activity types carefully selected to effectively develop and test each learning point. For example, one key piece of feedback we received is the importance of making the training relevant to real-life situations that supervisors may encounter. In response, we plan to include a dedicated application screen in each module that uses practice scenarios to enable supervisors to apply the skills and concepts they’ve learned in a realistic set of circumstances.
The result will be a comprehensive, flexible, and interactive programme of training that guides supervisors in the most effective and up-to-date techniques in supervisory practice, so that they are fully equipped to support doctoral candidates’ development into independent researchers.
Working with institutions to address key developments
At this stage of the development process, we increase the number of collaborators by bringing together an Advisory Board to provide overarching guidance on the vision for the programme, as well as feedback on draft content. We are delighted to be working with Dr Douglas Halliday (Durham University), Dr Margaret Kiley (The Australian National University) and Dr Stan Taylor (Durham University), all of whom are leading experts and scholars in the fields of supervisor and research development, and collaborated with us on the first edition. We are also beginning to work with module authors to develop the programme’s learning outcomes and content outlines. Devising clear learning outcomes and robust content plans at this stage drives the entire content development process and serves as an excellent foundation for writing the module storyboards.
With the course structure and focus taking shape, we now open up the collaboration further by inviting a development group of universities to give their input into the programme. Institutions are in the best position to provide feedback on both the course content and methods of delivery. This approach ensures that the content addresses the variety of supervisory needs that exist across higher education institutions. Development group members make a one-off payment to join the group and, in return, will receive a campus-wide, unlimited subscription to the finished course in perpetuity upon publication. The development group’s involvement will begin with a two-day workshop in December. The workshop will be based around a rigorous review of the module content plans and learning outcomes, and will involve engaging discussion between members of the development group, authors, Advisory Board, and our in-house editors. It’s a really lively and constructive opportunity to ensure that everyone can share, explore, and define best practice for the new edition at an early stage.
Following the workshop, the authors produce a set of draft module storyboards, incorporating the decisions made by the development group, which undergo further review by the Advisory Board, an expert panel and our in-house editorial team before they are built online. Development group members then access the interactive online modules to provide feedback on how the activities work in practice, where improvements could be made, and make sure that the programme delivers training that will engage, inform, and support supervisors as they face the challenges of supervising doctoral candidates.
Our training programmes would not be what they are without the input of universities from across the world. Equally, the universities we work with benefit by gaining access to materials developed at a speed and of a quality that could not be achieved by one institution alone. This use of collaboration to research, identify, and address new and emerging challenges in doctoral supervision will result in a programme with an unparalleled scope, diversity, and accuracy.
As a member of the Supervising Doctoral Studies development group, your institution could contribute to the development of an interactive training programme that fully addresses the changing needs of doctoral supervisors and candidates. For more information please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org