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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: International Journal for Researcher Development, Volume 3, Issue 2
I was recently privileged to present a keynote address at Edinburgh Napier University’s first Researcher Development Conference. It was a wonderful event, organised by two of the university’s academic developers for the purpose of informing and encouraging Napier’s staff and research students as they become more research-active and research-focused. Fully supported by senior management, including a pro-vice chancellor who presided over the conference, it provided a forum for colleagues to listen to and learn from others, as well as discuss their own research plans, projects and development needs. I was struck by the collegial, sharing atmosphere, defined by senior academics relating with admirable honesty and openness the trials and difficulties that they had faced earlier in their careers as developing researchers, and passing on to junior colleagues the benefit of their experiences in overcoming barriers such as lack of self-confidence and inadequate knowledge of how research communities operate, and of the processes and procedures that one must follow in order to build successful careers. To me, this demonstrates academic leadership at its best: facilitating, nurturing and motivating others, so that not only they, but also their disciplinary communities and fields of study, may move forward. My hope is that Napier University’s pioneering lead will motivate other universities to follow suit by making this researcher development in-house conference the first of many across the higher education sector.
This sharing of experience between experienced and novice researcher is, of course, the fundamental principle of one of higher education’s most prevalent “formal” researcher development mechanisms: doctoral supervision. Recognising its significance in developing the next generation of researchers, it was an easy choice to make doctoral supervision the topic of this special issue. The supervisory relationship, and the interaction between doctoral student/candidate and supervisor(s) that delineates this relationship, impact upon developing researchers with a potency that is enduring. In my own research on UK-based academics and researchers (Evans et al., 2013), I have been struck by the frequency with which research participants – including several established, internationally distinguished (full) professors – identified their doctoral supervisors as pivotal influences on their continued, career-long development as researchers. Many clearly regarded their supervisors as role models and, in the case of professors, as exemplars of professorial professionalism. The supervisory relationship is one that is formative in its purpose and focus and that has the potential to be transforming. It is therefore crucial that we get it right. The four papers that comprise this special issue of the International Journal for Researcher Development – “Doctoral supervision for researcher development” – each offer valuable perspectives on how we may get it right. What is particularly pleasing is that the principal authors of two of these papers are themselves doctoral candidates. Indeed, this special issue represents an excellent authorial balance: two early career researchers and two experienced authors, one of whom is an academic developer and the other an academic. Two national contexts are represented by the principal authors – the UK and Finland – and both genders: two males and two females.
In the first paper, doctoral student, Yusuke Sakurai, and his co-authors, Kirsi Pyhältö and Sari Lindblom-Ylänne, from the University of Helsinki, present the results of their study into international doctoral students’ attitudes to their doctoral programmes, including the extent of – and the factors that influence – their satisfaction, and, above all, their academic engagement. A sense of belonging to an academic community emerged as a key influential factor, and the implications for supervisors in facilitating such engagement are clear: acculturation within research communities needs to be recognised as a key dimension of effective researcher development and, by extension, as a key supervisory role.
The second paper is a conceptual one. In “Changes in doctoral education: implications for supervisors in developing early career researchers”, Stan Taylor traces the evolution of doctoral supervision over the last few decades, into what he labels a post-Humboldtian model. Recognising that doctoral supervision is a potential vehicle for the development as a researcher not only of the doctoral student, but also of the supervisor, Taylor makes this developmentalist potential the subject of the paper’s denouement. Drawing upon Hoyle’s (1975) heuristic models of “restricted” and “extended” professionality for schoolteachers, he proposes indicative characteristics of, at one end of the professionality continuum, “restricted” doctoral supervisors and, at the other end, “extended” ones. Clearly, doctoral supervision for the most effective and far-reaching researcher development – that of both student and supervisor – requires supervisors continually to be considering the enhancement of their supervisory professionality.
Considered on this basis, all supervisory experience is potentially developmental, and the third paper focuses narrowly on one specific set of circumstances that supervisors may experience: prematurely losing or gaining supervisees. In “Picking up the pieces: supervisors and doctoral ‘orphans’”, Gina Wisker and Gillian Robinson present findings from their small-scale study of supervisors’ responses to situations whereby their doctoral students transfer to new supervisors, or where they themselves change jobs and can no longer continue the supervision, or where they find themselves taking on students whose supervision has transferred to them. Such situations calls for supervisory practice that ensures the continued development of the doctoral researcher, and inevitably develops the supervisor’s own skills, and the authors outline recommendations for how they may best be achieved.
The fourth paper comes once again from the University of Helsinki. Jenna Vekkaila and her co-authors present the findings of a fascinating study of doctoral students’ researcher development within academic communities. Focused specifically on students of the natural sciences within a research-intensive Finnish university, they examine students’ perceptions of the extent to which scholarly communities at all levels – of which supervision is a key dimension – contribute towards their development as or into researchers, and they examine the nature of such contribution. Indeed, the potency of the supervisory relationship for researcher development is indicated by this study’s revealing that over one quarter of the sample of doctoral students reported having considered quitting their degree programmes due to problems with supervision. With a signature pedagogy that is represented by doctoral supervision’s often occurring within groups, rather than the one-to-one relationship that is more prevalent in the social sciences, the context of the natural sciences in this paper offers valuable insight into the supervisory role within communities that have the capacity and potential to shape early career researcher development. Particularly fascinating are the data collection approaches employed: the use of research subjects’ visualisations – represented pictorially – of defining experiences that had impacted, positively or negatively, on their development as researchers.
With its own focus on a specific context or issue that is highly relevant to consideration of doctoral supervision’s purpose, remit and nature, each paper offers a unique insight into the dimensions of doctoral supervision for researcher development. Collectively, they highlight the extensive responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with the doctoral supervisory role; in doing so they represent an important and fascinating contribution to the researcher development knowledge base.
Linda EvansUniversity of Leeds
Evans, L., Homer, M. and Rayner, S. (2013), “Professors as academic leaders: the perspectives of ‘the led’”, Educational Management, Administration and Leadership (in press)
Hoyle, E. (1975), “Professionality, professionalism and control in teaching”, in Houghton, V.P. , McHugh, R. and Morgan, C. (Eds), Management in Education: The Management of Organisations and Individuals, Ward Lock Educational in association with Open University Press, London, pp. 314–20