Further developing doctoral supervision training in Europe
Doctoral supervision plays a central role in preparing doctoral candidates to contribute to research and society. However, training and support for supervisors too often remain at a basic level. This article makes the case for the full integration of doctoral supervision training into the strategy of universities, providing supervisors with the support they need to prepare early-stage researchers for a fast-moving world.
Higher education institutions are responsible for the preparation of current and future generations of doctorate holders who will contribute to enrich the European knowledge area. Doctoral education involves knowledge acquisition and generation through research and learning, whether structured or not.
The role of the doctoral supervisor is, therefore, a key factor in this endeavour. To smooth the transition of doctoral candidates becoming independent researchers on their specialised topic and being capable of helping and contributing to society in the advancement of original knowledge, good guidance, support and coaching are necessary. These will be better provided by professionalised doctoral supervisors.
The professionalisation of doctoral supervisors and their central role in doctoral education should go beyond basic training courses and, in our view, needs to build on three distinct, mutually-reinforcing conditions.
Firstly, supervisors need to be made more aware of their multifaceted role in the current knowledge society, including expert, manager, evaluator, coach and mentor. Secondly, they need training to acquire and develop the skills to perform this new, wider role. Thirdly, they require ideas and instruments to enable them to self-manage and continue learning and generating their own doctoral supervision tools as the needs of society continue to shape their role. Developing a complete set of transversal and soft skills involved in the work of doctoral supervisors is essential. Furthermore, the recognition of the acquisition of such knowledge, skills and competences by the European Higher Education Area is also fundamental, so the standards for the professionalisation of this task are fully integrated and transferable between, at least, European academic institutions.
How do we evolve from the current isolated institutional efforts towards a pan-European scheme of doctoral supervisory training? This is a complex challenge that will ultimately require the convergence of wills, given that it comprises many diverse stakeholders, at different stages of evolution and with various commitment levels.
At present, many of the institutions that have developed supervisory training programs are still in their early stages. This support is a key element for both the initiation and the sustainability of doctoral supervision initiatives. However, to reach an ideal situation, we should aim for a fully-fledged institutional integration, meaning that the professionalisation of doctoral supervision is completely integrated into the strategy of each university.
For example, Universitat Rovira i Virgili is progressing from a situation in which the supervisory training began as a pilot program less than a decade ago by outsourcing a standard training activity. Today it has developed into a tailor-made program of regular workshops that a significant number of active doctoral supervisors have already attended. An accompanying measure is the partial recognition of the task of supervision as a part of professors’ yearly workload. The next step should involve the integration of this program into the career paths of all the university’s doctoral supervisors.
However, there is still a long and wide path ahead before reaching full institutional integration. Indeed, this will require two conditions to be fulfilled. On the one hand, normative integration is needed, meaning that doctoral supervision in all its facets should be integrated into universities’ regulations. This should include training policies, a decision whether they are obligatory or not, HR permissions and the recognition of hours invested and incentives, links between the level of doctoral supervision training and experience required or recommended, the stages of a supervisory career, etc. On the other hand, a substantial regular budget for this specific purpose, integrated into the university permanent cost structure, should be guaranteed. Both conditions will need to be met to sustainably integrate doctoral supervision training in the strategy of universities.
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