New vision for PGR supervision

June 21st, 2022

Recently the PGR initiative ran a rapid improvement event with the aim of providing University of Nottingham supervisors with the necessary skills and frameworks to support them in the training of 21st Century doctoral candidates, and ensuring the best outcomes and experience for PGRs.

The work focused entirely on PGRs and supervisors based in the UK, but the outcomes will be shared and discussed with colleagues in Malaysia and China, and adapted as necessary to align with local cultural and regulatory conditions relating to PGR supervision.

This event took place over three consecutive days in May 2022, with contributions from around 30 members of staff who work closely with PGRs. The team included professional services PGR staff, academic supervisors, school PGR directors and Researcher Academy staff and Faculty Leads. Before this event, we surveyed PGRs, and received responses from 386 individuals, ~15% of the PGR population, on their supervisory experiences.

We also talked with more than 30 individual PGRs one-to-one to get more insight into their views on their supervisory experience during their degrees. In addition, we gathered information and data from many other sources including QAA, Quality Manual, Researcher Academy, a supervisory staff survey and workshop, PRES surveys as well as data showing PGR/Supervisor Ratios and how the different data sets correlated with each other. We aimed to examine where good and poor practice may be within PGR Supervision and then look to make improvements to policy and practice.

This event resulted in a new Cultural Vision for what PGR Supervision should look like, in which we stated that:

We will cultivate a positive research culture for PGR advising by:​

Working together ​
Excellent PGR advising is based upon a shared effort, mutual respect and a sense of belonging that includes advisors and PGR, as part of a team. ​

Embedding reflective practise ​
PGR advisors routinely engage in open and honest reflective dialogue as a community of advisors.  This open communication shares best practice as well as acknowledging the complexities and difficulties of PGR advising. ​

Engaging in continual professional development 
Advisors routinely participate and value their own CPD, including a range of formal training. The university will support and acknowledge this activity.​

Clearly communicating expectations 
Advisory teams negotiate and agree on the shared expectations of all parties throughout the PGR journey. Agreements may address boundary setting, roles and responsibilities, communications and resourcing.  All aspects of PGR advisory processes and roles are clearly defined and understood e.g. Quality Manual definitions. ​

Ensuring institutional support 
The University of Nottingham will provide advisors with a variety of resources to support their role.  These include time, Researcher Academy advocacy and training, expertise from APM and technical colleagues and effective central regulations. ​

In order to enable the new cultural vision, we identified  practical actions to, such as:

  • Changing culture, practice and terminology from Supervisor to Advisor
  • A new “Expectations Agreement” form between Advisors and PGRs
  • A revamped and mandatory Advisor professional development offering
  • Introducing a supportive network of Advisors who can offer peer support and guidance
  • Updating Quality Manual Regulations

These improvements will be implemented by the 2023/24 academic year, informed by wide engagement with communities on the planned changes over the academic year 2022/23.

The PGR Initiative is led by Prof Lucy Donaldson, sponsored by Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andy Long and supported and enabled by the fantastic Getting in Shape team.

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