Texts & Tools


Texts & Tools

You will find here a collection of contributions of different authors sharing their ideas, views or lessons learnt during their professional development. Please feel encouraged to comment on the contributions and share your experiences on the various topics. If you would like to add your own contribution, please get in contact with us.

A Handbook for Doctoral Supervisors

Book Review

Stan Taylor, Margaret Kiley and Robin Humphrey, Routledge, New York, 2018

This second edition of “A Handbook for Doctoral Supervisors” is not just an updated version. It is actually significantly re-worked and has also brought with it a change of authors with two new co-authors. First published in 2005, it has already served many potential - as well as established - supervisors as a source to reflect upon and improve their supervisory practice. With this new edition, the authors rightly argue that supervisors need to react to the substantial changes in doctoral education which have greatly extended the roles of supervisors, which made the first edition out of date. Moreover, the second edition builds upon a new and recently significantly expanded knowledge base given the large amount of research published on doctoral education during the last years. This research is extensively cited in the handbook and thus provides the reader with references which allow one to further explore certain topics of interest.

The book is divided into six parts. Part I sets out the wider context in which supervisors work. It offers interesting historical perspectives and then deals with institutional, disciplinary and programme contexts respectively. Parts II to V follow in essence the chronological order of the doctoral journey. Part II is concerned with preparing the groundwork for a fruitful supervisor(s)-supervisee’s relationship. While Part III is focused on the candidates’ research projects, how to advise and support them and how to keep track of their progress, Part IV is centered around the candidates’ needs and how supervisors might be able to support them personally and in their professional, academic and non-academic career development. This is elaborated in particular in the context when supervisors are confronted with an increasingly heterogeneous candidate population. Part V is concerned with the supervisors’ responsibilities when doctoral candidates approach the end of their journey: drafting and writing up the thesis, submission and examination. The final Part VI is, on one hand, concerned with how supervisors evaluate and reflect upon their supervisory practice. On the other hand, it also emphasizes the need to, and gives examples of how to, recognize good supervision and how to disseminate good practice within the community.

One of the main strengths of the book is the manner in which it clearly approaches the various aspects of supervisory practice. It is written in a very hands-on style while at the same time it supports the outlined practice with research findings and numerous examples collected from a wide range of sources with clearly given references. Frequently, the authors invite the reader to interrogate their own practice and to reflect on their institutional frameworks. Moreover, each chapter is organized so that it can be read independently of the others, which, I am sure, will also make this handbook a valuable tool for supervisor professional development programmes.

If the book has a weakness, it is a small one – and that is its focus on the Anglo-American Higher Education Systems (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, UK and US). Thus, most of the numerous useful examples and best practices presented in this book are from this region. Of course, as there is nowadays a common understanding of what doctoral education is about, the book is certainly useful for supervisors in various academic systems and the reader is invited to transfer the practices presented to his or her own context. The focus on Anglo-American Higher Education Systems, on one hand side, may be due to the origin of the authors, but it’s also based on the fact that the research in the area of doctoral education is far more developed and widespread in this region than, say, in other countries in Western Europe or beyond. This is nothing the authors should be blamed for. However, it indicates that more research is needed and I would encourage further work on doctoral education and supervision in particular on different national and international levels to ensure a strong evidence base for enhancement of supervisory practices.

The publication of the second edition is timely. Over the past decades the doctorate has been transformed in various aspects, the candidate population has diversified and supervisors see themselves confronted with and pressured by a lengthy list of expectations and requirements. Of course, supervising doctoral candidates and helping them to grow into independent young researchers and colleagues is a pleasure and certainly a highly rewarding task in the life of academics. However, supervisors are also expected to supervise in an effective manner and contribute so to the institutions’ mission. The use of this Handbook will help to achieve this.

As the authors have stated in the Introduction they hope that "…readers will be able to personally engage with their practice and, where appropriate, enhance it."

I think this hope is well justified. If you want to know why, you need to read this book. I warmly recommend this book to all those involved in supervision and committed to contribute to an excellent doctoral experience for the candidates, potential as well as established supervisors, University leaders and Deans of Doctoral Schools as well as professional support staff.

Reviewed by Lucas Zinner, University of Vienna

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The PRIDE-network Association aims at representing the community of Professionals in Doctoral Education within Europe and beyond.

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