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Doctoral training ‘should be mutually productive’


European university group says “it takes two to tango”, as it sets out training recommendations

The League of European Research Universities has set out plans for “mutually productive” doctoral training, saying it “takes two to tango” for the relationship between doctoral candidate and supervisor to benefit both.

Leru published an advice paper on 28 February that recommended a cultural change across universities to improve doctoral training.

“We want to nurture a culture for mutually productive supervision and training of supervisory skills because we believe it is a mutually productive relationship,” said Claudine Leysinger, one of the authors of the paper and head of the graduate campus at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

The paper’s other author, Helke Hillebrand, director of the graduate academy at Heidelberg University in Germany, said at a launch event that the paper underscored an earlier finding that it “takes a village to raise a PhD”.

But the new paper stresses that “within the village that raises a PhD, at the end, it still takes two to tango to make the supervisory relationship a successful one”.

Need for cultural change

“We as Leru university representatives propose the nurturing of an improved institutional culture, a culture of appreciation that is characterised by effective communication and reliable expectation management towards a more impactful and consistent supervision process,” Hillebrand said.

According to the paper, the key components of mutually productive supervision are “a positive institutional culture, beneficial structural conditions, and training opportunities for supervisors as well as those being supervised”.

Hillebrand explained that providing training to supervisees would ensure “expectation management” and would help both supervisor and supervisee “to play [their] role in the best possible way”.

In the paper, Hillebrand and Leysinger said it was “essential” that supervision be part of the assessment of academic staff and that suitable support is readily available.

They called for supervisors and supervisees to have a “constant flow” of communication to strengthen trust between them.

The pair added that supervisors should take a “holistic” approach by helping supervisees not only in their academic career but also with professional and personal development, and said they should highlight wider university services such as career-advice centres.

Stick as well as carrot

To bring about institutional change on doctoral training, Hillebrand and Leysinger warned that “transgressions need to be acted upon”.

“The neglect or violation of good supervision practice requires suitable repercussions in order to emphasise the seriousness of the undertaking and the value of appropriate behaviour,” they said.

According to the paper, possible consequences to neglecting supervision duties could include a temporary loss of the right to supervise, intensified mandatory participation in training programmes and budgetary restrictions.