Skip to main content

Supervision involves supporting students in preparing a long piece of written work at undergraduate or postgraduate level (master’s or doctorate).  

Supervision involves taking students through a complex process of research and writing. Students often have difficulty identifying a topic and focused research question and are also often at a loss as to how to organise their time. They need different kinds of support at different levels of study (UG, PG) and at different stages of the process, and of course any one student is likely to have his or her own set of individual challenges. Research itself can often be a difficult process to come to terms with; many students will at times momentarily go down a blind alley, but it’s always good to remember this is a key part of the learning process. Support may involve areas which, to you, seem obvious because students’ weaknesses are often revealed when doing bigger projects such as a dissertation.  

Best Practice Tips

  • Always listen carefully to your supervisee – active listening is the foundation to providing appropriate support.  
  • Elicit, rather than tell, wherever possible but also be ready to make suggestions to students.  
  • When making suggestions, consider offering a range of options which seem a logical next step, based on what the student has said and/or done and encourage the student to make choices as to the direction of further reading and research, where possible.  
  • Set out early how you’ll organise meetings, share your outlook calendar with students, and use a blog (perhaps an online shared OneDrive document) to both add items to discuss in meetings and ask students to take notes in the meetings, so that you both have actions coming out of the meetings which you can report back on at the next meeting. 
  • Search techniques and/or encourage them to go on courses run by DCAD and the library.  Point out the ‘related articles’ tab in Google Scholar to help them look for papers which were published after a key paper (rather than before it).  
  • Provide clear constructive feedback about areas of weakness, so that the student can correct these as quickly as possible. There is no advantage to letting the student fail.  
  • Don’t be fazed by student crises. These are very common because students are moving through liminal spaces and writing something which requires an enormous amount of thought and effort. Instead, if students reveal their crises to you, consider this an opportunity to provide appropriate support, referring students to other services within the University (e.g. Counselling or writing consultations within DCAD), where appropriate.  
  • Don’t expect students to provide accurate and complete summaries of discussions in tutorials. Instead, summarise key points discussed/agreed and follow-up points in an email. You can compile this during the tutorial and get the students’ agreement on the content before you click ‘Send’ – or send it straight after the tutorial is over.  
  • Encourage students to email you if they need to meet between tutorials.

Resources and Further Reading

Bitchener J (2017). A Guide to Supervising Non-Native English Writers of Theses and Dissertations: Focusing on the Writing Process. Routledge. 

Eley A and Murray R (2009). How to be an Effective Supervisor. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill. 

Kamler B, Thomson P (2014). Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for Supervision. London: Routledge. 

Wisker G (2012). The Good Supervisor. (2nd ed). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.