Supervising applied doctorate students: an individualised approach 

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By Dr Liam Anderson

Photo Credit: Avel Chuklanov on Unsplash 

Doctorate level supervision is a highly rewarding task where you interact and work with some outstanding people on some highly engaging projects. Over the past 18 months or so, I’ve began supervising doctorate level students on either Professional Doctorates or applied PhD’s here within the University of Birmingham. We have a wide array of different students who are at various levels within both their applied and academic career. Each student is different and brings with them their own unique challenges that require supervisors to be adaptable to their individual needs. To begin the process of formulating a supervision strategy to meet individual needs, one of the first questions I’ve asked all students was “how do you want to be supervised?”. Having never really thought about this before, this often takes some students back, but it is an extremely important part of the process to build structures and supervision strategies for them to get on track with their academic journey. 

Whilst supervising students is a key task to undertake as an academic, there is no handbook on how to do this effectively, especially given the wide array of projects and individual requirements of students. I was quite lucky when I undertook my PhD to have a different variety of supervisors who, at the time, I was learning off to do the thesis, but have now taken some of these learnings into my own practice. One of my supervisors during my PhD, Professor Barry Drust is here at the University of Birmingham as the Director of the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice. We often spend many hours now not only discussing student projects and progress, but also supervision strategies and how we can tailor them to make it an individual approach. We believe that this individual approach can be moulded to help them reach their potential from a practical, knowledge and interpersonal skill development. Leaning on Barry has been a key part in my learning strategy through this process and were now beginning to see the effects of this on developing both myself and the students.   

In the grand scheme of things, supervising students to undertake their research projects and for those undertaking a PhD, helping them develop within their role is new to me. However, I don’t see this as a weakness as the supervision process is constantly evolving and through the help of others within the Graduate School of Sport and Professional Practice, we’re all working together in developing high performing, impactful people. I have been through this process myself of which I have huge gratitude to those who helped me. I’m looking forward to seeing how current, and future students’ progress over the next few years through utilising this approach.

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