By Lynne Barrett, Stirling Graduate School

Following on from the excellent post by Katharine Reibig, some further reflections on the Vitae Researcher Development International Conference; this time from a Stirling Graduate School perspective. Of particular interest to myself and Steph (Colvan) was the plenary session on day one exploring various aspects of doctoral education. Some interesting themes were introduced.

L-R – Steph and Lynne from the Graduate School, and Katharine from REO, at the Vitae16 conferenc

Supervisor training was a topic that cropped up often during the course of the conference but most notably during a presentation by Professor Bob Harris of the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden. His informative and entertaining talk outlined their unique approach to supervisor development, how it was received and how it had developed. The idea of a mandatory training programme for all existing and potential supervisors unsurprisingly met with some resistance initially, but within a year had been fully implemented and accepted.

It may be useful to summarise the Karolinska concept here:
The first step is an online training module (incorporating the rules and regulations governing doctoral education); compulsory for anyone wishing to be registered as principal supervisor. On completion of this web course staff are eligible to undertake a week-long programme of lectures and group work to qualify them to supervise research students. An optional two week continuation course ‘Pedagogy for doctoral supervisors’ is designed to deepen their understanding. Students are surveyed on completion – would they recommend their supervisor? Consistent negative feedback results in permanent supervision exclusion.

Another topic extensively covered was skills and personal development. This is an important aspect of doctoral education and there is a particular need to provide virtual training.  Research shows that only 8% of training is found exclusively online so there is plenty of scope here for innovative online resources. Furthermore, evidence shows that research students’ engagement with all types of training activity reduces significantly after the first year. This is something to be taken into consideration when planning doctoral training programmes.

Providing support to doctoral researchers is vitally important and manifests itself in various ways, such as providing adequate physical space, a supportive research environment, training placements and helping students to attend and present at global conferences. It was very interesting to hear about the approaches taken by other universities and to have the chance to discuss their experiences.  There is a need to work more closely with supervisors to encourage students to engage and take up the opportunities available to them.

The plenary sessions were complemented by a suite of workshops focusing on various research staff and PhD student related matters….but maybe that’s for another time!