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University of Sheffield - Original Proposal

Trust me! Academic leadership behaviours in creating ‘quality’ doctoral supervision relationships

Project Lead:
Dr Kay Guccione, The University of Sheffield

Steering Group Members:

  • Deborah McClean, Head of Operations & Assistant Director of R&IS, TUoS
  • Professor Jerry Wellington, Head of Research Degrees, School of Education, TUoS
  • Dr Gavin Boyce, Doctoral Development Team Leader, TUoS

Administrative home HEI:
The University of Sheffield

Background:
Viewing academic leaders in the context of their role as enablers of trust in the organisation, and in crafting  an  enabling  and  motivating  research  environment,  this  study  aims  to  look  in  detail  at  the supervisor behaviours that are important in trust-building. Outcomes of this project will assist HEIs to enhance supervisory leadership, specifically through a lens of what works to build and to erode trust.

Focusing particularly on behaviours within the ‘predictability’ domain of trust-building, it the project aims to develop clear practice recommendations and tools for academic leadership development activities.

Aims and Objectives:
This project aims to examine the under-researched role of trust in building quality supervisory relationships. Through the perceptions of academic leaders and doctoral students of what constitutes ‘quality’ in doctoral supervision relationships the project will create practical tools to support academic relationship building. Good working relationships play a critical role in workplace learning and the emotional dimension of professional work is significant (Eraut, 2004). Research into the role of emotion, affective domain learning, and motivation as determinants of the student experience, successful completion of the doctorate, and academic ability is gaining momentum (e.g. Cotterall, 2013; Jairam and Kahl, 2012; Wellington, 2010; Kearns et al, 2008). Emotionally competent leadership, as well as technical and intellectual mentorship is expected of academic leaders, and the need to establish good rapport and craft a ‘high-quality’ student-supervisor relationship has been emphasised (Jairam and Kahl, 2012). 

Trust may be an important marker of quality in supervision relationships. Doctoral study is a time of intense change, learning and development. It is a foray for doctoral candidates into unknown territory, their successful passage through determined by the strength of their connections into the wider community. Trust as in intra-organisational phenomenon can be defined as 'willingness to accept uncertainly and make oneself vulnerable in the face of insecurity' (Hope-Hailey et al., 2012) and is implicated in effective workplace learning (Hughes, 2004). Employees’ trust in an organisation stems from the behaviours of direct managers (i.e. doctoral supervisors), and for trust to develop, 'trust behaviours' must be demonstrated (Hope-Hailey et al., 2012). 

Viewing academic leaders in the context of their role as enablers of trust in the organisation, and in crafting an enabling and motivating research environment, this study aims to look in detail at the supervisor behaviours that are important in trust-building. Outcomes of this project will assist HEIs to enhance supervisory leadership, specifically through a lens of what works to build and to erode trust. Focusing particularly on behaviours within the ‘predictability’ domain of trust-building, it the project aims to develop clear practice recommendations and tools for academic leadership development activities.

Part 1. Researching trust in student-supervisor relationships

  1. Examine cross-institutionally students’ and supervisors’ perceptions of specific behaviours that develop or erode trust in the supervision relationship;
  2. Understand how the presence or absence of trust may influence doctoral degree completion;
  3. Understand how the presence or absence of trust may influence doctoral students’ perception of the trustworthiness of their organisation; 
  4. Use study outcomes to make clear recommendations for development of academic leadership capacity.

Part 2. Creating innovative approaches to academic leadership development

  1. Use the study outcomes (when known) produce academic leadership development workshops and/or toolkits for supervisors. Delivered learning outcomes will focus on how supervisors can understand and build trust with their doctoral students

Methodology:
Data collection and analysis will be in 3 phases:

  1. Pilot 1:1 interviews with experienced supervisors at TUOS to develop discussion group questions 
  2. Visits to 5 partner HEIs to deliver two workshops based on supporting doctoral completion and the role of student-supervisor trust: ‘Supporting Thesis Completion’ (for supervisors), and ‘Get Your Thesis off your Back’ (for students) These are existing and tested workshops that academic staff and students respond well to, and which generate valuable discussion. Each workshop will feature group discussions of supervision (focus on trust) that will be recorded for transcription. Follow up 1:1 interviews will be conducted at each opportunity to enable sharing of sensitive information not appropriate for group discussions.
  3. A study Blog will collect anonymous personal accounts of student-supervisor relationships. Comment moderation will be enabled to prevent contributors naming institutions or individuals. Contributors will be provided with clear guidance via the study information sheet.

Twitter (@predoctorbility) will be used throughout to promote the study, engage in dialogue around the data, and solicit further supervisory narratives. Appropriate links to the SDP lead and study information sheet will be provided.

Outputs and outcomes:
The research will lead directly to practice outputs that academic leaders, policy makers, academic developers and the sector can benefit from.  

Online Workshop for Academic Leaders: Study findings (when known) will be used to shape evidenced-based online workshops (or appropriate alternative) that engage supervisors and deliver academic leadership development which promotes high quality supervisory relationships. This is based in the SDP lead’s experience of delivering effective supervisor leadership development across different HE institutions.  e.g. http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/ris/ecr/mentoring/supworkshops 

Academic Learning & Development Strategy: Knowledge gained will support (1) enhancement of academic leadership development strategy through re-positioning supervision in an academic leadership context rather than a teaching and learning context; (2) innovative supervision practice development mechanisms for enhancing student-supervisor relationships through online workshops; (3) As part of the team leading on ‘research environment’ projects, the SDP lead’s insight will input into initiatives promoting the vitality and sustainability of the research environment (i.e. for REF 2020/2021). 

Social Media Resource: The Twitter account will act dually to (1) launch and promote dialogue about the project with external audiences and (2) to recruit a wider pool of doctoral students and supervisors to anonymously share stories. These brief case studies will become a shared resource for supervisors via the project blog. Study updates and online workshop content will also be shared via social media. This aims to engage supervisors and students in shared dialogue boarder than the 6 contributing universities.

Milestones:
March 2016 project start:

Month Action
Month 1-2

Conduct pilot interviews and develop discussion group questions
Ethical approval
Launch Blog and Twitter campaigns
Test workshop design and discussion groups

Month 3-6

Visit partner universities and collect discussion group data
Data transcription

Month 7-9 Analyse discussion group data
Analyse Blog data
Month 10-12 Design, create and test online workshops
Prepare and deliver LFHE report and academic outputs
Month 12+ Post-project conference dissemination
Post-project promotion of report, online workshops, and sector recommendations

 

 

 

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