Is an outstanding research supervisor out of the ordinary?

I was very pleased to see that the Times Higher Education Awards have added a new category for this year’s set of awards: the ‘Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year’.  I think this is brilliant because a lot of my colleagues who are senior researchers are overlooked in the University teaching awards, which often focus on undergraduate teaching, because senior researchers, more often than not, deliver postgraduate courses. (N.B, I’m fully aware of the debate about teaching awards being divisive but I’m choosing to ignore that in this post).  However, I was surprised by the THE’s definition of, or more correctly criteria for selection, of an outstanding research supervisor (see below).

Outstanding Research Supervisor of the Year

This award will be given to the individual who has created the most supportive, stimulating and inspirational research environment for PhD students. Submissions will be accepted from students, supervisors themselves, or their colleagues, but student testimonies must be included. 

Judges will be looking for a supervisor who:

• demonstrates enthusiasm for the role, is flexible in regard to supervision sessions, and is prepared to go the extra mile to help navigate students through difficulties, be they academic or otherwise

• challenges students while encouraging them to contribute something substantial to their specific area of academic discourse

• provides additional support and facilities to give greater scope to the PhD, or to enable it to be completed early

• is exceptionally supportive through the planning for assessments and the PhD viva

• offers constructive employment and career advice post-graduation

From my experience as Research Developer, and therefore the person who trains and develops the research supervisors at the University in which I work, virtually every supervisor I meet demonstrates these qualities with all the postgraduate researchers that they supervise.  We are a widening participation University and this extends to our doctoral student community. Our postgraduate researchers range in age (from 21 -85), range in research experience (some of our PGRS are experienced academics, researchers and practitioners) and where they are based (our PGRS may be from a few miles down the road, from Devon or Scotland or even based half way around the world). Consequently, flexibility is central to everything our supervisors deliver and not one of them would think twice about going the extra mile to support their students, whether that be academically or pastorally.  

As part of my role I deliver research development opportunities for our PGRS and it is rare for a session to go by without at least one of the workshop delegates telling me about the passion and enthusiasm of their supervisors and the motivation this provides for them. Our supervisors are known for never saying no when their students need encouragement. They ensure their students are challenged but feel bolstered by this, and every stage of the doctoral life cycle is fully underpinned and supported.  

Yesterday in an open meeting our VC asked us to be ambitious.  I think our research supervisor take this a step further and are very obvious ‘Outstanding’!!

Goodbye for now,



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