Supervision vs. PhD Completion Time


“The effective supervision is important in timely completion of Phd programs. There is a need for effectual and frequent communication/meetings to discuss the research, set goals,
define the parameters/scope of the research work, provide  encouragement and feedback and confirm alignment between the expectations of the student and of the supervisor. Supervisors must provide mentorship in planning and guiding the research, encouraging manuscript format and supporting progress. Frustration about supervisor absenteeism, slow turn-around times on work/chapters and the lack of engagement of supervisors was apparent in many responses.

Supervisors have a responsibility to provide mentorship that goes with accepting a student and to support the success of students under their supervision.” (1)

 Change Curve

The Change Curve is a popular and powerful model used to understand the stages of personal transition and organisational change. It helps you predict how people will react to change. This is a typical change or transition curve.

 Stages 1 and 2 – Reading Self and Others works .

The style to be used by supervisor here is to simply listen… don’t be tempted to jump in and fix it, don’t offer solutions, and don’t agree with them, just listen. Watch as they move to Stage 2, where again, you just listen. This can take some time, but you need to let them vent. Patience is often the key here!

 Stage 3 – Confusion.

This is easy to spot. You’ll probably hear sentiments like: ‘What am I supposed to do with my work?’, ‘Perhaps I should look elsewhere’, or ‘I am not sure of any of this’. The supervision style here is to start giving pointers, start directing your PhD candidate and give some context around the way things will look. It is now your role to ‘sell’ the benefits of the change processes, experiments, methodology, and values.

 Stage 4 – Acceptance Rationalisation.

Here things begin to get easier.  This is a good time to get your PhD candidate to start brainstorming ideas, solutions, and let them know you are supporting them. Watch for candidates who may slip into confusion as they realise they aren’t fully sure of what’s just going to happen.

 Stage 5 – Problem Solving.

As above, here they take ownership for the change. Candidates stop focusing on the probem, and start to focus on the solution and have a sense of the results. They begin testing and exploring what the changes mean, and so learn how they must adapt. This is where you stabilise the change.

 Stage 6 – Moving On.

Here the golden question to ask is ‘what have you learnt about the problem under study and the process you have gone through?’ At this stage, they not only accept the results they found but also start to embrace them and begin to rebuild their profound thesis or journal paper. You should now see some benefits coming through from the your Candidates. (2)

Applying the change curves method to PhD Supervision vs Candidation time.

The sketch below represents a simple trial to apply the change curve to 4 typical combination known in academic life, between supervisors and PhD candidates:

1. Weak supervisor vs. Weak PhD candidate.

2. Weak supervisor vs. Strong PhD candidate.

3. Strong supervisor vs. Weak PhD candidate.

4. Strong supervisor vs. Strong PhD candidate.

The X axis is for PhD candidation time.
The Y axis is for efficiency or quality of the PhD results.
The vertical green line represents the Critical Supervision Time CST.
The vertical Blue line represents the PhD Completion Time CT



(1) link

(2) link

1 Comment
  1. Mubasher says

    valuable information.. thumbs up…!!

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