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Welcome to Week 2

We present the theoretical framework behind the concepts, tools and tips that supervisors can adopt to create an environment of trust and support cond
Supervisor talking to PhD student
© University of Groningen

In the first week of this course we focused on what it takes to guide the student throughout the PhD trajectory. Guiding a young, talented, and ambitious student in their journey to becoming a good, independent, and reliable researcher, well-prepared for a career inside and outside of academia, is not an easy task.

It is a task for which the skills and experience that you have gained in years of engagement in research and education will be of great help. Yet for much of your supervisory role you most likely rely on the (good and bad) example of the supervisors that have guided you throughout your own career, which can be problematic. Often implicit biases about supervisory roles (and positions of power) are in fact unconsciously copied from the role models we had in our own career. In the next week of the course we will focus on how you can more consciously relate to these patterns and be a better role model for your PhD student.

Establish and maintain a relationship of trust and guidance

In this week we will give you evidence-based insights and practical tips and tools that will help you establish and maintain a relationship of trust and guidance with the PhD candidate so that they develop as researchers and they persevere in the arduous and rewarding path of science. We will look into what it takes to communicate effectively, we will give you insights into how to discuss mutual expectations and set goals that are motivating, we will give you tips and suggestions for giving constructive feedback, and more.

But before we delve into the practical aspects of this week, it is important to mention the theoretical framework that is at the basis our perspective. Specifically, the macro-theory of human motivation developed by Ryan and Deci: Self Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2017).

Self Determination Theory

In short, Self Determination Theory (SDT) identifies three crucial nutrients for personal development and optimal functioning. When these three (innate) psychological needs are satisfied, high-quality motivation arises to do the work that needs to be done. Ryan and Deci identify these as the need for autonomy, the need for competence and the need for relatedness or belonging.

1) The need for autonomy is the desire to act psychologically free. People feel autonomous when they can make their own decisions and choices.

2) The need for competence is the desire to interact effectively with the environment. People feel competent when they can learn and develop, which allows them to adapt flexibly to what the work requires of them.

3) The need for relatedness is the desire to build positive relationships with others. People feel connected when they are part of a close-knit team in which people support each other and share personal feelings and thoughts.

Recent research (Schaufeli, 2022) has identified a fourth need that we would like to add here.

4) The need for meaning or significance, the desire to do useful and important work and thereby contribute to a greater whole. People experience that their labor is meaningful when they feel they are contributing something.

When these basic needs are satisfied, high-quality motivation ensues and results in optimal functioning, both in terms of well-being and performance. It is therefore important to keep these four basic needs in mind.

While the needs mentioned above are recognized as universal, the specifics of how they are understood are dependent on the context within which the person operates. Therefore, it is important to also realize what these concepts play out in your own culture and zoom out to the context and the socio-cultural framework within which you and your PhD student operate, which is something that we will focus on in the next week of this course.

As a supervisor, you can contribute to creating a socially safe environment where it is enjoyable to teach and learn about research, where there is attention to the PhD as a person, and not only the thesis as an outcome. By being aware of your own reference framework and how it affects your own idea of good supervision, by being open, compassionate and non-judgmental in your interaction, by discussing early and often about mutual expectations, by coaching the PhD in setting goals and (learning) targets that are in line with their values and aspirations, and by giving frequent and constructive feedback, you can contribute to the well-being and performance of your PhD.

In the next week we will focus on your own cultural framework and how it may affect your own idea of supervision. During this week we will provide you with very practical tools and techniques that you can adopt to establish a relationship of trust with your PhD student, and support the relatedness, competence, and autonomy they need in order to develop and grow as researchers, thrive in your group, and bring the PhD project to a successful completion.

Good luck this week!


© University of Groningen
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Successful PhD Supervision: A Shared Journey

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