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Effective feedback

In this text we make a connection between Self Determination Theory and feedback.
PhD supervisor and student in conversation
© University of Groningen

In many fields, feedback is used as a synonym to assessment, but especially in the context of a PhD trajectory, its role is clearly different. Giving feedback is an important element in your effort to help your PhDs grow, develop, find their own way of working and be successful in academia and beyond.

By giving effective feedback you not only motivate PhD candidates to improve their research method, output, and written work, but you also contribute to their personal and professional development. In this process, it is valuable to reframe your role of a supervisor into that of a coach because the focus is on supporting the growth and development of skills and competencies.

At the beginning of this week, we referred to Self Determination Theory, and the basic psychological needs. When the needs for autonomy, competence, relatedness, and meaning are satisfied, high-quality motivation arises to do the work that needs to be done. Your feedback can contribute to the well-being, progressive growth and improved performance of your PhD by keeping these four basic needs in mind. Let’s see how this works and what you can do.

Appreciative feedback supports the need for autonomy

The need for autonomy can be addressed by encouraging freedom and responsibility and giving space for one’s own voice and unique input. Encouraging your PhD to offer criticism and suggestions for research will make them feel psychologically free to make their own decisions. As a supervisor, you can support this process by listening with open curiosity, asking open-ended questions and not steering too quickly toward a particular outcome. Appreciative feedback is helpful.

Frequent feedback serves the need for competence

The need for competence can be satisfied by identifying and affirming the talents and strengths of your PhD, by assigning tasks that challenge them, by providing feedback aimed at their progress, and delegating tasks and responsibilities. Your PhD will feel increasingly competent in their journey. Skills you can use include: giving frequent (especially positive) feedback on the results of their work, but also on the behavior towards the product, and providing opportunities for growth and development.

Feedback on cooperation serves the need for relatedness

Needs for relatedness can be satisfied by encouraging mutual cooperation, helping to resolve conflicts, and ensuring good team spirit. Your PhD will become more comfortable in the group. Skills you can employ are: showing genuine interest, encouraging openness, creating psychological safety, having conversations about the purpose and values of scientific work, and telling your PhD what catches your eye in cooperation with others.

Enthusiastic feedback on inspiring ideas and insights

The need for meaning or meaningfulness can be satisfied by motivating and enthusing for a particular vision, mission, idea or research. Your PhD will go out inspired. Skills you can use are: your own enthusiasm, open conversation and your feedback on a new idea or insight of your PhD.

In short, we explained why feedback is an important instrument in your supervisory toolbox. When you keep in mind the four nutritions (need for autonomy, competence, relatedness and significance) for personal and professional development, providing feedback will significantly contribute to the growth of your PhD candidate.

Over to you

Have you ever expressed to your supervisor how you would have liked to receive feedback? If yes, what was the effect of such conversation? If not, what do you think would have changed if you told them what type of feedback you needed? How can you relate this to the developmental needs you experienced at the time?

© University of Groningen
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Successful PhD Supervision: A Shared Journey

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