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The 'professional values' component of supervisor training

This section of pages is 'For Management' which is a shorthand for anyone who has responsibility or oversight for the supervision of postgraduate research students (also known as graduate research students). Typically such individuals are likely to be senior academics or training personnel.

The suggestions and recommendations here represent my personal views in the light of my experience in the hope that these may be of some use to others.

For ease of reading, the single term 'training' is used on these pages, but do use whatever term is most acceptable in your institution. For a discussion on alternative terminology, see the Basics page.

'Professional values' is the last of the three components of professional training. Professional values manifest themselves in attitudes towards others, particularly students, and in turn they influence actions.

What professional values are appropriate in a research degree supervisor?

No list of the values appropriate in a research degree supervisor1 can ever be definitive or complete, and any one can have numerous subsets. Table T3 shows some examples which you will want to extend and modify for supervisors in your institution.

Table T3: Core professional values for research supervisors

Commitment to/ concern for:

  • student development and achievement
  • student progress towards independence
  • ethical issues
  • equal opportunities
  • one's own scholarship, academic excellence and integrity
  • working with and learning from colleagues
  • continuing reflection on one’s own professional practice

How can a research degree supervisor's values be developed?

Most supervisors are caring individuals who already hold appropriate values, even if they have never consciously considered them.

However if a training programme is to be comprehensive, the person designing or running it will, at least, want to take a few minutes to raise the matter of professional values. One way would be to ask supervisors to refine the above list and share comments in plenary. Any two lists are unlikely to be identical in detail because of the various subsets of each value. Nevertheless the activity will raise awareness and generate useful discussion.

Appropriate values may be developed by 'rubbing off' through contact with others, particularly other supervisors in a supervisory team. Unfortunately this is just as true for inappropriate values. So a way needs to be found to keep values in the minds of supervisors. On-going personal reflection is ideal, but it is hardly practical in view of all the other things that encroach on supervisors' time. For the way that I have been most involved with, see rewards and awards.

© Pat Cryer

1 'Supervisor' is a shorthand for 'research degree supervisor', 'advisor' or 'tutor', and applies to varying extents for all research degrees: PhD, DPhil. MPhil, Prof Doc and even undergraduate and masters' projects. In some countries, notably the USA, a 'supervisor' is known as an 'advisor'.