UK Council for Graduate Education Launches UK Research Supervision Survey Report

  • Doctoral Training
  • Research Supervision
  • Research Culture
  • Candidate Experience
UK Research Supervision Survey
The UK Council for Graduate Education is delighted to launch the UK Research Supervision Survey 2021 report. 

The UKCGE commissioned the largest ever survey of UK research supervisors, eliciting 3,435 responses across 158 institutions. The research was conducted with support from both the Wellcome Trust and UKRI.

This landmark UK Research Supervision report offers a comprehensive picture of research supervision, with 7 major chapters covering: Recruitment, selection and funding; Supervisory practice; Relationship with candidates; Development and support; Workload, recognition and reward; Motivations and challenges; and The impact of COVID-19.

The UKRSS shines a very positive light on postgraduate research supervision in the UK and on those involved in research supervision.

An overwhelming majority – 91% — enjoy research supervision, with 93% valuing their involvement in research supervision. A key motivation (72%) was being able to help engage, motivate and train the next generation of researchers’. One respondent said: It is the most meaningful and enjoyable relationship in academia” (Anonymous).

Person-centred supervision is the norm in the UK, with the majority of respondents (73%) agreeing that it is their role to supervise a person not a project’, and 79% acknowledging that providing pastoral support is a core responsibility of research supervision.

71% felt supported to enact good supervision and address issues in practice’, however only 52% felt that research supervision was valued by their institution.

Team supervision has become standard practice with 70% frequently’ or always’ undertaking research supervision as part of a team in the last five years and 65% agreeing that team supervision offers a better experience for the doctoral candidate.

A significant majority – 65% — felt their supervisory responsibilities had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 33% reported no difficulty’ in managing their own mental health and wellbeing while also supporting their doctoral candidates. One respondent said: “…being a supervisor can be a pretty lonely and isolating experience, particularly during COVID” (Anonymous).

Acknowledging the role of postgraduate researchers in creating a vibrant research environment, 82% agreed that research supervision improves the quality of their own research. In addition, 75% said that increasing the diversity of the doctoral candidate population would improve the research culture at their institution.

Accompanying the publication UKRSS report, Professor Doug Cleaver, Chair of UK Council for Graduate Education and Sheffield Hallam University, said:

This is a landmark report for the UK postgraduate research community. I’m proud that the UKCGE has extended our long-standing support for research supervisors by giving a voice, for the first time at a national level, to all those involved in research supervision. I would like to sincerely thank all 3,435 of you who took the time to share your experiences of research supervision with us. As a sector we should be encouraged by many of the UKRSS’s findings. Those supervising doctoral research are passionate about their roles — they care about the individuals under their supervision, and, in return, they feel valued by them. However, the report also shows that many of our institutions could do more to make supervisory teams feel valued and supported. For example, there is more to do to formally recognise the vital work of supervisors, and to provide environments which support them to deliver against what is an increasingly complex and multi-faceted role. Concerted progress on these fronts is needed for those involved in research supervision to engage, motivate and inspire the next generations of researchers 

Dr Karen Clegg, UKCGE Executive Committee member, UK Research Supervision Survey Steering Group, and the University of York, said:

The UKRSS shines a light on the commitment and dedication of supervisors to support research candidates through the doctoral journey. It also confirms the UK as an environment where research and researchers are valued — this is something to be celebrated. However, the report also exposes some cracks in the system. There is a need for training and support in the areas of diversity, mental wellbeing and professional and career development, and in the time, reward and recognition afforded to supervisory practice. Supervisors are giving time, energy and significant discretional effort to support candidates and it would appear that this is not being adequately recognised in workload allocation models or through reward and recognition. Additionally, the findings show that some supervisors are feeling the pressure. The majority of respondents feel that their role has become more demanding during the last 5 years and that their supervisory responsibilities had increased due to COVID-19. Only a third (33%) of respondents reported no difficulty in managing their own wellbeing suggesting that two-thirds are feeling the pressure. If we are committed to creating mentally healthy research cultures, it is crucial that our institutions provide training and support to supervisors, and that they consider diversifying and expanding the pool of people involved in supervision to reduce any negative impact of supervisory responsibilities on supervisors’ wellbeing. 

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