Community Acuity (25): distinguish yourself as a supervisor by being kind

Community Acuity’ blog posts are from supervisors, to supervisors. They share the thoughts, experiences and reflection of the highs and the challenges of supervising doctoral students. This is a guest post by Dr Paul Reilly (@PaulJReilly), Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society at the University of Sheffield.

Meeting my PGRs in my office (or ideally the more relaxed surroundings of Jessop West Café) is beginning to feel like a distant memory; supervision has moved ‘online’ through Google Hangout, Skype, and email. 

Photo shows hands, notebooks, and communication devices on a cafe table, indicating a work meeting over coffee.
Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

I have been reflecting recently on whether my approach has changed during lockdown. I have tried to check in with my PGRs more regularly than I would have done so before the pandemic, although I don’t wish to be overbearing either. Working from home requires us all to establish boundaries between the personal and professional where possible (although this is notoriously difficult in Higher Education). My supervisees do not need me constantly looking over their shoulder to check their progress, this is a bugbear of mine and I don’t wish to inflict this upon others.

My approach towards supervision is dialogic in nature and I want my PGRs to be able to speak to me about their concerns (and not just academic ones). Every meeting starts with a catch up on how they are coping with lockdown, whether they have been in contact with family and friends, and how they are juggling their other commitments e.g. work. I was a part-time PGR, who worked outside the university to fund my own PhD, so I can empathise to a certain extent (although I didn’t have a global pandemic to deal with as well, so I can’t claim any authority on the issue). Demonstrating compassion and empathy to colleagues, students and PGRs has never been more important than now. However, we shouldn’t need a global pandemic to tell us that pastoral care is integral to PGR supervision. To paraphrase a well-known saying, “distinguish yourself by being kind”.

Your reflections on your own supervisory practices are welcome as a blog post, or mini-blog post.

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