Is there an award for postdocs who supervise? Now there is!

By Dr Kay Guccione

The pilot of the UKCGE Recognised Associate Supervisor Award has now launched!

The logo for the UKCGE Research Supervision Recognition Programme

The Recognised Associate Supervisor Award is based on a the sector-approved UKCGE Good Supervisory Practice Framework, and provides guidance and a route to professional recognition for those early in their supervisory careers and those with informal supervisory roles. This new award, now in pilot phase, aims to build on the success of the existing Recognised Supervisor Award, and to ensure that the groups of university staff who do so much of the PGR support work can be recognised for their contribution.

You may have read my previous writing on how much value and expertise postdocs bring to doctoral development. Or seen my recent paper at the UCL Institute for Education on the need to create formal structures that engage early career researchers in real academic work, not just have them attend training courses about it. I, and my colleagues have been arguing this for several years now, and we weren’t the first. Studies from more than 15 years ago showed how postdocs see their role as informal supervisors, and feel that formal opportunities to contribute, are essential to developing their ‘academic sense of self’.

Many of the PGRs I have met with in my time as a Researcher Developer have named the postdocs in their groups and depts as being fundamental sources of support. The University of Sheffield has collected a lot of these kinds of stories in celebration of their postdocs. I myself remember a stellar postdoc in the lab when I first started my PhD and whose support and mentoring meant the world to me. So here’s thanks to my own informal supervisor, my excellent friend Dr Geoff Gobert, who now has his own research group, lucky them!

You may think well, surely, that’s just the role of a postdoc, or any good colleague, that’s not supervision. I disagree. When you break down the kinds of work postdocs are regularly engaging in as part of their work to support PGRs, you’ll see all the same skills, attributes and behaviours that comprise the Good Supervisory Practice Framework. Skills such as relationship building, supporting academic writing and communications, sustaining motivation and momentum, and career conversations. What’s more, due to their ‘near-peer’ positioning, PGRs feel they can open up to postdocs to discuss their struggles, worries and wider life issues. My view is postdocs play a unique and very valuable role indeed.

There are more people that deserve recognition for informal supervision work too. The professional work of ‘researcher development’ and doctoral education is not always explicit and has become dispersed across many ‘agents’ (Elliot et al., 2020) over the last decades. Their supervision plays an important developmental role within the doctoral student experience and is often unrecognised in formal supervisory governance structures, in role descriptions, or in institutional teaching or research strategies. In designing and piloting this professional recognition award we (‘we’ is Dr Elizabeth Adams and myself, in partnership with UKCGE) wanted to be as inclusive as possible, and so the pilot has welcomed ‘visiting’ researchers, teaching associates, research technicians, research facility managers, and doctoral school managers, plus other colleges with a doctoral degree and who work closely with doctoral researchers in a learning support capacity. Many in these groups will be doing some day-to-day work related to doctoral supervision, formally or informally, as part of a supervisory team, as members of a research group, or as part of the institutional community.

Mirroring the existing Recognised Supervisor Award, the applicants are required to evidence their supervisory practice as a reflective account. As an additional learning opportunity, applicants are also required and supported to observe a supervision meeting. This process gains them a rich learning dialogue with a supervisor in their community, both before and after the supervision meeting, and a guided reflection on practice centred on those observations weaves into the application narrative.

There has been some real excitement and enthusiasm from our pilot groups, which we are incredibly delight to see, and we are very much looking forward to developing the process with the pilot applicant’s feedback.

The pilot of the descriptor will run during the summer of 2021. With the full programme to be launched in October 2021.

For more details about the Associate Research Supervisor descriptor, please follow this link, or contact Ian Covey at the UKCGE: ian.covey@ukcge.ac.uk

3 Replies to “Is there an award for postdocs who supervise? Now there is!”

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