You can’t be what you can’t see

This is a guest post by Dr Josie Fullerton (@JosieNeuro) a Research Associate in the Institute of Cardiovascular & Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow, and one of the first four UKCGE Recognised Associate Supervisors.

Graphic of a pull quote reading: I still have a great deal to learn, but this process allowed me to understand what good practice looks like and to reflect on how I’ve developed as a supervisor, where I have taken my methods from, the level of supervision I provide

Personally, I love helping others with their research, whether it’s within the lab, with written work or oral presentations. As a postdoc, the time we spend helping and supervising others is often not recognised officially, but (most of the time) is appreciated!

Our academic achievements tend to be purely judged on scientific output, papers, communications, and grant success – and this dictates how successful we are with future academic applications. Yet, a large part of our role is ensuring PGRs are appropriately trained, informed in health and safety procedures, carry out good laboratory practice, understand their project and that they are supported daily (sometimes hourly…).

The UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) Recognised Associate Supervisor Award, offers professional recognition in fulfilment of the relevant aspects of the UK’s Good Supervisory Practice Framework and is currently piloting across the UK. Going through this process gave me the perfect opportunity to reflect and review my own supervisory skill set, but also think about the time I devote to supporting others. I have never taken a step back to reflect on how I teach or train others, what areas I need to improve on, or how I developed the methods I use every working day. And I certainly have never thought about how my supervisory style measures up against the UKCGE’s Good Supervisory Practice Framework.

The Recognised Associate Supervisor application process requires applicant to complete two main tasks: a Supervisory Observation and a Reflective Account of Practice.

For the Supervisory Observation, I observed a supervisory meeting between a student and PI that is not linked to my current project. Kindly, one of the Professors in our institute allowed me to attend their monthly meeting with their student and secondary supervisors. It was inspiring to watch different supervisory methods, from completely different fields, combine to support and direct the student. This experience gave me a lot to reflect upon; how do I support my PGR colleagues? Do I give them enough accountability for their projects, but also could I listen to them more?

For the Reflective Account, I pulled together a personal account across several supervisory areas, such as my supervisory relationships with candidates and co-supervisors, and how I support research projects, and aid the personal, professional and career development of doctoral researchers. Each section gave me the opportunity to think about the support I provide in and outside of the lab, whether that’s through laboratory training, reading lab reports, carrying out mock interviews/vivas, or advising on a personal issue. Furthermore, it allowed me to think about how my guidance and advice impacts on the PGR experience. Importantly, my methods of supervision must reflect and complement their PI’s guidance and requests. As any source of confusion will create uncertainty and impact on the PGRs performance, but also their confidence.

Gaining this professional award allowed me to think about my supervisory methods, which have developed throughout my academic career. I have been incredibly fortunate to be supervised and mentored by many inspiring and motivating scientists. They have supported me but also allow me to grow and develop my own supervisory skills. They highlight opportunities for me, they let me sparkle with things I’m good at, but remind me of the areas I need to work on.

I still have a great deal to learn, but this process allowed me to understand what good practice looks like and to reflect on how I’ve developed as a supervisor, where I have taken my methods from, the level of supervision I provide but also where I could improve. I can now call myself a ‘UKCGE Recognised Associate Supervisor’, and I would highly recommend this scheme for postdocs, laboratory technicians and facility managers to reflect on just how much they do for others, but also the methods they use in doing so.  

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