Dr Ahmad Taha is a Research Associate in the Communication, Sensing, and Imaging Research Group as part of the James Watt School of Engineering at the University of Glasgow, and one of the first four UKCGE Recognised Associate Supervisors.
Working with PhD students is probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my job as a Research Associate and I cannot wait to have my first official student as a PI and embark on that journey together. My current role varies and includes, but is not limited to, supporting with lab work, providing writing support, giving feedback on papers and reports, or just listening and having discussions about their struggles with aspects related to their research and their time at the University. It is very important to realise the importance of having PhD students in a research institution, for without them, there will be far less output. The least they deserve is the necessary support to help them get through their doctoral journey.
A doctoral journey is, by the nature of discovery work, already stressful enough, and it is our ethical responsibility as supervisors to ensure our PGR students are supported to either face a limited number of stressful periods, or at least not face them alone. My approach is driven by that fact that I do not want my students to face the struggles that I experienced or even just witnessed during my recent doctoral journey (2016 to 2020), especially as an international student.
Having gained a PhD doesn’t mean we stop learning. I actually see continued learning as an eternal commitment to learning and development of myself and those I am overseeing. Being part of the pilot run of the UK Council for Graduate Education (UKCGE) Recognised Associate Supervisor Award was an excellent learning opportunity as it wasn’t just an evaluation of my supervisory practice but also a chance to be exposed to the literature and think, reflectively, in a non-technical manner, on how to best support PGRs. Moreover, it is an amazing notch in my belt that complements my research and teaching portfolio as it tells the world I am ready to take on PhD students, support them, and together do excellent work.
Going through the Recognised Associate Supervisor application process required me to complete a Supervisory Observation, sitting in to carefully appraise a supervisor at work. I observed a supervisory meeting between a PhD student and a senior lecturer who is not linked to my research project but works within the same research group. What I liked most about the meeting and is something that I reflected on after and will incorporate in my own practice is it seemed to me like a ‘partnership’. It was inspiring to see how confident, comfortable, and proud the PGR student was during their discussion with the supervisor which made me think they were in their final year but turned out to be a fist year PhD student. I think building up the PGR’s confidence and helping them lead their project is extremely important.
This observation experience, plus examples taken from my experience of the day-to-day support of PGRs, plus my critical reflections on the literature, formed my ‘Reflective Account of Practice’, a 2500-word piece of writing, broken into 5 x 500-word sections, drawing from the UK’s Good Supervisory Practice Framework. I reflected on several supervisory areas through the three core criteria and two elective ones including ‘Supervisory Relationships with Candidates’ (core), ‘Supervisory Relationships with Co-Supervisors’ (core), and ‘Supporting Candidates to Disseminate their Research’ (elective). Each criteria gave me a chance to reflect on a particular aspect of what I do in my daily role as a supporting supervisor.
Gaining this recognition could not have been possible without my mentors, my previous supervisors, and of course the PGRs. It is a boost forward for me to continue improving my practices and keep doing this rewarding job. I recommend all postdocs and other eligible candidates to go for this recognition to reflect on your practices and ensure we are providing the PGR community the support they need and deserve.