Development programs for experienced supervisors

Purpose/research question

In this project we review the literature on doctoral supervision programs and analyze an authentic supervisor program aimed at senior supervisors, which proved to be successful in terms of being large-scale, well-evaluated and producing local cultural-change.

The purpose of the study is to examine potential barriers and options to be taken into account when designing supervisor development activities aimed at senior doctoral supervisors. 


Senior academics are seldom the target group of educational development programs. This also applies to senior doctoral supervisors. On the one hand, it might seem reasonable since this group of academics could be considered to be more in a position to teach and mentor junior colleagues rather than being ‘learners’ themselves in a development program. On the other hand, several arguments support the necessity and relevance of ensuring continuous professional development of experienced supervisors. E.g., experience is not necessarily equivalent to quality, and the need for further development increases as the supervisor’s responsibility and workload increases.


The case in this study is the mandatory course on Supervision at Aarhus BSS. The material derives from a number of sources. The major source is formal data that involves descriptive statistical analysis of the program evaluation forms and survey data on the university’s PhD students’ perceptions of the quality of their supervisors. Additional formal data is institutional statements about initiatives taken at departmental level that can be perceived as anecdotal evidence of the effect of the program. More informal data are the program leader’s naturalistic observations of interactions in the ‘classroom’ during the course days.


The analysis of the case illustrates the importance of merging three streams: 1) strong incentive structures initiated by the top management, 2) teaching principles that are aligned with the group of senior academics, and 3) a well-evaluated course that, in the long term, encourages supervisors to participate due to their inner motivation.  

Status: current