Guiding without taking over. How do you supervise students in their research?

Onderzoek van studenten begeleiden

Many lecturers and PhD students supervise research of students. This may not be difficult if you are supervising the ‘ideal student’ who autonomously goes through the process and needs little supervision. But what do you do if the student runs into trouble? Having insight in your style of supervision, conversational techniques, and form of providing feedback can help you a lot.

Supervising students’ research requires special didactics. There is, of course, overlap with ‘regular’ teaching, however there are also clear differences: you have conversations with students, and you go through a longer and more personal process together. You are not only a teacher to the student, but also a coach. Expertise alone is not enough.

The role as a coach requires a different attitude, but also new skills: skills to motivate students to learn actively and take responsibility for their own learning process.

Scager K., Thoolen B. (2006) De docent als coach

Reflect on your style of supervision

How you approach the supervision, depends on your own style and maybe also on your own experience (how were you supervised?). It is good practice to reflect on your own style of supervision, preferably with others as this can show you other options for supervision, and thus allows you to make a conscious choice between those options.

Feedback and conversational techniques

An often heard question is ‘How do I point the student in the correct direction without guiding them too much?’. This is related to the way you provide feedback and how you ensure the student incorporates your feedback in their work, but also the conversational techniques that you use. Do you speak or explain a lot during the conversations? Or do you ask many questions and are you trying to make the student think? Other than that, it is good to keep the students’ individual needs in mind, as well as the different supervision per phase of their graduation research.

Having difficult conversations

What do you do if a student you supervise does not keep to your agreements, for instance by continually handing in work late? Two things are important here. Firstly, try to find the cause of the problem and try to find a solution to it with the student. Secondly, clearly indicate that you consider this to be a problem and what the consequences are. This may be a difficult conversation, but it is important not to postpone the conversation. If you correctly use the conversational techniques, you can ensure that it will be a fluent and constructive conversation.

Course on supervising student research

On 31 January 2023 you can join our course Supervising student research more effectively. In this course (consisting of four meetings) you will work on conversational techniques, providing feedback, and reflect on the level of guidance needed in different situations with the help of other participants of the course. You will also make a supervision plan which will help you become aware of the possibilities. Recording your supervision meetings and analysing these is also possible. We pay special attention to online supervision of students.