(CS EdX Sessions) Lewis, Clifford

Title: Supervision Disruption: being mindful of vulnerabilities in HDR students

Presenter: Dr Clifford Lewis

Co-presenter(s): Jo Esler

Faculty / Division: BJBS

School / Unit: Business

Session Type: Interactive Discussion

When: Wednesday, 17 November 2021 @ 12:15pm – 1:15pm)

Where: https://charlessturt.zoom.us/j/62400918480


The challenges doctoral students experience at various stages of their degree are well documented (Pappa, Yada, & Perälä-Littunen, 2020). These challenges often come from independently navigating a different form of learning compared to previous qualifications; and are often influenced by the student’s unique circumstances (e.g. full time vs part-time, international vs domestic) –  altogether making doctoral students a potentially vulnerable cohort in higher education.

Through a meta-analysis of the literature, Bair and Haworth (2004) found three factors consistently reported as being influential on student completion. These are the student’s characteristics, their supervisors, and the university environment. The disruptions caused by COVID19 has exacerbated the vulnerability doctoral students experience by isolating them from their supervisors and their peers – which are essential support networks for completion (Pappa, et al., 2020; Tucker, Wilson, Hannibal, Lawless, & Qu, 2021); while contributing to greater anxiety through financial hardship and employment uncertainty (Johnson, Coleman, Batten, Hallsworth, & Spencer, 2020; Lazurko et al., 2020). At the same time, lack of progress on research projects can negatively impact students’ mental health (Devos et al., 2017) – and lockdown and fieldwork restrictions have resulted in such delays. The restructuring of several Higher Education institutions and associated redundancies has meant that some students at various completion stages have been assigned new supervisors. Posing a challenge for both the student (having to adapt to a new style) and the supervisor (having to take on a project mid-way). These challenges and the consequent anxieties impact the student’s academic performance (Tucker et al., 2021).

Disruptions, however, is not unique to COVID19. Given the duration of a doctoral degree, disruption can be inevitable with supervisor funding and employment changes and the student’s own circumstances potentially disrupting the degree and/or the supervision process. Given the value of Doctoral students to our institutions and future research capacity, it is essential to reflect on how we as supervisors can support students to completion within a disruptive environment. This is imperative to protect the diversity of academia – given that economically disadvantaged students, those with minority identities, or caring responsibilities report higher dropout rates (Fries‐Britt and Snider, 2015; Johnson, et al., 2020) and similarly have been disproportionately impacted by COVID19.

In this group discussion, we will discuss strategies to support doctoral students through disruptions. Specifically, the two talking points we will look at are:

  1. What proactive or reactive strategies can be used to support student wellbeing?
  2. What proactive and reactive strategies can be used to support student isolation?

The discussion will aim to harness the group’s experience to uncover strategies used to support doctoral students generally, especially groups more susceptible to dropout. As an outcome, a resource will be co-created and shared with participants that summarise the strategies that emerge. Accordingly, the discussion is positioned under the stream of co-creation.


Bair, C. R., & Haworth, J. G. (2004). Doctoral student attrition and persistence: A meta-synthesis of research Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (pp. 481-534): Springer.

Devos, C., Boudrenghien, G., Van der Linden, N., Azzi, A., Frenay, M., Galand, B., & Klein, O. (2017). Doctoral students’ experiences leading to completion or attrition: A matter of sense, progress and distress. European journal of psychology of education, 32(1), pp. 61-77.