A small-scale investigation into Engineering PhD student satisfaction with supervision in an Australian university campus
Helfer, F and Drew, S, A small-scale investigation into Engineering PhD student satisfaction with supervision in an Australian university campus, Proceedings of the 24th Annual Conference of the Australasian Association for Engineering Education, 8-11 December 2013, Gold Coast, Australia, pp. 1-9. (2013) [Refereed Conference Paper]
Doctoral supervision is doubtless one of the most complex forms of teaching in higher education. Poor
quality supervision may affect the studentís candidature by, for instance, increasing the time for
candidature completion, decreasing the quality of the research outcomes, and reducing the number
and quality of publications. Further, poor quality supervision may also lead to early termination of
doctoral candidatures. A quality doctoral supervision process, including a successful
supervisor/student relationship, can provide high levels of student fulfilment and satisfaction and
consequently, a successful doctoral candidature.
This study investigated the level of satisfaction of engineering doctoral students with supervisors and
supervision process at a large Australian university campus. Further goals of this investigation were:
a) to determine the overall level of satisfaction of engineering doctoral students with different aspects
of their supervision process; b) to identify positive and negative aspects of the doctoral supervision;
and c) to identify the important qualities for a successful supervision process from the engineering
doctoral studentsí perspective.
The method employed in this investigation was based on a student quantitative and qualitative survey.
A total of 47 full-time doctoral students were invited to participate via an anonymous online submission
system. The survey comprised questions about studentsí current supervision experiences, and about
their views on quality supervision. The questions were taken or adapted from validated methods
published in the literature for similar studies.
RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS
This study showed that approximately 50% of the engineering PhD students are satisfied with their
supervision process at this university campus. The main reasons for satisfaction with supervision are
related to the knowledge demonstrated by the supervisor, as well as to personal qualities such as
friendliness, approachability, patience, consideration and understanding. The main reasons for
dissatisfaction were related to the apparent lack of involvement of supervisors in the research projects,
and the perceived lack of knowledge in the field for some supervisors. These issues suggest that
supervisors should perhaps consider increasing the number of participants in the supervision team to
provide PhD students with more assistance. Well-aligned with these issues are the studentsí remarks
on the importance of supervisor interaction and collaboration with other research centres and
universities in order to increase the cohort of supervisors potentially available to assist the students.