Doctoral Supervision Course at Karolinska Institutet
In March 2017, the Helmholtz Association issued a grant where 25 supervisors within the association were awarded the opportunity to attend a 5-day Doctoral Supervision course at Karolinska Institutet.
The participants were able to share their experiences, learn how theoretical pedagogy relates to their own practices, consolidate their knowledge and learn how to become a champion of best practice within their respective Helmholtz Research Centre. What was is like to attend the course and what will the participants bring back to their organization? We asked three of the participants; Dr. Edoardo Di Napoli, Dr. Berit Zeller-Plumhoff and Dr. Jens M. Turowski.
What made you apply for this grant?
Dr. Jens M. Turowski: When I saw the announcement, I thought this is really what I want to do, I really want to take this course. I’ve been supervising since I came out of my doctorate. It’s been about 10 years now and I’ve been supervising and working with doctoral students since the start of my post-doctoral career. I noticed very quickly that I really didn’t get trained on how to do this.
Dr. Berit Zeller-Plumhoff: First of all because I was so new. I am only just supervising my first PhD-student and I wasn’t sure if I was even qualified to apply. I want to learn how to be a good supervisor to my student from the very beginning. I think supervising is extremely important and shaping their doctoral education, and it’s very important as well for their mental health and that is often something that is forgotten by supervisors.
Dr. Edoardo Di Napoli: To me supervision is a quality intrinsic to leadership. Now that I’m leading a group I feel that if I don’t improve the way I lead my students, starting from the fact that I don’t know how good I am, I will be doing a really poor job. Willing to improve is not even enough if I don’t have a clear path on how to really lead the students to be formed and to be the next generation of research scientists. For me it’s a question of leadership and it’s my responsibility to understand where I can improve and where I can strengthen: forming these students to be the new generation of scientists is the crucial question.
Was there something in the course that really struck you, a real aha-moments perhaps?
Dr.Edoardo Di Napoli: There were a couple of things that struck me from the very beginning; here at KI you have implemented this very strict rule about the ‘green light’. It’s an excellent example of when things should be stopped when they aren’t really working.
Dr. Berit Zeller-Plumhoff: I really like the green light, it’s really good and I will also recommend that to, not only the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre, but also to my previous supervisors. They should think about how many PhD students they actually have the time for. I also like the checkerboard schematic on how to keep track of your students’ progress to really make sure that they make progress.
Dr. Jens M. Turowski: I was particularly impressed with the conflict management session, I enjoyed that a lot. In my experience we have conflicts regularly, and they arise again and again and again. Even if you are aware of how it works there will be conflicts. It’s another thing we’re not really trained at, how to manage conflicts and how to deal with them both in supervision and supervisor relationship but also other relationships. This is one thing I want to follow up on, to take more training in conflict management and mediation.
Would you recommend this education to your colleagues?
Dr. Edoardo Di Napoli: Yes definitely, as it has been said before everyone should be aware of the importance of good supervising but also of the pit falls that can arise and how to deal with certain situations and just raising the awareness and making people think about whether they’re doing a good job or not will also go a long way in helping them to be better.
Dr. Berit Zeller-Plumhoff: I absolutely agree, I will recommend it to basically everyone, not only the people at Helmholtz but also in the UK where I have been working because it’s so essential and you’re shaping so many people and it has such big influence of what you’re doing as a supervisor. I also think that should be something compulsory to really teach the person how to be a supervisor, especially when any post doc can be a supervisor even if that person doesn’t care. So yes, I think there should be something compulsory and I really liked this course.
Dr. Edoardo Di Napoli: If I can add something to that, I think the culture needs to be changed step by step and this course is sowing the seeds somehow, so I would definitely suggest it to my colleagues. But I also think we are the first seeds and as the first seeds we can grow a little plant and make more seeds out of it and in the end we’ll make a field, and this field will change the culture eventually. We’ll have to believe in it of course and in the beginning it will be really hard, but I think if we insist enough and are consistent, this will happen eventually.