See the results of a study, undertaken by the UK-based Research Information Network (funded by a consortium of UK higher ed institutions) between January and July 2011, investigating the place and role of PhD supervisors in the drive to ensure that research students possess the necessary level of information literacy to pursue their careers successfully in academia and beyond.
The key ﬁndings in the report include:
- Research supervisors’ practice, and research student satisfaction, varies enormously between different supervisors, research groups, departments and institutions. There is also great variation across different elements of information literacy.
- Research students are consistent in looking to their supervisor as a source of information and guidance.
- There is a minority of supervisors who are not engaged in developing their research students’ information literacy.
- Many supervisors have conﬁdence in their ability to advise their research students on information literacy, though this does vary across the different elements.
- Developing their research students’ academic writing ability is a key activity that supervisors undertake.
- Supervisors are not always aware of departmental, school or institutional training and support available for their students, and sometimes ﬁnd it difﬁcult to identify what training and support is available.
- Supervisors are not necessarily completely up to date themselves with information literacy skills and knowledge.
- Training for supervisors is a polarising issue; many supervisors highlight overlong, overly generic or not useful training as a disincentive to attend further courses.
- differences in students’ perceptions of their supervisor(s) role and success in providing support across university mission groups, subjects and mode of study are relatively minor. Instead there are major differences at the individual, research group and departmental level.
The report sets out four broad recommendations:
- Making it easy for supervisors to keep up to date on what training, support and resources are available for both themselves and research students; for this purpose, providing supervisors with clear information, speciﬁc to their needs, on the range of appropriate offerings and development.
- Improving development opportunities for supervisors, in particular by encouraging peer support between supervisors, notably through seminars and mentoring
- Encouraging supervisors to support and discuss their research students’ skills assessments, for instance through mechanisms, jointly considered by supervisors and students, that could be used as a basis of planning development opportunities.
- Finally, the evidence and ﬁndings lead to questions about the usefulness of the term ‘information literacy’ for supervisors, and how it is conceived within researcher development. In light of the understanding of the supervisors’ role and their attitudes offered by this report, institutional stakeholders can review their approach and ensure that a clear institutional position on the use of the term and concept is agreed.