Doctoral supervision at Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz

Duration: April 2007 - April 2009

Project background

The supervision of doctoral candidates is often discussed in Germany but little research has been carried out in this area. It is also accorded a central role in terms of higher education institute politics. Supervision by one individual, normally the Ph.D. adviser, is compared with supervision by several academics within a structured doctorate program. There is a lack of any wide empirical basis for questions dealing with supervision. German studies to date have mainly been purely descriptive and primarily handle the subject as a sub-aspect within more comprehensive questions about doctorates in general, or they are restricted to selected departments.

Aim of the project

The Center for Quality Assurance and Development of Mainz University took this as an opportunity to initiate a research project which aims to address the issue of "supervision", and to compile interdisciplinary data.

The project should contribute towards delivering results about the nature, main focus and assessment of doctoral supervision at Johannes Gutenberg University. The key focus is on the doctoral candidate's explanation of their level of satisfaction with their supervision. Existing German surveys indicate that up to two thirds of doctoral candidates are satisfied with the level of supervision they received, even though deficits were noted in the assessment of specific areas of supervision. This raises the question of which factors give rise to the satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) of doctoral candidates.

The results from the job satisfaction research and studies into action-orientation, which have an effect upon the supervisory situation, give rise to the assumption that satisfaction can - but does not have to be - a consequence of the actual supervision. It can also arise from adaptations and re-interpretation processes. A further explanatory approach presumes that the degree of consensus, or the fit between the expectations and attitudes of the doctoral candidate and the supervisor, may give rise to a different feeling of satisfaction under the same level of supervision.

Methodical approach

All of the professors and doctoral candidates at Mainz University were surveyed. The data was obtained in two phases. During the first phase, information about supervision is compiled via a standardized questionnaire. In the second phase, additional specific supervisory dyads are surveyed by means of semi-standardized interviews. Under the selected approach, the supervisor group and the doctoral candidate group can be analyzed independently, and both groups can then be compared with one another with regard to their expectations, role concepts and attitudes. Furthermore, the interviews of specific supervisory dyads enable the analytical findings to be examined at aggregate level in specific supervisory relationships.

Status: Interview analysis: August 2009