Preparatory information for participants


Address of this webpage (for link from Zoom chat):


Questions for breakout groups to address:


  1. Reflecting on your own supervisory practices in your experience, how far does this lens apply and in what ways?
  2. What changes might it suggest for the early meetings between (say) an Irish supervisor and a supervisee from another culture?
  3. What does this lens mean for a) the professional development of supervisors, and b) for the induction of supervisees?
  4. What (critical) comments do you have about this perspective in relation to your own professional practice?


Useful Resources



Trowler (2021) Article on Supervision:


Previous Irish National Workshop (Athlone) on Social Practice Theory:


Trowler Xerte resources for supervisees (linked to 2023 book with AI prompts Ace Your Doctoral Research and Thesis):


Summaries of individualistic research

Sverdlik, A. et al (2018) The PhD Experience: A review of the factors influencing doctoral students’ completion, achievement and well-being. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 361-388.


Lynn McAlpine summarises research on "best practice" for supervisees and supervisors. (Podcast)


The 11 moments Table from page 1749 of Trowler (2021) "sharpening the focus of the practice lens"


Table 1: Questions to ask about the moments flowing into the supervisory context        


Questions and examples

Proto-practice reservoirs


Implicit theories of supervision

What theory/ies underpin the approach to learning to become a proficient doctoral researcher, and are they shared? Boud and Lee (2008) describe the steady ‘pedagogisation’ of doctoral work which, among other things, involves peer learning and the directed acquisition of sets of research skills. This contrasts with an approach to supervision which is individualistic, personalised and prioritises the development of new knowledge over personal skill-sets. Grant (2005) sets out alternative theories of supervision.

Conventions of appropriateness

What appropriately happens in a ‘supervisory session’, and are there significant differences between participants’ expectations? What ‘rules’ are codified and which remain tacit? Zhang (2016) shows how Chinese doctoral students can struggle to come to terms with US conventions around who speaks and expectations of expressing criticality in public contributions to debate. She argues that learned  ‘high risk-avoidance’ can make these students struggle to consider these to be appropriate behaviours.

Tacit assumptions

What are participants’ assumptions about what ‘doctorateness’ is, and do they differ? Henderson (2018) explores how assumptions about supervisory approaches develop, and highlights the consequences of them not being surfaced. This results in lack of mutuality.

Codes of signification

What does the word ‘research’ signify to those involved? Stubb et al (2014) show how doctoral students may enter the supervisory relationship with one or more overlapping conceptions of it. Brew (2001) identifies four orientations held by academics, with similar orientations identified by Kiley and Mullins (2005) and Åkerlind (2008). Naturally, supervisor and supervisee may not share the same orientations, and this again can be problematic.

Discursive repertoires

To what extent are ways of saying and meaning shared, and how far is there intersubjectivity (mutual understandings)? How are assumptions and theories encoded in written and other texts, what do they concern and what are their effects? Holligan (2005, p. 267) argues that “the conflicting array of ideological discourses exercising authority over the university sector may undermine the concept of scholarly originality and the underpinning academic skills and dispositions”

Local characteristics


Power relations

Who makes decisions, how are they made, and what do they concern? What effects do they have? Who is empowered to be agentic and creative, who is not, and how is this enacted? Ismail et al (2013) offer a case study in which the power plays occurring  between two supervisors disrupted the candidate’s progress.

Backstories in process

What histories do those involved bring to the supervisory relationship, and how do they affect other moments, processes and outcomes? Evans and Stevenson (2011) show how the negative impact of moving from being a high-status professional to undertake a PhD, and occupying the student role, can have significant effects on self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Regimes in interaction

How do other families of practices, both horizontal (bundled) and vertical (nested) impinge on the accomplishment of doctoral supervision, and vice versa? What different contextual concerns are in play for those involved in the supervisory relationship? Eisenbach (2013) shows how practices associated with and expected of motherhood bundled with those of doctoral research involve pressures and stress for women. Rönnerman and Kemmis (2016) demonstrate how supervisory practices are enabled and constrained by the practice architectures of the international doctoral programme within which they are nested.

Materiality in interaction

In what ways do physical layout, hardware, software and artefacts configure the accomplishment of supervisory practices, and how are they re-shaped by it? How far does materiality constrain or scaffold desirable outcomes for doctoral research? Hunt et al (2012) highlight the significance of office space, and in particular shared offices for PhD students, in facilitating networking, peer support and a culture of collaboration. Kelly (2017) likewise stresses the significance of ‘spaces of doctoral research’.

Subjectivities in interaction

How do the subjectivities involved configure each other, and what is the effect of this on supervisory practices and outcomes? What forces operate on supervisory practices to structure the positionality of the subjectivities involved and their identity trajectories (McAlpine, Amundsen and Turner, 2014)? Hutt et al (1983) show how subjectivities structured around an axis of criticism, anxiety, resentment of authority and powerlessness are disruptive for progress.



Recurrent practices

What is recurrently said and done in supervisory practices to accomplish them, and what are the effects of this on outcomes? How and to what extent are newcomers socialised into this new family of practices? Skakni (2018) shows how routinised, taken-for-granted practices in a department or research field can impede students’ progress.