3. Collaboration as a Supervisory Practice

Christine Bruce and Susan Gasson

Why read this chapter?

Collaboration is a key to successful supervision, ensuring rich engagement and exchange.

Discover how to initiate and maintain strong collaborative research networks using the elements of a collaborative research framework, including:

  • trust and respect
  • informal, formal and sanctioned networks
  • inclusive, innovative, inspiring and informing outcomes.

Then, consider building the two elements of collaborative capacity in your higher degree researchers:

This chapter is informed by a collaborative research culture framework that the authors developed and have applied in recent years (Gasson et al, 2020). The framework has been used in workshops locally and globally, with collaborative capacity being the most recent addition to the framework (Aisoli-Orake et al; Maybee et al, 2022). Familiarity with the framework will allow you to consider collaborative practices that may enhance supervisory relationships, the higher degree researcher experience and the progress of the project.

Elements of the collaborative research culture framework

In this chapter, we introduce and illustrate the elements of the collaborative research culture framework, and provide examples of its application in supervisory practices. These practices are designed to enhance the research education experiences of your higher degree researchers and allow you to manage some of the workload challenges associated with supervision. Through discussion of examples, you may see practices that you are already using, or that you would like to try in the future. Figure 3.1 illustrates the elements of the framework to be discussed.

Figure 3.1 The Elements of the Collaborative Research Framework by Susan Gasson and Christine Bruce, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence

The roots of collaboration – Trust and respect

The capacity to build trust and respect with your candidates is a valuable supervisory practice. In this section, we explore how supervisors can build trust and respect to maintain a long-lasting relationship. This will ensure that you and your candidate(s) harness the power of your combined knowledge and expertise to realise the richest possible outcomes. These qualities are equally important in other research collaborations.

Establishing trust and respect involves providing a shared safe space where you and your higher degree researchers can engage in research discussions and activities. Establishing shared understandings and negotiating expectations will assist in realising that space. Potential candidates and supervisory panel members can be found in your immediate work or research environment as well as beyond. Good collaborators value sharing research ideas, finding value in others’ interests and ideas, and having different perspectives inform their evolving research and supervisory practices.

Collaborators from other disciplines may be needed on the supervisory team. You will need to work with them to find a common language that allows you to meaningfully share ideas and concepts. Multidisciplinary supervisory panels will be alert, and ready to address variations in the use of syntax, methodologies, literature, etc. Supervisory panel members can also offer statistical, technical, or other specialist expertise. Consider the need to augment panels with those external to the academy. These external supervisors may be approached at professional conferences or industry seminars or other industry engaged research contexts.

Not every person will be suitable as a supervisor, or candidate, or offer new or relevant research opportunities. To explore collaborative opportunities explore expectations for what you might do together and when. Be realistic about the supervision capacity available to invest in the research proposed. Look for reciprocity, evidenced by an equal commitment to the research. Perhaps you take turns setting up meetings, exchanging information, or responding to draft proposals. Be open about the process you follow in considering a new candidate or supervisory panel member. And, be honest if you are not interested in progressing the connection, or do not wish to follow up further.

The fields of collaboration – Informal, formal and sanctioned

Supervisors have opportunities to welcome higher degree researchers into a range of networks. They in turn may have networks that may be of value to you. In planning to build networks with a higher degree researcher it may be useful to consider the three fields of collaboration (i.e., informal, formal, and sanctioned).

The informal field can be a single casual conversation, with no expectation of further contact. Such conversations may be wide ranging. If considerations are of interest, and contact is easy to maintain, they may continue over weeks, months or years as you explore topics of interest as time allows. Strong friendships can result from contact within the informal field.

Formal fields include regular meetings or gatherings. Weekly catch ups with your lab group, cohort meetings of researchers, and peer reading groups. Formal discussions are usually based on agreed agenda items or terms of reference. Because of agendas and meeting protocols you can be assured that those attending have a shared purpose for the gatherings, and expected topics of interest.

Sanctioned networks are those that are informed by signed agreements. A Cotutelle or double degree agreement that guides engagement with a higher degree researcher enrolled across two universities would be an example of this. Another would be a grant or scholarship agreement that may guide the terms of funding and managing a research collaboration. Such agreements may define the scope of work, the participants, and the dissemination of research outcomes. While there is always latitude in meeting and collaborating a sanctioned network will be informed by agreed timelines, budgets, collaborators, and contributions.

Most researchers are likely to work across all of these fields, and perhaps work with the same or different researchers as you move across the three fields. In some disciplines, supervisors will routinely enable new researchers to participate across these fields.  In other disciplines, supervisors may manage participation in fields in a more measured or incremental way.

Granting or being granted access to fields may be related to the acculturation of health and safety protocols, codes of conduct or other research related expectations. Supervisory capacity to guide others in making collaborative connections and contributions is important. Explaining expectations about authorship or storage of data or licensing of access to findings should occur when relevant and timely. In formal and sanctioned fields consider your role in guiding the alignment of higher degree researcher contributions within the broader agendas. Ensure the higher degree researcher understands their role in contributing to agendas and informs progress of their research interests.

In inviting a higher degree researcher to join a network encourage them to take time to look up and review research outputs of key stakeholders in that network. Discuss with them how outputs frame researchers’ teaching, and grant funding profiles. Consider together what being in a network means for their research and researcher development.

The fruits of collaboration – Inspiration, innovation and inclusivity

The fruits – inspiration, innovation, and inclusivity – describe the wide range of outcomes including grants and publication. Supervisors take time to explain to higher degree researchers the benefits and responsibilities that come with being associated with collaborative fruits. While many look forward to the publications and grants generated, the framework encourages accounting for less tangible fruits that the collaborative process will bring.

Inspiration and innovation are key fruits realised by the opportunity to participate in a community and engage in discussion. Discussions can generate inspiration, new energy and enthusiasm for the work at hand. Discussing ideas with others from disparate backgrounds, or with differing interests, can prompt innovation, new approaches to the work and fresh ways of looking at a problem. By introducing higher degree researchers to a network, supervisors provide them with the chance to reach out and engage with wider communities.

By encouraging a spirit of inclusivity within a network, you can create opportunities for participation in research. As a key member of a network, you can ensure it is open to the ideas and contributions of all members. Inclusivity informs the negotiation of authorship and citation – enabling the fruits.

Collaborative capacity – Distributed leadership and the seven faces of the informed researcher

Supervisors can model collaborative capacity for higher degree researchers. Collaborative capacity involves two elements that make the researcher an active agent in the collaborative process. These elements are distributed leadership and the seven faces of the informed researcher.

Distributed leadership (Aisoli-Orake et al., 2022) is the first element of collaborative capacity. It is a form of leadership that overcomes power imbalances, empowering deeper engagement, and acknowledgment of contributions. Supervisors adopting a distributed leadership model can support others to demonstrate their areas of strength and delegate responsibility for leading activities that require those skills. Distributed leadership can be used to create opportunities to expose team members to different methods, conceptual frameworks, and practices.

The second collaborative capacity element is the informed researcher (Maybee, 2022). There are seven faces of the informed researcher detailed in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1 Seven faces of the informed researcher (Maybee, 2022)
Faces Descriptions
Field Awareness and Communication Communicating appropriately within professional networks in research communities
Information Sources Appropriating relevant information from a range of formal and informal sources to inform research
Information Processes Adapting information processes to inform personal and collaborative research needs
Information Organization Organizing information to establish connections between research and information sources
Knowledge Base Construction Engaging critically with information to understand areas of research
Knowledge Creation Generating innovations and creating new knowledge through research, including approaches and solutions
Research Gifts Making wise use of research for the benefit of society

These faces were adapted from the Seven Faces of Informed Learning (Bruce, 1987). They each speak to a different aspect of information experience in the research context. Researchers may operate across all seven faces. Others will use different faces in response to phases of their work, or in interaction with different people.

  • The Field awareness and communication face is one to be kept in mind when trying to reach out across disciplinary silos or sectors. It is a chance to reframe existing information in ways that ensure accessibility and meaning for others.
  • The Information sources face prompts consideration of a diverse range of information from forms of printed media to music, art and other cultural artefacts as well as digital resources.
  • The Information process face invites thinking about the personal heuristics of research collaborators. What are their styles and preferences as they engage with information? This may lead to different mechanisms in the research process. Perhaps information artefacts are placed in a common space so everyone can view them, or in a drop box that is set up for sharing.
  • Information organisation is concerned with ensuring that stored information is easy to find and understand, and connected to relevant projects. In the digital world this may be about setting up files and file names that can be pulled together into folders that make information easy to find.
  • Knowledge base construction is concerned with taking existing information and considering its meaning and relevance within a particular area of interest. An example of this would be collecting patient files. The construction aspect may account for an interest in the age range of patients and the term of their illness. This would allow for analysis to answer a question about age as a factor in predicting the severity of a patient’s illness.
  • The Knowledge creation face is concerned with taking the results of analysis and finding novel ways to interpret them to realise solutions or findings. Here the ability to review the outcomes of analysis and to share that across a diversity of scholars may prompt new approaches. A geographer may suggest revisiting the spread of a disease based on their having been able to access information about patterns of travel amongst those who contracted that disease. This may reveal different strains of the disease that may, in addition to age, impact the severity of the illness.
  • Research gifts can take numerous forms; their purpose is to transform new knowledge in ways that realise social benefits. Examples of gifts include a new application that delivers weather alerts effectively, new prescription drugs, or an improved electric car design.

As supervisors, we need to think about how to use these faces. Discuss with your higher degree researcher and other panel members’ faces that may assist with their current phase of candidature. Explore with the higher degree researcher and supervisory panel their experiences of the faces, or concerns about how the faces may play into the research plan. Be ready to prompt them to try out a face or to acknowledge where one has been used to good effect.

So what now?

As supervisors, you will make many decisions in working with a higher degree researcher. By conceptualising the supervisory process as a formal research network you can create opportunities for higher degree researchers to engage with different fields. Use available opportunities to introduce them to other higher degree researchers and other academics. Use engagements with other supervisory panels to extend your practices, and ensure that supervisor panel members work together to manage the workload associated with the higher degree researcher.

Peer-to-peer writing groups can raise higher degree researcher awareness of the standards of writing expected at different stages of candidature. This also provides a mechanism for the review of early drafts, giving others the chance to learn to critique and releasing you for higher level critique.

Research community meetings will allow access to other supervisory panels, giving higher degree researchers a chance to see different supervisory styles and other perspectives on research work. Normalising the process of receiving critical feedback from a range of perspectives can improve rapport and the responsiveness of a higher degree researcher to the iterative and recursive process of developing a research thesis.

Building collaborative capacity in your higher degree researcher will empower the student and build their confidence, giving them tools needed to realise research independence. While ensuring that networking does not distract them from their research and timeline, you can mentor them to engage with broader networks. Perhaps they hope to work overseas on graduation or to conduct further studies in other contexts. Help them to consider how to build networks to facilitate their current research but also to prepare for their transition into the workforce as a researcher on graduation.

Your role as supervisors is not to introduce higher degree researchers to all your networks, or to source all possible people that might assist them. However, supervisors ensure higher degree researchers realise the power of networking, and have the confidence and skills to engage in networking as they need to.

The faces of the informed researcher can assist when a higher degree researcher is struggling to progress their work. Perhaps they need to consider using another face, or have applied a face poorly and need to revisit the work. Appreciating the information literacy tools available to inform their research work can be empowering, encouraging independence and the analytical problem solving skills essential for generating quality research outcomes. Encourage them to take full advantage of their informed research network by drawing on the service providers from the library, information technology, and e-research team (see also Chapter 9 and Chapter 10).

Some applications

Creating cohorts

Supervisors encourage cohort meetings (groups of higher degree students and supervisors) where research higher degree researchers can discuss common interests with a range of academic staff. The size of cohorts varies, but larger cohorts have greater potential capacity to serve the needs of their members. To grow a cohort, colleagues might agree to focus on common topics, common methods, and researchers drawn from beyond the immediate university or research education context.

Cohorts come in many shapes and sizes. They can operate successfully face-to-face, virtually or within a hybrid model. By making cohorts visible they can attract new members and build capacity. Simple things like naming the cohort and badging its program of activities will give the cohort a presence. Members will engage better if they are involved in the design of the program of activities. Rules for the cohort can be shared that ensure members realise it is a safe space where novice researchers and untried ideas can be tested.

A rule might be that members need to share and celebrate successes and failures. Failures are to be treated positively as learning opportunities and evidence of members’ pursuit of excellence. To encourage this you could normalise members’ sharing of their research work. Dedicate time during each meeting for members to share updates on their research progress. Sharing progress will allow members to learn about others’ research experiences, and help them to benchmark their own performance.

Mentoring and internship

Mentoring and internships allow researchers to access networks in industry, government and the community. Many higher degree researchers will pursue careers beyond the academy and all researchers will seek social impact. Connections made through mentorships and internships can help higher degree researchers learn about different workplaces and identify new research opportunities.

Mentees are encouraged to look actively for and engage with a range of people, open to new mentoring contexts.  Mentors might offer to meet once to discuss career prospects or may engage longer term facilitating different opportunities. Ideally, institutions will provide resources and/or training to explain the roles and responsibilities of mentees and mentors and facilitate engagements.

Research degree designers and policymakers around the world are increasingly encouraging higher degree researcher to engage in internships (McGagh, 2015; Valencia-Forrester, 2019). Internships differ from paid work in that they involve the researcher engaging in activities that would not normally be the province of paid staff or be essential to the continuity of the workplace. Well-resourced programs may source and advertise internship opportunities, others may provide advice to supervisors and higher degree researcher on establishing internships. One internship model involves three months of full-time work. The program of work designated for the internship allows the researcher to apply their research skills within an industry, government or community workplace. Arrangements for the payment for and acknowledgement of internships vary.

Peer reading and writing networks

The research education experience can be a very isolating and lonely time. In pursuing an individual contribution to knowledge, the novice researcher can feel alienated from family and friends as they focus on completing their work under severe time constraints. Building peer networks with other higher degree researchers can be a valuable source of community. In such networks, the higher degree researcher begins to normalise the unique demands of their candidature journey. Shared experiences and understandings can create supportive contexts that allow peers to bond and establish valuable learning communities of practice.

Peer networks can offer novice researchers their first opportunities to review others’ work. Not only does this provide a chance to learn to review, but also to gain exposure to others’ research and benchmark performance. Reading or methods networks can provide a way for researchers to share what they have learned. Network sessions can be designed to allow members to hone their teaching skills, and rehearse debates and discussions they wish to have with their supervisors. Exposure to different disciplines, methodologies and literature in network sessions can help researchers to build a deeper appreciation of the range of approaches that can lead to the creation of new knowledge.

Authorship and publication

Opportunities for the dissemination of research findings or to raise awareness of the work underway to encourage review and support are to be encouraged.  As supervisors speak early and as often as needed about authorship arrangements.  Ensure students understand the requirements and stipulations around being an author and the responsibilities associated with being an author. Acknowledgement of contribution is part of the code of practice for research and is key to collaborative sustainability.

Now do it

Use the framework provided in Figure 3.1 to map out your current key research networks. Think about the health of those networks by considering the levels of trust and respect demonstrated within those networks. What fields are you and your students working in? How could you transition between fields should you wish to? What inspires you or your students? How can you ensure that your research team is open and inclusive? Is there more you can do to build rapport?

If you are looking to build capacity, consider what networks are available to you, or those you might find useful, and consider building new or refining current networks. Create a plan to form a mentoring community or peer-to-peer reading group, to help you make time to prioritise your research and work through any challenges that may be hindering your progress.

Use this What happens if I collaborate workbook to document your collaborations and to facilitate discussions with your higher degree researchers about building collaborative capacity.

Additional Resources

While most of these sources and additional readings are freely available, some are not. The lock icon beside an entry indicates that the source may be available from your library.

Bozeman, B., Gaughan, M., Youtie, J., Slade, C., & Rimes, H. (2016). Research collaboration experiences, good and bad: Dispatches from the front lines. Science and Public Policy, 43(2), 226-244. https://doi.org/10.1093/scipol/scv035

Dodgson, M. (1993). Learning, trust, and technological collaboration. Human Relations, 46(1), 77.

Gasson, S. C., & Bruce, C. S. (2018, April 17-19). Supporting higher degree research collaboration: A reflection. QPR 2018: 13th Biennial Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, Adelaide, Australia.

Gazni, A., & Didegah, F. (2011). Investigating different types of research collaboration and citation impact: A case study of Harvard University’s publications. Scientometrics 87(2), 251–265. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-011-0343-8

Lemon, N., & Salmons, J. (2020). Collaboration fundamentals. In N. Lemon & J. Salmons (Eds.), Reframing and Rethinking Collaboration in Higher Education and Beyond. Taylor & Francis.

Pare, A. (2019). Scholarship as collaboration: Towards a generous rhetoric. Doctoral Writing Significant Interest Group.

Puljak, L., & Vari, S. (2014). Significance of research networking for enhancing collaboration and research productivity. Croatian Medical Journal, 55(3), 181-183. https://doi.org/10.3325/cmj.2014.55.181

Scaffidi, A., & Berman, J. (2011). A positive postdoctoral experience is related to quality supervision and career mentoring, collaborations, networking and a nurturing research environment. Higher Education, 62(6), 685-698. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-011-9407-1

Shrum, W., Chompalov, I., & Genuth, J. (2001). Trust, conflict and performance in scientific collaborations. Social Studies of Science, 31(5), 681-730. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3183103

Strengers, Y. (2012). Interdisciplinarity and industry collaboration in doctoral candidature: Tensions within and between discourses. Studies in Higher Education, 39(4), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2012.709498


AJE – Journal Experts. (2019, 14 December 2022). Collaboration in Research [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0cOCZrdyik.

Blanchard, K. (2011). Collaboration – Affect/Possibility: Ken Blanchard at TEDx in San Diego [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKGkBRk1kSo


While most of these sources and additional readings are freely available, some are not. The lock icon beside an entry indicates that the source may be available from your library.

Aisoli-Orake, R., Bue, V., Aisi, M., Ambelye, I., Betasolo, M., Nuru, T., Dora K., Akanda, S., Denano, S., Yalambing L., Gasson, S., Spencer, E., Bruce, C. & Roberts, N. (2022)  Creating sustainable networks to enhance women’s participation in higher education in Papua New Guinea. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 44(2), pp. 208-220.

Bruce, C. S., & Gasson, S. C. (2017). What happens if I collaborate? Queensland University of Technology. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/115549/

Gasson, S. C., & Bruce, C. (2021). Collaborative research culture framework V5.  Queensland University of Technology. https://eprints.qut.edu.au/227055/1/Collaborative_Research_Culture_Framework_V5.pdf

Gasson, S. C., Bruce, C. S., & Maybee, C. (2020). Creating collaborative capacity in early career research writers. TEXT: Journal of Writing and Writing Programs, Special Issues Series, 59(1), 1-14.

Maybee, C., Gasson, S. C., Bruce, C. S., & Somerville, M. (2022). Faces of the informed researcher: Enabling research collaboration. Journal of Information Literacy, 16(1), 91-107. https://doi.org/10.11645/16.1.3101

McGagh, J., Marsh, H., Western, M., Thomas, P., Hastings, A., Mihailova, M., & Wenham, M. (2015). Review of Australia’s research training system. Report for the Australian Council of Learned Academies. Accessed July 2023.  https://acola.org/

Valencia-Forrester, F. (2019). Internships and the PhD: Is this the future direction of work-integrated learning in Australia? International Journal of Work – Integrated Learning, 20(4), 389-400. https://www.ijwil.org/files/IJWIL_20_4_389_400.pdf




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Confident Supervisors: Creating Independent Researchers Copyright © 2023 by Christine Bruce and Susan Gasson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.