Abbe Winter and Jillian Blacker

Confident Supervisors is intended to be both a textbook and a professional development resource for HDR supervisors and researcher developers involved in providing workshops and resources to support research supervisors in their practice. Throughout this book, authors introduce different theoretical frameworks and concepts to provide supervisors with tools and strategies for responding to the challenges and opportunities associated with research supervision. It contains chapters written by current supervisors and research support partners who are engaged in the scholarship of supervision and can share the practical and theoretical constructs they employ in their practice. The authors have been drawn from a broad range of higher education and research contexts and contribute understandings of local and global relevance.

This book responds to turbulent times in higher education, offering practical tips and suggestions for supervisors to pivot to changing contexts. We thank our friends and colleagues who have joined us in creating this resource. Throughout this book we will refer to Masters by Research, Doctor of Philosophy, and Professional Doctorate students as higher degree researchers.

Why are we writing this book?

Supervisors are essential in guiding higher degree researchers and their projects. Academics, in accepting the role, relish the chance to share their expertise, engage with new thinking, and support the creation of the next generation of researchers. Because of the critical role of supervisors, well-resourced universities and research organisations have introduced registration systems and professional development programs to support good supervisory practices, and those who have such resources available to them should make good use of them. This book has been written as a virtual community of practice resource, offering perspectives from a range of contexts, and providing professional development to enhance supervisory practices.

Supervisors supported by a community of practice

The chapters in this book reflect the extensive and diverse experiences of the authors as supervisors and researchers. It’s a great handbook for new supervisors as well as those with years of experience as researchers. Our book covers a range of contemporary issues that require an increasingly collaborative and inclusive approach to research and supervision.

The changing landscape – what makes research different?

The book is designed to be accessible to researchers from diverse contexts. It acknowledges also that the population of higher degree researchers is becoming increasingly diverse, and projects and styles of thesis continue to evolve, as the quest to create independent researchers continues.

With the continuing emergence of online learning technologies, changing research funding modules, refinements to research codes of conduct, increased calls for industry-engaged research, and metrics-driven research excellence tools, supervisors may find the dynamic nature of the research education confronting. This book may be the first in a series of editions that will allow the resource to remain current and relevant. It opens up the potential for sharing of practice and engagement across the research education community of supervisors and their various research services partners, including librarians, research officers, and learning and career advisors.

In an area of practice where each candidate and project, as well as the constantly changing context, challenging supervisors to continue to evolve and refine their practice, it is our intention that this book will provide support, and point toward further resources, as well as encouraging engagement with communities of research and supervision.

Contextual scene-setting: Research supervisors

This book has been written with a view of applying a research lens and further developing your own practice. It therefore has relevance for those engaged in formal coursework, professional development, and independent life-long learning. The intention is to enable supervisors to reflect on their own practice (Schön, 1983), as well as learning from the examples provided from others’ practice, to build their own self-efficacy (Bandura, 1977, 1997) as a research supervisor.

The book is also a support mechanism for building community. While research by its nature can be isolating, you can’t do it in isolation. So, this book is the beginning of a community of practice reaching into the future and across the globe. The context for this book is the encouragement of open access knowledge-sharing and community-building in researcher education.

Each chapter is structured similarly, to allow easy access to materials in a concise way. This ensures that each chapter contains information that is relevant, practical, and easily understood by diverse readers across the world. Topics covered in the book range from frameworks to support supervision through to more nuanced advice on specific supervisory practices.

The book is broken into four main sections – Collaborative Approaches, Capacity Building, Diverse Research Environments, and Future Focus. In addition, we have a Preface from Professor Christine Bruce and reflections from three HDR students on what they learned from their experiences as higher researchers.

The first three chapters in the Collaborative Approaches section offer approaches, frameworks, and perspectives to help supervisors build great relationships with higher degree researchers, guide their development, and inform their careers as independent researchers. The work builds on Professor Christine Bruce’s Australian Research Council project on supervision. These chapters are based on the authors’ decades of working with hundreds of supervisors and their higher degree researchers.  Chapter 1 – Approaches to Supervision – introduces scaffolding, direction-setting, and relationship building as three possible approaches to the supervisory relationship. Chapter 2 – Supervision: Accounting for Time – discusses six ways of considering and using time in a research supervision relationship. Chapter 3 – Collaboration as a Supervisory Practice – introduces the roots, fields, and fruits model of working with others in research projects.

The Capacity Building section offers strategies for developing writing capacity and enhancing student well-being. Learning ecologies are introduced that encourage writing, reviewing, and editing. Practices and tools to enable early intervention and higher degree researcher empowerment are shown to lead to sustainable supervision. These chapters will help you support your higher degree researcher’s writing and well-being. Chapter 4 – Establishing a Sustainable HDR Writing Ecology – discusses the resources beyond the immediate supervisor(s) that can help a higher degree research student with their writing needs across their candidature. Chapter 5 – Early Intervention: Helping Higher Degree Researchers Thrive through Candidature – introduces the Graduate Research Engagement Assessment Tool (GREAT) which can help supervisors and their HDRs to self-assess, and risk manage communication issues.

The Diverse Research Environments section provides an understanding of the diverse international and institutional contexts faced by researchers and supervisors. It explores contexts and resources for researchers and supervisors in developing countries, supervising researchers from non-English speaking countries as they transition to studies in Australia, and supervision of Indigenous research and researchers. It also explains the preparation of postgraduate researchers to navigate the boundaries of Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge standpoints.  Chapter 6 – Creating Successful Higher Degree Researcher Pathways in a Developing Country – Papua New Guinea, Chapter 7 – Supervision of Indigenous Research and Higher Degree Researchers and Chapter 8 – Supervising International Higher Degree Researchers from Non-English-Speaking Countries all discuss ways to support higher degree researchers from diverse backgrounds and in developing countries to progress to completion.

The Future Focus section invites supervisors to build a higher degree researcher’s information literacy, which contributes to their successful project completion then forms a basis for independence in their working life.  This section then presents views on career planning which prepares a higher degree researcher for their transition into the working world.  It also explores research integrity, which guides a higher degree researcher to conduct their project with rigour and according to code of conduct requirements and prepares them to be a professional researcher in the future. The content of this section is integral to both a higher degree researcher’s project and their future research career. Chapter 9 – Building Literacies for the Researcher Lifecycle – discusses the help that university librarians can provide for HDR students. Chapter 10 – Empowering Research Supervisors Developing Information Literacy in Higher Degree Researchers – introduces the Advanced Information Research Skills (AIRS) program for HDR students. Chapter 11 – Empowering Higher Degree Researchers’ Career Planning – discusses the ways that supervisors can use their own experiences to help their HDR students with career decisions and introduces two models – Systems Theory and Chaos Theory – that might inform career conversations. Chapter 12 – Building Research Integrity – discusses the importance of the responsible and ethical conduct of research. Chapter 13 – Supervising for Societal Impact: A Holistic Approach to Higher Degree by Research Support– explores the supervisor’s role in working with a student across the nexus of engagement and impact. The authors speak of their experiences as both students and supervisors in framing a candidature to realise a candidate’s career goals.

The book ends with a Conclusion chapter that provides a thematic analysis of the topics covered across the book.

Navigating highs and lows is part of being a research supervisor. We learn by failure (our own and others’) just as much as success. This book is a guideline for success, built on all of the authors’ knowledge and experience in the field of research supervision. We hope this book will help by supporting you with the wisdom and experience of all the authors who have contributed to it.


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.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Prentice-Hall. Closed lock icon

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman and Company. Closed lock icon

Schön, D.A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. Temple Smith. Closed lock icon


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Confident Supervisors: Creating Independent Researchers Copyright © 2023 by Abbe Winter and Jillian Blacker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.