top of page

Supervision of doctoral theses.

How to prevent and cope with problems and incidents?

Doctoral trajectory

  • The doctoral trajectory is divided into 5 phases, each associated to certain processes and products, that can and should overlap.

  • Doctoral education and, especially, the role of the supervisor needs to evolve during the trajectory and adapt to the specific characteristics, challenges and outputs of each phase.




















Trial period

Share expectations and purpose

First collaborations

Detailed chronogram

Introduce research group and PhD students

Election members of the Monitoring Committee

Project / Article collaboration

Creation of the supervision team

First conference

Detailed chronogram

Revise expectations and purpose

First peer-review article


Tribunal election

Career Development

Detailed chronogram

Knowledge transfer

Define future collaborations

Defense trial

Writing the last sections of the theses

New genres, p.e., request for resarch fund


Starts of Career Development


Strategies for a successful doctoral proces

Sharing expectations:

  • The expectations of supervisors and doctoral students are often quite different. It is necessary to address them explicitly and negotiate the relationship and expectations.


Supervisory meetings:

  • Frequency: minimum one meeting every 15 days.

  • The purpose and format of the meetings should not always be the same.

  • The meetings should not only be done to assess products, but also processes.

  • Meetings can be collective or individual.

  • Both supervisor and doctoral have to work before and after the meeting. This makes meetings more productive.

    • Before: clarifying doubts and the process followed to solve them. Defining the agenda.

    • During: Taking notes or records (diaries); show the solutions explored; plan the next steps.

    • After: Defining and sharing agreements.

  • Supervision must evolve from a dynamic relationship to a community relationship: involve other members of the team.


We need to offer feedback more focused on the strategies than on the solutions; on the processes that on the products:

  • What have you done (in case of doubt, problem)?

  • Which solutions have you explored? Why?

  • How did you do it?

  • Have you thought about ...?

Doctoral supervision_2.png
Doctoral supervision_3.png

Pedagogical instruments

Journey Plot

This tool can be used at different times during the doctoral trajectory. At each moment, its use can meet different specific objectives:

  • Start of the doctorate. In the initial stages of the doctoral process, the Journey Plot can be used to generate and negotiate conceptions, representations and expectations about the thesis, the tasks, roles and responsibilities of each actor, share milestones and build the relationship between the supervisor and the doctoral student. In this case, the Journey Plot may be retrospectively done about the previous trajectory of the student, and/or prospectively on the future and expectations of the trajectory during the doctorate.

  • Intermediate phases. In intermediate stages, the tool can be used as a formative evaluation tool, share the meaning of the experiences lived up to the moment, give feedback to the student about their process and development, review and adjust expectations, goals and objectives, redefine roles and responsibilities and regulate strategies to face experiences.

  • End of the doctorate. In the final stage of the doctorate, the Journey Plot can be used to evaluate the process and draw conclusions, but also to plan the student's professional career, identify and discuss options and generate and negotiate expectations about your professional future.

Network Plot

Bibliographical references and web resources

Amundsen, C., & McAlpine, L. (2011). Doctoral Education: Research-Based Strategies for Doctoral Students, Supervisors and Administrators


González-Ocampo, G., & Castelló, M. (2017). Writing in doctoral programs: examining supervisors’ perspectives. Higher Education, 1-15.


Kobayashi, S. (2014). Learning dynamics in doctoral supervision (doctoral thesis). University of Copenhagen. Department of Science Education.


Kobayashi, S. (2017). Framing doctoral supervision as a formative assessment. ESERA Conference, Ireland.


Paré, A. (2017). Re-thinking the dissertation and doctoral supervision / Reflexiones sobre la tesis doctoral y su supervisión. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 40(3), 407–428.


Pyhältö, K., Stubb, J., & Lonka, K. (2009). Developing scholarly communities as learning environments for doctoral students. International Journal for Academic Development, 14(3), 221–232.


Pyhältö, K., Vekkaila, J., & Keskinen, J. (2015). Fit matters in the supervisory relationship: doctoral students and supervisors perceptions about the supervisory activities. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 52(1), 4–16.


McAlpine, L. (2013). Doctoral supervision: Not an individual but a collective institutional responsibility. Infancia y Aprendizaje, 36(3), 259–280.


McAlpine, L., & McKinnon, M. (2013). Supervsion - the most variable of variables: Student perspectives. Studies in Continuing Education, 35(3), 265–280.


Sala-Bubaré, A., & Castelló, M. (2017). Exploring the relationship between doctoral students’ experiences and research community positioning. Studies in Continuing Education, 39(1), 16-34.

"Journey Plot helped us to retrospectively capture the most significant experiences in the doctoral studies of our participants, place them in time and get a sense of their trajectory. In turn, the Communities Plot instrument promoted students’ reflection and detailed description of their scientific network and their relationships with the different significant agents. Moreover, they are valuable tools for raising students’ awareness about their PhD experience"

Sala-Bubaré & Castelló (2016, p.16)​

Download the article Doctoral Supervison.

"supervision should be conceptualized as a collective institutional responsibility that calls for explicit educational and curricular consideration; it should not be individually improvised, but rather be the result of thoughtfully structured curricular support for the student and supervisor."

McAlpine (2013, p.259)

bottom of page