Utskrift från Malmö universitets webbplats www.mah.se

Doctoral student survey prompts positive action

2017-11-13

DOCTORAL STUDIES. PhD students at Malmö University are generally very happy with the institution’s doctoral education, a national survey shows. At the same time, survey participants request improvements in introduction courses and supervision.

“The results of the PhD Student Mirror survey are important indicators that allow us to manage our priorities,” says Christian Stråhlman, Research Administrator at the University Executive Office.

The survey, conducted by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ), is a national exploration into the perceptions and experiences of PhD students with regards to their studies. The results are published in a report titled ‘PhD Student Mirror’. Stråhlman has collected the data concerning PhD students at Malmö and, in doing so, identified several challenges.

Thirty percent of the PhD students surveyed at Malmö University say that they have experienced shortcomings in their supervision, either to a great extent or to a very great extent, and that this has hampered their research. 

“Supervision is PhD students’ most important resource. A functioning relationship with your supervisor is in many ways the very foundation for ensuring quality doctoral education. The fact that we have so many students experiencing problems with supervision shows that this really is a pressing issue,” Stråhlman says.

As things stand, it is unclear exactly what it is about the supervision that PhD students feel is lacking, which makes it difficult to address concerns. However, one factor that could be significant, Stråhlman suggests, is the content of the supervision itself. PhD students and supervisors often have different expectations when it comes to supervision, which in turn creates challenges regarding how well supervision is developed and received. According to Stråhlman, more information is needed in order to combat these hurdles.

“There isn’t enough knowledge when it comes to supervisors’ perceptions. We want to change this and therefore plan on sending out a questionnaire to all supervisors at the university.”

Introductions are crucial

The second problem area identified by the survey is PhD students’ introduction to their studies. According to Stråhlman, the introduction period is vital. This is when PhD students learn the ins and outs of their study programme, as well as being informed about their obligations, rights, and schedule structure.

“Time is the second most important resource for PhD students.  Anything that contributes to the student losing time, whether that is by getting sidetracked or finding themselves stuck in administrative red tape, is bad for their education. We need to avoid these kinds of situations to the greatest extent possible.”

One possible measure that Stråhlman highlights is making the needs of faculties, supervisors and PhD students more visible.

“We need to find out why so few people attend introductory courses. My guess is that it’s because introductory days are not perceived as useful,” says Stråhlman. For the introduction course to be valued by PhD students, he believes it is important to establish a clear division of responsibility between students and staff.

“We need to discuss which responsibilities are mutual when it comes to providing students with introductory information, and which responsibilities lie with the individual supervisors.”

University status change comes with new demands

Both the scope and the requirements of doctoral education will increase as Malmö University undergoes its status change. This also means an increased need for PhD student support, which is largely what sparked the move towards improvement.

"Professor of Educational Science Mona Holmqvist and I are working on this project, which will last throughout the current academic year. We will review areas where we’ve noticed weak spots: in how we handle admissions, course offerings, practical issues concerning the thesis and the exam. In other words, this will be an extensive campaign.”

An overwhelming majority of 86 per cent of the students considered the education they received to be good or very good. Nevertheless, Stråhlman emphasises the importance of continuing to develop doctoral education in order to provide quality PhD programmes.

“Improved support should not affect the content of the PhD programmes. Rather, the goal is to systematise support in a way that makes it a little more efficient, a little friendlier and a little better.”

Facts/PhD Student Mirror

  • The PhD Student Mirror is a national survey conducted in 2015 by the Swedish Higher Education Authority (UKÄ).
  • The survey was sent to a total of 10 000 PhD students in Sweden, who had at least two semesters left of their studies and at least 10 per cent registered activity.
  • In 2016, UKÄ published a national report on the survey.
  • Out of the 4 751 PhD students who responded to the survey, 68 were registered at Malmö University. This amounts to a response rate of 55.8 per cent, which is higher than the national average (47.5 per cent).