Stages of supervision


This is an online interactive resource for supervisors of research students who wish to consider the stages of supervision of a research student, particularly at the PhD level.

We offer four vignettes (very brief case studies) and ask you to consider what you would do in each situation. When you have completed your responses, you may choose to access comments from others and/or material from a published report. Then you will have the opportunity to modify your own comments and email them to yourself if you wish. Finally, we offer a ‘supervisory framework’ and a chance for you to modify it to suit your own situation and your preferred style of supervision.

Vignette 1 – Ahmed – Framing supervision at the first meeting

Vignette 2 – Janet – Coming up to a mid-stage review

Vignette 3 – David – Getting going with writing

Vignette 4 – Barbara – Revising after examination

Supervisory Framework

The first three vignettes represent the stages of supervision revealed by interviews with experienced supervisors. We’ve added a postscript, an additional vignette about the ‘endgame’ of supervision – supervising revisions of the thesis. It has come to our attention that, although supervisors hardly ever mention this as a stage in the process, for many students it is a difficult, even traumatic, part of their candidature.

You should allow about 20 minutes for each vignette and a further 15 minutes for considering the supervisory framework. There is no need to complete this activity in one sitting. However, please note that any responses you make need to be sent back to yourself before you log out or they will be lost.


These materials should help supervisors:

  • prepare to respond to common situations and problems
  • develop a conception of the process of supervision and the patterns it typically assumes, and
  • build a framework for their own supervision and particular strategies for the stages of supervision.


Margot Pearson and Gail Craswell originated the vignettes. The framework materials, based on research at the Australian National University, have been used by Margot Pearson in face-to-face workshops at many universities.

Margot Pearson is Convenor, Supervision Development Program, Centre for Educational Development and Academic Methods, Australian National University.

Dr Gail Craswell is Senior Adviser (Graduate Students), Academic Skills and Learning Centre, Australian National University.

The research project was funded by DETYA, the Commonwealth Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs. The project was published:
Cullen, D., Pearson, M., Saha, L.J. and Spear, R.H. 1994. Establishing Effective PhD Supervision. Canberra: AGPS.

Available at

Jo McKenzie has used the vignettes in a module on postgraduate supervision within the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education program at UTS. She has made available some of the comments made by participants in her online program and her summaries of discussions. Jo is a Senior Lecturer in the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning at UTS. She has responsibility for academic development programs and formal courses for academics.

Dr Peggy Nightingale has constructed this activity for fIRST and contributed some further material based on her experience using the vignettes in discussion groups. Peggy has worked as a consultant for the fIRST Consortium since her retirement as Associate Professor and Director of the Professional Development Centre at the University of New South Wales.

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