Role of Supervisor & (Supervisory Team) in the DDP

Research training is a fundamental part of the doctoral research student experience. Doctoral students should be encouraged to reflect on how the skills they develop during their doctoral programme can be applied to different situations and to a variety of problems. The University of Sheffield is committed to providing its doctoral students with all relevant and appropriate opportunities to develop in both specialist and generic research skills via the Doctoral Development Programme (DDP).

Fulfilment of DDP requirements is necessary for successful completion of the student´s research degree. Student engagement with the DDP will be assessed at particular stages, with supervisors´ reports presented as part of formal monitoring processes. In addition, it is expected that discussion of the student´s skill needs will form part of regular supervisory discussion. Although the primary responsibility for completion of DDP requirements rests with the student (and it is clearly in their best interests to participate fully), supervisors are expected to spend at least 1-2 hours per student per annum providing guidance and assessment.

DDP and Portfolio Guidance for Supervisors

DDP and Portfolio Guidance for Supervisors

Being a doctoral research student is the first step to becoming a successful researcher, although not all doctoral research students wish to or are able to remain in research. For both outcomes, it is important, that students develop an extensive range of skills to be competitive in the employment market and so careful and strategic planning is required.

The University has released a Research Student Proposition which reflects the philosophy of the Doctoral Development Programme (DDP) by ensuring that our “Doctoral Researchers graduate with the qualities that are important intellectually, societally and economically: including the confidence to lead, the willingness to challenge ways of thinking, a lasting refusal to accept the ordinary and a commitment to applying their research for the public good”.

How will relevant training be planned within the DDP?

Since the experiences that students have gained prior to starting their postgraduate studies vary considerably, the University has introduced a Training Needs Analysiswhich should allow formulation of a Training/Development Plan. These are designed to provide the tools to examine where the student’s development needs are and to help them address these. This should be a dynamic process that continues for the whole of the student’s time at the University. A supervisory Team’s check list has been devised to help with this.

How is training organised?

The DDP is student specific so not prescriptive in its content. The training undertaken should be designed to fill the gaps in their skills and knowledge according to the ‘domains’ laid out in the Research Development Framework (RDF). The RDF is made up of four domains/areas encompassing the knowledge, intellectual abilities, techniques and professional standards to do research, as well as the personal qualities, knowledge and skills to work with others and ensure the wider impact of research. Many of these suggested activities are things that the researcher will naturally do in their course of their research project, while others may require them to actively take part in training or new activities. Within these domains, departments may have identified compulsory training for their students, while information and sign up on all modules can be obtained from the DDP Portal. It should be stressed that experiential learning outside of the formal DDP modules is also valuable and contributes to personal development.

How is training recorded?

There is no longer a requirement for students to complete a specified number of credits, since experiential learning is part of training, as are non-DDP taught modules and these cannot be accounted for centrally. However, a record does need to be kept both for the student’s reference and for validation purposes. This is most conveniently done as an ePortfolio.

Why do students need to create an ePortfolio?

The University needs to know what learning and development has been achieved during a student’s studies. Since the training does not rely solely on taught modules, students are required to record their learning and experiences and to identify what they have learned through reflection. Because of this, the University regulations for the PhD state:-

“In the case of a candidate for the Degree of PhD, PhD with Integrated Studies, MD, DDSc, EngD, EdD or DSpecMed a candidate may not be permitted to transfer to that status from candidacy for a Master’s degree, (in the case of a candidate commencing the programme of study and research before 1 August 2012), or to pass the Confirmation Review (in the case of a candidate commencing the programme of study and research on or after 1 August 2012), unless the candidate has presented a portfolio demonstrating that they have undertaken the agreed programme of training and skills development and have achieved an appropriate level of competency as agreed by the supervisory team.”

Does the portfolio have any benefits other than demonstrating conformation to the University's Regulations?

A number of studies have identified the general benefits of a portfolio e.g.

“The overarching purpose of portfolios is to create a sense of personal ownership over one’s accomplishments, because ownership engenders feelings of pride, responsibility, and dedication.” Paris & Ayres.(1994)

“The e-portfolio is the central and common point for the student experience. It is a reflection of the student as a person undergoing continuous personal development, not just a store of evidence.”.. (Geoff Rebbeck, e-Learning Coordinator, Thanet College, quoted in JISC, 2008)

Portfolios can be given to prospective employers. In selecting candidates, employers will look for evidence of skills that makes them stand out from the crowd and an e-portfolio is more impressive and comprehensive than a paper-based CV.  Employers comment that:-

“Candidates should recognise their transferable skills e.g. give evidence of communication skills.” (Esso-Exxon)
“Take any opportunities to develop yourself outwith academia and demonstrate that you look for such opportunities.” (Andersen Consulting)
“Prove that they have given thought to the differences between the academic and corporate environment.” (Wellcome Trust)
“Don’t over rely on academic achievement. Stress transferable skills such as teamworking, report writing and leadership.” (SEPA)
“Stress transferable skills and be aware that your particular area of research is not always of prime importance.” (Cadence Design Systems)
“Focus on skills and competencies and relate them to the commercial environment if possible.” (Smith & Nephew plc)
“Emphasise the more rounded individual rather than the researcher”. (Andersen Consulting)
“Try to demonstrate something that makes you stand out from the other candidates and makes you potential for future development.” (BMSP)

The University has adopted the e-portfolio software tool called PebblePad to help students demonstrate their skills, experiences and what they have learned through gaining these. This can also be used for the Training Needs Analysis and the Training/ Development Plan. It is web-based and so easily accessible from anywhere.

To receive work from your students, it helps if supervisors can log into PebblePad using your standard University login details. This registers you on the system. When work is sent to you, you will receive an email, with a link to the work.

Annual Responsibility Cycle

Annual Responsibility Cycle

At the beginning of their studies

  • Assess the initial training needs analysis performed by the student at which the student and supervisory team agree on the level of competency and skills that the student already has
  • Agree on the level of competency and skills to be acquired by the student by the time of their upgrade (usually within 12 months)
  • Devise and agree a development plan to address the training needs identified

As part of a successful Training Needs Analysis students should be encouraged to think not just about their research degree but also about their longer term career goals. Where do they want to be in 5 or 10 years time? A student’s aspirations may change over the course of their research degree but each TNA will benefit from being considered against a backdrop where they hope to be going.

Assessment of Student Development

When the student presents for the confirmation review, a submitted research report is required and a viva, but in addition the DDP eportfolio is assessed as part of the confirmation review process. This is performed by the nominated examiners as per specific departmental procedures and may include the second supervisor/personal tutor. The student would not be allowed to pass the confirmation review until agreed development needs have been achieved and there is a clear and credible plan for the succeeding 2/3 years.

The Second Supervisor/Personal Tutor will comment on the student´s development plan during formal supervisory meetings and they will sign a transcript of the portfolio annually. In addition, they will formally report on progress through the development plan annually by inclusion of a section in the Annual Progress Report. The latter report will also be signed by the student.

Annual responsibility cycle

DDP Myths & Facts

DDP Myths & Facts

1. The DDP is not compulsory, so doctoral students do not need to engage with it.

Fact: The DDP is compulsory for all doctoral students.

2. Getting a PhD is about becoming an independent researcher. The best way to do this is through getting 'hands on' experience by carrying out full time research in the lab, not by engaging with the DDP.

Fact: What training/experience is needed for any given doctoral student in order for them to become an independent researcher can only properly be established by means of a training needs analysis (TNA). This is carried out through the DDP.

3. If there is nothing on offer on the DDP Portal that is relevant or of value to a doctoral student, some modules should be chosen just to keep the administration happy.

Fact: If the identified, required training is not available through the DDP portal, student and supervisor should source alternative provision and inform administration of the lack of provision through the portal.

4. A student supported by a charity which is funding them to carry out full time research should not be wasting charitable funds attending careers seminars and workshops that are not direclty relevant to their research projects.

Fact: All sponsors expect their students not just to carry out research but to also develop into independent researchers capable of developing their field of research over the course of a productive career.

5. Students just need to do the compulsory DDP modules in the first year. However, once they've got through the transfer/confirmation review, and are in their second year, they don't need to think about the DDP.

Fact: The DDP is an iterative process carried out over the entire duration of a doctoral student’s studies.

6. A PhD is all about working really hard in the lab, putting in long hours to complete experiments. It is unreasonable to expect doctoral students to attend research seminars and go to workshops such as the 'Think Ahead' programme. Fact: The value of a doctoral student is realised over the lifetime of that doctoral student and not just over the duration of their studies. Those that ‘think ahead’ are more likely to make an important impact in their field.
7. Doctoral students can get all the training they need for a career in academia by working on their research projects. There is no need for to carry out any other DDP activities.

Fact: The changes in Higher Education dictate that the modern academic needs a far more broad skill set.

8. Doctoral students who have taken time out of their job and will be returning to their job after they have finished their studies do not need to carry out any additional training or development activities as they do not need to enhance thier CV.

Fact: The purpose of additional training or development activities are not to enhance a CV but to ensure that a doctoral student develops into an independent researcher with the skills necessary for their future.

9. I don't have to register for modules.

Fact: Registration is necessary, but can be either ‘drop-in’ or ‘assessed’. Registration allows module providers and administrators to run courses smoothly.

10. There is no need to do assessments.

Fact: If a module has an assessment associated with it, then you are expected to complete that assessment. Assessment can only be waived by prior agreement with the supervisory team and the module leader.

11. Part-time doctoral students are exempt from the DDP.

Fact: The DDP is compulsory for ALL doctoral students at The University of Sheffield including staff candidates.

12. Doctoral students need only worry about the subject specific related courses.

Fact: Doctoral students should concern themselves with all types of courses that will help to address any needs identified through the training needs analysis (TNA).

13. Doctoral Students can take all and any courses available through the DDP Portal. 14. Doctoral Students can take all and any courses available through the DDP Portal.
14. Cross-sessional doctoral students arrive too late to join the DDP.

Fact: The DDP is flexible, tailored to the student and can be conducted throughout the period of study.

15. Doctoral students spending a lot of time away from Sheffield can apply for an exemption.

Fact: Off-campus students should ensure that they source the training identified through their Training Needs Analysis, through tools such as the Virtual Graduate School (VGS).

16. The DDP is irrelevant for mature doctoral students with no career aspirations, carrying out a research degree after early retirement.

Fact: The training needs analysis will establish the need, or lack of need, for training based upon any students future goals. This should be carried out through the DDP.