I find supervising research degrees very rewarding. I enjoy talking to my students about their ideas and seeing them flourish. It’s amazing the development that can take place over one year of a Masters, and even more so with a PhD which can take five years if studied part-time.

It’s also nice to share people’s successes, if they win a fellowship or a grant to attend a conference, or publish something. As a supervisor, I try to nurture this, making my students aware of opportunities, and encouraging them to put themselves out there. I also try to connect them with people I know, open up my networks to them and point them in the direction of conferences that might be useful to them. Edinburgh Napier is a member of the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities (SGSAH), which offers fantastic training events and placements, and I encourage my students to fully engage with those opportunities.

The supervisor’s role in a discursive discipline like ours is really to facilitate, to encourage and to help people grow in confidence and find their own voice. It’s really important not to impose our own views or our own theoretical frameworks. We work with the ideas that the student brings to the table and guide them to develop those ideas and tease out their arguments.

Our role is to facilitate, encourage and help people find their own voice.

Supportive and constructive

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t challenge, and research students shouldn’t feel threatened by challenging questions. But it should be done in a supportive and constructive way: that’s one of my golden rules. It’s a fine balance, to give feedback on drafts in a way that allows people to take things forward without undermining their confidence.

It’s also important to recognise that people come from different places and different backgrounds. Part-time students may have different patterns of work to full time students, and mature students may have been away from formal study for a long time, and that needs to be taken into account in how we approach supervision. That’s something I’m very passionate about, as I did my PhD at Birkbeck College, University of London, which has a high proportion of mature students. Personally, I’m a strong supporter of lifelong learning. Doing a PhD in later life is a great idea, and it’s really rewarding to be able to support someone in doing that.

Edinburgh Napier provides a great environment in that respect, as the University is really committed to diversity and inclusion and works hard to help people combine their studies with whatever else is going on in their lives. We also look after our students: we form a closely- knit community, so we know people well.