The ideal supervisor from the candidate’s perspective: what qualities do students actually want?

Diana Davis*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper investigates what postgraduate research students at varying stages of candidature across all disciplines in 15 of Australia’s 39 urban and rural universities perceive to be the qualities of an ideal supervisor. Students completed an anonymous survey resulting in the online submission of 698 surveys. This paper focuses on the penultimate question asking students to nominate five qualities of an ideal supervisor. Meta categories generated from students’ data were person related, candidate oriented, supervision fundamentals, and discipline/research expertise. The related literature reported diverse methodologies yet, like this study, have yielded remarkably similar results participating universities sought anonymity so results are presented under four broad discipline clusters. Across all clusters affective qualities (e.g., approachability, accessibility, interest, respect, commitment) consistently characterized the ideal supervisor. Students in this study, unlike others, had total agency in nominating qualities they valued in their ideal supervisor. For these 695 students from diverse disciplines positive interactive personal qualities far outweighed erudition demonstrating the centrality of the person in the supervisory relationship. Results are considered in the context of theories relating to the helping relationship from a number of disciplines. Finally, implications for the nature and efficacy of supervisor development programmes across the sector are discussed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1220-1232
    Number of pages13
    JournalJournal of Further and Higher Education
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2020


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