Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Selecting a Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor: Analytical Hierarchy Approach to the Multiple Criteria Problem

Academic journal article International Journal of Doctoral Studies

Selecting a Doctoral Dissertation Supervisor: Analytical Hierarchy Approach to the Multiple Criteria Problem

Article excerpt


A fundamental characteristic of doctoral research is that it is carried out under the guidance of one or more academic supervisors. Although researchers have paid attention to many aspects of student learning and research in management education, one facet still seriously overlooked is that of research supervision (Armstrong, Allison, &Hayes, 2004). Several problems, such as poor completion rates of research degrees (Burnett, 1999) and delayed completion of thesis (Garcia, Malot, & Brethower, 1988), have been found in work related to thesis in postgraduate and higher levels of education. For example, Rudd (1985) found that in UK 40% to 50% of post graduate students failed to complete their dissertation in social sciences. The quality of supervision has been often indicated as the main reason for these problems (Dillon & Malott, 1981; Zoia, 1981). Students have expressed dissatisfaction with the process of supervision (Hockey, 1991) with reasons for dissatisfaction, which include poor direction and structure (Acker, Hill, & Black, 1991), allocation to a supervisor with interests not matching with those of the student, and insufficient guidance and time scaling (Eggleston & Delamont, 1983; Wright and Lodwick, 1989). Such dissatisfaction rates have been found to be higher in the domain of social sciences than in natural sciences (Young, Fogarty & McRea, 1987).

In a study of the research supervision process for postgraduate students, Eggleston and Delamont (1983), found that the matching of student to supervisor for effective relationships is crucially important. The question that arises is how can this match between student and supervisor be made? In a doctoral level program, the student chooses a supervisor and has to develop a relationship with this individual.

This relationship is different in many ways from the relationships that students have had with the lecturers who delivered most of the courses. For example, research students do need guidance, but they also need to develop sufficient autonomy and freedom to design and execute their own projects (Cornwall, Schmithals, & Jaques, 1977; Harding, 1973). Clearly, there are several qualities that a student expects to see in her research supervisor, all of which may or may not be of equal significance to the student. Consequently, the process of selection of the supervisor becomes one of the critical factors in determining the degree of fit between the student and her supervisor.

Ideally a student should know the key attributes she wishes to see in her supervisor and their relative importance, and then be able to choose the supervisor who best fits her priorities. There are no studies that have looked into the method of supervisor selection, and this is where this study hopes to fill the gap. This study proposes and demonstrates the application of a multiple criteria based selection method viz Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP) for research supervisor selection.

The next section discusses the details of the methodology used in this paper.


This study was conducted in two phases. The first phase may be described as the formulation phase where the basic selection problem was formulated as a multi criteria decision making problem. The second phase was the demonstration phase where the formulated problem was actually applied on a set of participants in the study to come out with conclusions for the larger audience of future research students.

In the first phase of the study doctoral students at the authors' institute were asked to list all factors they would consider or would recommend one should consider before selecting a thesis supervisor. The simple question that was asked is, "What are important characteristics that you look for in a faculty member before selecting her or him as a thesis supervisor?" There were 47 students in the Ph.D. programme during the time of study, of which 23 responded. …

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