The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Times Higher Education, March 27, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


An inspirational supervisor can nurture a career, while a poor one slows its growth. Either way, mentors have a lasting impact

The cliché has it that research-focused academics can't be bothered with teaching and are more interested in ploughing their own furrow than sowing the seeds of succession.

But even those with little time for undergraduate teaching have a crucial role in developing the next generation through their supervision of doctoral students.

This week, in our cover feature, we ask five established academics to tell us about the relationship they had with their supervisor, their strengths and weaknesses, and the effect it has had on their career.

The tales they tell range from the good to the bad to the hilarious (the illustrations aren't bad, either). But what's clear is that the relationship has a lifelong impact on the supervisee and often fundamentally shapes their career.

In some cases this impact is tangible, for example in the form of patronage to help a talented protégé climb the ladder; in others there is an acute awareness of how demoralising it is when a mentor fails to support, or a welcome understanding of how to help a talented researcher graduate from underling to colleague.

One thing that occurs when reading these stories is that if you're looking for evidence of "impact" from researchers, then their abilities and commitment as a supervisor could be one very worthy - and currently overlooked - measure.

Developing the next generation of researchers in your field surely has as strong a claim as any on this score, although, as with other measures of impact, the proof would be in a pudding that takes a while to bake. …

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