Doctoral supervision as a professional practice

Marc Torka

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference proceeding contributionpeer-review


Contemporary trends in science policy and social theory challenge the concept of doctoral supervision as ‘professional practice’. The concept compares supervision with the work of other professionals regarding a specific working alliance. Supervisors and novices engage in a relationship to create
and solve an intellectual crisis. The dynamics of the crisis, paradoxes of the situation and technical uncertainties of non-standardised problem solving are typical features of all professional practices. However, worldwide trends in
doctoral education such as the improvement of completion rates, the creation of formal organisations and programs as well as the overall ‘projectification’ of the Ph.D. process tend to ignore the unpredictability of doctoral research and
supervision. In consequence, social theory discusses trends towards increasing formal control, disciplinary differentiation and particularities in doctoral supervision as an ongoing ‘deprofessionalisation’ of a shared professional practice. To defend and specify the concept of professional practice for doctoral
supervision, I draw on a comparative study of supervision practices in two disciplinary fields (physics and social sciences) and different organisational contexts in the German academic system. I argue that the creation of independent researchers and new knowledge constitute a specific interaction between supervisors and novices beyond disciplinary and organisational
differences. Autonomy and dependence, self-learning and guidance, production and solution of intellectual crisis and conflicting role patterns create an inherent tension in supervision practice that cannot be resolved by formal structures and is therefore best described as professional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 12th biennial quality in postgraduate research (QPR) conference
EditorsMichelle Picard, Alistair McCulloch
Place of PublicationAdelaide
PublisherQPR Organising Committee
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780994310316
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes
Event12th Biennial quality in postgraduate research (QPR) conference: Society, Economy & Communities: 21st Century innovation in Doctoral Education - Adelaide, Australia
Duration: 20 Apr 201622 Apr 2016


Conference12th Biennial quality in postgraduate research (QPR) conference


  • supervision practice
  • supervisory interaction
  • professional work
  • institutional policy
  • disciplinary diversity


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