Supervising DPhil and Masters dissertations

Supervising postgraduate research students often requires flexibility as their research changes direction or they identify new questions to consider, for example. The current situation presents unique challenges that have seen research students being unable to gather data if laboratories, archives, or fieldwork sites have been closed. This highlights the importance of making individual contingency plans. Even as laboratories and archives reopen, supervisors and students need to be ready, should changes in access arise.

Pedagogical guidance

The greatest challenge comes during the research process and it would be advisable to have a conversation with your students about challenges they might face in the coming months and years. It remains particularly important to clearly communicate expectations about work set, working practices, and deadlines or doctoral milestones, for example, and to assess how the pandemic might affect your students’ abilities to meet them.  

If research and data collection has been suspended due to the pandemic but students are wanting to continue to work, focused tasks can help develop analytical and writing skills that the student can apply once they can resume their research. For example, you might want to present them with a set of data closely related to their own with questions for them to tackle, ask them to work on a particular section of their draft or a particular aspect of their writing, or, if they are at the beginning of their research, you might encourage them to develop other academic skills such as writing book reviews or synthesising conclusions from a collection of articles.

Research students often complain they feel isolated even in more normal times. Feelings of isolation may escalate other hurdles such as limited progress so try to maintain regular contact and encourage them to meet with other students and academics, even if only via video conferencing. With many students facing similar situations, a face to face or online gathering of a group of research students can be an effective way to problem-solve and can help to create support networks for students. You might want to set up a journal club to bring postdocs and research students together or schedule sessions for students to share their work in progress.

Platforms such as Teams make shifting from face to face to remote teaching fairly straightforward, but it is worth bearing in mind that staff and student feedback from TT2020 has noted that remote teaching is more tiring and that shorter sessions are more effective.

Technical guidance

Microsoft Teams (often referred to as MS Teams or simply Teams) allows you to schedule live meetings with video and screensharing.  

Teams also provides functionality for sharing documents, as it is part of Nexus Office365. These documents can be collaborated on by multiple people simultaneously. It can be effective to work collaboratively on a single document during a Teams meeting.

The chat functionality in Teams also provides a useful, less formal way of interacting with participants. The chat thread is automatically saved for later reference via the Teams chat channel.

Useful links

Many departments and faculties are reflecting upon how programmes are taught, what materials are assigned and how students are assessed. Academics and administrators who would like to consult with the CTL as they design flexible and inclusive programmes may contact us at remote@ctl.ox.ac.uk.

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Resources for flexible and inclusive teaching


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