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Supervisory styles: what style are you?

Research overview & references

What style are you?

Gatfield (2005) has proposed four main supervisory styles, based on a model utilising 'support' and 'structure'. The vertical axis represents 'support' and the horizontal axis represents 'structure' (p. 319).

High Support

Pastoral Style

  • Low structure and high support
  • Candidate has personal low management skill but takes advantage of all the support facilities that are on offer
  • Supervisor provides considerable personal care and support but not necessarily in a task-driven, directive capacity

Contractual Style

  • High structure and high support
  • Candidate highly motivated and able to take direction and to act on own initiative
  • Supervisor able to administer direction and exercises good management skills and interpersonal relationships

Low Support

Laissez-faire Style

  • Low structure low support
  • Candidate has limited levels of motivation and management skills
  • Supervisor in non-directive and not committed to high levels of personal interaction
  • Supervisor may appear uncaring and uninvolved

Directorial Style

  • High structure and low support
  • Candidate highly motivated and sees the necessity to take advantage of engaging in high structural activities such as setting objectives, completing and submitting work on time on own initiative without taking advantage of institutional support
  • Supervisor has a close and regular interactive relationship with the candidate, but avoids non-task issues

Low Structure

High Structure

After developing this model, Gatfield interviewed 12 supervisors who had been designated excellent by the Dean of the Faculty (in this case Business). The criteria that the Dean used to identify excellent supervisors were:

  • Achieving high completion rates
  • Students who submit within the normally expected time frame
  • Engagement in multiple supervisions
  • Receiving excellent supervisory reports (p. 319)

The 12 supervisors were asked to place themselves within one of the above quadrants. Nine placed themselves in the Contractual Style quadrant, and one in each of the other three quadrants. What is even more interesting, is that these excellent supervisors made a transition from one style to the other during candidature, usually when their candidate experienced a:

  • Crisis
  • Transition


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Denholm C. & Evans T. (Eds.), Supervising Doctorates Downunder (pp. 20-27). Melbourne: ACER

Gatfield, T. (2005). An investigation into PhD supervisory management styles: Development of a dynamic conceptual model and its managerial implications. Journal of Higher Education and Policy Management 27(3): 311-325.

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Kiley, M. (2005) Framework for research supervision support and development at the Australian National University.

Lee, A., Dennis, C., & Campbell, P. (2007). Nature's guide for mentors. Nature, 444, 791-797.

Sinclair, M. (2004). The pedagogy of 'good' PhD supervision: A national cross-disciplinary investigation of PhD supervision. Canberra: Department of Education Science and Training.

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