What makes a good nurse research supervisor?

The position of research supervisor is pivotal in doctoral education and they can make a huge contribution to the next generation of nurse researchers

Illustration shows a research supervisor giving feedback to a nurse researcher who is taking notes
Picture: iStock

Supervision is a critical feature of research education and training and yet there is often limited attention paid to the skills and expertise required. Good supervision can motivate and inspire students to develop into strong independent scholars. Poor supervision leads to negative experiences, frustration, poor performance and limited professional development.

People often begin research supervision shortly after completing their own research training. They may have limited research or supervision experience to reflect on, so can either build on good role modelling or perpetuate negative practices.

What are the key characteristics of a good supervisor?

A key characteristic of a good supervisor is an appreciation of individual needs and the kind of support that each student requires. Accepting diversity and understanding professional, cultural and learning needs and life circumstances ensures that the student-supervisor relationship is student-focused and promotes engagement.

Supervisors also need to provide prompt, positive and clear feedback. It is unhelpful to be overly critical, to not review the work promptly or to provide a vague sweeping critique that does not tell students how to improve their work. Good supervisors are reliable and do what they say that they will do.

Positive research supervision needs to extend beyond the supervisory relationship. Supervisors should be role models of quality and ethical scholarly practices in their research, their interactions with others, and speak up when they see suboptimal practice.

Small actions can boost student morale, enhance confidence and motivate

Finally, supervisors need to champion and advocate for their students, supporting and encouraging their professional development and ensuring they are well-supported and can access the required resources. They should provide collaboration opportunities to build skills and experience and celebrate their students’ personal and professional achievements.

Small actions, such as sharing a social media post or hosting a celebration morning tea, can boost student morale, enhance confidence and motivate the whole team.

Being a research supervisor is a privilege. The opportunity to contribute to the next generation of nurse researchers should not be taken lightly. All research supervisors have a responsibility to strive to improve their supervision practices. We need to start the discussion and foster debate about research supervision and its effects on doctoral education.

Have you tried RCNi Plus yet?

RCNi Plus offers unlimited access to RCNi Learning, Nurse Researcher, Nursing Standard, our other specialist journals and RCNi Revalidation Portfolio to store your CPD for revalidation. Use the discount code TRIALPLUS to get it half price for three months. Click here for more details