The UOC offers four research, transfer and entrepreneurship courses in english, for students, researchers and faculty to promote research in the academic, scientific and business fields.
Within our society of knowledge, the training of researchers for supervising thesis as an entrance door to the culture of research and as means of acculturation within the scientific community is gaining more and more relevance.
The requests of the European Union (EEES) give a clear idea about which direction should be taken when it comes to training doctors, and how this must be carried out (Irish Universities Association, 2008; Vitae, 2010), LERU (2010). In the UK, the Roberts report influences the training of PhD students in transversal competences, ranging from training techniques and abilities to team work, eventually becoming a training in competences which are transferable to professionalization and surely to the labour market (Hernández and Díaz, 2010). That includes not only intellectual and technical competences, but also social competences, as well as of leadership and management.
The abandonment of PhD students (for example, 13% regarding the relation of students who enrolled in the academic course 2007-2008 and those who presented their thesis four years later, according to data of INE), is caused by many convergent factors, such as the academic competence, psychosocial factors and institutional culture. Out of them, the most effective factor is the supervision of the thesis (Armstrong, 2004; Difabio, 2011).
Each thesis supervisor, as a leader of the research project of the PhD student, assume a supervision style (Fernández and Wainerman, 2015), according to the goals outlined, but we cannot forget the relation established between the supervisor and the student, which reinforces the personal orientation in both academic and non-academic aspects. As Wainerman (2011) claims, the competences necessary for a research project are only acquired through the implication in a project with the guide of a `master'.
At present, the supervision of thesis is understood as an educational practice which belongs to the pedagogy of research and to the pedagogy of doctoral education (Fernández and Wainerman, 2015; p.161), which provides the supervisor with an active role.
Referring to the academic aspects, the thesis supervisor becomes a model and a provider of learning (De la Cruz Flores et al., 2010; Difabio, 2011; Fernández and Wainerman, 2015) who:
- promotes reflection;
- helps to manage knowledge;
- clarifies expectations and limitations;
- follows the development (clear objectives, updated information, revision of written work, immediate feedback);
- plans meetings and motivates students to publish;
- gives practical support as an advisor (resources, institutional policies, connection with other professionals);
- adapts to the level of difficulty of the students;
- must maintain a professional relation both realistic and constructive with the student.
For the PhD student, the process of elaboration of a thesis is a path of construction of identity as a researcher, where frustration, loneliness, uncertainty, doubts and ambivalence occur, for which it is necessary the support provided by the supervisor to generate social and emotional conditions necessary for continuing with the project.
Having considered that and bearing in mind the following:
- the functions of a thesis supervisor as it has been commented;
- the fact that researching and leading a thesis involves different skills (De la Cruz et al, 2010; Halse, 2011; quoting Fernández and Weinerman, 2015);
- the role of the supervisor is not only supervising and guiding the process, but also stimulating, giving empathy and feedback to facilitate the learning (Manathunga, 2007);
- the relation with the supervisor is one of the most influential factors in the probability to finish a doctoral thesis (Fernández and Weinerman, 2015) and,
- the number of students who abandon the quality in the supervision of the thesis becomes a key factor.
From these factors emerge the proposal and aims of this training in Soft Skills for thesis supervisors.
When we speak about personal and professional abilities, we distinguish between Hard skills and Soft Skills. The former are those abilities learnt through training, teaching or working, which allow us to carry out a determined task; whereas the latter are those interpersonal abilities related to emotional intelligence and which include, for example, self-leadership, self-regulation, authenticity, capacity for reflection, pro-activity, motivation, empathy, time-management and problem-solving, among others.
The research, transfer and entrepreneurship courses are recognized as university activities and thus count as free elective credits for bachelors degree courses. They also count towards training for competitive grants for doctoral students at any university.
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