Doctoral “orphans”: nurturing and supporting the success of postgraduates who have lost their supervisors

Gina Wisker, Gillian Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Much research into doctoral student-supervisor relations focuses on developing positive interactions. For many students, however, the research experience can be troubled by breakdowns in communication, and even the loss of the supervisor(s), turning the student into a doctoral ‘orphan’, and impacting on their academic identity and ability and confidence in producing a sound doctoral level contribution to knowledge. Our work with a range of UK and internationally based doctoral students looks specifically at reasons for supervisor loss and/or absence and the students’ experience of being doctoral ‘orphans’ in terms of identity, confidence and progress. In focusing on those who achieve successful completion, it suggests the need for institutional and community support and highlights the development of effective strategies leading to ownership, empowerment and emotional resilience.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-313
Number of pages14
JournalHigher Education Research & Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 18 May 2012

Bibliographical note

This is an Author's Original Manuscript of an article submitted for consideration in the Higher Education Research & Development copyright Taylor & Francis; Higher Education Research & Development is available online at


  • academic identity
  • completion
  • doctoral students
  • postgraduate
  • supervisors


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