Supervisor wellbeing and identity: Challenges and strategies

Gina Wisker, Gillian Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The research aims to explore the professional identity of supervisors and their perceptions of stress in doctoral learning supervision. The research determines ways of developing strategies of resilience and wellbeing to overcome stress, leading to positive outcomes for supervisors and students. Design/methodology Research is in two parts: first, rescrutinising previous work and second, new interviews with international and UK supervisors gathering evidence of doctoral supervisor stress, in relation to professional identity, and discovering resilience and wellbeing strategies. Findings Supervisor professional identity and wellbeing are aligned with research progress, and effective supervision. Stress and wellbeing/resilience strategies emerged across three dimensions: personal, learning and institutional, related to emotional, professional and intellectual issues, affecting identity and wellbeing. Problematic relationships, change in supervision arrangements, loss of students and lack of student progress cause stress. Balances between responsibility and autonomy; uncomfortable conflicts arising from personality clashes; and the nature of the research work, burnout and lack of time for their own work, all cause supervisor stress. Developing community support, handling guilt and a sense of underachievement, and self-management practices help maintain wellbeing. Research limitationsOnly experienced supervisors (each with four doctoral students completed) were interviewed. The research relies upon interview responses. Social and practical implicationsSharing information can lead to informed, positive action minimising stress and isolation; development of personal coping strategies and institutional support enhance the supervisory experience for supervisors and students. Originality/valueThe research contributes new knowledge concerning doctoral supervisor experience, identity and wellbeing, offering research-based information and ideas on a hitherto under-researched focus: supervisor stress, wellbeing and resilience impacting upon supervisors' professional identity.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Journal for Researcher Development
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2016


  • Doctoral supervision
  • wellbeing
  • resilience
  • doctoral student learning
  • stress in research learning.


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