First encounters in supervision

Sebnem Susam-Sarajeva

University of Edinburgh

(Report from the Lisbon Congress round table on supervision, September 2004. Convenor: Andrew Chesterman)


Based on my belief that a good start will ease one’s journey on the road, my contribution to the discussion on research supervision within translation studies focuses on the first encounter(s) between the supervisor/institution and the PhD candidate, and on the first year of PhD study. It is divided into three parts:


1.         Enquiry / application stage


In my first encounters with prospective PhD candidates, either via e-mail or in face-to-face interviews, I try to find out about their determination to study for a PhD degree. I emphasise the commitment (time, energy and money-wise) it entails, and enquire whether their reasons to apply for a PhD are compelling enough for them. If they are still keen on the process and if they are physically present in Edinburgh, I invite them to the monthly PhD seminars in translation studies, so that they will attend the presentations given by current PhD candidates, will gain more understanding about the process and get acquainted with the research community they will eventually be introduced into if they apply. Taking out the current PhD students and the would-be applicants to lunch together proved to be another effective tool in encouraging or discouraging members of the latter group.


Also, while answering the queries about PhD degrees, sending the applicants guidelines about writing up a research proposal is extremely useful. Certain future disappointments can then be avoided at this stage.


2.         First month


In our first meeting with a student now registered for the PhD, we try to identify the research experience and training he/she already has and to find out ways of enhancing this experience. Areas of relative ‘ignorance’ within translation studies are also pinpointed, and the student is then encouraged to take the initiative to learn more about those areas. Other problems which might interfere with their work, such as accommodation, financial issues and family, often need to be addressed.


3.         First year


During the first year, the role of a supervisor seems to be that of encouraging and orienting. Students need encouragement to attend national and international conferences, to start thinking about possible future publications (especially if they are carrying over from a Master’s degree at the same institution), to prepare for the first year mini-viva, and to start building up an academic network in general. Orienting the student to the other resources available both within the university and within the country is also crucial if one would like to avoid a strictly 1:1 relationship with the candidate and to fight the isolation associated with a PhD. Such resources might include:

  • library induction days, introducing the collections and most importantly the databases to the students;
  • relevant Master’s courses which the PhD candidates might attend, e.g. courses on research methodology in translation studies;
  • guest lectures or seminars in translation studies, organised within the university or within neighbouring universities;
  • monthly PhD seminars, which are invaluable opportunities to practice one’s oral research presentation skills, to receive feedback from one’s peers and to exchange tips about upcoming events and research resources;
  • summer schools in translation studies, offering training not only in generic research skills but also in discipline-specific research methodologies;
  • university careers services which will guide the students in preparing for an academic career;
  • workshops on organisation, time management, effective communication, thesis writing, computer programmes, databases, personal skills (e.g. motivation, flexibility), etc.;
  • nation-wide web-based networks dedicated to postgraduate students, especially if they are specifically related to translation studies.


In short, I believe that the PhD candidates should not be left alone on their own, or alone with their supervisors for that matter, especially in their first crucial year. The institutional infrastructure should be fully utilised. In cases where such structures do not exist or are not sufficient, the supervisors might advocate further development in these areas.