Best Practices for Remote Supervision of Graduate Students and Postdoctoral Fellows

For faculty members

The current COVID-19 pandemic has required the university to find new ways to maintain academic activities and for thesis supervisors, students and postdoctoral fellows find new ways to continue research activities remotely. Effective supervision of graduate students extends beyond the development of a plan to ensure continuity of research, and should include also mechanisms to promote accountability, ensure well-being, and foster community and connectiveness at a time when this is difficult to achieve.

To help you create a comprehensive plan for remote supervision of trainees, we offer the following best practices.

In developing your collaborative virtual workspace and communication plan:

  1. Take time to consult with your research team members on their preferences for working in a collaborative virtual space to ensure that all members can easily access and use the platform chosen. Keep virtual spaces accessible to all team members to foster inclusivity. Choose solutions that do not impose financial strain (eg. the purchase of software licenses) on trainees.
  2. Schedule regular meetings, as you would in person, and allow all members to share their progress
  3. Discuss with each trainee individually to discover their needs in terms of interaction with you. Some trainees, especially those with no family in the Ottawa region may feel particularly isolated and could benefit from more frequent interactions with lab members and yourself as a supervisor.
  4. Ensure that all files and accesses necessary for data analysis and scholarly writing are in place.
  5. Be flexible and expect change. The rapid transition to remote supervision will require all of us to continually adjust the way we work and remain productive. Solicit feedback and adjust as required to ensure that trainees feel well supported and remain productive.

Guidelines for effective supervision of trainees while working remotely

  • Ask what resources and support are needed by your research team to effectively work from home.
  • Maintain as much as possible the forms of interactions you had before switching to working from home (e.g., lab meetings, journal clubs, research discussion meeting, presentations) using alternative platforms such as Microsoft Teams (free with a uOttawa email account, or Zoom). Remember that regular contact with team members supports continued research productivity but also fosters positive social interaction during these difficult times.
  • Schedule regular and frequent check-ins with each student individually. Some students, particularly international students, may feel particularly isolated and would benefit from more frequent interactions.
  • Try to stick to business hours for deadlines and meetings.
  • Be clear about expectations and be willing to adapt as the situation changes. Depending on the length of isolation measures put in place, what can realistically be achieved may change.
  • Be understanding about decreased productivity. Trainees will need time to adapt to a new way of working and you can help them develop good work habits. Recognize that some trainees may be caring for family members, suffering undue hardship or may be struggling with anxiety and this may impact their productivity.
  • Break up big projects into smaller, manageable deliverables so that you can be regularly schedule progress reports.
  • Create opportunities for lab/team members to engage with each other virtually to help maintain social contact. Create collaborative workspaces, journal clubs, and check-ins. It does not all have to be about work – feel free to schedule fun things, as long as the activities are inclusive.
  • Do not just focus on research/productivity but be sure to ask about health and wellness. Know what resources are available to students who are feeling anxious or stressed.
  • Be positive when interacting with your trainees. Find the silver lining (eg. Opportunities to focus on writing, data analysis, etc). Your trainees may be feeling anxious and your emotional leadership can help them manage some of this stress.

Available tools and resources to support remote supervision

  • Microsoft Teams
    It is free with a uOttawa email account. The tool has collaborative features facilitating an easy communication: chat, audio and video teleconferencing, screen sharing and many other functions.

 

  • Other free teleconferencing technologies
    • Skype
    • Zoom (unlimited one on one meeting and 40 min limit on group meeting with the free version
    • Whereby (up to 4 meeting participants with the free version)
  • If a student requires remote access (VPN) to a research drive to work from home, you will need to fill the following form from the Central IT in order to create an account for you. Then, you will be able to install VPN and MedMapDrive and access research drives remotely. VPN is not needed for common applications (e.g. email, Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, Brightspace, Library access, etc).
  • Improve your skills or learn new skills: Current uOttawa students, faculty and staff now have free, unlimited access to over 7,000 online courses related to science, business, media and technology through LinkedIn Learning, a self-service training site (e.g. learning R, statistics, public speaking, communication, etc).
  • Transfer large files (up to 10GB)
    uOttawa Liquidfiles is an online secure file transfer service to facilitate sending large and/or confidential and sensitive files/folders to any email address securely and quickly.
  • Create a Team Drive
    APUO faculty members may request the creation of a Google Drive File Stream account. The researcher can then create a Team Drive and grant access to team members such as students or other collaborators.
  • Mental health during Covid-19
    If you or one of your trainees feels anxious, scared or have any other mental health concerns, please contact the Faculty Wellness Program by phone at 613-562-5800 x 8507 or by email at wellness@uottawa.ca. You can also refer your trainees who wish to speak to someone and get crisis support, to Good2talk (bilingual), the post-secondary student helpline.

 

Original concept for this document, including some phrasing, courtesy of the University of Calgary.

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