eesti teaduste
akadeemia kirjastus
SINCE 1997
TRAMES cover
TRAMES. A Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences
ISSN 1736-7514 (Electronic)
ISSN 1406-0922 (Print)
Impact Factor (2021): 0.467
PDF | DOI: 10.3176/tr.2013.4.06

Liina Lepp, Marvi Remmik, Mari Karm, Äli Leijen

Changes in the content and organization of doctoral studies have provided material for researching different aspects of doctoral studies. Much of the current literature concentrates on identifying the functions that an effective supervisor needs to carry out. Less attention has been paid to how well supervisors understand the aims of doctoral studies. The aim of this study was to describe the Estonian PhD supervisors’ conceptions about doctoral studies. The study is based on semi-structured interviews with 21 PhD supervisors from educational science and exact and natural science disciplines. The data was analyzed using qualitative thematic data analysis techniques. The results show that according to supervisors’ conceptions, the aim of a doctoral study is to prepare future researchers and acquire academic writing skills as quickly as possible. Doctoral studies are also seen as an intermediate process in the course of becoming a researcher.


Boud, David and Mark Tennant (2006) “Putting doctoral education to work: challenges to academic practice”. Higher Education Research & Development 25, 3, 293–306.

Brew, Angela (2001) “Conceptions of research: a phenomenographic study”. Studies in Higher Educa­tion 26, 2, 271–285.

Craswell, Gail (2007) “Deconstructing the skills training debate in doctoral education”. Higher Education Research & Development 26, 4, 377–391.

“Doctoral studies in Europe: excellence in researcher training” (2007) Available online at <>. Accessed on 03.05.2013.

“Doktoriõppe üleminekuhindmine. Bio- ja keskkonnateadused” [Quality assessment of doctoral studies in biosciences and environment.] (2011) Available online at <http://>. Accessed on 02.05.2012.

Emilsson, Ulla M. and Eva Johnsson (2007) “Supervision of supervisors: on developing supervision in postgraduate education”. Higher Education Research & Development 26, 2, 163–179.

Green, Pam and John Bowden (2012) “Completion mindsets and contexts in doctoral supervision”. Quality Assurance in Education 20, 1, 66–80.

Halse, Christine and Janne Malfroy (2010) “Retheorizing doctoral supervision as professional work”. Studies in Higher Education 35, 1, 79–92.

Kehm, Barbara M. (2004) “Developing doctoral degrees and qualifications in Europe: good practice and issues of concern – a comparative analysis”. In Doctoral studies and qualifications in Europe and the United States: status and prospects, 279–296. Jan Sadlak, ed. Bucharest: UNESCO-CEPES.

Kiley, Margaret and Gerry Mullins (2005) “Supervisors’ conceptions of research: what are they?” Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 49, 3, 245–262.

Kärner, Anita (2009) Supervision and research training within the professional research com­munity: Seeking new challenges of doctoral education in Estonia”. (Dissertation of Tartu University.) Tartu: Tartu University Press.

Kärner, Anita and Väino Puura (2008) “Doctoral education in transition to knowledge-based society”. Trames 12, 1, 95–109.

Lee, Anne (2008) “How are doctoral students supervised? Concepts of doctoral research super­vision”. Studies in Higher Education 33, 3, 267–281.

Lepp, Liina, Mari Karm and Marvi Remmik (2013) “Supervisors’ activities in supporting PhD students in the supervisory process”. In Higher education at the crossroads: the case of Estonia, 247–264. Ellu Saar and René Mõttus, eds. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, and Wien: Peter Lang.

McAlpine, Lynn and Judith Norton (2006) “Reframing our approach to doctoral programs: an integrative framework for action and research”. Higher Education Research & Development 25, 1, 3–17.

McCormack, Coralie (2005) “Is non‐completion a failure or a new beginning? Research non‐completion from a student’s perspective”. Higher Education Research & Development 24, 3, 233–247.

Mowbray, Susan and Christine Halse (2010) “The purpose of the PhD: theorising the skills acquired by students”. Higher Education Research & Development 29, 6, 653–664.

Mullins, Gerry and Margaret Kiley (2002) “’It’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize’: how experienced examiners assess research theses”. Studies in Higher Education 27, 4, 369–386.

Mullins, Gerry and Margaret Kiley (2000). “Editorial – tying off the few knots”. In Quality in postgraduate research: Making ends meet, 1–5. Margaret Kiley and Gerry Mullins, eds. Advisory Centre for University Education: The University of Adelaide.

Murphy, Noela, John D. Bain and Linda Conrad (2007) “Orientations to research higher degree supervision”. Higher Education 53, 2, 209–234.

Ots, Aivar, Äli Leijen and Margus Pedaste (2012) “Relationship between doctoral students’ pro­ceeding in studies and coping with occupational and family responsibilities”. In Lifelong learning, 130–145. Jaan Mikk, Piret Luik and Maarika Veisson, eds. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, and Wien: Peter Lang.

Park, Chris (2005) “New Variant PhD: The changing nature of the doctorate in the UK”. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management 27, 2, 189–207.

Ryan, Gery W. and H. Russell Bernard (2003) “Techniques to identify themes”. Field Methods 15, 1, 85–109.

“Teaduskraadide põhimäärus”. [Statutes of academic degrees of the University of Tartu.] (2012). Available online at <>. Accessed on 05.05.2013.

Vassil, Kristjan and Mihkel Solvak (2012) “When failing is the only option: explaining failure to finish PhDs in Estonia”. Higher Education 64, 4, 503–516.

Back to Issue