Supervision, mentorship and peer networks: how Estonian early career researchers get (or fail to get) support

Jaana Eigi, Katrin Velbaum, Endla Lõhkivi, Kadri Simm, Kristin Kokkov


The paper analyses issues related to supervision and support of early career researchers in Estonian academia. We use nine focus groups interviews conducted in 2015 with representatives of social sciences in order to identify early career researchers’ needs with respect to support, frustrations they may experience, and resources they may have for addressing them. Our crucial contribution is the identification of wider support networks of peers and colleagues that may compensate, partially or even fully, for failures of official supervision. On the basis of our analysis we argue that support for early career researchers should take into account the resources they already possess but also recognise the importance of wider academic culture, including funding and employment patterns, and the roles of supervisors and senior researchers in ensuring successful functioning of support networks. Through analysing the conditions for the development of early career researchers – producers of knowledge – our paper contributes to social epistemology understood as analysis of specific forms of social organisation of knowledge production.


early career; PhD student; supervision; mentorship; support network

Full Text:





Aavik, Kadri (ed.) (2016), Tipptase ja võrdsed võimalused: sootundlikud karjäärimudelid teadustee alguses? Eesti akadeemilised praktikad. Tallinn. (Highest level and equal opportunities: gender-sensitive career models at the beginning of academic career? Estonian academic practices).

Åkerlind, Gerlese S. (2005), ‘Postdoctoral researchers: Roles, functions and career prospects’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 21–40.

Ali, Parveen Azam, Roger Watson and Katie Dhingra (2016), ‘Postgraduate research students’ and their supervisors’ attitudes towards supervision’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 11, pp. 227–241.

Anderson, Baaska, Marc Cutright and Stoerm Anderson (2013), ‘Academic involvement in doctoral education: Predictive value of faculty mentorship and intellectual community on doctoral education outcomes’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 8, pp. 195–201.

Baker, Vicki L. and Meghan J. Pifer (2011), ‘The role of relationships in the transition from doctoral student to independent scholar’, Studies in Continuing Education, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 5−17.

Biddle, Justin B. (2014), ‘Can patents prohibit research? On the social epistemology of patenting and licensing in science’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, vol. 45, p. 14−23.

Bottoms, SueAnn; Jerine Pegg, Anne Adams, Ke Wu, H. Smith Risser and Anne L. Kern (2013), ‘Mentoring from the outside: The role of a peer mentoring community in the development of early career education faculty’, Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, vol. 21, no. 2, pp. 195–218.

Bui, Hong T. M. (2014), ‘Student-supervisor expectations in the doctoral supervision process for business and management students’, Business and Management Education in HE, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 12–27.

Cornér, Solveig, Erika Löfström and Kirsi Pyhältö (2017), ‘The relationships between doctoral students’ perceptions of supervision and burnout’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 12, pp. 91–106.

de Janasz, Suzanne C. and Sherry E. Sullivan (2004), ‘Multiple mentoring in academe: Developing the professorial network’, Journal of Vocational Behavior, vol. 64, no. 2, p. 263–283.

Eamets, Raul; Katrin Tamm, Dorel Tamm-Klaos, Merli Aksen, Anita Kärner and Eneli Kindsiko (2014), Doktoriõppe tulemuslikkuse analüüs. Uuringu 2.4 lõppraport, Tartu. (Analysis of the efficiency of PhD studies. Study 2.4 final report).

‘Early-career researchers need fewer burdens and more support’ (2016), Nature, vol. 538, no. 7626, p. 427−427.

Eigi, Jaana; Pille Põiklik, Endla Lõhkivi and Katrin Velbaum (2014), ‘Supervision and early career work experiences of Estonian humanities researchers under the conditions of project-based funding’, Higher Education Policy, vol. 27, no. 4, p. 453−468.

Foote, Kenneth E. (2010), ‘Creating a community of support for graduate students and early career academics’, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, vol. 34, no. 1, p. 7–19.

Hemmings, Brian (2012), ‘Sources of research confidence for early career academics: A qualitative study’, Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 171–184.

Hunter, Karen H. and Kay Devine (2016), ‘Doctoral students’ emotional exhaustion and intentions to leave academia’, International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 11, pp. 35–61.

Kemp, Matthew W.; Timothy J. Molloy, Marina Pajic and Elaine Chapman (2013), ‘Peer relationships and the biomedical doctorate: A key component of the contemporary learning environment’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 370–385.

Laudel, Grit and Jochen Gläser (2008), ‘From apprentice to colleague: The metamorphosis of early career researchers’, Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, vol. 55, no. 3, pp. 387–406.

Litalien, David and Frédéric Guay (2015), ‘Dropout intentions in PhD studies: A comprehensive model based on interpersonal relationships and motivational resources’, Contemporary Educational Psychology, vol. 41, pp. 218–231.

Maidla, Margus (2016), ‘Kolm küsimust doktoriõppe süsteemi kohta’, Sirp, 04.11.2016 (‘Three questions concerning the doctoral education system’).

Masso, Jaan and Kadri Ukrainski (2009), ‘Competition for public project funding in a small research system: The case of Estonia’, Science and Public Policy, vol. 36, no. 9, pp. 683–695.

Müller, Ruth (2014), ‘Postdoctoral life scientists and supervision work in the contemporary university: A case study of changes in the cultural norms of science’, Minerva: A Review of Science, Learning and Policy, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 329–349.

Price, Emma, Brian Coffey and Amy Nethery (2015), ‘An early career academic network: What worked and what didn’t’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol. 39, no. 5, p. 680–698.

Puura, Väino, Tõnu Lehtsaar and Anita Kärner (2004), PHARE projekti ‘Meetmete kogumi väljatöötamine doktoriõppe tugevdamiseks Eestis’ aruanne. Tartu. (Report of the PHARE project ‘Developing a body of measures for strengthening doctoral education in Estonia’).

Scaffidi, Amelia K. and Judith E. Berman (2011), ‘A positive postdoctoral experience is related to quality supervision and career mentoring, collaborations, networking and a nurturing research environment’, Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education Research, vol. 62, no. 6, pp. 685–698.

Sinclair, Jennifer, Robyn Barnacle and Denise Cuthbert (2014), ‘How the doctorate contributes to the formation of active researchers: What the research tells us’, Studies in Higher Education, vol. 39, no. 10, pp. 1972–1986.

Taylor, Stanley Edward (2012), ‘Changes in doctoral education: Implications for supervisors in developing early career researchers’, International Journal for Researcher Development, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 118–138.

Thomas, J. Denard, Laura Gail Lunsford and Helena A. Rodrigues (2015), ‘Early career academic staff support: Evaluating mentoring networks’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 37, no. 3, p. 320–329.

Ülikooliseadus, RT I 1995, 12, 119. (Universities Act)

van de Schoot, Rens; Mara A. Yerkes, Jolien M. Mouw and Hans Sonneveld (2013), ‘What took them so long? Explaining PhD delays among doctoral candidates’, PLoS One, vol. 8, no. 7, e68839.

Woolderink, Marla; Katarina Putnik, Hannerieke van der Boom and Gonnie Klabbers (2015), ‘The voice of PhD candidates and PhD supervisors. A qualitative exploratory study amongst PhD candidates and supervisors to evaluate the relational aspects of PhD supervision in the Netherlands’. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, vol. 10, pp. 217–235.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.