Objective: The ability to form multiple learning relationships is a key element of the doctoral learning environment in the biomedical sciences. Of these relationships, that between student and supervisor has long been viewed as key. There are, however, limited data to describe the student perspective on what makes this relationship valuable. In the present study, we discuss the findings of semi-structured interviews with biomedical Ph.D. students from the United Kingdom and the United States to: i) determine if the learning relationships identified in an Australian biomedical Ph.D. cohort are also important in a larger international student cohort; and ii) improve our understanding of student perceptions of value in their supervisory relationships.
Study design: 32 students from two research intensive universities, one in the United Kingdom (n = 17), and one in the United States (n = 15) were recruited to participate in a semi-structured interview. Verbatim transcripts were transcribed, validated and analysed using a Miles and Huberman method for thematic analysis.
Results: Students reported that relationships with other Ph.D. students, post-doctoral scientists and supervisors were all essential to their learning. Effective supervisory relationships were perceived as the primary source of high-level project guidance, intellectual support and confidence. Relationships with fellow students were viewed as essential for the provision of empathetic emotional support. Technical learning was facilitated, almost exclusively, by relationships with postdoctoral staff.
Conclusions: These data make two important contributions to the scholarship of doctoral education in the biomedical sciences. Firstly, they provide further evidence for the importance of multiple learning relationships in the biomedical doctorate. Secondly, they clarify the form of a 'valued' supervisory relationship from a student perspective. We conclude that biomedical doctoral programs should be designed to contain a minimum level of formalised structure to promote the development of multiple learning relationships that are perceived as key to student learning.