By Nadine Bekkouche

For many years now, higher education policy has noted the importance of training students for the competitive global knowledge economy. Enrolments in graduate programs have increased, and are projected to continue increasing. But the success of graduate training in producing high-value workers is debatable. Many graduates of competitive research programs struggle to find jobs, inside or outside academia. We are left wondering: What is the value of graduate education in the professional development and advancement of students? What factors explain its success (or ill-success) in training the intellectual human capital we need?

In posing such questions, we have to examine the processes of graduate education. A mainstay of graduate research training is the tradition of supervision. Academic supervision has its roots in European universities of the 19th century, and is imbued with power dynamics and expectations that are unlike those in the professional world.

Academic supervision often includes an employer-employee relationship, as supervisors hire students to work on their research projects. This experience is often students’ main professional development experience. However, it is formed by managers with no training in management or personnel development, and whose professional goals are often at odds with those of the students (the student needs to graduate; the supervisor needs cheap labour). How valuable are these experiences as students prepare to compete in the global knowledge economy?

Supervision in the 21st century needs rethinking. The dominant role of supervisors is no longer that of mentor to a younger generation of scholars who will replace them. Today, their role is to train talent for a new economy. Supervisors need support to accomplish this mission. It is a stark departure from the traditions of the past, but it is necessary to achieving the goals of graduate training today.

Author bio

Nadine Bekkouche is completing a PhD in Education at Concordia University, specializing in educational technology and graduate education. She has a MSc in Medical Psychology from Uniformed Services University, in Maryland. She has extensive experience working as an academic editor and coach, and has consulted with businesses on educational programs.


Bitzer, E. (2010). Postgraduate research supervision: more at stake than research training. Acta Academica, Supplement 1, 23 – 56.

Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Strohl, J. (2013). Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal. Washington, DC: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Cassuto, L. (2015). The Graduate School Mess: What Caused It and How We Can Fix It. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

Chohan, U. W. (2016, January 14). Young, educated and underemployed: Are we building a nation of PhD baristas? The Conversation. Retrieved from

Council of Graduate Schools. (2007). Graduate Education and the Public Good. Retrieved from

Grant, B. M. (2005) The Pedagogy of Graduate Supervision: figuring the relations between supervisor and student. PhD thesis, University of Auckland, Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Hewitt, T. (2018). Underemployment of PhDs hurts research. Retrieved from

Kwok, R. (2016). Flexible working: Science in the gig economy. Nature, 550, 419–421.

Redekopp, D. E., & Huston, M. (2020). Strengthening mental health through effective career development: a practitioner’s guide. Toronto, ON: CERIC.

Schroeder, S. M., Terras, K. L. (2015). Advising experiences and needs of online, cohort, and classroom adult graduate learners. NACADA Journal, 35(1), 42-55. doi:10.12930/NACADA-13-044.

Shannon, A. G. (1995). Research degree supervision: ‘more mentor than master’. The Australian Universities’ Review, 38(2), 12-15.

Zhao, J., Ferguson, S. J., Dryburgh, H., Rodriguez, C., Gibson, L., Wall, K., Subedi, R. (2016). Are Young Bachelor’s Degree Holders Finding Jobs that Match their Studies? Census of Population, 2016. Census in Brief. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.

Zhao, C-M., Golde, C. M., & McCormick, A. C. (2007). More than a signature: how advisor choice and advisor behaviour affect doctoral student satisfaction. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 31(3), 263-281. DOI: 10.1080/03098770701424983