|PhDs flying the nest (D Williams/Pensthorpe Nature/PA)|
Most people associate this time of year with bonfires, poppies and the ever-earlier appearance of Christmas decorations in local shops.
For me however, the end of the year marks another kind of annual event - doctoral researchers finishing.
October is the official submission deadline and there is always a frantic rush over summer to try to get the manuscript sorted. Some of course take a little longer and fall into what in the UK is called 'thesis pending'.
So the mad scrabble of nearly-done-doctors writing and rewriting, and me reading and commenting can go on until Christmas.
To be truthful, the end of any supervision relationship is always a bit of a mixed thing - both happy and sad. There is a slow handover that goes on through the data analysis and the production of the big book.
As supervisor, this must become not my research and not my thesis at the end point. The doctoral researcher is now the expert and I am not.
But by this point I'm also very close to their work in an unexpert kind of way, and I sometimes find this can make it hard to get the necessary distance to still be helpfully critical.
There is also the anticipation of the final result, and an expectation of the excitement that comes from being doctored.
I share this anticipation with the doctoral researchers, of course, but it is always modified by the knowledge that I will miss the people I work with. I always associate this time of year with a kind of empty nest feeling.
We hear a lot about the problems of doctoral supervision. There are countless stories online about academics who deal with their students indifferently, see them irregularly, and give every indication that they don't even care if the student passes or fails.
There are also stories about those who expect their students to become fervent acolytes, reverentially deferring to supervisory superior intellect and accomplishments long after graduation.
We don't often hear about the majority of supervisors who try to balance support, critique and structure with the varying levels of care that doctoral researchers need and want.
The American philosopher of education Nell Noddings is helpful when thinking about the kind of care involved in doctoral supervision. She discriminates between caring for someone and caring about them in a more abstract and generalisable way.
The implication is that it is possible to care about what happens to doctoral researchers in general - in fact, this is a precondition for caring for an individual researcher during a supervision relationship. However, this is not the same as caring for them.
A supervisor might care in general, but conduct the actual supervision as if it were an instrumental interaction, marked by unspoken power relationships and structured heavily by institutional demands.
Noddings sees care as an ethical practice, and one which occurs through encounter. She drew on Martin Buber's notion of encounter, which argued that encounter occurs when we meet as people (I-thou), not as person and object (I-it). The ideal encounter is one that embodies person-person interactions, practices and ethos.
This is light years away from any supervision in which the doctoral researcher is merely an object to be audited, an entity to be got through the three year process, simply an upright research project and thesis.
According to Noddings, care is reciprocal, not one-way - both parties gain from the encounter, both give to the relationship.
Both people need to be engaged in the practices of care and recognise that care is being practiced. Care is dependent, Noddings concludes, on trust, empathy and continuity, all of which are built up through the encounter, reciprocity and dialogue.
My own experience of supervision, and the relationships I see my colleagues working to establish, may not always achieve this ideal, but I do think they go quite some distance towards it.
I don't see a lot of supervisors and doctoral researchers who are distant and disengaged. Rather, I see people who are each invested in the conversations and partnership that develop over three years.
So it is hardly surprising that when the time comes to complete the doctorate by submitting the thesis, this comes with mixed feelings - joy, accompanied by some sadness.
Of course, I keep in touch with most of the people I've worked with, some of them more than others. However I'm always mindful that they are their own researchers now and don't need me to be telling them what and how to do things, if they ever did.
Some graduated doctors want continued contact and some don't. Many early career researchers I speak to feel somewhat cut off from their supervisors once they have graduated. For whatever reason, the relationship doesn't continue. Others have very strong and ongoing connections.
I do try to do what I can to help people get jobs and get on.
This ranges from simply passing on information about vacancies and funding opportunities to reading bids, book proposals, continuing to co-write, inviting people to contribute publications to special issues and edited collections, participating in conference symposia and even finding the odd bit of work on my own research projects.
I like to think that I am there if needed, rather than an obligation to stay in touch with.
Whichever way it turns out in the end, doctoral supervision is at least a three-year relationship and that's not an inconsiderable amount of time to spend with someone.
We are engaged in high stakes pedagogical interaction, not simply intellectual in nature but also emotional. So maybe supervisor sadness is something we ought to acknowledge a little bit more?
Pat Thomson is professor of education and director of the Centre for Advanced Studies at the University of Nottingham - follow her on Twitter @thomsonpat