“Research supervisors and information literacy”

A report commissioned by the Research Information Network (RIN) on the role of research supervisors in information literacy has just been published. I hope to highlight the findings of this report at the first research supervisors training session in mid-November.  However, for the benefit of those who may not be at this meeting, I have summarised the key findings which I hope will provide a basis for discussions between the research staff and the librarians.

The purpose of the ‘Research supervisors and information literacy’ report is to gauge the extent to which PhD supervisors, who are recognised for development of the research students’ subject knowledge, are also expert in imparting crucial information literacy skills and advising their students on how to develop these skills and where to find appropriate training. The RIN commissioned this report as a follow-up on the RIN’s “Mind the Skills Gap” report of 2008 in which a key finding was that research supervisors do not generally recognise the need for the research student to be ‘information literate’.  The findings are based on the results emanating from two online surveys (one targeted to supervisors and the other to research students) and five institutional case studies.

‘Information literacy’ is having the skills necessary to search, find, critically synthesise and evaluate appropriate information and to be able to use this information ethically by ensuring an understanding of intellectual property rights and attributing others’ work correctly.  In the context of postgraduate research, the necessary skills also include the ability to manage, preserve and curate one’s own research information and research data, whilst at the same time, understanding the new demands and opportunities for open access publishing and archiving.  These are the key skills identified in the Researcher Development Framework as outlined by Vitae in consultation with the British Library.

The report draws out new evidence and suggests ways in which supervisors’ attitudes and relationships with key institutional players and decision-makers play a vital role in how research students either do or do not develop the necessary information literacy skills. Examples of key staff include librarians responsible for supporting researchers and it is therefore important that all supervisors are aware of both the support the library team can provide, especially with respect to the literature search and review, and the (ongoing) training being offered.   Further, the report also recommends that the term ‘information literacy’ is widely debated so that there is clarity about what constitutes an ‘information literate’ researcher and who within the organisation is responsible for offering support for the different skills required by both the supervisor and the researcher.   The recommendation is that both supervisor and research students undertake a needs assessment, perhaps in the form of a PDP (personal development plan), to ensure an ongoing skills development.  Mentoring, group discussions and a programme of research seminars are some of the other ways in which staff and students can continue to be aware of new ways of in which to conduct research and/or make use of emerging technologies.

There is much to think about in this report and it is clear that “research supervisors’ practice, and research student satisfaction varies enormously between different supervisors, research groups, departments and institutions.”  The recommendations outlined above provide a good starting point for a wider discussion about what constitutes an ‘information literate’ researcher and ways in which we can ensure an ongoing training/support programme for all research supervisors and their students.


Research Information Network (RIN)

“Mind the skills gap: information-handling training for researchers” (2008)

“Research supervisors and information literacy” (2011)

Vitae Researcher Development Framework

Nazlin Bhimani

About Nazlin Bhimani

Research Support and Special Collections Librarian, UCL Institute of Education, London
This entry was posted in Research Support and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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