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A guide to assistant professor supervision

Assistant professors are required, according to their job structure, to complete a university pedagogical programme and to be assigned a supervisor. This guide concerns assistant professor supervision with a particular focus on the development of teaching skills, including student supervision and examinations.

The material is based on the current regulations regarding the career structure of the academic staff with research and teaching duties at universities, and reflects the findings from a recent study made by the the CED regarding local practices and experiences with assistant professor supervision at Aarhus University.

The role of assistant professor supervisor

The assistant professor supervisor is part of the practical collegial effort to support the academic and professional development of an assistant professor. The assistant professor supervisor plays a special role in supporting the assistant professor's development of research-based teaching competencies, particularly in relation to their mandatory participation in the university pedagogical programme.

The assistant professor supervisor may have additional tasks and roles, such as providing guidance on research activities and career-related questions, as well as facilitating the integration of the assistant professor into the workplace. The specific roles and tasks of the individual assistant professor supervisor will vary depending on local practices.

Practical collegial supervision

The assistant professor supervisor serves as a collegial supervisor or mentor from whom the assistant professor can get inspiration, guidance, and advice, primarily in connection with the university pedagogical programme but also beyond. This effort is part of the overall practical collegial supervision, which involves multiple parties and provides informal support to assistant professors in the following four areas:

  1. Teaching competencies
  2. Research activities
  3. Career opportunities
  4. Integration in the workplace

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The extent to which the designated assistant professor supervisor is involved in these four areas and how the guidance tasks are distributed between the assistant professor supervisor and other colleagues and leaders may vary. This should be part of initial encounters to clarify the assistant professor supervisor’s role and tasks. 

Teaching competencies

The assistant professor supervisor’s role is particularly tied to the university pedagogical programme, and the aim in this regard is to:

  • Provide pedagogical guidance and support during the university pedagogical programme.
    Purpose: The assistant professor will be supported in expanding their pedagogical repertoire with new theoretically founded pedagogical and didactic models and tools.

More generally, both before and beyond the university pedagogical programme, the assistant professor supervisor can assist in developing the teaching competencies of the assistant professor by:

  • Initially helping the assistant professor develop a suitable plan for teaching and student supervision activities and examinations.
    Purpose: The assistant professor will gain experience with various forms of university teaching practices.
  • Offering supervision and feedback on content/curriculum, didactic considerations, planning and execution of teaching, preferably based on observations of the teaching.
    Purpose: The assistant professor will develop teaching competencies based on their own desires and needs.

The assistant professor supervisor may also conclude the pedagogical supervision process with a written pedagogical evaluation statement that describes the assistant professor’s teaching competencies. This can be useful to include in the final written assessment of the assistant professor's teaching qualifications, which according to the current regulation should be issued no later than 3 months before the end of the employment period. Additionally, it can serve as valuable documentation of the assistant professor’s teaching competencies in view of future appointments.

Both the designated assistant professor supervisor and the collegial environment are important resources for the development of the assistant professor’s teaching practice and ability to collaborate with colleagues on common teaching tasks.

Below you will find suggestions for support tools that can be useful in the practical collegial supervision of assistant professors during the university pedagogical programme, as well as the assistant professor's employment as a whole.

Research activities

The practical collegial supervision of the assistant professor's research and development activities will be context and situation dependent. In this regard, an assistant professor supervisor can be helpful:

  • Identifying the assistant professor's need for support regarding research plans and publication strategies as well as opportunities for project and grant applications. 
  • Acting as a sparring partner in matters concerning the assistant professor's research and development as well as in their participation in internal and external research environments. 
  • Mobilizing the collegial network to involve the assistant professor in relevant research and development activities.

Career opportunities

The assistant professor job category includes assistant professors, tenure-track positions, teaching assistant professors, other research staff, and postdocs with teaching obligations. Common for all is that they are fixed-term employment. There are no guarantees of permanent employment, even when the assistant professor meets the institutional expectations, and there is generally a widespread awareness of the challenges associated with this uncertainty.

According to current regulations, the university must:

"highlight the career perspectives of scientific staff, especially those in fixed-term positions. This is done, among other things, through ongoing discussions of career paths within and outside the university for each employee" (Retsinformation, 2019, p. 3)

Practical collegial supervision, including the line manager and assistant professor supervisor, can support the assistant professor by communicating clearly and precisely the quantitative and qualitative requirements and expectations that the department may have for the successful completion of the assistant professorship in order to become eligible for an associate professor position. In addition, colleagues and assistant professor supervisors can provide advice and guidance for a potential application for an associate professor position.

Integration in the workplace

Assistant professors, assistant professor supervisors, and other colleagues are mutually expected to find appropriate forms of interaction and collaboration. In relation to the integration of the assistant professor in the workplace, the assistant professor supervisor can be helpful with:   

  • Introducing assistant professors, especially those who are new to the environment, to the department and providing information about practical matters and relevant activities. They can also provide guidance and orientation regarding issues that generally affect assistant professors' academic development opportunities (research and teaching) and discuss various work-related issues that may be of concern. 
  • Encouraging other colleagues to be attentive and curious about what the assistant professor might be able to contribute to the workplace and what they might need. 
  • Taking the initiative for dialogue and joint activities. 
  • Encouraging the assistant professor and colleagues to discuss challenges and exchange tips and tricks regarding teaching, student interaction, follow-up on course evaluations, etc.

Support tools to assistant professor supervisors

As an assistant professor supervisor, you can make use of the following tools in your supervision: 


Here is an example of a ’blueprint’, i.e., an attempt to map the course of an assistant professorship, including the role of assistant professor supervisor (inspired by local practices and guidelines at AU):

Conversation guide

The conversation guide contains suggested questions, which the assistant professor supervisor can use to initiate a conversation with the assistant professor regarding various teaching-related areas:

Observation templates

Here, you will find (1) a template for observation of teaching and feedback, and (2) a template for observation of student supervision and feedback:  

Guide to collegial supervision

Here, you will find a brief introduction to collegial supervision in a narrow sense, i.e., as a particular dialogic technique to support and develop the practice and reflection abilities of the assistant professor.

You can choose between two types of collegial supervision with each their template: (1) for direct collegial supervision based on observation of the assistant professor’s teaching or student supervision; and (2) for indirect collegial supervision based on a developmental theme of the assistant professor’s own choice regarding teaching, supervision, examination, course and curriculum development, etc.

Guide to pedagogical evaluation

Here, you will find a guide on how to produce a pedagogical evaluation statement as a way to conclude the pedagogical supervision of the assistant professor: