Thing 6: Tools for Successful Supervisions

Sarah Stein and Kwong Nui Sim

cartoon office environment
'Office' by Dali

The completion of a PhD thesis is a unique kind of effort between a doctoral researcher/student and the supervisors/advisors. The research project that is documented in the thesis is the student’s work, of course, but the support, guidance and advice provided by supervisors/advisors are there to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of getting from “an idea” to designing and implementing the research project to writing about it in the thesis document, and ultimately completion of the degree.

To aid that collaboration among all parties involved in the process there are some tools that help and support file sharing, portfolio creation, and developing one’s own online PhD ‘office’.

Developing your Online PhD/research ‘Office’

Most of us think about an office as a physical space. We work in an office, hold meetings, have work spaces and tables, books and other materials on shelves; we have filing cabinets and places to store things. Also, we each make our workspaces look and feel right so that while we are in that physical space we feel settled and are able to concentrate.

When an office works well, we have things where we can find them and they are the way we want to find them; the ‘right’ tools are on hand for the job we are working on. There is a certain atmosphere that is conducive to the way we like to work. It can be an ever-evolving process of getting one’s office ‘just right’, but it is so important because our office can be extremely important to the way we think and to the work that we do. Getting our work “flow” right is the aim!

Of course, we can extend our office workspace beyond the physical. Digital technologies and mobile devices assist us to make seamless the connection between the physical and virtual aspects of our office space. But, just as setting up our physical office space can take time, so too can setting up our virtual office space.

When working with supervisors, it is very important for you to have your office in order so that when they are invited into your “office” you can focus on what is really important, with the office playing the vital role of enabling communication and interaction, and creation, manipulation and exploration of data, resources and materials.

While you can create the sense of an online office yourself, here are a couple of examples of tools that can be the ‘shell’, that ‘holds together’ a variety of different digital online technologies that you might typically find in an office. Experiment with them with the aim of getting your workflow just right for you.

  1. Office 365 ( allows access to any of the Microsoft Office suite of applications from anywhere, as long as you can connect to the internet.

University of Otago

  • For students

  • For staff – Find information about Office 365 on Pātaka

Auckland University of Technology

  • For staff and students

(See the forum post on this Thing for equivalent resources for our other institutions, and to add your own.)

  1. Google ( has a suite of applications covering a range of storage, communication and interaction possibilities. Just like your own physical office space, you can set a Google office up to suit yourself and your way of working.

  2. The range supported by your institution The links below go to each University website, showing the range of tools and applications that your University supports. Remember that you are not limited to the institution-supported tools and technologies, so feel free to explore and experiment. It all comes down to you selecting the best combination to suit your study and work approach and habits, your project, and your context – and that includes your supervisors/advisors.

University of Otago

Auckland University of Technology

  • Staff & Students - Students -

rocky landscape
I only store my files in locations featured in 'The Librarian 2: Return to King Solomon's Mines'

File Sharing

Cloud-based file services enable the sharing of files over the internet. They can be used simply to distribute files, or to work collaboratively on the same file.

Some examples:

  1. Dropbox ( is a personal cloud storage service used for file sharing and collaboration.

  2. Google Drive ( ) is a file storage and synchronisation service that allows storage, file sharing and mobility of content across devices.

  3. OneDrive ( is Microsoft's file hosting solution that allows users to synchronise files and access them later from a web browser or mobile device.

  4. Slideshare ( is a slide hosting service where users can upload files privately or publicly in several different presentation file formats. “Slidedecks” (collections of slides put together in to one presentation) can be viewed on the Slideshare site or embedded into other sites.

Portfolio Creation

Portfolios are used in many fields as a way to showcase expertise. Portfolio creation tools can be used to build digital portfolios.

  1. Mahara or Myportfolio ( is a multi-featured web application that can be used to build electronic portfolios. Mahara can help you to create journals and résumés. You can upload files and embed social media resources from the web into your portfolio. You can also collaborate with other users.

  2. OneNote ( is an online notebook which is part of the Microsoft Office group of programmes. While it is not specifically set up for portfolio creation, the flexibility within the application means that you can create a portfolio in any format or arrangement that suits your needs. You can embed media and links to other sites and materials on the internet. You can also share files with colleagues.

Questions/tasks for your Pod

  • Post a list of the main software, applications, digital tools and technologies you currently use and tell us about how you make them work as part of your PhD/doctoral/research office. In particular, how do they contribute to making the communication and interaction between researchers efficient and effective?

  • Suggest some useful applications you have found that others may find of use. You could generate this list within your Pod then share it more widely with the full 23 Things group.

  • Tell us the names of the applications, where to find them (a link)

  • Add a brief description of what each does. An example of how you are making it part of your virtual office will do the trick here!

  • And again…. Note how do they contribute to making the communication and interaction between members of your research/supervision/study group more efficient and effective?

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