Feedback literacy and doctoral education

Feedback is arguably a signature pedagogy of doctoral education, but many of the common dilemmas and challenges for the implementation of effective feedback processes tend to occur. How much feedback is enough, or when is it too much? How does one balance advice with development of doctoral student autonomy? How to critique work-in-progress without discouraging a research student or causing negative emotional reactions?

Having read quite a bit of literature on feedback in doctoral education, I felt that some of the complexity of learning-focused feedback approaches wasn’t always fully realized. For example, in their recent review of literature, Chugh et al. (2022) list a number of features of effective feedback in doctoral supervision, including frequent, specific and explicit but this seems indicative of an old paradigm view of feedback as information about student work. Furthermore, frequent, specific and explicit feedback might sometimes constrain doctoral researchers rather than empower them. Notably significant developments in broader higher education literature, such as new paradigm feedback and feedback literacy, seem largely underplayed or ignored in the literature on feedback in doctoral education.

I resolved to try to explore feedback literacy in the context of doctoral supervision. With my co-investigators Jisun Jung and Yongyan Li, we initially proposed quite an ambitious research project focused on the practices and beliefs of supervisors and students in our faculty. Unfortunately, our external funding proposal was not accepted and we settled for a scaled down project in which we just focused on supervisors: interviewing 20 colleagues about their supervision practices, their views of feedback and its enactment within and beyond the supervision process (Carless, Jung and Li, 2023). Our paper has just come out in Studies in Higher Education (impact factor 4.2, acceptance rate 5%).

One of our take-away findings was the role of authentic feedback (cf. Dawson et al., 2021) as part of socialization into ways of working prevalent in academia, most notably presenting at conferences and submitting to journals (Carless, Jung and Li, 2023). These scholarly activities involve opportunities to elicit and receive feedback. The enactment of feedback, namely making use of insights or suggestions, is one of the hallmarks of peer review in academia. After all, if you want to improve your manuscript and be accepted for publication, enactment of feedback is required, or at least robust justification of why reviewer feedback has not been acted upon. We define feedback enactment in doctoral education as processes in which doctoral researchers make use of diverse feedback inputs to enhance their knowledge and skills (Carless, Jung and Li, 2023, p.3).

Our work also provides a starting-point for doctoral supervisor feedback literacy. Undercurrents in the data included: extended supervisor conceptualizations of feedback going beyond comments on work-in-progress involving dialogue and co-construction of insights congruent with sociocultural learning theories; emphasis on follow-up and the enactment of feedback as a fundamental goal of feedback exchanges; authentic feedback of different forms acting to socialize students into professional norms; and reflective dimensions of supervisor feedback literacy. These starting-points require further investigation, whereas the feedback literacies required of doctoral researchers seem crucial but were beyond the scope of this particular research study.

In sum, our article makes the case for, and exemplifies, a broader view of feedback than comments from supervisors; argues for feedback socialization through authentic feedback; offers a definition of feedback enactment; and invites further research into feedback literacy in doctoral education. An implication for research and practice is that feedback at doctoral level involves broad socialization interactions with a wide range of individuals including and beyond the supervision process. Enabling and facilitating these kinds of interaction are part of supervisors’ feedback literacies.


Carless, D., J. Jung and Y. Li. 2023. “Feedback as Socialization in Doctoral Education: Towards the Enactment of Authentic Feedback.” Studies in Higher Education.

Chugh, R., S. Macht, and B. Harreveld. 2022. “Supervisory Feedback to Postgraduate Research Students: A Literature Review.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 47(5): 683-697.

Dawson, P., D. Carless, and P.P.W. Lee. 2021. “Authentic Feedback: Supporting Learners to Engage in Disciplinary Feedback Practices.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 46(2): 286-296.