One aspect of research supervision as project management is evaluating whether individual input of resources provides useful contributions to a project and/or deliverables which can add value to the project.
Perhaps one of the largest resource inputs is the amount of time which you as a research supervision might be contributing to the project. From the perspective of a research student, their research supervision is a given, and may not be a resource the efficiency of which they evaluate. They may not even see this as one of the resource inputs. In that regard it can often be a hidden input. Usually the only time a research student evaluates the efficiency or valuing adding nature of the research supervision is when they are not receiving any supervision or when they are receiving so much that they are feeling micro managed.
A research supervisor needs to regularly ask themself whether the time spent with their student is the most effective use of their time and of the student’s time.
In my work coaching research supervisors, this sort of evaluation often is embedded in other questions that research supervisors ask, such as:
- How do you balance the workload and care for the student (with emotional issues)?
- How do you ensure you guide your student so they get through?
- How can we ensure that our students are not left isolated and unsupported?
- How do you provide sufficient writing support but not so much that you end up writing the dissertation?
- When is enough supervision enough?
In the time poor work environment in which many university academics work, it is always important to evaluate our use of time. When I originally trained as a Time and Motion analyst with W. D. Scotts we encouraged professionals to monitor the time taken on individual tasks to begin to see how much time was actually being taken. This can be done using a simple logging system that you note the start and finishing time of anything involving a particular student. Although an essentially Taylorist approach to your work, it does start to quantify how much time is being devoted to the task of supervising a student and this data can be useful when you are discussing real work loads of supervising students.
A second level of practice reflectiveness is asking yourself what deliverables arise from your investment of time in research supervision? This sort of question helps to focus on the purpose of research supervision as advancing the student’s completion and also helps you to avoid the trap of research supervision becoming a socialising opportunity for both you and your student. In the same vein you can ask yourself whether you can see evidence of your meetings with the student paying off in either their ability to take responsibility for their project or in the development of their researching and writing skills? What you are endeavouring to develop is an independent student who begins to initiate actions about their research project and seeks clarification or affirmation from you rather than continual guidance. You are constantly looking for evidence of a student who is developing into an independent researcher.
Another way of evaluating the project advancement of your research supervision meetings is to review the content of the meetings you have with your student. A good question you can ask yourself once you look at this content is whether you are the most qualified person to address these issues. This is particularly the case when emotional issues arise that are occupying the meetings and you need to question whether a counsellor might be the more appropriate person to deal with this.
When is enough, enough?
One of the things that you can begin to do to estimate when the time you have invested may be enough for you and for your student, is to start to review the readiness of the dissertation for examination. The dissertation is the major deliverable in a research student’s project.
In order to ascertain how ready your student’s dissertation is you will need to look at the criteria provided by a university to an examiner when they are invited to examine the dissertation. These criteria are the quality indicators for a successful dissertation. Looking out for what examiners are asked to look out for provides a way of ensuring the research supervision sessions are focussed.
One of the professional development options that will enhance this particular aspect of your research supervision is to look for opportunities to examine a dissertation. The sooner you can examine a dissertation yourself this will provide invaluable knowledge that will pay off both for your examination practices as well as your supervision practices.
You may reach a point in the student’s candidature when you have to say to them that the dissertation is ready to be submitted and to undergo peer review by examiners rather than being continually reviewed by you. This is perhaps the polite way of suggesting enough is enough.