Considering Narrative – Stories of research practice

Narrative as pedagogy involves the use of stories as a teaching device. The teacher either uses stories to teach or elicits stories from their pupils. It is a powerful pedagogy and one which has a provenance back to the early foundations of teaching.
It is worthwhile considering this pedagogy under an agenda of research supervision as pedagogy. Stories can be a powerful tool to illuminate what it means to do research and what it means to write about research. When a research supervisor shares their stories of undertaking their own research degree, they expose their research student to a reality of practice that can be often overlooked in the more theoretical teaching about research practice.
Stories work from the notion of a first person account. When we hear a story of how one practitioner has pursued their practice, this does not so much instruct as illuminate the practice. This has application to research practice in that different researchers bring to the practice different ways of undertaking investigations as well as different ways of solving the inherent problems of undertaking investigations. Stories help to elaborate the complex nature of research practice.
Stories can dispel some of the myths that occupy this particular space of adult learning. For example, to hear from your research supervisor how they struggled with a particular aspect of the research process – such as fathoming their way through literature to be able to establish what was already known about a topic – can encourage a research student that their own struggles are worthwhile and dispel the myth that research practice flows in a linear process.
As with any pedagogy, there is a tipping point at which the effectiveness of the particular intervention is brought into question. Narrative as pedagogy provides an important dilemma, because more narrative does not necessarily equate with better teaching. Choosing stories that are pertinent and useful and using them to highlight specific aspects of the research process is much more fruitful than continually going into the spiel ‘when I was doing my research degree…’. This same dilemma leads to a notion and sometimes a dislike for narrative in adult education, in that learners are on the receiving end of a series of war stories which sometimes loose the focus of teaching a particular thing and only serve to glorify the storyteller.
To avoid this dilemma the storyteller (the research supervisor) needs to remember why they are telling their stories.
1. To illuminate the practice and affirm solving real research problems in practice
2. To name elements of the practice such that a student begins to recognise graduate research capabilities
3. To encourage and motivate your student that difficult times can be survived.
4. To promote reflective practice
As this blog attests, there is also value in research supervisors telling their stories of research supervision practice. This helps to illuminate the vast complexity of research supervision practice, and also starts to name specific strategies within the repertoire of professional academic practice.


About the (research) supervisor's friend

I work at a university helping university academics who are supervising research students. I am a research supervisor myself and also work as a research coach for people undertaking their research I was originally in a Management Faculty and when I completed my doctoral studies on 'doing a doctorate' I started working with research supervisors to help them improve their practice.
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