Practicing and reflecting on the practice of research supervision.

Any professional practice can benefit from reflective practice. Finding the time to reflect is always the challenge.
Research supervision is the same. The most profound way to advance your practice of research supervision is to make time to reflect on how your practice is going.
There are two types of reflection on practice I want to refer to.
1. In the moment reflection
2. after the moment reflection

In the moment reflection
Reflecting on your practice while you are practising is the most difficult form of reflective practice. It requires you to think about what you are doing while you are doing it. It may be in the middle of a research supervision session when you think ‘is this going well?’. It may be when you are reading a student’s draft and you ask yourself ‘is my feedback going to help this student to improve their writing?’. It is a little easier to reflect on your practice when you are not engaging in discussion. In most conversations there are moments when you are listening to the other person and that would be an ideal time to let the thought ‘is this going well?’ slip into your head.

After the moment reflection
In some ways it is easier to wait until a particular event in your practice is finished before you start asking yourself how it went. The more you reflect after the event the more you will find it easier to grab these moments of reflection during your practice and not loose concentration of your actual practice.

With a complex practice, such as research supervision, reflection in or after the event can be overwhelming. There are a number of strategies that can help your reflection. This then becomes a form of guided reflection.
1. Ask yourself what you had hoped would be an outcome of a particular meeting and check whether this outcome is seeming likely (in – the – moment) or was achieved (after –the-moment)

2. Think about the stakeholders of this particular service provision
a. There is you – the service provider.
b. There is the student
c. And there are a range of other stakeholders all of whom are expecting something out of your engagement with your student.
If there is disagreement about what can be achieved, where does your bias lie: With you, with your student (student centred) or with the organisation and the university?

3. Break the practice down so that you begin reflecting on smaller and smaller elements of the practice. That is the purpose of this blog – to help to break down the practice into smaller aspects so that you can consider how well that particular aspect of your research supervision practice is developing.
4. A checklist is a great way to help you make sure that you have covered all you intended to cover. Many research supervisors use this in the early stages of meeting with a research student, not so much to aid reflection, but to make sure that they have covered all the important areas for a beginning researcher.
5. One strategy I use a lot with beginning research supervisors is to ask them to reflect on their own experiences of being supervised. I call this the provenance of their research supervision practice. In many ways, what we observed when we were on the receiving end of research supervision forms the first ideas of our practice. Anything that a novice supervisor can describe about the ways in which they were supervised provides the framework for developing their own awareness of research supervision. You can then ask yourself which of the list of strategies that you have written worked for you?’ This starts to categorise some of the strategies that you have observed into ones which were effective (at least for them being on the receiving end) and ones which weren’t effective.
6. The dilemma of drawing on observed experience is that it is hard to know what is considered good research supervision practice. Here is where a little bit of the Higher Degree by Research (HDR) literature comes into play. It acts as a reviewing mechanism to think about the sorts of practices you have observed. I remember struggling with developing adequate academic writing skills as a research student then being amused and illuminated when I saw an article by Brown (1994) describing many research supervisors attempts to influence academic writing as ‘osmosis’. This resonated for me as a non effective research supervision strategy and forced me to look for more targeted strategies such as the use of feedback that articulates the problem I am finding when I read drafts of academic work.

If you devote any time at all to reflecting on those practices this will help to improve the practice and to improve the outcomes of the practice – namely a higher possibility of a research student completing their research degree.

Brown, R. (1994). The ‘big picture’ about managing writing. Quality in Postgraduate Education. O. Zuber-Skerritt and Y. Ryan (Eds). London, U.K, Kogan Page.:


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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One Response to Practicing and reflecting on the practice of research supervision.

  1. Amazing content, thank You !!

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