In other blogs I have emphasised the importance of the relationship in providing a successful candidature. In contemporary times of computer dating, where you can match up likely partners in a relationship, it is viable to look to how well matched a student and their supervisor might be.
This is not new thinking. In fact, several decades ago, Ingred Moses, one of the early writers on research supervision in Australia, devised a set of questions to enable research supervisors to elicit some of the expectations that their students might hold about the candidature. The essential elements of those questions are as follows:
1. Whose responsibility is it to select the topic?
2. Whose responsibility is it to decide the theoretical frame of reference for the study?
3. Who should devise the appropriate course of study to address the learning requirements?
4. Who should ensure the student has access to all the necessary resources for them to undertake their investigation?
5. Is the student supervisor relationship a personal one or a professional one?
6. Who should initiate meetings between the student and their supervisor?
7. Who should check that the student is meeting required milestones?
8. Who should make the decision if the investigation needs to be terminated?
9. Who should ensure that the dissertation is close to finished as the final deadline approaches?
10. Who chooses the methodology of the investigation?
11. who is responsible for making sure that the level of academic writing is sufficient for this type of degree?
12. Who should initiate the request for critique of the student’s writing?
13. Who should ensure that the research student acquires a set of graduate research capabilities
This last question is a new one I have added in response to the emergence of the graduate research capability agenda which advocates that students be aware of the range of skills to which they are exposed during their candidature such that they can discuss their repertoire of skills with a potential employer.
Each of these questions generates a debate in itself pertinent to contemporary research practice. These debates move between positions of funded research for which both the topic and the methodology have been specified by the funding body and self directed research; between learner centred supervision and supervisor centred supervision.
The beauty of these questions is that the answers vary across different research situations and over time. The same questions posed at different points in candidature will lead to different answers.
For the purposes of this blog I am suggesting that the questions be posed within the first few weeks of candidature. Both the research student and their supervisor answer the questions separately, rating their response in a five category scale – a 1 representing the supervisor being responsible and a 5 representing the student being responsible. When both the supervisor and their student have completed the questions, compare results ahead of a discussion about each other’s expectations. The supervisor can take a lead here by undertaking a little analysis of the results.
The first level of analysis is about matching up. These questions are indicators of expectations of responsibility and those expectations will change through the candidature. The important analytical aspect when this tool is used any time in the candidature is to explore how well the expectations align. Where there is non alignment then, in a second level of analysis, it is important to look to the official regulations in documents such as PhD regulations or Manuals of Procedure and Policy, to ascertain what official agreements may have been made and what these agreements suggest in terms of individual’s responsibilities.
The third level of analysis is to ascertain the areas where the supervisor is expecting the student to be responsible for a particular element of the candidature and identify how that shift in responsibility can be scaffolded so that an area that the student does not feel they should be responsible for is progressively taken on board. Ideally, the more the student takes ownership of the particular investigation, the more they are investing in its completion and taking responsibility for solving the problems that arise.
This analysis not only clarifies some expectations the student may have about who does what in university based research, but it also speaks to the student’s understanding of the research process. Unanswered questions provide valuable signposts for where, as research supervisor, you may need to start building the student’s knowledge of the research process.