Advancing Research Supervision practice by looking backwards

When academics move into the realm of research supervision as part of their professional practice, they do so with an established body of knowledge about this aspect of academic practice, which they have acquired through their own experiences of undertaking a research degree.

For some, their experiences of being supervised in a research degree were good experiences, and the knowledge of research supervision and the practices to which they were exposed are examples of good supervision practice.

For others, their experiences were challenging ones and regardless of whether what they were exposed to, were examples of good or bad research supervision, there is a desire to avoid those practices without really reflecting on them.

A third type of experience of being supervised is where there has been a lack of examples of good practice, but, because the candidature was unproblematic, this lack of good practice went un-noticed. As these research degree graduates move into supervising students themselves, they might adopt the practices to which they have been exposed without questioning whether or not they are good.

For all these reasons, it is important when a research supervisor begins their practice, that they consciously reflect on what they have carried into their professional practice from previous experiences. Reflective practice is one of the sound strategies for advancing research supervision, and particularly reflecting on the past, or the baggage of your own experiences of being supervised, can provide a means to move forward with your own repertoire of practices for research supervision.

Start of by remembering.
Think back to when you were being supervised in your own research degree. This may be quite recent or it may have been some years past. Try to clarify what sort of supervision you received and give it some substance. It helps to write down these memories so that you can really think about it.

Start to consider what might have been helpful strategies for you as a research student and what strategies might have hindered your progress or been unappreciated at the time. Hindsight sometimes gives a new light to a practice for which at the time we could see no purpose, but now, having completed the research degree, we see in a new light. You could even list these ideas down with pluses and minuses to indicate what helped and what didn’t help you in your candidature.

Once you start writing down your recollections, it is amazing how that can then fuel additional memories. What you are trying to do is to Brainstorm all the memories you can about receiving research supervision.

Sometimes you can marshal this collection of ideas into a particular agenda.

One of the exercises I encourage novice research supervisors to consider is

1. When I was completing my research degree, the best things about it were….( and finish that sentence)

2. When I was completing my research degree, the worst things about it were…( and finish that sentence)

In the final stages of this remembering and marshalling, we want to focus on the future. What sort of agendas can you see in yourself that you are intent on including in your own practice as a research supervisor? This is where this sort of reflection can be most valuable. The agenda that begins to emerge is a great way to start building up a repertoire of practices to enable you to meet that agenda.

In terms of this blog, and the four areas to which I write, you can ask yourself

  1. Is my agenda about pedagogy of research supervision?
  2. Is my agenda about building relationships in research supervision?
  3. Is my agenda about the management and project planning in research supervision?
  4. Is my agenda about the philosophical aspects of research supervision and advancing knowledge?

If you can identify one of these areas as a key agenda area, then you can click onto some of the articles related to that topic, to see if there are some strategies that might be useful to experimen with to try out in your emerging research supervision practice.

If you are keen to advance your research supervision in one or other areas, you may want to raise that as a comment you post to this blog, and I will respond to that with some suggestions of documented practices that might be useful in advancing your particular agenda.

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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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