Some professional practices come with an established and documented set of practices. When I read Accounting in my undergraduate studies, Bookkeeping seemed a little like that.
Research supervision practice is part of a broader arena of academic practice and sits somewhere between an academic’s teaching practice and their research practice. Most research supervisors start practicing research supervision based on what they remember their own supervisor did when they were being supervised themselves.
This common provenance of research supervision practice, based on observations when we were being supervised, is the first reason why this particular aspect of academic practice needs constant reflection. There is no certainty that the practices that we observed and remember, were either good or contemporary practices. Just the proviso that a student has completed their research degree is insufficient endorsement for the quality of the research supervision.
Some observations made in the context of being supervised may fail to register the nuances of the practice or the rationale behind the practice. The reasoning a supervisor has used to justify a particular intervention with their student may not hold relevance over time. Since research supervision emerged as an important aspect of professional academic practice to be examined in the mid 1980s there have been some significant shifts in the culture of academic work and particularly university based research degrees, and these may have changed the rationale for various interventions. For example
- The shift towards project management within research and therefore research supervision.
- The growth in the general acceptance of academic teaching and an emphasis on research supervision as pedagogy.
- The emergence of a number of electronic devices that can assist with various aspects of research supervision such as Plagiarism detectors Feedback writing programs
Even for an experienced research supervisor, the continual change in priorities that make up the research culture have given rise to reconsideration of what is involved in undertaking that element of your academic work.
In Australia, the Post Graduate Research Experience Questionnaire, and in other countries similar graduate experience surveys, only survey those students who have completed their research degree. Many of the students who have received poor research supervision are also in the group of students who drop out of the degree, and without exit surveys, their opinions of the quality of their research supervision may go undetected.
For these reasons it is important for an individual practitioner academic to continually explore avenues for keeping themselves up to date with their research supervision and also trying to improve the quality of their practice. This continual improvement acts as a buffer to what appears to be a parallel continual growth in workloads and expectations, and by continually seeking to work more effectively it allows some leeway in the constant growth in work portfolios.