Facilitating your student’s Reflective Practice of their candidature

In the very early stages of my own research career I was introduced to Schon’s (1983) the Reflective Practitioner. It was a text and a concept that underpinned my academic life, in that all of the subjects I taught embraced reflective practice as an essential ingredient for professional development.
It is not surprising that reflective practice is an essential ingredient of most professional development programs for research supervisors.

Although the concept is simple – that one reflects on their practice – this becomes complicated in that some practices are complex, and embarking on reflective practice opens up a range of considerations; and reflective practice is time consuming and some professionals feel that they do not have time for this introspection.

I have always felt that the time taken to reflect is well retrieved with a greater understanding of one’s practice. In this regard it is important for an emerging researcher to also learn to reflect on their practice. That is not to suggest that this is not something that is happening naturally: research students are likely to be going through a range of reflections from the excitement of seeing their investigation progress to the frustration of it not progressing and to it sometimes stalling.

Adopting a position of facilitating reflective practice ensures that these experiences, once reflected on, lead to actionable knowledge, both for the immediate future of completing their research degree and for the long term in understanding their practice of research and improving their quality as a researcher.

In that I have written this blog from the framework of
1. Supervision as project management
2. Supervision as contribution to knowledge
3. Supervision as pedagogy
4. Supervision as relationship

I have adopted the same framework for exploring the issue of facilitating reflective practice.

Facilitating reflection about project management

As your student is engaged in project planning and monitoring for their research project, help them recognise this as project management so that on graduation they will have a command of project management language and recognition that, in keeping with the graduate research capabilities, they have research project management skills.

Project management can also introduce a different form of discipline into research practice, by identifying deadlines and working towards these milestones.

Facilitating reflection about the contribution to knowledge

As your student starts to consider what their research might lead to, reframe this to their contributions to knowledge – an essential ingredient and criteria for research practice. This may also extend to their realisations that they are making contributions to the field of their methodology as well as to the official topic.

Keeping a student focussed on the importance of making a contribution to knowledge also builds an accountability of actionable and useful outcomes of the process.

Facilitating reflection about the pedagogy
When we help students to understand how they are learning and how to recognise the ways they are learning, they can transfer this to any task. This can also lead them to nominating how best they might learn new skills.

By recognising how they learn they begin to recognise the scaffolding that is taking place to enable them to learn what they are learning. This is particularly important for the ways they learn how to write. Asking the question ‘What were the strategies that progressed their writing?’ might well provide the basis for their continuation as writers. Helping them identify tools that assisted them can lead to recommending these tools for others.

Facilitating reflection on the relationship
In the early stages of the research supervisor student relationship, the supervisor is often taking most of the initiative. Reflecting on the way in which the relationship is developing can alert students to moments when they take ownership for the direction of their investigation and start to initiate what they believe needs to happen. This is a key indicator for them and for you as the supervisor as it is a strong sign that the research will be completed.

…add to this the idea of Graduate Capabilities
The idea of Graduate Capabilities is a relatively new one within the research process. It is intended to make students alert to the sorts of skills which will make them attractive to employers of researchers following their graduation. While some universities will address this agenda by providing a range of workshops for students to gain accreditation that they have these skills, I have always felt that greater reflection on the research process by the student would lead them to recognise the multitude of skills to which they are being exposed and becoming competent as they undertake a research journey. The more they can relate their experiences to the framework of Graduate Capabilities the more they will be able to discuss their acquisition of these skills in job interviews following their completion and graduation with a research degree.

Schon, D. (1983) the Reflective Practitioner. Basic Books. N.Y.:USA


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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