Evaluating your own research supervision practice

In some parts of this blog I have looked at a set of analytical tools for ascertaining your student’s progress. In the professional capacity of being a research supervisor it is also important to ascertain your own progress as a research supervisor. This theme has been explored in a set of practice strategies in the series associate with advancing your research supervision. In this blog I would like to illuminate one of the tools I am using with research supervisors to help them formulate plans of action to advance their research supervision.

The whole field of research and research supervision can be typified as a problematic discourse. Because people come to the practice of research from different backgrounds, the core notion of research supervision, which is the practice of research, is disputed. These disputes have been referred to in some of the debates or paradigm wars.

In a similar way, the practices of research supervision also represent a debated discourse with different views being expressed to not only what constitutes research supervision, but more importantly what constitutes ‘good’ research supervision. Having your own mental image of good supervision is one of the core practices to being able to evaluate this aspect of your academic practice.

To begin to evaluate your research supervision start with the first notions of what you consider to be good research supervision. Your jottings might include reference to relational aspects – such as ‘good supervision is about having a good relationship with your student’.Such a statement holds quite different measure of performance than a definition of good supervision which is based on the outcomes of the candidature – such as ‘good supervision is about getting the student to completion’ .

These two variants on the notion of good supervision reveal emphasis in the relational aspects of research supervision compared to emphasis on the management aspects of research supervision. In reality, good supervision might involve both. When there is a good relationship, a student is more likely to reach completion. Part of forming a workable relationship is providing the supportive structure of key milestones and an end outcome.

In my own work as a research supervisor, embracing the types of issues I have referred to in the themes of this blog, I define good research supervision as involving.

• ‘good’ teaching, with explicit microskills.
• ‘good’ management with agreements about deadlines and expectations we have one for another.
• ‘good’ relationships
• ‘good contributions to knowledge’ which involve both ‘good’ investigative practice that has been thought through from the perspective of truth and knowledge; and ‘good’ writing evidenced by an elegant set of arguments that present your approach to investigation as well as the reasons you have reached the conclusions you have reached.

I am the first to admit that it is a complex definition!
It reflects my thinking that research supervision is a complex practice and that when I think about how I am progressing as a research supervisor, I am looking for multiple measures and indicators.

In my practice, this sort of definition leads to my observing a number of concrete indicators as evidence that I am happy with my practice.
For example:
The student completing is an important factor. This has a rider for me because ‘completion at all odds’ is not satisfying for me, particularly if it is at the expense of a traumatic relationship. That leads into a second indicator, that for me, I still hold good relationships with the students I have supervised. Where there was evidence of tension in the relationship I recommend that the student seek an alternate supervisor.

I pay attention to the examiners reports because they provide evidence regarding the quality of the contribution to knowledge. This is also evidenced in papers that students have published, sometimes in collaboration with me, following their graduation or in the final moments of their candidature.

Perhaps the greatest factor in reviewing my research supervision is converting what I have learned in terms of teaching strategies into published papers that feed back into the literature pertaining to research supervision.

Working in the field of delivering professional development for research supervisors, it is important to also keep tabs on your own practice such that it offers a benchmark and a congruency basis for those whom you develop. It would concern me if I had a reputation of being a poor research supervisor while I am tasked to help develop others.

Because part of an agenda of offering professional development for research supervisors also involves helping them when their practice is appraised, being aware of the different measures of practice it important. I recognize that the measures that I choose to use for my own practice may not be the same ones that the university at which I work uses or values. I hope that by focusing on my identified performance indicators I can also lead to achieving those that the university values.

In the context of professional development it is highly likely that participants will be asked to consider ‘good’ research supervision. Those who are undertaking a more personal form of professional development, by considering their day to day work, might benefit from making explicit their notions of good supervision and using the details of this to explore whether they are living up to their own measures.


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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