Research Supervision as Project Management

The idea of research supervision as project management has possibly always existed in disciplines which focus on completion of projects (such as Engineering). In my reading of the literature this view of research supervision became formalised as an approach to research supervision in an article by Trish Vilkinas (2002). The article appeared to have been a response to what might have been described as a dominance of a pedagogical view of research supervision in the literature, and Vilkinas (2002) was suggesting an additional, rather than an alternative construct for understanding the practice.

The agenda that research supervision is management or project management embraces the notion that research can be seen as an extended project that requires management both of its resources and its deadlines. Research supervisors who had project management skills from other aspects of their professional life, resonated with this idea. Research supervisors without these skills, spurred on by an emphasis on completion of the research degree that arrived with changes to the Federal Government formula for research funding and emphasised completion of the degree within a specified time and meeting dedicated milestones, began to acquire project management skills.

In the bigger picture of Graduate Research Capabilities, Project Management was a skill set which had been identified in the early discourse about Graduate Research Capabilities as being in deficit in graduating research students (Cumming and Kiley, 2009). For a research student to develop these skills, it not only advanced their engagement with their research, it provided evidence of their having these skills in their researcher repertoire and increased their likelihood of using the skills in day to day research which followed their graduation from a research degree.

A student can acquire these skills by engaging in project management related to their research project. They are more likely to acquire these skills if they also observe their own supervisor using them in their day to day research as well as in the act of supervising research.  The acquisition through observation can be enhanced if the research supervisor not only uses the skills, but in doing so, makes this explicit to their student, particularly the naming of such skills, such that the student sees these skills as embodied in the research process. Using terms such as deadlines, milestones and scoping of the project helps the student to see the application of these elements of project management as well as recognise how they are acquired in the day to day work of undertaking research.

Like many aspects of research supervision, the actual skills of project management are rarely elaborated, and elsewhere in this blog I have endeavoured to illuminate what I see as the range of skills in the research supervisor’s repertoire of supervision practice which together make up a project management approach to research supervision.

This has included

  • Introducing a student to the notion of a project plan.
  • Helping the student to develop a project plan in achievement of their early milestone document such as a research proposal.   
  • Modelling the value of project management by having a project plan for their research supervision.
  • Modelling the skills that form part of a project management skills set, such as
    • Reconnaissance and surveillance as they apply to project planning.
    • Reviewing a project plan in the context of an annual progress report.
    • Critically analysing the ways in which time is used within the undertaking of research supervision
    • Strategies for juggling multiple priorities and managing time.
  • Looking to the Research Culture and its impact on project planning within a research project.

Use the Research Supervision as Management portal at the end of this blog to access each of these articles.

Cumming , J. and Kiley, M. (2009) Research Graduate Skills Project. Australian Learning and Teaching Council

Vilkinas, T. (2002). The PhD Process: The Supervisor as Manager, Education and Training. 44 (2/3), 129-137

 

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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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