with Mickey (Z), Graduate student and author of the Blossoming Fledgling Researcher.
This conversation was initiated by a question posed by Micky on the research supervisor’s friend blog. She asked me my opinion of the RSD (Adelaide University Research) framework. I had been exposed to the framework at the Quality in Postgraduate Supervision (www.qpr.edu.au) conference some years prior and saw it in the light of the then emerging debate/discourse about Graduate Capabilities. This discourse addressed the need for research graduates to be comfortable to talk about the sort of capabilities they had acquired through undertaking a research degree as this improved their chances when talking to prospective employers why they would make ideal employees. It advanced the idea that someone graduating from a research degree could do much more than undertake research, and the process of undertaking a research degree had exposed them to a broad range of marketable skills.
I thought that the RSD framework was an excellent example of deconstructing the very complex skills set required for research students to undertake a research degree. More importantly it gave the graduate student names for their skills that improved their chances of employment when they had discussions with prospective employers.
Mickey had been exposed to the tool through (she thought) one of the many blogs onto which she stumbled in her organic searching. It may have been the Thesis Whisperer site (http://thesiswhisperer.com/) . She found that the RSD framework was a HUGE ( her emphasis) eye opener for her. ‘When I first read over it, I was both relieved and filled with a little dread: There was so much within the framework that I was just . . . oblivious to, frankly. I was astonished that I’d been attempting to earn a graduate degree for years and had never encountered the information in the RSD framework except for perhaps on the fly, in passing, in disconnected snippets, informally’.
The usefulness for the framework for her as a research student was that it gave a picture of both a developmental trajectory and end point of a graduate degree and this was in keeping with her philosophy ( taken from Stephen Covey’s (1990) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People), that one should begin with the end in mind. ‘Beginning graduate research education without the information in the RSD framework, in my opinion, is to embark without a complete, accurate picture of the very end (point) of graduate studies. It is easy to mistake the point of graduate studies to be the earning of credentials that might allow you to get a particular job or start a particular career. The problem is that you want to ensure that you are developing such that you can operate in that career. The RSD explains what’s going on in that regard, or what should be’.
She also found the framework useful for auditing her own skills against a ‘best practice’ model, commenting that the words used in the framework enabled her to recast some of the descriptions she had used for talking about her skill and capability repertoire.
Micky referred me to another related framework which talked about the affective domain of researching (http://rsdf.wikispaces.com/Describing+the+affective+domain+of+researching ). This framework’s importance was in addressing the vast array of emotional experiences associated with undertaking a research degree and by recognising these responses as cognition-related one was better equipped to manage both the positive and negative aspects of those emotions.
So great was Micky’s enthusiasm for this framework that she shared the framework with a newly tenured professor who had several students to advise. He fell in love with it. His response was, she reported, “Yes! Yes! This is what I need my advisees to understand.” She was glad to have been able to point him to the framework, but also surprised that this proffering of supervision resources was coming from an MA student. Why hadn’t it already been part and parcel of advising at his institution? Why hadn’t he been better mentored to be an advisor, provided with something like the RSD framework? Why is everything so haphazard or black-boxed?
Micky’s questions with regard to supervisor/advisor/mentor’s awareness of resources that can assist their practices align with my own. After ten years resourcing research supervisors I reached a conclusion that there is not a shortage of resources, just a lack of knowledge of where to find those resources.
Micky’s final assessment of this tool:
‘There are a few areas that I am very passionate about. One is that when a person embarks on a huge journey (that costs time and foregone income, for example, and touches upon self-identity so strongly), he or she deserves to understand the nature and point of the journey . . . to be able to begin with the end in mind. Otherwise, you can neglect significant areas of development that you need in order to complete the journey (and transition to the next phase, if that’s the aim). Clarification of behavioural, affective, and cognitive pitfalls, spectrums, and targets (the latter framed developmentally) . . . they are indispensable knowledge for this journey. Fundamental, I feel. In my opinion, people who are aware of the content of the RSD framework are so much better positioned than people who are just trying to write a thesis or dissertation during the years before they plan to seek work in the academy.
The RSD framework empowers me to attend to my own growth, understand how people perceive my research activities, and know the aim of my research activities. It’s like a compass and a map. It gives me tremendous awareness, comfort, and confidence: I can say that I’m moving forward toward more autonomy on various levels, and I can understand where I am not, how to do so, or what help to request. It helps me to understand what it is that my time and effort toward developing as a researcher actually yields’.
Covey, S. (1990) The seven habits of highly effective people. Simon and Schuster, New York, U.S.A.