What is Good Supervision?

For the past few weeks I’ve been attending a series of seminars on research supervision, conducted by Geoff Hill, with staff from across the different faculties. Just this Monday we were looking at each others’ definition of what is good supervision?

For many of my colleagues, it was about being systematic, offering guidance and providing effective feedback on student work. I agree in most instances but I’ve found that my focus in supervision is, perhaps unsurprisingly given my approach towards research, relational. Here’s what I wrote in response to Goeff’s request that we come up with our own definitions of what good supervision is:

For me good research supervision takes into account each student’s background, stage of development, skills level, motivations and aims to help them achieve their expressed desired of completing a RHD.

So, in my book good research supervision is first and foremost a relationship where one advises, guides and aids the student in all aspects of RHD completion. That includes critical reading, writing, research skills, ethics, protocol, project management and career planning. It sets in place robust but flexible boundaries and calls for commitment on both sides.

Additionally, good research supervision is a partnership of learning, of being open to different ways of thinking and approaching problems and issues. The relationship between supervisor and candidate is one based on collegiality, respect and intellectual curiosity. The seeking of new knowledge forms the common ground.

Finally, good research supervision is based on sound integrity. By that I mean that decisions made and advice issued by supervisors should be ethically informed and not skewed towards their own agendas. Good research supervision is guided by a strong sense of one’s obligation to look out for the individual under one’s charge.

 

In the end, I have to admit that I think there must always be an element of organic development with each student. There are structures, systems and milestones galore in today’s universities designed to ‘help’ supervisors but nothing succeeds, in my belief, better than genuinely engaging with the student’s work.

Research supervision has its own rewards, not least of which is being part of someone else’ intellectual explorations.

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