Research Supervision / Teaching

Timely Feedback

It isn’t easy providing timely feedback as a supervisor amidst the many tasks that call for your attention. Does one drop the lecture being prepared, the paper being written or essay being marked to read through the draft sent by a student? How does one set up expectations so a reasonable time frame is allowed for getting to feedback without dampening a postgraduate’s enthusiasm or exacerbating their anxieties?

Related to the above is the question of how far do you take the feedback and what aspects do you address first? Writing style, structure, argument, academic rigour and specific genre requirements? If time is tight (when is it not?), what should one focus on? To what degree of detail should one attend to?

I find generally my preference is to address the grammar and style early on in a student’s candidacy and continue to do so and gradually peter off in those areas eventually and then; to up the ante on structure, argument and academic rigour as time progress. I guess I see the first, grammar as basic and writing style as an extension of individual development. I don’t think supervisors should expect postgraduates to write in the same manner as they do but many, like myself, start off emulating someone else’s style. The structure and rigour though is critical to the successful thesis and personally, I don’t think one stops learning how to better frame one’s ideas. Not if knowledge and its sharing thereof is the objective.

I recall waiting and fretting myself whenever I’d sent a piece of writing to my supervisors. In the first 2 years it was difficult to manage my fears as feedback was my lifeline, my only way of understanding what was acceptable or not. As I grew to understand what was required better, I also became more confident and independent and rather more content to wait or move on until suitable feedback came.

As a supervisor myself these days I do find it hard at times to pull sufficient blocks of time together to properly read and engage with a student’s work. Yet when I do it can pay unexpected dividends and trigger ideas or strategies for my own writing and research. Most often that occurs because I have to explain why something sounds garbled in a paragraph and make suggestions as to how it might be untangled. That is why I think teaching is about learning, not the student’s learning but the teacher’s learning.

How though to ensure timely feedback? Maybe someone else will have an idea. I’ve heard the phrase ‘managing student expectations’ mentioned as part of the solution. Perhaps, I don’t know yet but I will say ‘corporate speak’ almost always rings alarm bells for me. There is a distinct chance this is just my personal prejudice so I will think about this further, try out a few strategies and report back.

I'm a research fellow at an Australian university where I work on a number of projects. These include projects to do with new media and migration and the Chinese diaspora in Australia, projects on the Malaysian internet, ethno-religious issues in Singapore and Malaysia. And, before I forget many of the photos I use on this site were taken by my sister, Jessie and myself. All rights are reserved.