What is a ‘supervisor’?


A supervisor is ‘a person who directs and oversees the work of a postgraduate research student’ according to the Oxford Dictionary. The Latin ‘super’ positions the supervisor above the student and the ‘visor’ is all about seeing… so is that why becoming a PhD supervisor feels like being an acrobat? You’ve got to climb out from under, as a recent student yourself, and find a place to balance on top, even if this isn’t what you feel comfortable with. The etymology of ‘supervisor’ insists. Plus the grammar of the verb ‘supervise’ has you doing the action. Your student is defined by the passive voice, ‘being supervised’ by you.

This blog is all about the acrobatics of becoming a PhD supervisor, especially for those who would rather research beside their students, not on top of them. Every new supervisor must find a unique way of negotiating the role’s positionality, as part of becoming an academic. Where do you understand yourself to be in relation to your students?


Author: Lucinda McKnight

Dr Lucinda McKnight is a lecturer in curriculum and pedagogy at Deakin University. She has a BA in Fine Arts, Women's Studies and English from the University of Melbourne, an MA (Distinction) in Media, Culture and Communication, from the Institute of Education now at UCL, and a PhD in Education from Deakin University. Her cartoons have appeared in a number of publications, including Farrago and Health Voice. She has exhibited her artwork at Museum Victoria and the Victorian College of the Arts.

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