What if the language around doctoral supervision foregrounded the collaborative and symbiotic nature of doing a PhD? Rather than “I was wondering if you might be prepared to supervise me”, which places the supervisor at a distance from a student project (not to mention positioning the student in an attitude of deference and gratitude), perhaps potential students could ask potential supervisors:
- Could we form a supervisory partnership?
- Do you offer apprenticeships in being an academic?
- Are you available for a doctoral mentorship?
- Would you be interested in aligning your professional learning to a topic I have in mind?
- Are you interested in collaborating with me to launch a study?
Supervision is a huge learning curve for a supervisor, yet Chris Halse has written of the “striking silence” (2011, p. 557) around what supervisors learn from it. Flipping the roles, and defining the student as equal, as a partner or even in control, exposes the power plays that frequently inform supervisory roles. As supervisors, how do we attempt to position our students through language, from our very first contacts with them?
Halse, C. (2011). Becoming a supervisor: the impact of doctoral supervision on supervisors’ learning. Studies in Higher Education, 36(5), 557-570.
Now as a recently qualified supervisor, I have potential students approaching me. How do I communicate the enormity of choosing a supervisor? I remember, early on as a potential student myself, being very stuck on just ‘finding someone to take me on’, someone prepared to have me as a student, someone who would say ‘yes’. Alma Fleet reflects on this, in ‘Re-becoming a supervisor: Extending possibilities’ when she talks about her own experience of choosing a supervisor:
‘I had chosen him on the recommendations of a respected colleague, without fully understanding the process, or the importance of that decision’ (2008, p. 262).
Unfortunately, that didn’t go well, but she feels she was left with a legacy of pursuing being an excellent supervisor herself. Maybe one of the most important skills of supervison, though, is perceiving from the outset who you are likely to, or not likely to form a responsive and productive relationship with. Maybe sometimes the best supervisor is the one who knows when to say ‘no’, especially when there are institutional pressures to take on students. This link to a post by Kirsty Nash, on Inger Mewburn and Evonne Miller’s new Supervision Whisperers blog flips it over and describes how to choose a student: https://thesupervisionwhisperers: Choosing a student: Likes long walks on the beach
Fleet, A. (2008). Re-becoming a supervisor: Extending possibilities. In J. G. Knowles, S. Promislow, & A. L. Cole (Eds.), Creating scholartistry: Imagining the arts-informed thesis or dissertation (pp. 84-104). Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.
Happy International Women’s Day!
Are you supervising a female student? How do you create an academic culture of inclusivity (rather than isolation) for female students? In Australia, women are significantly more likely to be in caring roles, and to shoulder more responsibility for work in the home, with potential impact on study. Women are also more likely to experience sexual harassment at work. Here’s a test to check if you could be a “supervisor of choice for gender equality” (we have an Australian government citation available for “employer of choice for gender equality”). Do you:
- Know your university’s childcare provisions and insider info re waiting lists etc. inside out, so you can advise your students if necessary?
- Introduce all students to female academics as role models?
- Know school pick up times and holidays, and avoid scheduling meetings for those times, where relevant?
- Routinely suggest readings by female academics and theorists?
- Advise attending conference presentations led by female academics?
- Provide all students with readings re sexism in the academy?
- Direct all students, as a matter of course, to your institution’s web pages on equality and diversity.
- Consider how you can promote and support the voices of female students being heard in all possible fora, including faculty presentations, social media, peer support groups etc?
- Regularly update your knowledge of your university’s support for those in caring roles, for example for elderly parents?
- Foster representation of female academics on your walls, in your bookcase, in the citations of your own papers and articles and in the units you teach?
Some of these ideas are inspired by my involvement in Feminist Educators against Sexism: #FEAS. Follow at https://twitter.com/hashtag/feas?lang=en
How will I encourage my doctoral students to break out of the confines of the “conventional thesis”? How do other supervisors do this? And is it difficult for new supervisors to have the confidence to support students to be inventive? I wish I had read Creating scholartistry: Imagining the arts informed thesis or dissertation (2008) when I was a student, and I wish I had read it very early on. I would like to have physical versions handy, for browsing with students, of varied theses, like Daria Loi’s which is a suitcase, or Wayne Sellers’, which is drawn, in landscape format, or my own, which explodes between chapters, with photographs taken by a professional photographer. I remember the terror involved in refusing to comply with the university’s requirement that the thesis title page could not contain an image. I would like to welcome the idea that every thesis is unique, not only in theoretical conceptualisation and method, but in material, visual and structural shape, all informed by theory. To which examples do you direct your students, and when, if you basically want to blow apart rigid expectations?