Monthly Archives: September 2016

Doctoral supervision: The candidate’s perspective

By Nona Press

The reason for undertaking a PhD varies for many students, and the expectations of the journey also vary, but the outcome is always the same – i.e., a significant contribution to knowledge and practice, as an embodiment of a research inquiry. The research shapes and indeed often dictates how the candidature is undertaken and supervised. There is a growing body of literature about PhD supervision, narrating the voices of not only the supervisors but also the candidates, often as autoethnographic individual reflective pieces. In contrast, my three supervisors and I had recently undertaken an empirical investigation of our respective conceptions of doctoral supervision, as a collaborative autoethnography and an interdisciplinary, phenomenographic case study, an outcome of which was a contribution to a forthcoming edited book on research supervision. The reflections in this blog post draw upon the findings of this study, and relate to my lived experiences as a PhD candidate as a whole.

My candidature began at another institution as a part-time student. After a year, I continued the journey at USQ from 2012 onwards, where I am privileged to work with three supervisors from two disciplines (education and nursing). Experiencing different universities, institutional practices, supervisory teams and, for that matter, supervision styles gave me important points of reference as I reflected upon my experiences. With distinct and contrasting practices and styles between institutions, these experiences shaped and re-shaped my understanding and expectations of doctoral supervision. In the phenomenographic interview for the study noted above, my conception of supervision was interpreted as a “pedagogical commitment”:

My lived experience of supervision…is that…it’s like an enculturation…into the discipline where your supervisors are affiliated….You’re given the opportunity to grow with guidance. You’re given the opportunity to interact with your community environment with the kind of tools that will allow you to grow….So my learning about methodology, for example, wherever that takes me, is very much situated; I am living it. But they’re there to guide me, to challenge me, to question me….Because in this relationship feedback is the most important [element], coupled with guidance.

For me, the interpersonal dimension of supervisor-student, supervisor-supervisor, and student-supervisor relationships was critical for my holistic growth as a researcher and academic. It is significantly more productive, for example, to work with a cohesive and supportive supervisory team who actively supported not only the candidate but also each other. In my experience, a positive environment was critical, whereby I was nurtured to take ownership of my research by a united supervisory team. Without such unity, receiving conflicting guidance was completely counter-productive to a point where I felt any disagreements between the experts were caused by me – much like how some children feel between disagreeing parents. Notwithstanding, drawing on my positive experiences, my understanding of doctoral supervision as a pedagogical commitment has deepened. Nowadays, I think about it as also relating to mutual learning opportunities.

My thesis is nearing completion and I am aiming to submit for external examination at the end of the year. I must say, as my understanding of supervision became clearer over time, the more enjoyable the doctoral journey. So for you fellow candidates out there, think about what your conception of doctoral supervision is – what do you mean when you say “doctoral supervision”?

First in the family

By Ruth Wagstaff

As I paid the deposit for my youngest son’s grade 12 formal dinner last week, it dawned on me that in seven months time my youngest starts university.  This has personal significance for me, because my nuclear family (ex-husband, our children, and I) are the first complete nuclear on either side to have attended university.  And yes…not only was I the first to go to grade 12 and go to uni, but I am the first to have completed graduate diplomas, and to have undertaken a PhD.  I have never spoken to my sisters or father about the historical nature of my education in the family, and am not sure that it is appropriate.

I have no doubt that my sisters and father (there are no brothers, and my mother died when I was in my mid-20s) are happy that I have found my niche in the world.  Each of us have carved our own special place in the world, and we enjoy entering each other’s world from time to time.  We are not a close family, but we stay in contact.  We connect where share common views, but differences are rarely discussed.  One of those differences is our level of education, and attitudes toward education.

I have wanted to attend university since I was 10 years old.  Rather than doing traditional girl subjects: typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and home economics, I  took academic subjects that would open up almost every university course available: the high level maths, science, and music.    However, rather than go to university I did my nursing training at the local hospital (I was one of the last hospital trained registered nurses).  I began university when I was 27 years old.  This decision was no surprise to my sisters as they considered me to be the family brains and different from them.

Going to university changed the dynamics between my sisters and me in subtle ways. It drew us in closer because I became comfortable with myself.  I found the university experience intoxicating and liberating.  It is also kept us apart because the world of university was very different from what their worlds.  They could never understand the highs and lows of higher education.  They could never understand the concept of 15 weeks intense focus and long holidays. They certainly were aware of,  but were unable to appreciate, the intensity of psychology honours year.  And I am of the opinion that it is unreasonable to expect them to understand the emotional and academic journey of a PhD.

One of my sisters was of the opinion that I was a miss-know-it-all.  That was, and is, far from the truth.  University has shown me how much I do not know, how many unanswered questions there are.  I learnt to deal with the miss-know-it-all comments.  I know that she still feels intimidated by the educational journey my children and I have taken, because she justifies her children’s and own choices with, “Whatever makes you happy”.   I agree with her, and move the conversation to another topic.   When it comes down to it, keeping doors open is more important than continuing a conversation that I know will lead to misunderstanding.  It is okay to agree to not agree.