In this paper we propose a model of postgraduate supervision which broadens the traditional focus on "expertise" to include support for the student and the capacity of balance creativity with criticism in supervision. Based on this model, we report results of a survey of postgraduate students in the Faculty of Agriculture at UWA investigating the desirable characteristics of a supervisor. We find that students clearly rank non-expertise-related characteristics of supervision which provide support and which balance creativity with criticism as more important overall than expertise-related characteristics. We use these results to argue for staff development opportunities to be enhanced to enable academics to receive training in these areas of supervision competence which are ostensibly unrelated to expertise.
But is "expertise" enough to determine competency for supervision? Our view is that "expertise" is an important contribution of an academic to a student-supervisor relationship, but that there are at least two other components of the supervisor's contribution which are also important and for which academics usually have no particular training in providing. Moreover, we report evidence from a survey of postgraduate students regarding desirable characteristics of a supervisor which supports our view that students desire much more from a supervisor than "expertise". We then use this evidence to argue for enhanced opportunities for academics to broaden their supervision skills beyond the confines of "expertise".
The structure of the paper is as follows. Section 1 sets out our model of supervision which identifies the main components of the contribution made by a supervisor. Based on this model, Section 2 reports the results of our survey which was designed to represent the range of characteristics of these components and to elicit student views on the desirability of these characteristics. The paper ends with a brief assessment of the implications of our research findings.
In determining the set of characteristics of supervision perceived by students as "desirable", we made use of the list of supervisory characteristics developed by McMichael and Garry (1994) and reproduced in the Appendix to this paper. Although this list contains several pairs of characteristics which are effectively opposites (eg active/passive; involved/detached), as well as others which might be perceived as strongly over-lapping (eg friend/partner; teacher/trainer), given its apparent comprehensiveness it seemed appropriate to use this list as a base set of characteristics and to leave the judgement about which are "desirable" up to the students.
In addition, we allocated each of the characteristics in the list to one of the three main components of the supervisor's contribution accordingly to its best fit in our judgement. On this basis we allocated seven characteristics to "Expertise", nine characteristics to "Support" and six characteristics to "Creative/Critical". Details of this allocation are also provided in the Appendix. Note that although this list contains twenty-two characteristics, the inclusion of the opposites identified above suggests that the set of desirable characteristics will be no more than twenty.
Finally, we established a 1 to 5 scale between "Undesirable" and "Highly Desirable" for the students to evaluate each of the characteristics. Note that a characteristic would need to receive a score of 3 or more for it to be viewed as "desirable". The raw data of responses from thirty-two Faculty of Agriculture postgraduates is also included in the Appendix.
Table 1 contains details of the characteristics which achieved a mean score from the student responses of 3 or more and which therefore qualified as "desirable". It can be seen that this Table contains nineteen characteristics, and excludes from the list in the Appendix the three characteristics:
Detached (S: 2.22); Director (E: 2.56); and Passive (Cr: 1.72). Note that the first and third of these were identified previously as one of a pair of opposites, where the other of the pair is included as "desirable" (Involved (S: 4.16) and Active (Cr: 4.19) respectively). However, the second is simply not viewed as "desirable" by postgraduates.
The desirable characteristics in Table 1 are arranged in the form of a matrix with three columns representing each of the main components of the supervisor's contribution, and two rows ranking the characteristics according to whether they achieved a mean score of between 3 and 4, or 4 and above. Based on this matrix the general pattern of results is clear: the majority of the desirable support and creative/critical characteristics achieved a score of 4 or more, while the majority of desirable expertise characteristics achieved a score of between 3 and 4. Moreover, desirable support characteristics not only dominate the set of characteristics achieving 4 or more (six of the ten), but also rank as three of the highest-scoring five characteristics.
|4 and above||
|Between 3 and 4||
If, alternatively, the findings of our survey are restricted to the Faculty of Agriculture, then the above comments still apply in this context. However, the need then arises to extend our research into other discipline areas in order to determine the robustness of our results. Recent anecdotal evidence from broadly-based student support activities at the University of Western Australia suggest that this is likely to be the case.
Delamont, S., Atkinson, P. and Parry, O. (1997). Supervising the PhD: A guide to success. Open University Press, Buckingham.
Graham, A. and Grant, B. (1997). Teaching more students: Managing more postgraduate research students. Oxford Centre for Staff Development, Oxford.
Hall, S., Coates, R., Ferroni, P., Pearson, M. and Trinidad, S. (1997). Tilling the field: Action research in postgraduate supervision. In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, 132-43. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum. Perth: Murdoch University. http://cleo.murdoch.edu.au/asu/pubs/tlf/tlf97/hall132.html
McCormack, C. (1994). Constructive and Supportive Postgraduate Supervision: A Guide for Supervisors. Centre for the Enhancement of Learning, Teaching and Scholarship, University of Canberra, Canberra.
McMichael, P. and Garry, A. (1994). Strategies for Supervision: A Handbook. Moray House, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.
Parry, S. and Hayden, M. (1994). Supervising Higher Degree Research Students: An Investigation of Practices Across a Range of Academic Departments. DEET, Canberra.
|Active (Cr) [a]||1||2||3||4||5|
|Balancing Creativity and Criticism|
Support for the Student
Expertise in the Research Area
|Source:||McMichael, P. and Garry, A. (1994). Strategies for Supervision: A Handbook. Moray House, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh.|
|Please cite as: Fraser, R. and Mathews, A. (1999). An evaluation of the desirable characteristics of a supervisor. In K. Martin, N. Stanley and N. Davison (Eds), Teaching in the Disciplines/ Learning in Context, 129-137. Proceedings of the 8th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, The University of Western Australia, February 1999. Perth: UWA. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1999/fraser.html|