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About this book

This engaging book outlines effective strategies for supervising students on a wide variety of research projects, whether at undergraduate or postgraduate level. It covers each stage of the research journey and provides guidance on working with students to define research topics, select appropriate methodologies, write up theses and prepare for the viva. It also supports supervisors in establishing and maintaining good supervisory practices, and shows how supervisors can help students to help themselves.

This will be essential reading for supervisors of undergraduate or postgraduate research projects, dissertations and theses. It is also an ideal resource for student researchers looking to get the most out of their relationship with their supervisor.

Table of Contents

Introduction

1. Introduction

Abstract
This is the second edition of The Good Supervisor, updating the first edition (2005), a book built on research and experience, which I am pleased to learn has been an essential text for many supervisors (and also research students). Since the first edition of this book was finished in 2004 and published in 2005, supervision has become an extremely topical issue and one which is now significantly more research-informed, considered from a diverse range of angles and issues, and firmly embedded as a development activity in universities worldwide. This new edition moves beyond the first edition and beyond several other books on the market which provide ‘advice’ to supervisors, in ensuring that there is a firm research base both in my own UK and international research, and in that of UK and international colleagues. The research base makes the most of my own and close colleagues’ research and practice in supervision, and postgraduate research learning.
Gina Wisker

First Stages of Research Supervision — Getting Started

Frontmatter

2. Supervision and research learning: differences and issues

Abstract
This second revised edition of The Good Supervisor is research- and practice- based. It can help situate you as a supervisor in the current research literature in the field of research, learning and supervisory practices. It is based on several dynamic sources and uses research evidence-based information from the work of a wide range of international researchers, scholars and practitioners engaged with research learning, and particularly the learning and research practices of postgraduate students and supervisors. It is also based on my own research and that of my colleagues on major funded and unfunded, linked projects into doctoral learning, supervisory practices and examining practices. It is more firmly founded in my own research than the first edition, because part of my own research journey has been to delve further into the research learning and supervisory-oriented research literature and to develop, manage and research for a number of projects, from which have arisen a number of conference papers and publications, and other projects.
Gina Wisker

3. Supervisors and sustainability: working together in supervisory teams, networks, fora, communities and development programmes

Abstract
There are many aims which guide our supervision of undergraduates, post graduate students and researchers, one of which is the development of the individual researcher, another the completion of a project which can make a contribution to knowledge, and another developing research communities that build research capacity and can be sustainable. Chapter 10 will focus on developing peer-based communities of practice amongst students, which help sustain them through their research learning journeys. This chapter considers supervisor identity, balances and development, and looks at ways in which developing supervisor communities through teams, fora, networks and development programmes can also improve supervision experiences, and help build research capacity and sustainability. Much supervision in the UK and elsewhere was built on the ‘secret garden’ model (Park, 2005), keeping the relationship between supervisor and student a private one, somewhat removed from the larger collegial community, and essentially ‘untrained’. A new transparency, rigour, and changes in funding have all made a difference to our articulation of the supervision process, and our strategies for evaluating and enhancing it.
Gina Wisker

4. Establishing and maintaining good supervisory practices

Abstract
The relationship between student and supervisor(s) is a very important one and it is essential that you can get on with each other professionally and personally, without necessarily being the best of friends. You need to respect each other in terms of scholarship, academic credibility and practices. For all students and particularly those working at a distance, the supervisor is the link with the university, and an essential guide, teacher, colleague and mentor in the research process. It is also a political relationship, since you as supervisor have both institutional knowledge and access which can support and inform your work with your student.
Gina Wisker

Establishing Research Processes and Practices

Frontmatter

5. Defining titles, research questions, conceptual frameworks, and developing proposals

Abstract
This chapter looks at the first stages of our work with students, supporting them to turn research ideas and interests into research questions and proposals, underpinned by sound conceptual frameworks.
Gina Wisker

6. Enabling students to carry out a successful literature review/theoretical perspectives chapter

Abstract
A successful literature review engages students, researchers and writers in a dialogue with the literature, theories, writing and arguments in their field and helps to set the pattern of critical thinking and good writing. It is the vehicle for identifying the theories, and the use of these theories in practice in the published work of critics and other researchers, and the themes and the arguments in the field. In the literature review, the student situates him-or herself in the field and in the dialogue, engaging the previous and current work of others in a manner which shows understanding of the arguments and contributions made in these works. The student also shows how his or her work will extend and depend on or add a particular slant, edge or extra perception to that ongoing dialogue. Literature reviews can be extremely solid and plodding; however, an exhaustive coverage of all the literature without noting, analysing or drawing into a dialogue merely shows busyness and hard work, rather than a grasp of the major arguments and issues towards which the student’s work is contributing. In the literature review, students show their engagement with the literature through their reading, and they begin to make use of others’ arguments, and the work of key theorists whose theories and interpretations will guide the focus and analysis of their own research and arguments.
Gina Wisker

7. Methodology, methods and ethics

Abstract
Helping students to select appropriate methodologies and methods for their research is one of the key roles of the supervisor, supported by expert others, and by research development programmes. The supervisory role also involves advising students on how to research in an ethical manner, and to comply with the rules and regulations of research governance more generally.
Gina Wisker

8. Supervisory dialogues

Abstract
Supervisory dialogues are at the heart of research students’ learning. Supervisory dialogues, whether face-to-face or through electronic means, are the main way in which we work with our students to encourage, direct, support and empower them to get on with and complete their research and writing.
Gina Wisker

9. Encouraging good writing

Abstract
Learning how to develop an argument throughout a dissertation or thesis, and then journal articles and books, and how to ensure an argument is organised, well expressed, informed by theory and backed up by appropriate evidence, is crucial for all researchers. Let us look at ways in which we might support students in developing their writing skills through encouraging critical thinking, argument, writing strategies, clear expression, the development of their own voice, and engagement with and in the discourses of their subject(s).
Gina Wisker

Working with Students — Issues for Supervisors

Frontmatter

10. Helping students to help themselves and each other

Abstract
This chapter looks at ways in which we can support students in developing communities and peer support practices, family and friend support practices, and their own emotional resilience, in order to help them continue successfully towards completion of their research and examination, and beyond.
Gina Wisker

11. Dealing with difference: working with different kinds of learners and learning styles

Abstract
In this chapter we consider working with research as a form of learning, and how we might recognise our students’ learning approaches and better enable them to be successful in their research-as-learning.
Gina Wisker

12. Supervising international and culturally diverse students: cross-cultural issues

Abstract
As the importance of global citizenship and the richness of cultural difference are increasingly recognised in Higher Education, so too is ensuring that the supervision of culturally diverse and international students is a mutually enriching process, leading to successful outcomes and international research-capacity building. Growing numbers of postgraduate and undergraduate students are studying at universities outside their own country in a variety of modes, either on site, at a distance, or a mixture of both.
Gina Wisker

13. Study and support at a distance and for part-time students

Abstract
Many postgraduate students study part-time, either by choice, fitting it in around work and domestic demands, or by default, when their period of full-time study runs out, and/or their lives change and their patterns of research and work change. Many part-time students undertake research which develops from and feeds directly into their own professional practice. Increasingly, both undergraduates and postgraduates are seeking to study at a distance. Good practice in working with all research students is the firm foundation for good practice working with students at a distance, part-time, and from culturally diverse backgrounds, where each of these variations can present specific issues. Managing expectations, setting up clear, negotiated communication and supervisor-student interactions, and finding out about each other’s learning behaviours and approaches, then establishing and maintaining a professional personal relationship, over time, should support students in producing their best work and make the supervisor role stimulating, manageable and rewarding. All postgraduates need good access to study facilities, and a negotiated way of interacting over time with their supervisor. Postgraduates who study part-time probably need more time management skills and clear access, since their time is limited and they tend to have to balance and segment their lives; they pick up their research work and researcher identities, and then pack them away again.
Gina Wisker

14. Gender, culture, age and research studies

Abstract
As we approach supervision, it might come as something of a surprise to consider that gender, culture and age can play such a big part in the supervisor and student relationship, but there has been a wealth of work carried out now into ways in which culture and gender differences, as well as learning differences, affect the relationship, hence probably the success of the research. Less work has been carried out exploring the ways in which age affects learning; however, the greatest growth area of those studying for a PhD in Australia is that of the over 60s. Some early thoughts on the more mature learner inform part of this chapter.
Gina Wisker

15. A little too close to home: supervising your colleagues and/or other practice/professional-based research

Abstract
The assumption that most students who undertake postgraduate research are aiming at an academic career is one much questioned by the figures produced, for example, in the UK by the researchers’ organisation Vitae, ‘What Do Researchers Do? Doctoral Graduates’ Destination and Impact Three Years On’ (2010). The stereotype of the young postgraduate working full-time in the lab for three years is also one questioned by the trend for students, sometimes considerably older than 21, to undertake master’s courses and doctorates mid-career and to take as the subject of their study elements of their own professional practice. It is important to remember that many people undertake professional doctorates and master’s courses mid-career because they want to have an effect on, or to research the effects of, their professional practice, as well as for their own self-development.
Gina Wisker

16. New ways: supervising creative research work and the PhD by publication

Abstract
These comments from a self-identified creative PhD student working on a topic involving creativity offer some insights into the tensions between the creativity and flexibility needed for research, and the structuring and nurturing role of the supervisor. I decided it would be appropriate in this chapter to include my dialogue with Curtis (with his wholehearted support) as a more creative response to the issue of what a creative PhD student and his supervisor experience and believe is possible, and how we can help manage the creative postgraduate process into an original, expressive, yet also passable form.
Gina Wisker

17. Maintaining momentum: linking quality and wellbeing — through transfer, progress reports, changing supervisors, and any difficulties

Abstract
You know it’s hard, it’s quite sad in some ways that you look at a lot of students these days who are you know turned off learning but I suppose at the same time, for anybody else who can dedicate their time, and it does take time, give it a try, purely for the mental exercise of going through a journey, because it is a journey and it will turn you upside down and it does screw you up sometimes but at the end of the day if you’ve come up with one new thing that you’ve learnt from it then that’s surely a better thing. But I’d encourage anybody, doesn’t matter where just go for it. (ESCalate respondent, 2011)
Gina Wisker

Managing the Research Process to Completion and Beyond

Frontmatter

18. Writing up the thesis or dissertation — quality and standards

Abstract
Chapter 9 looks at forms and processes of writing, overcoming writing blocks and developing good writing habits. A later chapter will extensively cover preparation for the viva, but this chapter considers what examiners are looking for in terms of the written dissertation or thesis, and how to encourage and empower your student to produce a thesis or dissertation that examiners should want to pass. Students need to ensure the research question or hypothesis is clear throughout their work, structuring the research and underpinning the dissertation/thesis. If they haven’t already done this, now is the time to revisit and stick the research question/hypothesis at the front of their computer screen so that everything in their final writing is relevant to its exercise, the expression of the research journey and value of the findings. The question might well have changed over the years of the work, and the hypothesis may have been replaced by another, in relation to ongoing discoveries and understandings. Social scientists and humanities students probably defined their own question in agreement with the supervisor or supervisory team.
Gina Wisker

19. The examination process and examiners

Abstract
This chapter considers the examination process from all perspectives: student, supervisor and examiner. Students producing dissertations, and those writing theses in Australia, are highly unlikely to be asked to take part in a viva. However, every dissertation or thesis is normally read by at least two examiners, so it is a significant moment for your student to have their work critiqued. For those undertaking a PhD, EdD or PrD in the UK, Europe and many countries other than Australia, there is also a viva to accompany the thesis examination. The doctoral viva and postviva or post-examination corrections are discussed in Chapters 20 and 21. In recent work on the National Teaching Fellowship-funded project ‘Doctoral Learning Journeys’ (Wisker et al., 2010) we interviewed over 20 doctoral examiners and asked them about the procedures for examining, and how they identified the characteristics of a good or a passable thesis as representative of the quality of the research undertaken. We also asked them if and where there might be stages or moments in the thesis where the students were clearly showing their work at a conceptual, critical and creative enough level to gain their PhD. Some of the data from this research appears in quotations below and the overall understanding from it informs the chapter.
Gina Wisker

20. Supporting students towards a successful PhD viva

Abstract
The viva is an oral defence of a student’s work. While, for undergraduate, and sometimes for master’s work, it could be used to explore the quality of work which is borderline, at PhD it aims to engage students in a defence of their work, and a dialogue about it with experts, so it is both an oral examination and an opportunity to enter into dialogue in the research community, both a testing moment and a chance to explore, clarify, discuss and defend. Not every country has a PhD viva, but the UK, New Zealand and those with European-based PhD systems expect postgraduate students to undertake a viva — a defence of their written thesis. In the North American model, it is rather an initial defence of the proposal, to test its readiness for the full research process. Unlike the kind of viva that is conducted with students whose work might be borderline, the PhD viva itself is neither a test of cheating or plagiarism, nor an activity conducted to see which side of a grade border a student’s work lies. Instead, it aims to evaluate and assess to what extent the doctoral candidate has full ownership of his or her written thesis. It aims to engage students in a defence of the arguments and cohesion of their research as expressed in the thesis, and to engage them in a dialogue about ways in which their work engages in a dialogue with experts in the field. As such, then, it is interestingly both an examination and a collegial discussion.
Gina Wisker

21. Supporting your student post viva/exam

Abstract
The supervision process is often thought to end when students submit the dissertation, or at PhD level, when they submit the thesis and undertake the viva. However, this only seems to be the end of the supervision project, because submission appears as such a cathartic and final process. In many ways, for the PhD in particular, the examination and viva are a major but not the final step to achieving completion. In the Australian system there is an examination alone, but UK and European students also have a viva, so they have to take into consideration comments on both the thesis and the viva experience in order to improve the thesis. I try to define the PhD viva as a formative assessment phase, so that students can see that examiners’ comments aim to help them improve the thesis, rather than seeing them as surprisingly unpleasant attacks on their life work.
Gina Wisker

22. Life after the research project: sharing research, presentations, publications, identifying post-graduate/graduate outcomes, and research capacity building

Abstract
This chapter considers our roles with students after they have effectively and successfully completed their research project, and how students can be encouraged to utilise their research and experience, both towards various forms of dissemination and the use of their research skills in employment, whether for academic or academic-related jobs, or in other roles. The chapter is in two related parts. In the first instance, we raise issues of academic identity, postgraduate skills, and employability. Not all students will want to use their research skills directly, and those who have been studying to feed into their professional roles might not want to change employment but to enhance their current roles through the status of the qualification and by incorporating these new skills. Next, the chapter focuses us on presentations and publication opportunities. Many postgraduates will, of course, want to share their work in conferences and publications long before they have finally handed in the thesis or dissertation and will need support in deciding when, where, how and what to present or publish.
Gina Wisker
Additional information