Academic journal article Education Research International

The Supervisory Relationship as an Arena for Ethical Problem Solving

Academic journal article Education Research International

The Supervisory Relationship as an Arena for Ethical Problem Solving

Article excerpt

Recommended by Elizabeth Campbell

Centre for Research and Development in Higher Education, University of Helsinki, 00014 Helsinki, Finland

Received 22 February 2012; Accepted 5 June 2012

This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

1. Introduction

Previous research on doctoral education has identified supervision as one of the central determinants of doctoral experience (e.g., [1]). Ives and Rowley [2], for instance, found that a constructive supervisory relationship was associated with students' progress and satisfaction with their doctoral studies. In turn, problems in supervisory relationships such as lack of supervision or destructive friction have been reported to be a cause of problems in doctoral studies [3] in press. The supervisory relationship provides a context, not only for developing students' academic expertise, but also for ethical problem-solving embedded in the supervision activities. Supervision does not, however, exist in a vacuum between the student and the supervisor but is rather rooted within the various contexts of a scholarly community (e.g., [4, 5]). The ethical problem-solving embedded in a variety of supervisory activities is the focus of this article. Little is known about the ethical problems doctoral supervisors encounter in their work and how they identify and solve these problems. This paper focuses on exploring ethical problem-solving from the doctoral supervisors' perspective in two disciplines, natural and behavioural sciences.

2. Ethical Principles in Doctoral Supervision

A set of ethical principles can be used to identify ethical issues in supervision. In the following sections, we present perspectives on ethical principles and behaviours in supervision, discuss the role of the scholarly community, and describe the characteristics of doctoral training in Finland in order for the reader to gain a sense of the context in which the study was conducted.

Doctoral supervision provides a potential arena for identifying and solving problems in an ethically sustainable manner. However, not all the challenges faced are ethical in nature. Furthermore, the problems are not always solved in ethically sustainable ways. Therefore, well-grounded criteria for identifying ethical problems in the context of doctoral supervision are needed. Ethical principles can be used as tools for analysing what can be perceived as problematic from an ethical or moral point of view in a situation such as doctoral supervision.

Kitchener [6], for instance, has proposed the following principles to facilitate ethical decision making in counselling and advising in a university context: (1) respect for autonomy , (2) doing no harm (non maleficence), (3) benefiting others (beneficence), (4) being just (justice), and (5) being faithful (fidelity). Respect for autonomy forms the basis of many ethical codes of conduct, including guidelines for professionals and researchers (cf. [7-9]). The principle postulates an individual's right to decide how to live his or her life, and make decisions concerning one's life. Research on doctoral education has shown, however, that both lack of autonomy (e.g., [4, 10]), as well as too much independence or even isolation can cause serious problems in doctoral studies. Stubb et al. [11], for example, found that the experience of being isolated and the lack of supervisory support [12] were related to considerations of withdrawal from doctoral studies, as well as lower levels of satisfaction with their studies among doctoral candidates.

The principle of non maleficence refers to the necessary avoidance of activities that would harm others, either psychologically, physically, or socially. There is evidence that doctoral students experience significant degrees of distress during their studies [13-16]. …

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