Academic journal article International Education Studies

A Good Supervisor-Ten Facts of Caring Supervision

Academic journal article International Education Studies

A Good Supervisor-Ten Facts of Caring Supervision

Article excerpt


This article describes the elements of caring supervision of doctoral theses. The purpose was to describe the best practices as well as challenges of supervision especially from the supervisor's perspective. The analysis is based on the author's extensive experience as a supervisor and related data obtained for research and developmental purposes. Caring supervision is summarized into ten facts that illustrate the multidimensional nature of a supervision relationship. The findings can help supervisors develop in their important work of supervising doctoral theses.

Keywords: supervision, doctoral thesis, PhD student, dissertation, caring

1. Introduction

The supervisor's role in supervising research and theses is a demanding and important one. When it comes to the supervision of doctoral theses, the positions and roles of supervisor and PhD students are even more unique. Still, many same roles that the supervisor adopts during supervision processes of any thesis are included in the supervision of PhD theses as well. The supervisor's roles vary from a guide to friend and critic, and everything in between.

Caring supervision of PhD theses has its own special features and presents a more student-centered approach than for example the concept of efficient supervision (Boud & Lee, 2009; Cryer, 2003; Delamont et al., 2008; Dunleavy, 2003; Evans & Kamler, 2005; Golde, 2007; Philips & Pugh, 2003; Taylor & Beasley, 2005). I will discuss them in detail in this article. First, I will introduce my background and experience with PhD theses.

I have supervised 60 PhD theses at the Department of Education of the University of Lapland since 2002. I have described the dissertation processes and documented various phases of supervision and doctoral research work in the form of a researcher's diary (see also Määttä, 2012). Furthermore, some of my students (N=25) gave me their own written stories about their dissertation process. In addition, I corresponded with them by e-mail in hundreds of pages over the years during their dissertation processes. This is a review paper summarizing my findings based on the aforementioned data and practical experience as a supervisor.

My specific focus has been on the nodes of the doctoral dissertation process and on my action as a supervisor. I have been interested in the research process from a supervisor's point of view. What kinds of obstacles and drags the process includes that a supervisor especially could help smooth down? How can I as a supervisor support PhD students in their research processes? In summary, my purpose in this article is to answer the following question: What is caring supervision of doctoral theses?

For this purpose, I will use the data I have obtained during my years of a supervisor as described earlier. The communications used in the data are supervision conversations that took place in real supervision situations. As considered as a dialogue between a supervisor and a student, the original purpose of the supervision conversations was to enhance the work with thesis. I have asked every doctoral student for permission to use the data anonymously for this research purpose. All participants gave me permission to make their correspondence public. The data were analyzed with the content analysis method (Denzin, 1989). The main themes have been derived from the PhD students' stories and my own observations and experiences as well as reflections of my own supervision.

The purpose is to provide as much space as possible for my own perceptions alongside the PhD students' voices. At the same time, I will reflect on the results compared with previous research about the supervision of the doctoral theses and its problems.

2. The Elements of Caring Supervision

According to my interpretation, caring supervision of doctoral theses consists of ten facts. They lay the foundation of a good supervision relationship and research process. …

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