Friday, March 30, 2012

Supervising Postgraduate Research at University in the 21st Century

Greetings from the Australian National University where I am attending a workshop on how to supervise postgraduate research. Staff from other universities are also attending. Charles Sturt University are providing a Online Research Student Supervisor Workshop which will be conducted via the Internet.

The ANU has detailed Guidelines for "Candidature and Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students". Other universities have similar guidelines. One issue is how the funding for the supervision is allocated. Different universalities have different approaches, which can cause problems with cross institutional panels.

ANU requires a panel of three people for research supervision:
  1. Chair: The Primary Supervisor
  2. Supervisor: A Secondary Supervisor who works closely with the student and the Chair.
  3. Advisor: Assists with the supervision of the student
Traditionally universities do not pay supervisors, apart from the normal salary which staff receive. However, the increasing focus on financial viability of universities may see this change.

There are issues with the social prescence of the members of the panel. That is the student may never meet, or ever see the members of their panel, other than their supervisor.

The "Vancouver Protocol" provides guidelines as to who should be listed on student papers as authors. provides tables to help work this out in practice. A related issue is how supervisors make their contributions: should drafts be sent to everyone at once? A modern option is to put the document on a distributed auhtoring system, such as Google Docs, which allows multiple contributions, which are all tracked.

One issue is a suitable environment for meetings and mutual support between students.

An issue is completion rates and length of time required. There is also a distinction made between withdraws early in the program (first year) and later.

My current university studies are about how to use some of the techniques from e-learning in research supervision. This could be applied to small undergraduate projects up to a PHD.

The area of supervision is subject to intense analysis, with changes to the way universities are funded. Just as all universities are looking at how to make courses higher quality and more effective, this applies to research as well.

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