Friday, June 29, 2012

Research Supervision Notes

The ANU Research Supervision Notes provide an overview of issues for those wishing to learn about supervising PHDs and other research students at university. The content was developed with Oxford University (UK) and McGill University (Canada).


  1. Developments
  2. Research Environment
  3. Candidature Stages
  4. Being a Supervisor
  5. Experiences and Conceptions
  6. HDR Candidates
  7. Examination

If the priorities of coursework students are any guide, then perhaps these should be dealt with in a different order, with "examination" first, as that is the top priority for students.

Here is the table of contents from the Oxford Learning Institute (Oxford University) version of the notes:

  1. DPhil students
  2. Being a supervisor
  3. Stages of the doctorate
  4. Examination
  5. Research environment
  6. National and international context
Oxford University also provide a Website overview in a two page (126kb) PDF document. But a web site should not require a separate two page set of printed instructions in order to use it. The problem seems to be that the notes are intended for several different audiences: research students, their supervisors and university staff. It would be better if these groups were specifically addressed on the web page (students, supervisors, other staff ...), rather than having a separate download guide to the guide.

Academic authors are used used to creating conventional printed documents with a hierarchical tables of contents. So it might be better if they used that format for their web pages, rather than trying to be too clever and then having to provide a separate cheat sheet to explain a hard to navigate web site.

One interesting item in the Oxford University Website overview is on Meeting minutes:
"As soon as possible after any formal meeting with your
supervisor about your progress, write a brief descriptive text that summarizes the direction of the discussion including what was clarified, ending with next tasks and timelines. Send this to your supervisor to verify that you have understood exactly what has been agreed. Writing these regularly provides you with a log of your progress."
This is good advice, but seems out of place with the general guidance about how to navigate the web site about the web site. Also it raises the question of where the student logs their minutes. The obvious place for the student to keep the minutes would be in their e-portfolio (I use a Mahara "Journal"). A blog could be used for this purpose, although these do not meet records management standards (the student could go back later and amend the minutes). The question also needs to be asked as to why the supervisor has no obligations for record keeping, given that they are being paid by the university to do the supervision and why the university is not providing an online system which meets standards for electronic records management.

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