Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Supervision of University Research Students

The role of supervisors for research students at university is becoming more regulated. Universities have their own policies, such as ANU's "Guideline: Candidature and Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students" (10 May 2011). One issue is how much formal training in supervision the supervisors require. There is also the issue of if teacher training and experience is relevant to supervision.

Less amenable to standardizing is the selection of a good research topic. Perhaps some of the techniques used for selecting inventions for commercial development might be applied. The Innovation ACT program ran budding inventors through a program where they examined their idea and had it reviewed.

One aspect which I suggest has been overlooked in research supervision is teamwork. The research by CAPA shows that students collaborating are happier. Most research is now done not by individuals but be teams. In some fields the teams might be two to six people, and in other fields thousands of people. Having one supervisor working with one student does not seem a good way to foster this group working. Also there is a high risk for the student if they have only one supervision closely involved in their work and that person is no longer available. It seems to me that this idea of a close one-on-one relationship is an academic fantasy which will cause frustration.

One issue universities appear to be failing to address is remuneration for supervisors. The custom in Australia has been that supervisors are not paid. The University of Canberra's "Higher Degrees by Research: Policy and Procedures" (The Gold Book) has provision for payment of the chair a supervisory panel. However, the payment is only $2,000 per year, which would provide about 8 minutes of supervision a week. An international student pays $18,920 per year. If universities really believe that research supervision is important, then them might want to spend more than just 11% of the fees they get from the students on it. The student may have difficulty seeing what they are paying for.

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