Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gandalf Approach to Research Supervision

I asked some senior academics about the process of research supervision. They emphasised that each student is different and the approach has to be tailored to them. Also the posited that the approach would be difference for experimental and theoretical areas. With a theoretical area the supervisor could be expected to know the theory and be guiding the student, whereas with experimentation, the supervisor may have little knowledge of the details of the experiment (as by definition it will be unique) and so only be able to help with general experimental methodology.

What I found of most interest was one senior academic who paused and said: "What my supervisor told me 30 years ago was: "Have a plan and stick to it".

I suggest this  might be called the Gandalf Approach to Research Supervision, in reference to J. R. R. Tolkien's character in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In the latter book Gandalf says to Bilbo: "Stick to your planyour whole plan, mind – and I hope it will turn out for the best, for you, and for all of us.".

Tolkien was a University of Oxford Professor and perhaps there is an autobiographical aspect to the books, with Gandalf as the supervisor and Frodo and Bilbo sent on fieldwork, which they then wrote up (both books end with the characters writing a large manuscript about their adventures). ;-)

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