Thursday, September 27, 2012

Statement of Supervisory Expectations V1.3

Thanks to those who provided comments on my "Statement of Supervisory Expectations V1.2.1".   Further comments are welcome. Here is a slightly updated version with:
  1. An extra photo (Inspecting military systems for the Department of Defence), as people seemed to like the photos,
  2. Added a requirement for the student to do a skills audit to identify the skills they have and the extra ones they will need,
  3. Mentioned the I have added mention of the Australian Qualifications Framework, which requirements for programs.
  4. Added a reference to the ANU's  "Standard milestones for full-time PhD candidature" and summarised this as "In general, you can expect to have provide evidence of progress (a paper, progress report, or present at a seminar) at least every three months in a PHD program.".
  5. Put more emphasis on research: I originally wrote the document with the intention of having it apply to coursework students, as well as research ones. But that turned out to be too confusing, so it now concentrates on university research.
  6. Removed "being purely for your own benefit" about optional courses, as that sounded silly: what courses are not for the student's benefit? Instead I added "As well assisting with your research these courses add skills which employers value.".
  7. Clarified that I would help the student find extra courses.
  8. Expanded on my approach to student feedback and provided a reference:  "My approach to feedback is informed by research on what has proved to be effective: timely, brief and directed to helping you complete (Flint and Johnson, 2011)."
  9. Extra section on "Quality and Participation", saying work must be suitable for publication, students must participate in discussions, but they don't have to come to meetings, provided they deliver on time. Also I referenced the ANU's "Responsible Practice of Research Policy". 

Tom Worthington Statement of Supervisory Expectations

Tom Worthington

Research School of Computer Science & Climate Change Institute, The Australian National University (ANU)

Philosophy of Research Supervision

Tom Worthington FACS CP has successfully completed the Australian Computer Society Certified Professional Certification requirements and is recognised as a Certified Professional: ACS Membership Number: 1022873, Certificate ID: 20197057294014, Valid through December 31, 2012
The purpose of this document is to outline of my approach to the supervision of research and projects for those considering a graduate program at the ANU College of Engineering & Computer Science (CECS). When not teaching at ANU, I work as a Certified Computer Professional (Von Konsky, 2008) consulting to industry and government around the world (see my background for details).

With Senator Kate Lundy, after receiving the ACT 2010 ICT Education Award.
Tom Worthington, on receiving the ACT 2010 ICT Education Award, with Senator Kate Lundy
A successful higher degree requires a blend of research and coursework, honed on real world experience. Research shows that  ‘hands on’ supervision leads to faster completion (Sinclair, 2004). I will help guide you through the process of setting milestones, obtaining resources, preparing presentations and publication. To do this I use an award winning technique of mentoring and collaboration developed for professionals, to progressively build your skills (Worthington, 2012).

Even if your focus is exclusively on research, you will be engaged in a learning process. You will need to audit your current skills and identify gaps. Most students will require additional courses in the advanced research and communication, needed for postgraduate research. The optimal blend of research and coursework will depend on your individual requirements and the program you enrol in.

Under the The Australian Qualifications Framework (July 2011) and the University's accreditation policy, those in a research program can spend up to one third of their time undertaking coursework (ANU, 2012). Professional practice students will have more coursework, but still need to spend at least one third of their time on research. Graduate coursework students will spend most of their time on coursework, but can expect to undertake a one or two semester supervised project.

As one of a team of supervisors, my job is to help you to decide what skills and experience you would like from your studies and guide you on the path to achieve these. Also I can help with the topic you are studying, where it falls within my experience (see my background for details).

Setting Goals

Inspecting military systems for the Department of Defence.
Tom Worthington, inspecting computer systems on exercise with the Australian Department of Defence
You will need to assess your current skills, compare this with your ambitions and what your university program requires. The university has a "Tool for Online Assessment of Skills and Training" to help you identify the  useful transferable skills you already have and what you need to be built up (Schaffarczyk & Connell, 2012). I can help you to map out your individual path to the goals using off-the-shelf courses, your research program and specialist custom training.

Before deciding on the details of your study, stop and consider why:
  1. Are you planning a career in academia?
  2. Do you want to advance in your profession?
  3. Are you simply curious to learn more?
Depending on your answer, different programs might suit. Many embark on a higher degree by research, when coursework might be more suitable. Keep in mind that modern university postgraduate courses are not like school: you can study on-line, in small groups, with work and research integrated learning.

Setting milestones

Time management is essential to university work (and is a skill highly valued by employers). Your program will have some milestones set by the university to monitor your progress. The university has "Standard milestones for full-time PhD candidature" (ANU, 2011). In general, you can expect to have provide evidence of progress (a paper, progress report, or present at a seminar) at least every three months in a PHD program.

A research student will normally aim to complete a literature review one quarter the way through their program, then a thesis proposal after the first third and have conducted the research ready to write up two thirds through. Students undertaking a professional doctorate, or a Masters, will be spending less time on research, but with similar proportions for a literature review, thesis proposal, research and write up. Coursework masters students will undertake the same process in as little as twelve weeks.

The targets set for graduate programs are broad and designed to be flexible. You will need to set further detailed targets, where you will aim to have achieved measurable, useful tasks.

University research is not a matter of sitting waiting for inspiration. A good university program is designed like a computer program: top-down. You need to start by thinking about what you want to have achieved by the end of your studies and work back to see how to get there. You will be encouraged to use tools such as the Graduate Information Literacy Skills Audit, to see what skills you have and what is needed. Your supervisors will help you map out the detail of courses and activities will be needed to achieve your goals. Your time and resources are limited and need to be applied most efficiently to reach the goals.

As a computer professional, I will emphasize the use on-line facilities to keep in touch with you. You may never need to visit the campus, but most students will be on-campus for at least part of their time. In any case personal contact is important, face-to-face, or on-line.

Success rarely comes from sitting alone. You will be encouraged to team up with other students in your own discipline and across the university.

Narrow technical skills are of little value if you are unable to communicate with colleagues and clients. The university offers extensive optional courses in formal writing, presenting and in business skills. I will be encouraging you to make full use of these courses, to make your coursework and research more productive.

Quality and Participation

Your work must be of a quality suitable for publication in an international refereed journal or conference. I will be encouraging you to submit a paper for publication, at least twice per year during a PHD program.

You will be required to comply with the"Responsible Practice of Research Policy" of the University (ANU, 2010) and any codes specific to your area of research.

Expect to be actively involved in discussions on-line or in person with your supervisors, your peers and others around the world, constantly. Provided you deliver at every milestone on time, to the required standard, you will not need to attend formal meetings.

Documenting Your Progress

Employers will want evidence from you of what you did at university and this is more than just a copy of your degree. You will need to collect evidence of the skills you have gained at all stages of your study. Higher degree students will normally prepare a thesis. While not required for most programs, I will encourage you to also produce a portfolio of work undertaken, often called an "e-Portfolio" where you list all courses undertaken, with samples of work (Manathunga, 2004). The milestones set provide a useful starting point for this portfolio.

Also in your portfolio I will encourage you to  include extra-curricular activities relevant to "generic" skills, such as oral presentation, teamwork, and leadership. Examples could be materials produced in non-assessed courses, awards for presentations, certificates from a university sporting team, or your commission in the university regiment.

Writing and Other Skills

In supervising your research I will not be alone. There will will be at least three supervisors: a senior academic, myself and another. In addition there are educational and technical specialists to assist. But in the end a successful university higher degree depends on you. One of the most important skills is academic writing. It is not the job of your supervisors to teach you how to write, this is a skill which has to be learned in formal coursework and by practice.

As well as the usual university formal courses in your topic, there are more general courses on skills to help your study and in your future career. These are usually available to enrolled students at no extra cost. As well assisting with your research these courses add skills which employers value. I will be encouraging you to round out your more formal studies with in this way.

The university provides a "How to Learn: Student guide to Free training at The ANU", detailing free courses and services for students of the university. The services offered go beyond the usual how to use a computer and include topic design, thesis writing and supervision, project management. There are also podcasts and the Postgraduate and Research Students' Association (PARSA) has additional "Resources for Distance Students".

The ANU Academic Skills and Learning Centre provides courses of value to coursework and research students. There is also the ANU Pro Vice-Chancellor (Innovation) Graduate Program and Innovation ACT, for learning to turn your ideas into products. I will help you select suitable programs for your work plan.

Providing Feedback

You will receive formal feedback on the milestones set for your program and feedback from individual supervisors. The long term nature of postgraduate research, in comparison to self-contained semester courses, requires a different form of feedback (East, Bitchener & Basturkmen, 2012). My approach to feedback is informed by research on what has proved to be effective: timely, brief and directed to helping you complete (Flint and Johnson, 2011).

What you must do

The college has a detailed  Self Assessment Guide to help you determine what is the right program for you. Also there is a college Pre-application Process to make the formal application the with the Application Manager a little easier.

The Research School has a database of project topics. You don't have to choose one of these, but it might help with choosing an area of interest and give some ideas. Your topic will be refined over the course of your studies.


East, M., Bitchener, J., & Basturkmen, H. (2012). What constitutes effective feedback to postgraduate research students? The students’ perspective. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 9(2), 7. Retrieved from

Flint, N., & Johnson, B. (2011). Towards Fairer University Assessment: Recognizing the Concerns of Students: Taylor & Francis. Retrieved from

Manathunga, C., Lant, P., & Mellick, G. (2007). Developing professional researchers: research students’ graduate attributes. Studies in Continuing Education, 29(1), 19-36. doi: 10.1080/01580370601146270 Retrieved from

Schaffarczyk, S., & Connell, L. (2012). Graduate Research to Research Career: Transferable Skills Training Models. 2012 Quality in Postgraduate Research Conference, 111.  Retrieved from

Sinclair, M. (2004). The pedagogy of'good'PhD supervision: A national cross-disciplinary investigation of PhD supervision. Canberra: Department of Education, Science and Training. Retrieved from

The Australian National University. . (2010). Responsible Practice of Research: The Australian National University. Retrieved from

The Australian National University. . (2011). Code of Practice - Supervision in Higher Degrees by Research: The Australian National University. Retrieved from

The Australian National University. (2012). Academic Programs and Courses Accreditation. Retrieved from

Von Konsky, B. (2008). Defining the ICT profession: A partnership of stakeholders. Paper presented at the 21 s t Annual Conference of the National Advisory Committee on Computing Qualifications, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from

Worthington, T. (2012). A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks. Paper presented at the Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on, Melbourne, Australia. Retrieved from

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