Enhancing the Practice of PhD Supervisory Relationships Through First- And Second-Person Action Research/Peer Partnership Inquiry

Judith McMorland, Brigid Carroll, Susan Copas, Judith Pringle


Our experience in the University suggests that individual and collective reflection on the practice of PhD supervision is under-developed amongst the community of academic supervisors and students. Whilst there is growing interest in research about higher education practice and supervision in particular, few studies inquire into practice "from the inside". In this two-semester exploration, supervisors and students used some of the disciplines of peer-partnership inquiry, to seek ways to improve our respective PhD supervisory relationship practices. The group comprised supervising staff and PhD candidates, with a network of sociometric links that reflected well a complexity of multiple academic relationships. First- and second-person reflection, and intentional, engaged, focused conversation, gave us insights into these multiple dimensions of supervisory relationships both with candidates, amongst co-supervisors and into our own practices. The richness of the insights generated through these meaningful conversations surprised us all. Our paper discusses the ways in which we were able to access understandings through peer partnership inquiry methods, the integrity of the materials generated, individual responses to such subjectivities and our attempts to communicate these to wider audiences through the frames of typical academic presentations: conference settings, departmental and university wide seminars and web-page dissemination. There are implications for institutional practice arising from our findings. We suggest that much greater intentionality has to be paid to the multiple and complex relationships that exist amongst students, staff and institution if the PhD endeavour is to be a fulfilling creative enterprise for all. We advocate that staff and students need to develop skills and courage in reflecting on their own capabilities, to develop skills in peer learning and peer engagement, and to strengthen a culture of learning across multiple role relationships. Sustained reflectivity of this nature is radical in the academic context and the nature of the PhD supervisory relationship is called into question at many levels of inquiry.
URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0302371


PhD supervision; peer partnership; action research; multiple role relationships; reflexivity; subjectivity

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Copyright (c) 2003 Judith McMorland, Brigid Carroll, Susan Copas, Judith Pringle

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